iPhone + iPad Gems: Instagram, Path, Hipstamatic, Pocketbooth + More
Welcome to this week’s edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today we’re taking a look at six photography apps for iOS—two socially-oriented apps, two retro-style shooters, an app aimed at photography enthusiasts, and a new photo editing app for the iPad. Let’s get started.
In its two-plus years of operation, the App Store has seen more than its fair share of so-called “filter apps,” which transformed the output of the iPhone’s not-so-great camera into something reminiscent of old photos one would find in a shoebox, often increasing their photographic value in the process. While the iPhone 4’s greatly improved camera has alleviated some of the need for these types of applications, new and sometimes novel apps of the same ilk continue to appear, including the new photo shooting/sharing application Instagram (Free) from Burbn.
Instead of functioning as a standalone application, Instagram serves as the main interface for the Instagram photo sharing service, which acts a sort of Twitter for photos, with the ability to follow other users, like, and comment on their posts. Within the app, buttons at the bottom allow users to see their activity feed, which contains images from both that person’s account and anyone they’ve followed, view popular photos, see news of comments on their photos, and their own profile, as well as share photos. Photos can be taken with the built-in camera of an iPhone or iPod touch or brought in from the Photo Library, with the option to apply one of more than a dozen filters—some great, some not so great—and add a caption and location information, if desired. All photos snapped from within the app are also saved to the Photo Library.
Where Instagram really shines is in its posting options, which allow the user to simultaneously upload an image to the Instagram service and share that photo with friends and family over Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, and Foursquare, with separate toggles for each outside service—photos are always shared with Instagram itself. Notably, Instagram generates a unique URL for every image uploaded, and uses this when posting to Twitter and Facebook, instead of posting the image itself. An unfortunate drawback is that images are capped at 612x612 resolution, which is fine for web viewing—obviously the main purpose of the app—but not useful for much else.
The overall interface for the app is also very polished, with easy to understand navigation and thoughtful details like Google Maps inlays when viewing location-tagged photos. While the app does require new users to sign up for an Instagram account—something which we’ve seen frequently and just as frequently derided in the past—there are some compelling filters contained within the application, and its ability to post to a multitude of various social and photo sharing networks at once should be a huge boon to virtual socialites. Unless you’re opposed to signing up for an account, the app is well worth checking out, and worthy of our general recommendation. iLounge Rating: B+.
Similar in concept but differing greatly in functionality is Path (Free), a brand-new application for accessing the “personal network” of the same name. Unlike Instagram or any of the services to which it connects, Path is meant to provide a service through which users can share moments from their lives with close friends and family—up to 50 of them, to be exact. Like Instagram, it requires users to sign up for an account before they can use the app, going so far as to require the entry of a phone number for account activation; we’re assuming that since the service is meant for connecting with close friends and family, the creators expect this not to be a problem. We’re not as confident.
Once they’ve signed up and logged in, users are presented with a screen showing the posts of their friends, which is conspicuously blank until their friends share their paths with them. Once that happens, photos appear in a chronological list, with captions for the people, places, and things tagged in the photo. Separate buttons on the bottom take users to a map-based “Explore” view, a screen for finding friends to share with—automatically populated with information from the iPhone’s Address Book—a button to view their own profile, and a central camera button that lets the user snap a photo and subsequently add tags and location information before uploading.
While the idea of a more private, personal social network stikes us as a good one, the “closed garden” approach of Path limits its usefulness to the number of friends who are actively using the service. With no in-app filters, no way to share photos outside the service, and no way to post photos from the Photo Library, this initial version of Path strikes us as too limited for anyone but the most ardent supporters of the network; whether those supporters will ever materialize is a another question. When compared to Instagram, Path’s focus on privacy seems noble, but also keeps the app from being a useful one-stop-shop for shooting photos, making quick edits, and sharing those photos across a multitude of services. With a more substantial user base and some removal of limitations—the ability to post photos from the Photo Library would be a good start—we could see Path as an appealing service, but for now, it remains a niche option for users who like the privacy provided and who have a large enough group of iPhone-toting friends to make it worthwhile. iLounge Rating: C.
Inspired by plastic toy cameras of the past, Hipstamatic ($2) from Synthetic Infatuation is an interesting retro photo shooting app that mixes the shot-from-the-hip aesthetic of the toy camera with a surprising range of DSLR-like virtual accessories. Upon launch, users are met with the image of the virtual “Hipstamatic” camera’s front and a “wiping off lens” message—one of many unnecessary, quirky, and semi-charming details to be found within the app—before the camera flips around to show the back, with a deliberately small viewfinder window—switchable to a “precision” viewfinder in the Settings app—a large shutter button, a flash slider with virtual “ready” indicator, and a small slot to the side showing the type of virtual film loaded into the camera.
