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The retro trend is fueling a renewed appreciation for earlier photographic technologies, from Brownie cameras and SLRs to Polaroid SX70s and even the first smartphones. Want to give your iPhone photos a favorite look from the past? There’s probably an app for that. Here are our favorites; with one exception, we’ve prioritized apps that let you shoot with your choice of filter from the get-go rather than sending you down a postproduction 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 postproduction 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 never have occurred to you otherwise. Hipstamatic releases upgrades regularly, and its 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 a cleaner, more “editorial.” look. That said, retro photography fans will enjoy options like M4-6 (“Subtle Fade”), meant to evoke the vintage hues of the 1970s, 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 Ilford. 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 Huji Cam, an app whose premise is to help you shoot pictures like it’s the 1990s. 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 simplicity 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 virtually swap cameras: For example, if you shoot with a preset called FR2, which was developed with the eponymous Japanese fashion brand, you’ll get color and grain similar to pictures made with Fujifilm’s disposable cameras. A more playful option is “Cam Boy,” a throwback to Nintendo’s Game Boy camera and printer that yields 2-bit photos in four shades of gray. Another is “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 a breakout trend itself! 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 Adams filter, for example, gives images higher contrast, darkens blues and lightens greens and reds, and is recommended for landscape photography. In contrast, the Henri Cartier-Bresson filter softens the images, lightening both blues and skin tones. For those who want a little bit of everything, the Winogrand filter has high contrast; lighter red, yellow, and orange tones; and darker blues.
Get Argentum: Free download+first filter free