The Newest Fad is the Oldest Look — The Retro Photo Revolution for iPhone

Years of and millions of dollars in R&D have resulted in digital cameras finally having picture quality truly equal to their high end conventional counterparts. And while the first camera phones were laughable novelties that provided you with ‘images’ not fit to be displayed on a Commodore computer, an iPhone capture would have to be considered pretty respectable for casual purposes. So what’s the next logical step? You got it – a program that degrades image quality to that of a plastic 1970s camera!

Popularizing the vintage iPhone app push was Hipstamatic. The purported influence for the the app was the ‘Hipstamatic 100’, but this looks more and more to be a tongue-in-cheek joke made by the creators combining the name of the legendary Kodak Instamatic with what they knew would be a large portion of their market share: hipsters.

Hipstamatic clobbered other comparable (and some arguably superior) camera apps for one simple reason; the product was marketed as first and foremost a vintage camera filter. With the availability of ‘Hipstapaks’ (virtual lenses and flashes) for less than a dollar a pop, the crowd went wild and parent company Synthetic Corp.’s profit numbers are now harder to find than a Justin Bieber fan at a Slayer concert. Considering their new San Francisco digs and proposed art gallery, you can draw your own conclusions.

The competition, of course, learned fast. CLBITZ Ubiquitous Communications’ RetroCamera is not to be confused with its near-namesake, Urbian Inc’s Retro Camera. Both are near carbon-copies of Hipstamatic, with the latter having the distinction of being available for Android. And while a fuller featured program, CameraBag (originally Hipstamatic’s most direct competitor) has of late been making sure its attractive retro-style images are front and centre. Shakelt has even gone the extra step and added a tactile aspect to the vintage experience. Snap your pic and then watch it slowly develop, shaking your iPhone like a Polaroid (insert Outkast reference here) to speed up the process.

Yet, all of the above have become a distant memory to some phone-photo-junkies with the arrival of the juggernaut that is Instagram. If you’ve just heard the name in passing and lumped it in the same category as Hipstamatic et. al, think again. Let’s start off with one very, very important achievement: Instagram garnered one million users in just over three months. By comparision, the same milestone took Foursquare a year to achieve and the almighty Twitter twice that.

The distinction that needs to be made is that Instagram not only syncs up with social networks more seamlessly than the competition, it is a social network itself. Other features that work in its favor are, among others, the simplicity of the program and most importantly the ease with which users can share and show off their photos.

And the fact that it’s free didn’t exactly hurt either.

And how did Instagram market themselves visually? A cute flow diagram, perhaps,with one dazzling photo being shared amongst four or five networks? I think not – the tagline ‘Fast beautiful sharing for your iPhone’ got that aspect across just fine, thank you. Instragram ain’t no fool: their logo incorporates a Polaroid camera, and their front page; paper-clipped Polaroid pictures alongside an iPhone cycling through oodles of lo-fi pics.

Those who think the whole faux-retro pic craze is nonsense can at least take solace in the fact that a developer is yet to create an app that recreates the extreme shortcomings of early film equipment for iPhone video…wait, pardon me, what was that?

Oh.

Seems if you’d like to add dust, scratches and frame jitters to your iPhone vids which Apple techs spent years stabilizing and cleaning up, 8mm by Nexvio has got you covered.

As one may have noticed, the number of these apps that have versions available for platforms other than iPhone is almost negligible. Again – these guys know their market. Versions for Android will certainly become available for some: when, however, remains a mystery. As for Blackberry, the concept of versions being developed for the ‘text-heavy, camera weak’ platform remains more of a running joke than anything else akin to the Angry Birds for Blackberry rib.

Let’s be honest though – if the idea of these apps sets your loins afire, chances are that won’t be a problem and you’re reading this article on your iPhone right now.

Click here for a comprehensive list of retro photo apps.