Although I passed on it when it was first released, here’s a look at Nofinder, a toy camera app that, as the name suggests, lacks a viewfinder. It also lacks flash, autofocus and front camera support. It’s not really a stealth cam, although it can be used as one. It’s a shoot-from-the-hip camera — just shoot blind without first being able to compose your shot.

Nofinder is not a camera replacement or an everyday shooter. Even the developer says it is not a “friendly photo app.” I think it makes a good “project” camera — an app you can use on a photographic mission to challenge yourself creatively.

Nofinder was released about a year ago and has gone through a few releases that fix some stability problems the app experienced early on. Nofinder was free for a few days this month in the App Store, where I picked it up. Most of the App Store reviews for the app are negative. I disagree with them. While Nofinder isn’t a great app, it is interesting and quirky. I’m having fun with it.

Nofinder is inspired by the “nofinder”, expressionist style of Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama. You can read about his life and work here.

Nofinder is a quirky app and it’s not for everyone. Without the viewfinder, you simply point the camera in the direction of your shot and hope for the best. The idea is that out of all the shots taken, hopefully, there are a few accidental gems.

The UI is lean. It has a big shutter button and a toolbar oddly placed in the middle of the screen. Without a viewfinder, it’s really no a problem. You can choose from different aspect ratios — the iPhone’s standard 4:3, the standard 3:2 ratio of 35mm film, 16:9 and square format. You can also save up to three preset lens/film combinations for easy access from the main screen.

Nofinder comes equipped standard with two toy camera lenses and four analog-style film filters. Not all users will like that the rest of the filters, along with a few other settings can be unlocked for an additional dollar. As I got the app for free, I didn’t mind dropping a buck.

Except for the Save Original Image option, for me, the app would have been fine without the extra features. Nofinder has a great high contrast Hard black & white effect that is part of the standard purchase. It simulates a very fast film and is easily the best of the app’s filters. The The standard Toy Camera lens has a subtle vignette. It’s a good one, but I wish it were a little beefier.

As for the add-on I could do without the blur and processing added by the two optional lenses. The Instant and Cross Process filters are good and almost make it worth it. Really, the premium version is not an essential purchase.

Nofinder saves in both medium resolution and the full resolution of your device — up to 8MP on an iPhone 4S.

There are things I don’t like about Nofinder. The camera isn’t super fast. The buffer fills up after 2-3 quick shots on an iPhone 4S and sits there processing for a few seconds before releasing the camera. It saves EXIF data, but the geotags are broken and all say that I’m somewhere in Algeria. If you exit the app before the image finishes saving, you’ll sometimes lose your image. And if I’d already paid a buck for the app, I’d probably be put off by the premium in-app purchase. This isn’t Hipstamatic….

Mainly because of its problems, I don’t really recommend Nofinder, but I did have fun just kind of aiming and shooting. Without a viewfinder, shots are left to chance. It’s reminiscent of shooting a few rolls of film and not knowing what your prints are going to look like until you get them back from the lab. It’s similar in concept to the fun but maligned Hipstamatic Disposable except the lack of a viewfinder makes seem a little more rogue. One of the things I love about analog and digital lo-fi photography are the “happy accidents.”

I realize that I can shoot the same way with just about any app that has a big button shutter, and that might be the way to go for many iPhoneographers interested in this style of street photography. But I like the look of some of Nofinder’s filters. The lack of a viewfinder makes it easier to get candids. The whole shooting experience is reminiscent of analog.

Despite its quirks (and there are a few), I like the concept of Nofinder. I like this style of shooting and the unpredictability of it. Despite the app’s flaws, shooting with Nofinder is an interesting way to spend the day shooting with and then to see the surprises you get. With or without this app, you should try it.

Nofinder is $0.99 with an available in-app purchase of several additional “premium” films and lenses for another $0.99. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch (4th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, and iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G.Requires iOS 4.1 or later.

Nofinder - No Viewfinder Camera - - Toshihiko Tambo