A while back, photographer Chase Jarvis made quite a killing in the app market with Best Camera, a pioneering iPhone photography app that capitalized on a very simple premise: “the best camera is the one that’s with you.” The simple truth behind those words can’t be overemphasized. Indeed, of what use is an expensive DSLR or medium format rig if its whole reason for being—taking pictures—isn’t realized because you don’t have it at hand when a photo opportunity strikes?
Just a few years ago it would have been laughable, if not outright unthinkable, to even consider shooting print-quality photos with a mobile phone. The low resolutions of lenses and sensors, pitiful light sensitivities imposed by the small form-factor, and molasses-slow processing imposed very real limits on the photographic capabilities of these devices.
Then it happened: the mobile camera phone was adopted by lo-fi photography aficionados. Suddenly, the phone camera’s weaknesses—lack of sharpness, low clarity and contrast, and noisy image—became prized assets. Endless variety and instant gratification was ensured by a variety of apps that enabled users to do instant post-processing, and with the phone’s built-in connectivity options, sharing a lo-fi masterpiece is just a click away.
Some apps take vintage character and film verisimilitude to a whole new level, adding realistic film, paper and slide edges, dust, grain, light leaks and diffraction. While some bona fide film users have cried out against what they termed “artificial nostalgia,” most people embrace it, perhaps as a reaction to the sterility and antiseptic clarity of digital captures. I myself have mixed feelings: while I love the dated vibe of a Hipstamatic or Lo-Mob shot, the aging effect itself is static, stuck in a moment of little or no relevance to the time the photo was taken.