Back in the days before Instagram made square images trendy, there used to be a iPhone app which was popular with photographers who wanted to reminisce about the golden days of film and the beautiful imperfections of the medium. They fondly recalled how a different combination of film and lens could drastically change the appearance feel of their final image. Image post production was once again optional as opposed to being essential as it had become in the brave new world of digital.
However, with the advent of Instagram using hipsters making pseudo film photography the best thing since sliced bread, phone photographers began to jump ship and abandon the once ‘must have’ app. This left the app developers in a difficult situation as Instagram had created an app which not only made the process of creating a ‘look’ for your images far simpler (you only needed to make one decision i.e. which filter to use) but also let you share, through the same app, your masterpiece portrait of your cat with the world. The original app developers response was to basically try and copy the Instagram format via their own social media, camera toting app. However by now Instagram had been purchased by Facebook and there was really no stopping the momentum of the Instagram monster. So the once so loved phone app disappeared into obscurity with very few updates and possibly less users.
The name of the fabled app was Hipstamatic.
Fast forward to 2019 and the developers of Hipstamatic finally responded to a world where Instagram has become the most popular photo sharing app of all time and is probably also the largest and most influential social medium platform that we have ever seen. How have they responded? By creating Hipstamatic X (anybody would think that Hipstamatic is ten years old or something), a slick, streamlined version of the original Hipstamatic app which allows you to capture beautiful film like images via the app and share them with absolutely no one via the app (apart from your friends and family via the antiquated means of text messages or email). Yes, Hipstamatic X is basically the complete opposite of Instagram with the main objective of the app being to enable the user with a means of creating great images as opposed to enabling the user a means to share their life via yet another social media platform – and this is what makes it so refreshing.
When I received a press release notifying me that Hipstamatic X was due to be released, I made the mistake of reinstalling the original Hipstamatic app on my iPhone. The first thing which struck me was just how much fun it was to use Hipstamatic; and just how good the final images were.
The best way (in my opinion) to approach the use of Hipstamatic is to consider it as a virtual film camera which you can fit in your pocket. The layout of the original app is quite simple and quite deliberately looks like a 35mm film camera from the 70s. The viewfinder is quite small (although a new full screen viewfinder is now available on the latest update) but this kind of adds to the experience. Also, mimicking film photography , the viewfinder most definitely is not what you see is what you get which is liberating and frustrating in equal measures. Again, fairly similar to shooting film after using digital equipment for over a decade.
The core of the Hipstamatic experience is the fact that you have to choose the lens and film combination you are going to use for your final image. Of course when you are choosing these you are really just selecting a couple of digital presets, or filters if you prefer, which are applied to image during the process stage of the image capture. However it doesn’t feel like this in use, you actually feel like you are choosing a vintage lens or some kind of obsolete film – and the random light flare, leak or vignette applied to the final image by the Hipstamatic app itself means that the end result has an almost organic feel to it; in many ways it is like shooting film.
At this point you may be wondering why I said it was a mistake re-installing the classic Hipstamatic before installing the new Hipstamatic X. The answer to this is quite simple, the classic Hipstamatic app is just that – a classic. The new X version does essentially everything the original can do and offers a new, slick, user interface which is probably a bit more practical. However, I can’t help but feel that the new Hipstamatic X is designed to appeal to a generation which has probably never seen a film camera let alone shot film; whilst the original Hipstamatic is for everyone who used to shoot film and misses that film experience but doesn’t want to lose the convenience of using digital. All in all, both are great photography apps and tremendous fun to use – and perhaps that is all that really matters.