Tuesday, 18 January 2011

That Retro Look

No one interested in photography can have failed to notice the incredible numbers of DSLR cameras parading round the streets. Branded camera straps for Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony make it abundantly clear that mid-range kit is very much de rigeur for the serious tourist. And mid-range kit nowadays takes incredibly high-quality technical images, even if the content is poor.

But there are two counter movements afoot. The first is Lomography, celebrating nasty cheap plastic lenses, mechanical marvels and film developed deliberately in the wrong chemicals. The second is the rise of fake Lomography via apps for smartphones. Leading the charge here is unquestionably Hipstamatic, although other iPhone apps do the same thing. On Android we have Retro Camera.

The images these apps produce do indeed resemble the low-end quality that was typical of cheap colour films and cameras in the 1970s and 1980s, with some artistic license thrown in on top like frames and spool marks. Given the right subject they lend a kind of mysterious air; the preferred word of Lomographers is "dreamy".

So what is the appeal of these apps? The cynic in me says that it is a way of compensating for the low quality of the phone's own optics, although that is less true for people with iPhone 4s than other devices. The cynic is also saying that its a way to make an otherwise bland image more interesting, but I don't think that's completely fair. The creative side of me really likes the appearance.

As a test I created a number of identical images with different settings plus a control taken with my Canon. I think that the Retro Camera has the more interesting effects, but only by a small amount. What do you think?

Hipstamatic
Retro Camera

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