Bottom Line: Recommend
True lo-fi photography is not an exact art. Primarily because of the nature of the equipment (mainly mass-produced plastic or “toy” cameras), unpredictability is an essential element. Most lo-fi cameras have cheap, plastic lenses; many of them have imprecise cases that don’t completely seal, causing light leaks, vignetting, lens distortions and other imperfections. To the lo-fi photographer, these imperfections are desirable and add to the look of the image. It’s the quest for the happy accident.
There are apps that duplicate the images taken by classic lo-fi cameras such as the Holga and the Lomo — classic cameras widely produced and still easily found. Hipstamatic by Synthetic Corp is the first app to replicate the look of one of the rarest lo-fi cameras, the Hipstamatic 100, a square-frame 35mm camera most of us probably never heard of until now. I think the images this app creates are gorgeous and even though there are flaws in this first release, I love this app!
The app itself is fun to shoot with. The developers had access to one of the 157 Hipstamatic cameras produced and the user-interface duplicates as closely as possible for an iPhone app the experience of shooting with a toy plastic camera. Shutter release button, viewfinder and flash switch are on the “backside” of the camera. On the “frontside,” there are interchangeable “lenses” that effect the look of your images. The square viewfinder wanders and is not very accurate to what you actually shoot. This is great for “shoot from the hip” photography. I found the randomness of some shots made in this way interesting, but at times I found others frustrating to make and I wanted a more precise viewfinder to take advantage of Hipstmatic’s great filters. This has been addressed and a switchable precise viewfinder will be in the next release.
Hipstmatic comes with a basic lens set that produces great results and some really incredible images. For additional effects, additional lenses and filters are available as HipstaPaks for purchase within the app. To add more films, lenses and flash, I bought the first two available HipstaPaks — they weren’t that expensive and they easily add some great filters to the camera, including a great Black & White and additional film stocks. Once downloaded, the new lenses and films integrate seamlessly.
Hipstamatic produces some of the nicest analog film effects I’ve seen in an iPhone app and really does a great job recreating the imperfections of a toy camera. Each combination of lens and films produces different results. The color shifts are nicely done and the vignettes and fake light leaks look natural. The “film stocks” do an admirable job of mimicking the actual film stock. Each film stock comes with a unique border which is well-rendered and adds a nice touch. About the only thing missing from the filters is simulated film grain.
It’s a fun camera to shoot with. It just feels analog. It’s the experience of an old camera shooting within an iPhone and I like it a lot. There are other camera apps that do this, but the experience isn’t as authentic for me. For me, the experience is one more reason to like and recommend this app.
Hipstamatic is not without its flaws in this initial release. It’s frustratingly unstable. While testing this app, it crashed often, causing me to lose about half of my test shots. Some may have issue with the “wandering viewfinder.” I was okay with it some of the time, but would have liked to have had the option of a more accurate viewfinder for getting images that I don’t have the luxury of multiple reshoots. Both of these issues — the stability problem and the viewfinder — have been addressed in the 110 update which has been submitted to Apple. Hipstamatic won’t let you load images from your camera roll. While I understand that this would take away from the overall user experience of shooting with this digital toy camera, I have other images that I’d love to run through Hipstamatic’s filters. I guess we’re spoiled. In the days of analog photography, we’d have had to match the camera, lens and film to the photo shoot in much the same way Hipstamatic makes you do so.
Hipstamatic is a really fun camera app. It’s not a replacement for Camera or your usual camera replacement apps. It’s a really good toy that you’ll have fun making some great and interesting photos with. Especially with the stability of the new update and the regular addition of film and lens options, Hipstamatic is a great app to discover the happy accidents of lo-fi photography.