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Hipster vs Hipster; Battle of the iPhone Photography Apps

December 15, 2010

A few weeks ago I began drafting an article about the Hipstamatic print shop – a recent addition to the popular iPhone app that allows users to get physical copies of their photos. Obviously, this article was never finished as my attention on Hipstamtic slowly started to bend towards Instagram – a photography app which, similar to Hipstamatic, treats mobile photos with retro / lomo inspired filters. Instagram is experiencing some incredibly steady growth, proving itself to be the obviously more social friendly app; featuring a stream of friends photos, instant updating to twitter, facebook, and foursquare, and a much shorter processing time (Hipstmatic attempts to capture the ‘analog’ experience by making the user wait for their picture to be ‘developed’).

Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram are often scrutinized by photographers and photography fans alike. With little *actual* control over the process, the criticism sounds much like the debate of analog versus digital photography from days of yore. But this debate is further fragmented (and somewhat duplicated) by users of these iPhone apps who find their allegiance to one or the other – often duking it out over which digital application is a better solution for “retro” photography. With analog lovers turned digiphiles in one corner (Hipstamatic) and social media junkies in another (Instagram) the battle seems to be turning into the most ironic and trivial disputes of our time. It’s something like Hipster vs Hipster.

(taken with Hipstamatic)

Unsurprisingly, Hipstamatic – much like analog photography – seems to be the favourite of those who claim a stake in appreciation for traditional photography and the photographic process (I told you this was going to be ironic). As previously mentioned, Hipstamatic tries to capture the experience of analog photography by minimizing your view finder, creating a wait time for photo processing, offering the ability to print your photos, and providing a selection of lenses, films, and flash bulbs (some of which you must buy via their store). Hipstamatic requires the user to put time and thought into their photos as they cannot haphazardly shoot – the photos take time, as does the selection of ‘film’, ‘lenses’, etc. Everything about the application – from design to function- is meant to foster the notion that you are in fact using a toy, plastic camera which somehow got magically planted into your iPhone. Just as you would carefully plan and compose a shot when using film, Hipstamatic asks you to do the same. Of course that’s not implying that Hipstamatic is totally denying it’s state as a digital application – the wait time is a mere twenty seconds (otherwise known as ‘forever’ to digiphiles), you can ‘shake to randomize’ your lens and film selection, and the app does integrate with some social networks – most notably, flickr.
While Hipstamatic is no slouch in the social media department – the brand offers monthly photography contests with voting done over twitter and, as mentioned, some (clunky) integration with different networks – Instagram is by far the champion app for quick and easy sharing with friends. Built into the app is a friend feed that aggregates your friends most recent photos, which you can favourite and comment on. Your photos are primarily shared in this feed, but you can also attach them to twitter updates, foursquare check ins, and tumblr posts. Because Instagram doesn’t pretend to be a lomography camera, photo processing and sharing is much quicker and intuitive. While Hipstamatic offers more variations on effect, the photo you take at any given moment is unchangeable – if you are unhappy with it, you’ll have to comb through your options and retake the shot. Instagram however allows you to preview, apply, and save different filters to the same photo, and you’re not limited by the pictures you take with the application; you can import shots from your gallery as well. It’s ease of use and superior sharing capabilities demonstrate an understanding of the typical iPhone user: tech-savvy “hip” individuals with an aptitude for social media, who want to share information (and thus “cool” photos) quickly and easily – thus making the app a crowd favourite. Since it’s release, Instagram has been boasting a rapidly growing user base and photo library that threatens to over take Hipstamatic.

(taken with Instagram)

The App store is rife with photography apps – many of them promising to re-create a traditional experience (i.e. polaroids, photobooths, lomography etc) and/or improve your photo sharing capabilities. And while Hipstamatic and Instagram are not your sole options, they are leading the pack because they offer beautiful filters and understand their market. Personally, I use both applications, albeit sparingly so. While Hipstamatic used to be my iPhone photography app of choice, I now tend to use it only when I see something interesting and don’t have a ‘real’ camera on me. The possibility of having a printed photo later on is quite powerful, and makes the iPhone photography experience that much more tangible. Instagram, however, has become my go-to application for sharing photos with friends and followers. For example, the photo above is one I took this morning and shared on twitter: “this is what my hair is doing this morning. in desperate need of gravity”. These type of quick, inconsequential photos of random daily happenings are the ones you usually find floating around Instagram and clogging up your various feeds. Simply put, Instagram is a means to further hipster-fy your social media experience.

Although both these apps are great, it must be noted that try as they might, they can never actually recreate that feeling of setting up and snapping a photo on a Holga or Diana camera. So remember kids, while you’re busy spamming your friends feeds with pictures of your cat taken on Ina’s 1969 ‘film’, there are still real, tangible lomography cameras out there.  They may not offer the efficiency or cutting edge technology of these iPhone apps, but they do offer the exhilarating risk of success or failure that comes with taking an actual photo.

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  1. Jolanda says:

    I think I’ve noticed Hipsta processing time being shorter as of late. It’s a small change but maybe they’re recognizing some of the things talked about here and putting in a bit effort to try and retain customers.

  2. Dana says:

    Yeah I noticed that with the last update too, and more integration with networks. I think both apps are at this really interesting point where some changes can help them ensure their user base. i.e. hipstamatic improving their social experience, or instagram offering more filters and customization and ability to print. That said, I wonder what would happen if they just keep their current strengths better than the rest. I’m sure that strategy wouldn’t hurt them either.

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