The creators of Hipstamatic have a new app in the Store. It’s called Hipstamatic Disposable (App Store link), it’s free, and if nothing else you should download it just to experience the user interface because it’s gorgeous.

As iOS photo apps go it’s as accomplished as you’d expect from Synthetic. However, despite how much fun it is to use, it’s quirks may put you off in the long term. I also have a bit of a problem with the in-app purchase model, and there seems to be a bug that causes unpredictable crashes. There’s lots I want to talk about because the app deserves it, but this is a fairly long post so you might want to get comfy, send it to Instapaper, or skip to the end

First, some context

You may already know that I love toy camera photo apps. I know there are those who balk at the irony of emulating retro photography on a digital camera (and that’s fine, although if you’d like to share such opinions in the comments below, please don’t) but I really enjoy using them when they are done well, an achievement which is as much about the user interface and experience as it is about the final output. I loved the simplicity of Instagram until their 2.0 update left their filters feeling kinda neutered so I went back to Hipstamatic to sate my fetish for digital toy camera emulation.

The original Hipstamatic (App Store link) is the archetypal toy camera app: a detailed skeuomorphic UI that replicates the front and back of a plastic camera; interchangeable lenses and films; and a realistically vague viewfinder. Where it suffers is the abundance of choice – over 260 different lens and film combos alone. Thankfully, there are now settings to disable films, lenses or flashes you don’t like, plus a ‘shake to randomise’ feature that only uses filters you’ve approved for inclusion. This is how I use Hipstamatic now – launch, shake and snap – it’s quicker than hand-picking a combination and introduces an element of surprise when the resulting photo pops up.

Enter the D-Series with it’s crazy new ideas

The new app, Hipstamatic Disposable, keeps up the tradition of wonderfully detailed UI design but deviates from the template in a couple of significant ways.

First, instead of one camera into which you load different lenses and films, Disposable introduces you to a fictional range of disposable plastic cameras called the D-Series, each with their own effect and a slider to alter the intensity of each shot.

You get three cameras for free

Choose from a range of extra cameras

Each camera has it's own realistic packaging

The app comes with two camera types pre-installed with a third free if you connect to Facebook (this is just to provide a network of friends to share cameras with, and no other purpose; more later). As in Hipstamatic, further cameras, or rather effects, are sold in-app via their HipstaMart where each camera hangs on a rack in its own cute cardboard-and-plastic retail packaging, just like Star Wars figures; like I say, they’ve put a lot of care into the details.

Currently four of the purchasable cameras are priced at 69p (99¢) for unlimited uses – that means that when the camera is ‘used up’ the camera itself respawns and you can start another (the included cameras are also unlimited); three further cameras/effects are priced in bundles with limited uses; nine uses costs 69p; 36 uses is £1.49 and 99 uses is £2.49. When those cameras are used up, that’s it. More on this feature later.

Swipe through active cameras or navigate to other screens

Print sets from completed cameras are collected here

Select a print to see metadata and sharing options

The second big deviation from photo app tradition is that each of these cameras has 24 frames available to shoot and you don’t get to see any of the photos you’ve taken until you’ve shot all 24 frames, at which point the shots are processed and presented to you – just like the old days! From here you can save either the entire set or just individual images to your iPhone’s Photos app; by default the app automatically saves the entire set to Photos upon completion but I’ve turned that off while I test the app for this review.

Highlighting individual images shows you metadata including who shot the image, which camera was used, the intensity slider setting, location and date. One for the real camera users out there: the intensity slider appropriates f-stop numbers for the scale, from 2.8 up to 22. Nice touch.

The 24-shot nature means that, yes, I’m likely to often end up processing cameras that contain images from weeks ago as I drift between cameras taking ages to finish one; that could be frustrating if you value chronological order in your Photos app, but it’s not the end of the world.

Much more importantly, it brings a new sense of fun and discovery to getting ‘films’ back weeks after shooting them (just like the old days!). The sense of glee at re-discovering shots you’d forgotten ever taking has almost completely died out with the slow extinction of film cameras and the rise of digital, so kudos to Synthetic for bringing it back.

Also, such a limitation makes for a superb motivation to find projects that I can shoot in 24 frames – and then make them count; necessity is the mother of invention and all that.

