Will the Smartphone ever replace the camera? Let’s get Hipstamatic By Ibraar Hussain

Will the Smartphone ever replace the camera?

By Ibraar Hussain

For enthusiastic amateurs and those with more than a snap shooting interest in Photography, I’d say no, not now, not ever.

There are certain things Smart Phones lack, and even if you gave a Smart Phone Full Frame and a gazillion Mega Pixels; it’ll still never pass the test – I consider Ergonomics a powerful feature no amount of technical advancement can compete with.

Anyway, this isn’t a discourse on Smart Phones and Photography, it’s about Hipstamatic on the iPhone.

Hipstamatic, in my opinion, is the best thing about Smart Phone photography – and unfortunately at the time of writing it is only (to my knowledge) available for the iPhone, so sorry Androids and Windows.

If you haven’t used it before, it’s a Square Format Camera Application which mimics toy camera’s and vintage snap shot cameras of yore, with choices of lens, Flash and Film which one can select for so many different combinations.

The combinations and options are phenomenal, brilliant in simplicity, ease of selection and results.

We have BW Films galore, colour, cooked ones, XP, IR, expired, different flash types, and lenses ranging from soft ones, to vignetting or ones giving an illusion of shallow depth of field, ones that leak light and others that are completely bizarre – and the range vast, with creative possibilities limitless.

Want moody black and white Noir-ish Film with strong vignetting? Want a platinum look print with soft tones? Want a punchy Velvia like look with sharp lens? A burnt out vintage 70s look with a multi hued flash effect? Or a Polaroid look with loads of colour? It’s all there – and to make things even more interesting, you can order prints on-the-fly, from within the Application.

It’s all great fun and has a superb interface – simply look through the square viewfinder (on the screen) and press the yellow button – and press a button to flip over so you can change film, lens and flash with a swipe.

And of course, you can buy more and more stuff.

With use you’ll start knowing which combination to use for which subject and have personal favourites, and to be honest, even the most mediocre snaps can be made to look superb with the colour and effect possibilities.

There is some creative control – touch a part of the Viewfinder image and it’ll focus and expose for that, move the iPhone up and down and you’ll see the exposure change in real time.

Anyway, that’s all the fun and funky stuff out-of-the-way, you can have all the funky effect things in the world but ultimately, if you lack even a microgram of creativity and talent, it’ll all look somewhat like a turd rolled in glitter.

What I really love about Hipstamatic, is the ability to work on composition using the brilliant Square Format, and this is what I use it for (apart from family and friends and such snaps).

The 6×6 Square is a great compositional aspect ratio – there’s no room for messing around, and the simplicity enables framing to be easier than oblong aspect ratios.

One, with the large square view finder of Hipstamatic, can really go to town on working on composition, framing, using key subjects, lead in lines, rule of thirds – and one can do it with the minimum of fuss and headache – just open the Application and off you go.

And the user can select the appropriate ‘Film’ to take the scene using the different creative Film/Lens or Filters available, and interpret the scene however they wish and easily.

I have been working on composition with this Hipstamatic for a while now, and I think it has improved my ability to see and express a scene more so than traditionally (with a real camera Film or Digital).

I don’t worry about sharpness or resolution – as such things really don’t matter one iota to me, sure to others they may well do – colour, composition, mood, tones and subject matter make sense to me and for this, Hipstamatic on the iPhone 5 is what I enjoy using as and when I require it.

I’ve included several shots here, just detailing the sort of things I tend to work on, composition, arranging elements in a scene, subject matter, colour, light and tone. With some studies of different places (Stone henge for example)


























  1. Overall I don’t care for these filters. The first set of color photos at the top give me negative flasbacks of ruined family photos. If only my parents didn’t wait two years to get them developed… People used to spend a lot of money so that their photos would not look like that. With 4K TV around the corner this would be akin to breaking out the VHS player. I enjoy Ibaar’s work but these go toor far for my taste.

  2. Thanks for the comments (both positive and negative) as it’s an interesting discussion this, is smartphone camera app photography or art or neither? are the use of digital plug in filters, ink and film and bleaching mimic really photography or just more ‘grown up’ versions of this new age iPhoneography stuff?