It’s this film, and the similarly varied lens and flash effects, that makes Hipstamatic so compelling. The app includes three virtual lenses, three types of virtual film, and two virtual flashes in its standard package, and offers “Hipstapacks” that include various lens, film, and flash combinations as $1 in-app purchases. The various combinations of effects offered by these components not only make Hipstamatic a versatile filter application, but also encourage users to shoot additional photos in order to test the various combos and find ones they like; this is controlled by flipping through the lenses on the front of the camera, and popping open flash and film menus, which can be accessed via buttons on the bottom of the front interface. While this process may not appeal to everyone, those who are interested in photography should enjoy it. The only draw back is the nickel-and-dime aspect of the in-app purchases, but as they actually expand the functionality and cost only $1 a piece, it’s difficult to fault them—we only wish the app provided better examples of the effects provided prior to purchase.
Shooting with Hipstamatic is also slightly different than a standard app, thanks to its attempts to replicate the shooting experience on a toy camera. On the iPhone 4, the flash slider activates the on-board flash, while older iPhones and the fourth-generation iPod touch get a virtual flash effect applied to the photo. Once a photo is snapped, the viewfinder is covered by a “Developing” label, and three lights that indicate the progression of image processing. Once the image is ready, a green light appears in the bottom left hand corner, where a button resides to enter the photo viewer. Notably, photos are properly geotagged, and on an iPhone 4, are saved at 1936 x 1936 resolution.
Inside the photo viewer, users can swipe back and forth to see the images they’ve shot from within the application—all images are also saved in maximum resolution to the Photo Library—and can create “stacks” of photos for easier navigation, sharing via Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, or e-mail, and for ordering prints from the company’s “Hipstamart,” an online service that offers a way to print out the photos in one of two sizes and have them delivered straight to the users’ homes. We didn’t get a chance to try out the printing service, but given the squarish size and unique qualities of the photos taken within the application, ordering prints directly does seem to be a better option when looking to preserve the “analog” quality of the shots.
It seems unnecessary to say that this is a great deal of complexity for what in theory is just an effects app with the ability to shoot photos; but it’s that complexity that makes Hipstamatic stand out from the pack of “me too” photo effect applications. The in-app purchases can add up—users will end up spending $7 total if they want all the goodies—and quickly moving between different lenses, films, and flash effects would surely be less of a hassle if there were iPad-like pop-ups accessible from the “rear” of the camera. Despite these drawbacks, Hipstamatic remains a compelling app for photography enthusiasts and those who enjoy playing with and mixing various tools to create different results. If this describes you, feel free to download the application and purchase the various “Hipstapacks” at your own speed; you may find them to be well worth the additional money. iLounge Rating: A-.
Pocketbooth ($1) from Project Box also falls under the simulation/effects category, but instead of replicating a camera, it seeks to offer a photo booth experience in an iPhone (and fourth-generation iPod touch) app. Upon launching the app, users are briefly presented with a splash screen showing an old-style photo booth that also serves to ready users for the retro aesthetic of the app’s interface, and then dropped directly into shooting mode. The main shooting screen tells users to pose for either three or four photos when the red light—transposed over the viewfinder —is on, and also boasts a camera selection button, the start button, a settings button, and a button for viewing previously captured photo strips.
In the settings screen, users can choose the number of photos to shoot per strip, apply either black and white, sepia, or color effects, choose between matte and glossy virtual paper, set the time between shots, select the front or back camera, and set the flash to on, off, or automatic, if one is available. The photo strip viewing interface lets users swipe back and forth to view more photos, with buttons at the bottom for deleting the strip, returning to the camera, and accessing an action menu, where users can share the strip via email, Facebook, Twitter, or save it to the camera roll—photos aren’t automatically pushed to the camera roll, a feature that would be nice, if even available only as an option. When images are saved, they are saved at 489 x 2608 resolution (on an iPhone 4), but unfortunately without any location data.
While plenty of apps were released prior to Pocketbooth that allow for multiple, quick exposures, but few of them have had the exact idea as Pocketbooth, nor have they featured such a fine presentation. From the faux cracks on the shooting screen to the fake slot that processed images drop into after shooting is complete, it is obvious that Project Box took great care in assembling what is a nice little app at a great price. Wishes for automatic camera roll saving aside, there’s little reason to dissuade anyone from picking it up. iLounge Rating: B+.
