I recently noticed an influx of funky old-timey photos on Facebook. After asking around, it appears that most people I know are using Retro Camera. According to Urbian (the developer), the app lets you take “delicious old-school pics your friends will drool over” and it delivers an “off-the-hip analog look.”
Now, in general I consider myself to be pretty cool, but I am a far cry from a hipster. I own neither over-sized 1980s glasses nor a t-shirt depicting three wolves howling at the moon. Regardless, I felt compelled to give it a try. I installed it on my Droid X and knew right off the bat that I like this app. It’s witty, functional, and makes phone-based photography a little bit more entertaining.
The app is available for Android and iOS, and is offered in two versions: a free one and another that’s $2.99. The difference is essentially advertising. In the free app, you get a box in the lower middle part of the screen that rotates through a bunch of ads. The pay version not only doesn’t have these ads, but in the place of that box (in picture-taking mode) you get a virtual “level,” like a builder’s ruler would have.
The app gives you five retro camera choices. Here’s how they are described by Urbian:
The Bärbl - An East German classic, naturally faded with a scratched film and medium vignetting, the perfect all-round choice.
The Little Orange Box - The Soviet Staple with aggressive cross processing and scratched square film. It’s crappy plastic lens leaks in light and exhibits strong vignetting. Black and white option for even more emotion.
Xolaroid 2000 - Its inspiration is obvious! We love the candid snapshots this camera produces – you simply can’t fail, every shot is a keeper. Blue / Green cross processing effects and timeless contrast. Black and white option for that classic touch.
The Pinhole Camera - A DIY gem and more unpredictable than Schrödinger’s cat. Full bleed developing and vignetting through the roof, be sure to give this cardboard chimera a go.
The FudgeCan - The perfect rig for outdoors; developed on square film that wasn’t quite stored… or developed right. But therein lies the charm that’ll make your pics with this beauty, memorable and instantly nostalgic.
Here are a few sample photos that I took outside my house. Strangely, I feel the urge to apologize for strange color corrections, processing bleeds, and scratches on the negatives; of course these vestiges of analog photography are the very point of Retro Camera! So, here they are, displayed in all of their imperfect, hip glory:
The Bärbl in color (it’s the only filter that doesn’t offer black & white):
*As you can see, some of the filters include the company’s name in the picture, which is basically replacing what would have been a film manufacturer’s name on film stock. Still, I’m not sure I like seeing advertising on the final picture (even so small) since I have paid for the app.
The Little Orange Box in color and black & white:
Xolaroid 2000 in color and black & white:
The Pinhole Camera in color and black & white:
The FudgeCan in color and black & white:
While taking pictures, the app gives you a small viewfinder within a larger picture of the camera in use.
Aside from adjusting the level and, when applicable, choosing between color and BW there are no other settings to tweak. This seems app-appropriate as, for example, a pinhole camera doesn’t exactly have face recognition or image stabilization. In general I like to tinker with settings but I was not at all bothered by the simplicity and lack of adjustments..
There are playful “Camera Facts” screens for each camera; the “facts” include info about the color, film stock, development settings, and use cases.
Retro Camera also provides a cute slideshow function displays files as photo prints hanging up in a darkroom. A single tap on a picture brings up a few helpful options including delete, share app, and share prints. The latter allows you to quickly upload pictures to Facebook and Twitter, also with an option for emailing.
As far as performance goes the UI moves gracefully and there appears to be little to no lag in “processing time” for saving images or calling them up for display in the darkroom.
The truth is that even the best smartphone camera is not really that great. I recently switched from the iPhone 4 to the Droid X and the difference in photo quality is seriously annoying. The Droid X’s camera is clearly inferior to the iPhone’s, something I am reminded of every time I take a picture. A nice side benefit of this app is that it intentionally removes that annoyance. By rendering images that are analog-style and therefore ”flawed” in the first place this app CREATES imperfect images. The result is that, when using this app, I get two important things: retro stylized photos, and an opportunity to not care about my camera’s quality. Of course I’m not recommending that you download the app for that reason, but I think it is worth noting as I’m not alone in smartphone camera disappointment.
What I Like: The five available retro filters; extra features; the high fun-factor
What Needs Improvement: Not a big deal, but I’d prefer to not have the developer’s name on any of the pictures captured through the paid version