    My opinion is that IF it is acceptable to mimic film/bleaching etc using Nik and other software and plug ins, and to apply effects in Post Processing using Aperture/LR etc or Photoshop then it is acceptable to use Apps on an iPhone or Smartphone such as Nokia and Samsung to use their camera and processing to do the same thing but on a whackier – and more fun way- both are the same and any snobbish voices here aren’t really thinking about what they say.

    • Whether it’s art or not is debatable but what is undeniable is this app makes shooting with the iPhone fun! I don’t like point and shoots due to the lack of control and this brings some control to the camera. Will I print this out and hang it on my wall? Probably not, that’s what real film is for. But will I enjoy using the iPhone camera more with the hipstamatic app? Yes!

  3. I enjoyed looking at the photos as much as many that have been posted on this great site for daily inspiration.

    Photography, as with all of the arts, is in a state of constant evolution and experimentation. The world is not static and flat! There are not dragons at the edges!

    Now what is this malarkey about photography vs art……

  4. Super awesome swing someone making pictures with ALL the tools available to them. If you don’t mind me asking which combinations did you use on photos 2,4,13,15. Thanks for being awesome 😉

  5. You hesitated to respond to this absurd and silly article then wasted all that time and effort writing what I can’t make heads or tails of. Confused the hell out of me you did me old china.

  6. Nice to see Hipstamatic being given an airing on here.
    Oggl (part if the Hipstamatic family) is also available on the 41Mpx Nokia 1020, so smartphones are going big in the MPx department.

    Reading some of the comments is hillarious. There are a lot of stuck up photographers out there and they seem to have congregated here. If we agree that photography is about image making then it really doesn’t matter what you shoot it on, it could be film, it could be Polaroid, it could be digital, it could be a toy can it could be a Phase One digital back.
    It REALLY doesn’t matter! Get over yourselves!
    Using Hipstamatic is a fun way of taking images and I have been to several exhibitions where high quality Hipstamatic images are on show. And do you know what? There is room for everyone and everything.

    • +2. I thoroughly enjoyed these. Composition and subject matter on several of these are excellent. Yes, some of the processing is over the top for me. But…a lot of snobbish comments here. I doubt 2 out of 10 people who commented here can do better. They certainly haven’t shown us yet. Thanks Ibraar!

      • Thanks chaps, true say, the processing is way over the top, but that’s just part of the fun and I do love loud in your face colour at times.
        Thanks for the positive comments, I really appreciate it, and thanks for understanding what others perhaps are missing; the fact that I use it as I have the phone, which is withth me most times when i venture out to work or shops or trips, and the Hipstamatic is great for square composition – a format which is so much easier to get ‘right’ when composing, and of course the funky effects. it is all a learning tool, and fun and helps me work with the types of composition I have been playing with above. The stock camera app is ok too.

  7. Thanks Ibraar, I purchased the app immediately and began playing with it! It is only $1.99 for a neat thing to play with on the iphone. Cheap and fun.
    I like the square format and some of the B&W effects.
    It a phone for God’s sake, so don’t criticize too much guys, it just another app for screwing around and having fun and learning about square composition.
    Definitely worth it.

  8. Very entertaining article.

    It would be fun if Ibraar could post some snaps taken with the phone, the other with his Rollei. But not let on which one was used and see the reaction of the audience.

    Best regards

  9. The best camera is the one available and most likely for ordinary people the iPhone is. However, if we require technical quality a decent small point & shoot can be brought.

  10. Those are actually very nice photos – composed nicely — however, the hipstamatic processing spoils them. I’d like to see the before photos. You are talented.

    • :)cheers man. it’s just fun stuff and this isn’t a photographic exhibition or a show of world class photos – but a review of Hipstamatic with what and how it can be fun with all the mad stuff and useful because I can work on composition. So that’s why I don’t understand the criticisms. It’s great fun and folks should stop being snobbish and chill and not be so serious

  11. I think for a lot of people this is just fun.

    Sometimes I like to play with my Polaroid Land camera.
    The results often are sooo bad…but I still like it.
    Everybody has his own favourite piece of cake. Enjoy it!

  12. Really enjoyed these, Ibraar. They’re fun and playful and well conceived snaps for the effects used. Isn’t that what iPhone photography is all about? Sheesh, everybody’s taking it so seriously… lighten up, folks.

  13. Thanks for them comments guys. I totally understand that Smartphone Instamatic type colours and effects are a love it or hate it thing.