Personalise each camera with a name and sticker

Sticker designs are bold and fun; names default to the date

I like the vertical design but it can be awkward to use

One of the most enjoyable aspects of using this app is the real attention that’s been lavished on every stage of the process. Every camera is so lovingly rendered they beg to be used. When you first pick a camera you get to name it, perhaps for the event you’re attending, but hey, why not call it Lord Percy? This is incorporated into the retro-inspired label you pick for the camera shell, each with three choices of colour scheme. The camera layout itself is nice and obvious, using a vertical orientation with the viewfinder at the top, the effect slider, flash, and a large friendly shutter release button below.

So, what if you don’t want to use the same camera for 24 shots before trying a different one? No problem – you can have more than one camera on the go at any one time (another reason you may want to name the cameras), switching to a different camera whenever you fancy.

The effects generally mark a welcome move away from the grungy extremes of Hipstamatic. Some will be familiar to Hipsta veterans such as the BlacKeys 44 and Foxy X69 (both premium purchases). An effect slider adds some variety; for example, on the Rodney ZX9 it adjusts the amount of zoom applied to a ghosted double-exposure that overlays your shot; on the Unicorn MG it controls the opacity of the rainbow-coloured light leaks.

The majority of effects are pleasing to my eye in some way although of the purchasable cameras I’d say they’ve definitely picked the right ones to charge more for; at least if you only go for the 69p options you’ve not lost much if you don’t use them often. But remember, once you’ve picked a look you’re stuck with it for 24 shots so pick well!

At the bottom of this review I’ve posted some of my favourite shots from the test reels I made while writing it. They aren’t going to win any awards but they might give you some idea.

The Invitations screen if you're Billy No-Mates. Like me, usually.

When starting a camera you can invite friends

Joining a camera invitiation from my brother

Disposable also has a social feature in which you invite friends via Facebook to start a shared camera (I know, I know; I hate Facebook too). Each invited participant starts a new camera and shoots images on their own phones. When all the cameras are finished everyone’s images are pooled, resulting in an album that gives a much wider range of moments than any one photographer would have captured. It’s Synthetic’s in-app version of having everyone dump their digital pics in a Flickr or Facebook event pool, basically.

(At least, I think this is how it works – I encountered some serious problems while exploring the social feature which I’ll explain shortly)

I love the idea in theory but it feels best suited to social events and I’m an antisocial bugger so there will be few such opportunities for me to make the most of it. However, I can see this being a big hit at a wedding or a party so long as there’s at least a few attendees that are Facebook friends and have the app (which is free of course, so no excuse there). In fact the more I think about how well this would work at events the more I think that social animals are the real target market.

For this review I asked my brother, all the way back home in Glasgow, to download the app and we shared some shots using the MegaZuck 84 camera. Or at least we tried to when we weren’t experiencing an appalling, almost non-stop…


This is a real stinker; this version of the app (12, according to iTunes) has some unidentified issues which can cause a regular crash – as often as 10-20 seconds into launching the app. Although the app had been completely stable for several hours while I tinkered with it on my own, shortly after I connected with my brother via Facebook and started a camera with him I experienced my first crash and they kept coming. While we were shooting our cameras we had the same experience, no matter what we tried.

Once we’d both managed to complete our reels and our images were downloading to the other’s phone we continued to experienced crashes, but later on once my app stopped receiving new images from him it became almost completely stable again with very rare crashes.

Incidentally, the one camera we both managed to finish together despite the crashes isn’t displaying 48 images as I’d expected it to. There are 19 of my images, 8 of his. That doesn’t even add up to 24 so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

Later on I accepted two invites from him to start new cameras; I think he sent these earlier and I just didn’t get them amidst my crashiness. I was able to finish both cameras with just one crash towards the start both times. At this time he wasn’t using the app so perhaps it’s an active connection to another user that causes it.

(UPDATE, 24th Dec 2011: this morning my bro sent me a camera invite and started shooting on it himself and didn’t get a single crash. Later, when I accepted the invite and started shooting I didn’t get any crashes either. However, in both cases the other user wasn’t using the app at the same time. I still think it’s related to an active connection – or maybe the bug is related to server-side software as opposed to bugs in the app code, and has been fixed already?)

Either way, there’s lots of complaints on Twitter and the App Store review page so it’s the sort of thing that will probably be fixed very soon and then perhaps I’ll be able to work out how it’s actually supposed to work. Worth bearing in mind for now.

