Obscura 4 Features A Refreshed Design, New Features, and A Different Business Model

Ben McCarthy’s career as a developer coincides almost exactly with mine as a writer. As a result, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Obscura evolve from little more than an idea to one of the best camera apps on the App Store. As with so many apps, what sets Obscura apart from others is Ben’s attention to detail, impeccable design taste, and deep knowledge of the app’s subject matter – photography.

Today, Obscura 4 is out, less than two years since I reviewed version 3 with a refreshed design and a handful of new features. The update includes a change in Obscura’s business model, too. In the past, the app was paid up front, with each major release being a new purchase. Going forward, Obscura is free to download, with certain advanced features, known as Obscura Ultra, requiring a subscription.

If you bought Obscura 3, you’ll still have access to all its features with the free version of Obscura 4, which you can upgrade to at a discount. I think the new pricing model is a good deal, and I wanted to mention it up front because it’s behind many of the design changes in Obscura 4.

With Apple offering a feature-rich Camera app of its own, I suspect that the kind of people who purchased Obscura before the latest update were very into photography. With a free version now available, that user base is likely to grow significantly to include curious new users who want to see what the app can do, which Ben has accounted for in the changes to Obscura 4.

Obscura 4's photo library and settings.

Obscura 4’s photo library and settings.

There are design changes throughout Obscura 4, but you’ll notice that the most important controls are within reach of your thumb more than ever before. The interaction with those controls is more consistent, too. Many include radial dials that project out from buttons when they’re tapped, allowing for adjustment with a tap and a quick swipe and then reset to their default values with a long press. The photo library interface is more intuitive, too, and focuses on recent shots, although albums, favorites, and photos taken with Obscura are still easy to get to.

I like the new design a lot. Obscura has had dial-based controls that are reminiscent of using a traditional camera for a long time, and their utility goes beyond being familiar to longtime photographers. Combined with haptic feedback, the gestures make setting up a shot one-handed simple, which is exactly what you want when you’re on the go. A new touch that strikes a similar chord is that when you change many of Obscura’s settings, the change appears briefly in the viewfinder in big, bold type, so you know what you’ve done without looking at your fingers. It’s a small, incredibly handy change that lets photographers concentrate on their subject, not the app’s controls.

Peeking at recent images.

Peeking at recent images.

Obscura 4 also allows you to get a quick peek at recent photos by swiping left from the photo library button. As you slide your finger over each circular preview, it’s loaded behind the controls to provide a better look at the whole image. It’s a clever gesture that is much more lightweight than switching to the photo library itself. Also, focus and exposure points can be separated for the first time, and the app helps you get your focus right by highlighting areas of over and under-exposure in the viewfinder.

Obscura on the iPad.

Obscura on the iPad.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Obscura is on the iPad now, too. I’ve never been much of an iPad photographer, but if that’s what you have with you, it’s good to know Obscura is now an option.

Obscura has come a long way since its origins as one of the first third-party camera apps on the App Store. I’m glad Ben has stuck with it for nearly a decade and has not been afraid to experiment with unique, custom interfaces throughout the app’s lifetime. That’s been fun to watch for me as an app nerd, but it’s also meant that Obscura has grown into one of the best camera apps around. Now, with its new free-to-download business model, I hope a lot more people give it a try and end up subscribing because it’s a great way to learn to be a better photographer with the camera that’s always with you.

As I mentioned, Obscura 4 is free to download from the App Store. Obscura Ultra features require a subscription.

Unlock More with Club MacStories

Founded in 2015, Club MacStories has delivered exclusive content every week for over six years.

In that time, members have enjoyed nearly 400 weekly and monthly newsletters packed with more of your favorite MacStories writing as well as Club-only podcasts, eBooks, discounts on apps, icons, and services. Join today, and you’ll get everything new that we publish every week, plus access to our entire archive of back issues and downloadable perks.

The Club expanded in 2021 with Club MacStories+ and Club Premier. Club MacStories+ members enjoy even more exclusive stories, a vibrant Discord community, a rotating roster of app discounts, and more. And, with Club Premier, you get everything we offer at every Club level plus an extended, ad-free version of our podcast AppStories that is delivered early each week in high-bitrate audio.

Choose the Club plan that’s right for you:

  • Club MacStories: Weekly and monthly newsletters via email and the web that are brimming with app collections, tips, automation workflows, longform writing, a Club-only podcast, periodic giveaways, and more;
  • Club MacStories+: Everything that Club MacStories offers, plus exclusive content like Federico’s Automation Academy and John’s Macintosh Desktop Experience, a powerful web app for searching and exploring over 6 years of content and creating custom RSS feeds of Club content, an active Discord community, and a rotating collection of discounts, and more;
  • Club Premier: Everything in from our other plans and AppStories+, an extended version of our flagship podcast that’s delivered early, ad-free, and in high-bitrate audio.