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With the retro trend fueling a renewed appreciation for earlier photographic technologies, from Brownie cameras and SLRs to Polaroid SX70s and even the first smartphones, here are our favorite apps for giving your iPhone photos a retro look. With one exception, we prioritized apps that let you shoot with the chosen filter from the get-go rather than sending you down a post-production rabbit hole. To find the one that works best for you, read on.
The app that started it all still has one of the strongest games in terms of effects. Hipstamatic’s interface is designed to look like an analog camera with swappable lenses, films, and flashes, each producing a different look. While the company has added a state-of-the-art post-production editing suite you can use to fix balance, contrast, noise, and so on, the app is at its best when you equip its camera before shooting and leave whatever happens unretouched. There’s also a shuffle function that will load randomized gear when you shake your phone; it’s hit or miss, sure, but it yields combinations of effects that might have eluded you otherwise. Hipstamatic releases upgrades on a regular basis, and their offerings run the gamut from 1970s-inspired effects to a look best described as “1990s anime lighting.” Extra components are sold separately so you can create your own personalized suite of filters.
Get Hipstamatic: $2.99+in-app purchases
VSCO is a photo-editing app that offers more than 200 presets, some of them developed by Kodak, Agfa, and Ilford. It is not strictly a retro-inspired app, as it has plenty of options for those who want their iPhone photos to have a sleeker, cleaner, and more “editorial.” look. That said, retro photography fans will enjoy options like M4-6 (“Subtle Fade”), meant to evoke the vintage hues of the ’70s and P 1-3 (“Instant-Warm”), which pays homage to instant film and its signature creamy overtones. VSCO also has the Film X Library, which replicates the look of films made by Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, and Gilford. For example, KCP2, with its low contrast and saturation and slightly warmer tones, pays homage to Kodak’s 1970s-era film Color Plus 200. While that film is still available today, it’s fun to have a digital version handy.
Get VSCO: Free download; monthly membership starts at $7.99
Around 2018, people started declaring the Instagram aesthetic dead: it was too perfect, too polished, too contrived. Enter Hujicam, an app whose premise is to help you shoot pictures like it’s the nineteen-nineties. The interface has the look and feel of a disposable camera, with buttons on the screen for the flash and the shutter. There is also a makeshift keyhole viewfinder that you’re supposed to peer into in order to magnify it. Once you shoot, expect distorted colors, light leaks, blurs, and a digital timestamp that takes you back to the year 1998. You can’t tinker with the effects, but if you feel overwhelmed by the options offered by other retro apps, Huji Cam’s lack of choices is refreshing.
Get Huji Cam: Free download+in-app purchases
NOMO combines Hipstamatic’s plethora of options with an interface similar to Huji Cam’s. It allows you to swap cameras: If you shoot with FR2, for example, a preset developed with the eponymous Japanese fashion brand, you’ll get color and grain similar pictures made with Fujifilm’s disposable cameras. More playful options include “Cam Boy,” a throwback to Nintendo’s Game Boy Camera and printer, which yields 2-bit photos in four shades of gray, and “2007” which, as the name suggests, replicates the low resolution of the first iPhone cameras–it was originally released as an April Fool’s Day prank in 2019, but, three years later, it’s still around. It would not be surprising if it became its own trend! Funnily enough, every time you install new gear, you have to pretend you’re physically unpacking it.
Get NOMO CAM: Free download+in-app purchases
Argentum focuses solely on black-and-white photography and offers nothing but six filters (each one sold separately) named after, and inspired by, photographers Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Irving Penn, Garry Winogrand, Yousuf Karsh and Dorothea Lange. The AA filter (Ansel Adams) for example, gives images higher contrast, darkens blues and lightens greens and reds, and is recommended for landscape photography; in contrast, HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson) softens the images, lightening both blues and skin tones. For those who want a little bit of everything, the GW filter has high contrast, lighter red, yellow, and orange tones, and darker blues.
Get Argentum: Free download+first filter free