My niggles

… are a bunch of things that niggled at me but wouldn’t put me off completely. I just think that if they did it my way it would be that little bit better, obviously.

First, you have to shoot with the phone in the vertical position; if you go landscape the camera doesn’t auto-rotate. This fits with the ‘phone-as-toy-camera’ metaphor (real film doesn’t detect orientation) but limits how you can use the app; getting the lens very close to a horizontal surface (e.g., for a shallow depth of field effect) is harder and I found that surprisingly often it’s more comfortable getting the shot you want by turning the phone sideways. I know I could rotate specific prints once saved into the iPhone’s Photos app, but that’s just hassle, man.

Between Hipstamatic and Disposable I prefer the vertical alignment of the D-Series controls and also the fact that the viewfinder is close to the iPhone lens. However, I’d prefer it more if unlocking the auto-rotate ability was an option for those of us willing to break the illusion of a real toy camera.

I’ll briefly list my other niggles, in no particular order:

  • prints are square but the viewfinder is ever so slightly rectangular – wider on the horizontal. I was disappointed when I first realised my prints weren’t the same; there’s so many square camera apps on my phone that the variety would be nice.
  • on some cameras, particularly the Dreamy, moving the effect slider around didn’t appear to change anything noticeably
  • the only option to connect with friends is via Facebook. I would dearly like to delete my Facebook account forever but apps like this (and websites that choose to use the Facebook login APIs exclusively) force me to keep it hanging around. I asked @Hipstamatic if there was any chance of adding Twitter for friend connection and they replied that there was a chance, but not quite yet. They’d be mad to leave that on the back-burner.
  • in-app, you can view individual images with their notes but you can’t tap again to make the image full-screen on black and zoom in on details; you can in Hipstamatic and it would nice to have it here.
  • when shooting you can’t tap to set the focus or exposure point. You also can’t pinch to zoom but that really would break the metaphor so that’s fine. However, the camera’s getting to choose the focus and exposure so why can’t I? S’not fair.
  • once you’ve purchased cameras, you can’t change the order they are listed in your camera bag. I like to organise things in a way that makes sense to me; just needs an ‘Edit’ button.
  • if you start a camera and then don’t use it and want to remove it from your active cameras, you can’t; make sure you pick the right camera and the right name.
  • similarly, you can’t decide to have a film processed with blanks left; you could choose to do this in real life so technically it should be there, right? 😉

(okay, the last two are really picky. I realise the option to end an unfinished camera would rather kill the mood but what if there’s a handful of event snaps at the start of a camera and then you have to shoot 20 unrelated snaps just to get access to them? Nnnngg, dammit)

About those IAPs

As mentioned above, some of the purchasable cameras (effects) in the app are not unlimited. These limited-use cameras follow the real-world metaphor that when they’re done, they’re done, and you gotta buy new ones.

When I first heard about this idea of charging per shot in a digital camera app, I was pretty damn outraged. In the original version of this post at this point I went on for several paragraphs wrestling with outrage versus the fact that the prices really won’t break the bank and the app is free as it is and even a 36-pack will take so long to get through it may as well be ‘unlimited’, but then again it still doesn’t assuage my disapproval of charging per shot for digital, and so on…

(At current prices I calculated the use per 24-shot-camera at 7p each for the 9-pack, 4p for the 36-pack and 2p for the 99-pack)

As I considered and reconsidered, I slowly realised that… actually… I find it strangely appealing that in this fantasy world of the iPhone-as-disposable-camera I have to pay for opportunities to use a particular model of camera and then shoot all the shots before I get any back. It does actually lend a certain sense of importance to each frame you shoot, because you’re paying (hardly anything whatsoever) for it.

And I hate that I have to admit this because I do think it’s a dangerous precedent to set for IAPs in photo apps simply because unlike film, digital photos don’t incur a cost-per-shot in the same way; however, I’m forced to admit Hipstamatic Disposable actually gets away with it purely by virtue of the effort that’s gone into maintaining the illusion of reality throughout the experience.

So don’t anyone else get any funny ideas.

I should add that although I haven’t verified it, I think that when Synthetic first released the app their rates for the IAPs were not as good value as they are now and may have been pressured into bettering them by user complaints. So long as they spread the love with a mix of unlimited and limited IAPs in future I could live with grabbing a 36-pack of my favourite premium cameras. I doubt I’d run out any time soon.

