The Hipstamatic: Vintage Photography on the iPhone

Once upon a time I had a camera.  I bought it used from a camera shop on Simcoe Street, near a building that changed hands every few years – I recall it being a toy store, a video store and a furniture store to name a few.

The camera cost fifty bucks, I think, and I fell in love with it because it was the closest thing I had to a professional adventuring type camera.  I only had it a few months, though, before I fell off a cliff face into Lake Superior and wrecked it.

I wrote about this a few years ago, and how during my trip to Amsterdam I got myself a decent replacement.  It’s a good small camera with a x10 magnification lens, for those days that I know I’m going to need one.

But what about those other days where I’m just out and about?  My iPhone has a camera built into it, and it’s a good quality camera.  But it just feels functional, not fun.

I’m brought back to my old 35mm camera before it got filled with lake water.  The pictures that came from it weren’t digitally perfect.  They had character that came from the lens and the developing.   I was sometimes surprised by how good a picture turned out, or didn’t.

Enter the Hipstamatic, an iPhone app that recreates the look and feel of picture taking back before digital, say the Seventies and early Eighties.

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This app is fascinating, but not because it just makes pictures look old-timey.  It makes the whole picture taking experience itself feel retro.  Your camera is old school black with gator-skin plastic. You can switch lenses, film, even flashes and gels.  Like so:

[quick aside – they’ve improved the program since this video was made. It actually “develops” the film in the background now, allowing you to keep taking pictures without having to wait]

And this is what makes it so fascinating.  None of this is real. The lenses, film, and flashes are just metaphors for photoshop-type effects.  Different films change the borders, different lenses change the filters, and so on.  Some have flaws that are quite intentionally built into them, as you can see in my slideshow.  But there is nothing here you couldn’t do on your own with Photoshop.  Heck, there are photo apps out there that let you do that within the camera.

But where’s the fun in that?  Would you rather swap out your Jimmy lens for a Kaimal Mark II, or adjust hue/saturation within the Effects menu later on?

This is a virtual camera, and every item within it – lens, film, etc… has a virtual history to it that makes it seem real.  They created virtual boxes and logos for each of the products.  They even took the clever move to create a fake website pretending that the Hipstamatic was a real camera made in the early 80s that this app is now reviving.

If you want more lenses or films they created packages you can buy with different vintage lenses and films set for a particular theme with such attractive names as Camden (conjuring up images of 1960s London), or Shibuya (doing the same for Tokyo).  For 99 cents you can buy a new flash, film and lens that I can mix and match with my other gear?  Wow!

You aren’t buying a camera, you’re buying into a shared idea.  A look.  From a marketing standpoint, it’s nothing short of brilliant.  You are marketing a camera that actively does LESS than what your camera can actually do, to make your camera perform WORSE (yet somehow look better) and getting people to not only pay you, but thank you for the privilege.

I should be insulted.  I should be yelling out the Emperor has no clothes.  And yet I am looking at the Hipsta-mart thinking I could really use the Williamsburg pack that gives me black bordered prints and an extra large lens…