Photo App Review: Instant – A Solid New Polaroid App
Instant: The Polaroid Instant Camera
Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
Price: $1.99. Introductory priced at $0.99 for a limited time.
Bottom Line: I like it. It does a lot right. By fixing a bug or two and building on its strengths, it could be a really fun fauxlaroid.
In their day, Polaroids were the analog equivalent of instant lo-fi photography. Since the Polaroid company began licensing the name and instant film aesthetics, many iPhone photo apps have tried to capitalize on that nostalgia by recreating the trademark frames, looks and sounds. There have been both great and bad official Polaroid apps.
Here is my hands-on review of Instant: The Polaroid Instant Camera, the latest official fauxlaroid photo app. It’s got some very cool features including some not found in other instant camera apps, but some areas where it still needs work. >>>
Instant for iPhone is the newest sibling of Instant: The Polaroid Instant Photos for iPad and Instant: The Polaroid Maker for Mac OS. Like Polamatic, another Polaroid app that’s a fave of mine, Instant is licensed by Polaroid so the looks, shapes and sounds are authentic and fairly accurate.
For the most part, Instant’s user interface is pretty slick. Instant mimics the workflow of a real classic Polaroid instant camera, with realistic visual and sound effects.
You can shoot with Instant’s own camera or import photos. The camera is created with the looks, textures and sounds of a retro plastic camera. After capturing a shot, the undeveloped “print” slides out from a slot in the top of the screen with the sound of an old SX-70 camera. A nice touch! For me, the viewfinder is annoyingly small, making composition a point-and-guess production. The classic retro app Hipstamatic pioneered the tiny viewfinder but it’s had an optional larger viewer for some time now. Although I prefer to import images, like Hipstamatic, shooting in Instant is fun!
Instant comes with a great set of filters to add unique, realistic touches to your images. Rather than spit out a cookie-cutter fauxlaroid, Instant lets you change the film tyope of the image, add vignette to the photo and do a lot of cool things to change to look of the frame.
Instant comes with 30 retro film effects. The first ten are outstanding and worth the app purchase alone! They the “money” filters. These do a great job of recreating the looks of classic Polaroid films, including several variations of T600 and Time Zero films. I remember the tonal qualities of these films could vary based on a lot of factors, but these first ten film effects look great. They seem very close to the color and tonal qualities I remember the old SX-70 film stocks to be. The other 20 are the standard selection of non-specific, obscurely named, retro-style film effects. They look good, but are not special like Instant’s Polaroid effects are. Unlike Polamatic, another great Polaroid app, there is no lightbox. Once an image is edited and saved, you can’t go back and make changes.
Everything about this app seems to be adjustable. You can adjust the intensity of the film effect. One of the things I really like about this Polaroid app is that it allows you to add and adjust anomalies in the emulsion. Dirty roller bars or a weird batch of film could cause unique streaks to show up in the emulsion of a Polaroid and Instant recreates that. You can also increase vignette and add a nicely subtle amount of film grain.
The border is another trademark of the classic Polaroid and the frame of the SX-70 is so classic, it’s been trademarked. Instant does an outstanding job of recreating the look of this classic frame. The app also has a unique set of tools which allow you to customize the look of the frame into countless variations. There are tools to change the color of the border and add crosshatch texture, grime, wrinkle and fingerprints effects, adding realistic damage to the image that would naturally happen to a Polaroid print.
The frame effects look great and are the best available in this class of app. Each effect has a slider to adjust the intensity. The crosshatch effect mimics the texture of the frame that often appeared as part of the manufacturing process. The stain and wrinkle effects add the look of grime and frame damage that come with age and handling. The fingerprint effect is pretty cool. Fingerprint intensity can be adjusted to make it look natural. There are enough fingerprint templates to give them a feel of randomness.
Filters, effects, frames — one thing I really like is that you get everything with this purchase. In this first release, anyway, there are no additional in-app purchases.
By individually adjusting any or all of the effects, you can create real-looking, one-of-a-kind instant-style photos. Generally, nearly everything about Instant is designed to create a unique-looking Polaroid-style print and the app does an excellent job.
Like other instant print apps, Instant gives you a tool to add text to the chemical tab of the frame. It comes with 10 handwritten-style fonts. This is the weakest tool in the app and didn’t work for me at all. Type previews onscreen correctly but is misaligned and placed over the image in the actual output. The font selection is okay, but most of them lack weight. I only found one or two in the selection that I liked enough to use. Entering too many characters forces the type off the edge of the image. It doesn’t automatically shrink to size or wrap it. Editing text is clunky and frustrating. The text entry box wasn’t very responsive for me when trying to edit.
Instant supports high-ish resolution, but not full res. Images are saved at 1540×1848 pixels — about 2.8MP. It strips out nearly all EXIF data, including Geotags. In a Polaroid-style photo app, I am not put off by lack of full resolution support if it’s high enough to be usable and printable, which Instant certainly is. SX-70 prints are about 3.5″ x 4.25″ and for me, enlarging them much beyond that looks unnatural. If you choose, you can enlarge Instant prints up to 10.25″ x 12.25″ (or larger) and they’ll still look good. Instant photos will look great when shared on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and other photo sharing sites.
Instant misses in a few areas. I don’t like the generic, obscurely-named retro-style film effects. I understand that they add value to the app, but at least name the filters something a little more descriptive and relevant to photography. And when did X-Pro stop being a chemical process and become an expired film? I don’t mind a small viewfinder — I love Hipstamatic’s and still shoot with its tiny viewer most of the time — but Instant’s is just too small for my taste. Without even an option for a larger or a flyaway viewfinder, framing is more guesswork than it needs to be when shooting with this app. The text feature needs a lot of fixing and improvement. There is only one wrinkled frame damage overlay. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue for me except everything else about this app has more options and the perception of randomness. Some users may not like the lack of full resolution support.
Overall, Instant is a good app with a lot of great features and a very good Polaroid app with the potential to be exciting. Overall, it’s a great throwback to not only a classic era in analog photography, but a solid photo app that successfully recreates the classic “instant photo” experience for iPhone.
Instant is $0.99 in the App Store for a limited time. It’ll go up to its normal price of $1.99 in a few days. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.