iOS & Mac reviews Reviews

hipstamatic: a wonderful toy camera app for iPhone

(UPDATE: if you’re reading this you might be interested in a Photoshop action I wrote to sort of emulate the look of these retro camera styles – have a read of ‘my Hipstamatic effect for Photoshop’ after you’re done here. Okay, as you were!)

I recently went off iPhone photography for a while. I’d set myself the goal of uploading a new iPhone photo every single day to my Tumblr blog and within a few months it became a kind of millstone around my neck and so I went off iPhone photography for a bit, had a clean-up of apps I never use and cleared out the thousands of photos in the filmroll which was slowing the camera dooown.

A few weeks later I’m sort of getting the itch again. Just a tingling really, nothing to see the doctor about. Well, I had a little look in the photography section of the App Store the other day, not to buy anything you understand, just to see if there was anything new and exciting to play with and clicked on Hipstamatic (App Store link) almost by chance really. There’s quite a lot of Lomo and Holga style apps already, and I felt like I had got one of the best in ToyCamera. Hipstamatic’s icon isn’t flashy, but the name is catchy and it had a great rating, so I gave it a go and I love it.

It’s so fun to play with and use. The way it works is that you have the basic Hipstamatic ‘body’ and you select a combination of one lens and one film, then optionally charge up one of four ‘flashes’. The display has two ‘sides’, the front and back of the imaginary Hipstamatic camera, styled after the Instamatic range of cameras. Along the bottom of the front display are buttons allowing you to change the film, flash or lens, buy new packs from the shop or flip to the back screen. Alternatively you can swipe the lens to swap in the next available lens. On the back is a small squarish live viewfinder, the flash charger and the huge yellow shutter release button, and if you shake the phone you get a completely random setup.

So you select your film, lens and optional flash, take the shot, then wait a few seconds while it ‘prints’ the shot and saves it into the iPhone camera roll as well as the app’s own gallery. Tapping the gallery button takes you into a gorgeous gallery display where you slide through your recent prints. Tapping one flips it over to reveal the lens, film and flash settings. From here you can copy the settings for your next shot, share it through Facebook, Twitter or email, bin it or enter it into one of the regular contests the developers run.

A full kit comprises 8 films, 6 lenses and 4 flashes but the app comes with only 3 lenses (John S, Jimmy, and Kaimal Mark II), two flashes (Standard and Dreampop), and two films (Ina’s 1969, and Kodot Verichrome) as standard and further expansions cost 59p per ‘Hipstapack’. Each pack usually contains at least one lens and film, and occasionally an extra flash and purchasing them takes you into a custom-built store with it’s own gorgeous graphics. I really love all this attention to detail.

So it’s a pretty slick app!

The fact that you can combine any film with any lens means that theoretically you’ve got 48 different looks available, plus even more variations on those by using one of the different flashes which basically just apply a splash or wash of colour or ‘light’ depending on what you use. In practice, however, a few of the different looks are all but identical apart from the frame applied. On the other hand, something I really liked is that while other apps often have a set vignette effect that doesn’t change much if at all from shot to shot, Hipstamatic appears to have quite a variety available meaning it’s rare to get exactly the same vignette effect on two consecutive shots using the same settings. That’s a nice touch and really adds to the realism of the effect.

In the name of testing these effects, I spent 20 minutes crouched in Hyde Park trying each and every combination on the same scene. You better appreciate this:

Rows are the lens effects, columns are the film effects

If you’d like to see it in much greater detail, the original is available to download from Flickr here – a 12MB download but each image is original resolution.

As you can see, the first three films are identical except for frame, and I hope you can see what I mean about the slightly naff Kodot frame! B&Ws are also pretty similar, and although the blurb for the first BlacKeys film says it prints the date on, the only date I’ve ever seen is MAR 80 so I’m not too sure what’s happening there. Nice frames though, and my favourite film of all of them is the last one, Float. I love the smudgy contrasty vignette and artifacts it produces.

In terms of the lenses themselves there’s a good selection of looks no matter your taste, although John S is the one I find myself going back to most often. Don’t forget to experiment with all the films though. For example, the severe yellow look of Jimmy doesn’t do much for me until it’s paired with the Float film and you get a nice slightly faded off-green look. On the other hand, Kaimal turns everything a bit too red, and again the Float film saves the day, pulling it all back a bit.

It’s almost churlish to moan about something with such variety and charm, but… as I touched on above the two films that come with the basic pack and a third from the premium packs are exactly the same in terms of colour processing with the only difference being the frame they apply. The premium of these, Kodot, has a really fake looking scrappy frame which I think is the poorest of all 8 films. While I’m being picky, the two B&W films also seem pretty similar except for the frame despite implying in the name that one offers more contrast.

I only noticed when having a look close-up that several of the lenses (Jimmy, Helga and Lucifer) aim to recreate the imperfect toy-camera look by ghosting the image and you end up with what looks like camera shake on a long exposure. I’m not a fan of that as I’d rather they just slightly softened the image around the edges rather than make me look like I’ve got the shakes. It’s a shame as Helga and Lucifer in particular produce some lovely colouring.

I’m critiquing on a very personal level but hey, I’ve used a lot of Lomo-like camera apps and spent many an hour tinkering in Photoshop creating similar looks for own DSLR images so I knows what I likes. So I’ve got a couple of reservations, but I love this app as much for it’s fun interface and the huge variety of looks it produces as for getting me back into iPhone photography. This is well worth your cash, folks, and to give you a flavour of how it performs on scenes other than Hyde Park, here’s a few more shots I took the same day.

Cheers for reading!

By myglasseye

I'm a Glasgow-born stills photographer and camera operator living and working in London, UK. As well as cameras I'm into writing, gaming, general geekery and beers by Brew Dog.

12 replies on “hipstamatic: a wonderful toy camera app for iPhone”

Thanks for the time you took to test the features out in Hyde Park. That’s a great comparison. I love this app, just discovered it a few days ago. I wish they sold more lenses!


Firstly, thanks for putting together your Hyde Park test – it IS much appreciated! I am torn between buying the pack with the Helga lens and the Roboto Glitter lens. You article has swayed me slightly towards the Roboto Glitter lens pack purely for the Float film alone.

On the other hand I do like the slightly more “honest” colour that comes through the Helga Viking lens instead of the cold Roboto lens. Any advice as to which you would recommend?


Many thanks for the excellent post! I have printed out the great and extremely helpful 48-picture table you produced and have been using it to pick and choose between the effects I’m interested in creating!

All the best,

Glad folks appreciate this article, thanks for commenting. In terms of packs to buy, I heartily recommend saving your pennies up and buying all of them! At 59p per pack (last time I looked) the total price is still going to be less than a couple of pints at your local watering hole…

Great guide, really appreciate the table- it’s a very useful way to see how different combinations work. Cheers.

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