In conclusion

Realistically this won’t completely take over from the other apps I use daily due to the convenience of their one-shot nature, but the enjoyment I get from using the D-Series cameras is such that I want to find ways to use them; I’ve got a couple of cameras on the go right now and I’m looking forward to the day I get them all back, whenever that may be.

And the IAPs? I still think it’s a bold step to charge users per shot to take digital pictures but look; the rates aren’t bad for the actual usage you’ll get; it makes some crazy sort of sense in terms of the whole package; and, perversely, it really does immerse you in the experience of using the D-Series cameras, which is what I’ve been raving about throughout this post.

Sadly, at this time it certainly seems to me that the social features, which appear to work in principle, are the cause of such a persistent crash bug that I can’t recommend using them – my brother was so unimpressed with a crash every ten seconds that he’s not bothered to launch it again since he completed one shared camera with me. If it had been my only experience of the app, I’d have deleted it by now as well.

So overall? It’s such a fun app with such new ideas to change your iPhone snapping that you’d be daft not to give it a go and see how it might fit into your day. Maybe just wait until they fix the crippling crash bug first (or stay well away from the social features until they do).

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to comment on anything (except about how fake toy camera apps are the reason proper photography is dying and all that stuff) I’m @myglasseye on Twitter.

D-Fault, f/x 2.8


D-Fault, f/x 22.0

D-Lite, f/x 22.0

Rodney ZX9, f/x 22.0

D-Lite, f/x 22.0

Unicorn MG, f/x 12.4

MegaZuck 84, f/x 22.0

Dreamy, f/x 22.0


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7 thoughts on “my mostly positive review of Hipstamatic Disposable

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and wonderfully detailed review. This sort of sane and balanced discussion is so rare in general, and almost nonexistent around this particular issue.

    The sums of money we’re talking about are negligible in the grand scheme of things. And yet something in me rebels at the thought of paying money for a wholly imaginary commodity — in this case, a wrapper of 9 or 36 or however many rolls of “film”. It breaks the rules somehow. I’d be happy to pay more than 69p for gear I really liked, such as BlacKeys 44.

    I wonder if some kind of hybrid pricing structure is possible: say, $.99 for X rolls, 1.99 for 10X rolls, or 3.99 to own the thing forever. That’s a good bit higher than the going rate for classic Hipstamatic IAPs, but still addresses the concerns (and anger) of critics.

  2. Hi Richard, thanks for your comments.

    I considered that exact option – drop the 99-pack and replace it with permanent ownership. It was part of the text that I refer to taking out the more I thought about it. The way I see it – with this app, making a few select cameras ‘premium’ and selling limited-use versions does seem wrong but there are many, many camera apps that do it the other way, the way we’re used to. This one encourages a different kind of shooting; it harks back to a time when you were limited by the capacity of the film, were forced to wait to see the images, and had to buy more images.

    All of these things combined to create a sense of excitement and anticipation that doesn’t exist so much now. The main purpose of every design choice in the app is to try and reintroduce those now-lost experiences of photography to a demographic who may never, ever have experienced them= and of course, another goal is to make money but I absolutely support their right to do so and after all there’s plenty in there for free and purchases are not essential. A 36-pack alone will take ages to finish unless you’re burning through shots like crazy, in which case one would be better off using the original Hipstamatic that doesn’t charge per shot. A 99-pack is better value but also possibly overkill – why not grab a few 69p packs and switch between them from time to time?

    I really hope Synthetic don’t drop the Limited-use model and keep it alongside a range of unlimited cameras also for sale. I like the experience – if I want instant satisfaction and freedom to shoot dozens of shots freely I have loads of other apps to do that with 🙂

  3. Pingback: » Hipstamatic Disposable D Series

  4. Nice review here. Hipstamatic seems so intent on not just bringing back the creative, good part of old photography, but the annoying and unnecessary part that we were all so happy to leave behind. This disposable thing with its 24 pictures is part of that. It’s like if Netflix made you start “rewinding” movies before sending them back, or before logging off. There’s just no sense to it. And while it seems you’re okay with the charge-per-shot, I think that’s bizarre.

    WIth the Hipstamatic app itself, it’s the “winding film” and the date showing ’81.’

    Again, nice review and terrific site in general.

  5. Thanks for the praise, Brian! As you know I don’t share your views at all on those two features of the app, but I think you may be coming at it from the wrong angle.