When the iPhone 4 debuted this summer, a lot of photography enthusiasts were excited about the new camera, but wished there was a way to take more control of it. ProCamera + GeoTagging ($3) by Jens Damgen aims to provide at least some of that control via features that push beyond the iPhone’s built-in camera application and into area recently reserved for dedicated point-and-shoot cameras. Once past the splash screen, users are dumped directly into shooting mode, with buttons to snap a shot using the shake detection feature for reduced blur, set the self timer, switch between the rear and front cameras on models that support it, and control the flash on the iPhone 4.
There’s also a “Pro” button that produces a pop-up offering toggles for the app’s virtual horizon, compass, and grid guides, a button for switching between the video camera and still camera, a button to access the photo album and studio, and a button to access the settings. Inside the settings menu, users can control options like the sensitivity of the shake sensing feature, set the self timer delay, turn the auto save feature on and off, turn the digital zoom, and calibrate the virtual horizon.
The settings menu also allows users to turn on “expert mode,” and it’s here that ProCamera really shines. In expert mode, the whole screen becomes a shutter button, so users need to tap and hold to set the exposure and focus—represented by yellow and blue rectangles, respectively. Once these have been set, however, the user can then drag the two rectangles about separately, so that focus and exposure can be set independently. A separate button on the screen lets users lock the white balance, allowing for adjustments and calibration of color temperature; notably, all these Pro features also work when shooting video on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS.
If users still feel that their photos need work after such fine-tuning, ProCamera also offers a “photo studio” with a software flash to brighten dark photos, basic brightness and contrast controls, and B&W and sepia effects. None of these are groundbreaking, but the ability to make such basic adjustments without needing to leave the application is commendable, as is the app’s ability to record and display full EXIF, location, and compass information, and save full-resolution photos. While its interface isn’t perfect, and the sheer amount of options could confuse novice users, ProCamera + GeoTagging can be a serious photographic tool in the right hands, offering creative control that simply isn’t available through the iPhone’s built-in camera app. It’s well worth the purchase for photography enthusiasts, and those on the fence should download the company’s free ProCamera Basic to see whether the app’s interface style will work for them. iLounge Rating: A-.
Unlike the other apps in this round-up, TouchUp for iPad ($3) isn’t a camera-based app at all—instead, it’s a novel new photo editing application from RogueSheep. At its core, TouchUp is really an effects application, but its the way in which users apply the various filters that helps it stand apart. Upon launch, users are brought to a photo selection screen, which initially includes several tutorial/sample images to let users become familiar with the interface, and buttons at the top left and right for bringing in new photos from the photo library or Flickr’s recent photo stream and access the app’s built-in tutorials, respectively.
Once a photo has been selected, users are brought to the main editing interface, featuring a central filter selection button at the top with erase and draw options beside it, an undo button in the upper right-hand corner, and buttons in the upper left to go back to the photo selection page, and a share button with options to save to the Photo Library, a shared folder, or clipboard, or share it via Twitter, Facebook, or via e-mail. What’s interesting about TouchUp is the manner in which effects are applied. The app lets users layer effects, one on top of the other, and use the erase/draw tools to selectively apply them to only a portion of the image, if desired. Available effects include black & white, contrast, brightness, temperature, sepia, hue shift, blur, saturation, tint, paint brush, and tint brush, with dodge and burn effects available as a $2 in-app purchase. When using the draw and erase tools, users can gain more fine-tuned control by pinching to zoom in and out; the brush remains roughly finger-sized no matter the zoom level, and several circular brushes—hard edge opaque, soft edge opaque, hard edge semi-translucent, and soft edge semi-translucent—are available.
While the app’s editing interface is quite well done and offers a lot of versatility, there are several details we take issue with. For one, images aren’t always saved out at full resolution—our 4288 x 2848 image, taken with a Nikon D90 and transferred directly to the iPad, was saved out at 2048 x 1360 resolution, suggesting that the app was designed more for quick, on-the-go editing for images to be shared rather than serious, pre-printing work. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is worth noting, as is the app’s lack of Flickr export, which seems all the more odd considering it can bring in images to edit from Flickr. Overall, TouchUp represents a good first stab at re-imagining basic photo editing on the iPad, with its layered effects and draw-on-the-screen simplicity. It lacks some of the features—high-resolution editing, image cropping and rotation, and Flickr export, to name a few—to become our go-to editing app of choice, but what it does currently offer is worthwhile, and implementation of some of the missing features listed above could make it even better. iLounge Rating: B.
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