Noir Photo
Version 1.0
Price: $2.99

Rating 3 1/2 stars

Bottom Line: Nice monochromes, great vignettes. A good app to have, but not essential at this premium price.

Noir Photo is a new app from Red Giant Software, the developer of Plastic Bullet Camera. Noir lets you convert your images into luscious, classic, cinematic black & white and then adjust the vignette to “light” the image or draw attention to one element of the photo.

It’s a fairly simple app that can be used to create classic-looking monochromes. It’s easy to use with few controls. That’s both a strength and weakness of the app.

The UI is simple and very analog looking. It uses dials instead of sliders. You almost expect the app to be powered by a cathode ray tube. Its interface is uncluttered with a ton of controls. There are three dials — Contrast, Outer Exposure and Inner Exposure which massage the darks and lights around the vignette. Vignette size and intensity are very easy to change and adjust.

Noir’s vignettes are just about perfect. They look natural and the gradations don’t band. I’d love to see this vignette engine in an app that does color. They’re super easy to adjust. One finger drags to position the center of the vignette. There are four control points to easily resize it.

Noir creates excellent monochromes. Noir only has four tones to choose from — sepia, silver, blue-gray or chartreuse tints. They are few, but well-chosen and highly usable — even the sepia, which seems to be difficult to get right in an iPhone app. I lke that they are applied as monochromes and not tint overlays, preserving the highlights. There are six default preset combinations of tints and vignettes. Preset buttons can easily be customized by the user. Better still, they can easily be restored to their default values by double-tapping it.

Although the App Store description says it only supports up to 4 MP on an iPhone 4, it actually supports 2592 x 2592 px, including the iPhone 4’s full resolution of 2592 x 1936. Noir strips out most EXIF data.

The resulting high-contrast image doesn’t always look like a classic film noir still, but more often than not, they look really nice. Contrasts are good, grays are smooth, and the vignettes are gorgeous. With so few controls, experimentation is easy and fast. Starting with one of the six presets gets you in the ballpark pretty close anyway — most of the work has been done for you.

It does a beautiful job as is, but there’s no way to fully control the monochrome conversion for iPhoneographers who would want to do so. Although it’s meant to be fast and easy, it could use an overall brightness or exposure control. The current selection of tones is limited — an option to adjust the hue and select more tones is a feature I’d like to see. Keeping with the classic film noir theme, a film grain generator would be a really cool addition as well.

Red Giant makes simple iPhone apps that create excellent effects. Their previous app Plastic Photo has no controls at all. The user simply cycles through random iterations until they find something they like. I see what they’re doing with Noir — offering some control while still keeping the app easy and quick to use.

What Noir Photo does, it does very well. Some users may be put off by its limited scope.  At times, it feels like its simply one of Plastic Bullet’s filters isolated and beefed up. To me, that’s not necessarily bad given the quality of Plastic Bullet’s effects. But in a market filled with $1-$2 apps, Noir performs relatively few functions for the premium app price of $2.99. There are plenty of apps that cost the same and do more. Camera+ is also $2.99 (often less — it’s regularly on sale) and it has a lot more features.

I would like to somehow see more user control added to the app, but I’m fine using it as is. There are other apps that do similar style film noir monochromes almost as well. Given the premium price, that should be a factor to consider especially if you already have an arsenal of photo apps.

I like Noir Photo and I’m looking forward to updates. It’s easy to use, creates great looking photos and very nice vignettes. But at this premium price, it’s not an essential app.

Noir is a universal app. It’ll run great on any iOS device including iPad. Requirements say compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later, but the app description says it requires iOS 4.2.

Noir Photo - Red Giant Software