    If you’re old enough to remember rewinding tapes, I guess you also remember having to wait for film prints. That was a pain in the arse, agreed. I started taking ‘proper’ photos once DSLRs were well established as I could never afford the luxury of all the film that I would have needed to teach myself photography before that (I’m 35 by the way). I love the immediacy of digital photography.

    The whole point of this app is to bring back some of the elements of film photography that have disappeared with the advent of digital. Their goal is not to create a Frustration Simulator, though. Having 24 images you have to use before you see them all isn’t there to annoy you, it’s there to build the sense of anticipation waiting to get to see them, and to give you a handful of “oh yeahhh!” moments as you go through them and relive some moments you’d forgotten.

    The idea of buying limited-use film, while controversial (I hated it at first), is there to both make them money and also to imbue your shooting with the sense that having paid for these frames (working out to way, way less than a penny per frame) you should make them count. Looking at the current pricing, if you were absolutely in love with one particular type of film on sale, you could buy 99 rolls of it for £2.50. Think about that: how long would it take to shoot 99 rolls with 24 frames per roll (2,376 frames)? A long, long time, and that’s only if you stuck to that one film type. You’re more likely to want to mix it up, using a different type from time to time. Besides, there are four unlimited-use film types to play with if you object to limited-use.

    This app isn’t aimed at people who specifically want to shoot one picture and see it, digital style. I think the target market is people at events, where one is more likely to take a snap here, a snap there, some more over there, and maybe not even use all 24 in one night. Then they finish them off the next day and see the whole evening’s snaps at once. Alternatively, at the moment I have a few rolls on the go and only use them occasionally for little moments I find during my day but which I don’t absolutely have to see there and then, meaning it will be even longer before I get to the end of a roll and there’ll be more photos I don’t remember taking.

    Comparing the app to having to wind back Netflix films is not really an appropriate analogy in terms of what Synthetic wanted to achieve here; they didn’t want to create an app that simulated the frustration of ‘the old days’, they made it for people who would be receptive to the limitations and enjoy them for what they are.

    If you want a retro toy-camera style photo app with instant image review and filters you pay for and keep, Hipstamatic is for you, or Instagram, or PictureShow, or any of the dozens and dozens of similar apps. Personally, I commend Synthetic for trying something different and injecting some of the excitement and anticipation of film photography back into digital photography. They got the pricing completely wrong at first but listened and tweaked. I sincerely hope they don’t completely bow to Internet pressure and remove the limited-use rolls as has been hinted in blog posts. Then the only thing distinguishing it from Hipstamatic will be the 24-frame limit and people moan about that too.

  6. Not odd at all. Whether I agree with everything you write or not, you write with a clear and fair point of view and illuminate a lot about what I saw at first as a silly idea and make it more sensible.
    I’m 43, so your point about who the app is designed for is absolutely right. To me, being able to shoot pictures without worrying about the cost per shot is a huge huge benefit of digital. Having to pay per shot is to me akin to having me pay to play a song on my guitar, or pay to draw a picture. It’s not something I look forward to returning too. But to kids and adults that grow up with everything instant and immediate and often free, there is probably a very strong draw to the nostalgia. While I find it to be a silly and artificial trope, you’re right that the app wasn’t aimed at me.

  7. “To me, being able to shoot pictures without worrying about the cost per shot is a huge huge benefit of digital. Having to pay per shot is to me akin to having me pay to play a song on my guitar, or pay to draw a picture. It’s not something I look forward to returning too.”

    But you don’t have to worry about the cost per shot – even at the most expensive it’s 7p per roll of 24 shots, and you didn’t pay for the app in the first place, or three of the cameras that come with it. So at worst, you’ll pay 69p to play with a few rolls of film in an app that already doesn’t appeal to you because of the 24-frame feature.

    I totally get why people react like this to paying for digital photography. It was exactly how I reacted – no exaggeration – until I tried it for myself and realised that this app sets out to create a very specific experience. It’s okay to remember the frustrations of this being the real-world case for photographers and also not mind that this app seeks to bring some of that back, mainly because it’s not compulsory (you don’t have to buy any of those three effects that charge per roll), and it’s nowhere near as expensive, not even remotely close. In fact, I daresay most people who buy a 69p 9-roll pack won’t finish those 9 rolls any time soon, and there’s all the other unlimited rolls to play with as well.

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