    But this is what this type of Photography is. Call it tacky or overdone, but that’s the whole point. it is a new genre.

    It’s part of the Smartphone Photography school now, it’s the future whether you like it or not.

    AND I do sense a lot of hypocrisy here, lambast me all you want, but Digital photographers who use plug in filters and NIK software and such to mimic Film or to create effects are no different to those wanting whacky mad vintage or fake effects such as with this software – it’s all gimmickry and it’s all part of the fun here at least, and with this stuff you don’t have to take it seriously – but all because it looks like or attempts to resemble Film and a real camera is used that’s all ok? Humbug!

    Anyway, for those who read the article, I like Hipstamatic because of the square format and because I am able to work with composition effectively with the square format and tart it all up for fun.

  14. Shots are similar to Holga, Diana or that old expensive folder sitting in my closet. The best thing is that no film is harmed in the making of these images. Lord knows I’ve butchered enough using questionable cameras trying make “art”.

    I say load up on these apps, go hog wild and see what comes of it. Experimentation at its finest.

  15. I hesitate to even respond to this absurd and silly aritcle…as if technique trumps content …plus what planet does this person live on???…it is not a matter of ” if the camera phone, smart, or droid will replace the camera”..it is an organic logical evolution of photography and for millions, hundreds of millions it is not even a question…it has…and my droid at 81/2 mg’s is my carry all the time ‘CAMERA’ with an amazing close up and wide app and numerous options…use extensive now in art publications, magazines, web sharing of my work, competitions…(AND NOBODY KNOWS IT IS FROM MY DROID haha!) plus it can go
    in to photo shop and Light room and go anywhere…plus Ibraar…not sure if he’s heard of ‘INSTAGRAM’
    it’s not just for social media, bf’s selfies , food and cats …it is a dynamic instant way of sharing images..and seeing images along with meditations and thots…it is where it is all going…has gone…
    so regardless of what ‘the camera folk’ say…it’s happening, and all the camera companies
    are working overtime to catch up…so it’s not a question of if…but when…we wil have our Leica, Nikon,
    Canon and Olympus and Fuji cameraphones! mark sadan

  16. Excellent stuff Ibraar, not all the filters are for me, I personally tend to use black and whites and a neutral to slightly warm colour, and it doesn’t replace a camera of course. But if we are out and about without a camera, or just want a different perspective it’s a fun tool…..are we allowed to have fun? Just because it’s a phone doesn’t mean one cant compose a worthwhile image. When new camera articles come out on this site there is often an outraged chorous of “it’s not about the gear!” and the valid element of that phrase is precisely why it is acceptable to shoot with a phone and some filters occasionally.

  17. Thanks for posting.. I’d say you were from South Wales from some of the scenes!

    I actually use 1:1 format a fair bit as I like it for framing.

    I actually like your photo’s but can see where some come from when they say they are of no photographic merit – although I don’t agree. They ARE artisitic. With art you are never going to please everyone – so don’t even try – just keep on doing what pleases you.

    I often edit my photo’s to be ‘arty’ and from posting find some some are liked and others aren’t. That’s life.

    Of course there are the purists out there who hate any messing with a photo……..and others who dislike black & white.

    As I said, I actually like your photo’s which are prbably made more interesting as a result of the post processing.

  18. I think the key to good phone photography is sticking to one style of filtering. I rarely use instagram, but whenever I do, I tend to stick to the same b&w or color workflow for each photograph. Never do I make use of illustrative borders though, they’re a bit gimmicky in my opinion and detract from the photograph itself.

    I really like #4 and #14, btw.

    • for me all that matter is the photo…not how you get there…so I do not care what the instrument is…and if you play with instagram…I find almost anything is possible…the secret is ‘to get out of the way’ not be captured by effect or filter…when necessary go to the original…but I am also fascinated by the effects on the i pad and can’t wait to play with it…meaning to play is to not be concerned about result…but more , learn from the process! mark sadan

  19. I won’t argue about the cuality differences. Any camera, these days, can produce great cuality photos.
    But I was wondering about something, and maybe someone can answer me this: Many of the new cameras have wi-fi and an option to download apps, so why doesn’t any of the camera manufacturers pick up the glove and get Hipstamatic as one of the apps you can download to your camera? I know some folks don’t like over filtering, but there are some nice options in the Hipstamatic app that I personally think would look great on a good cuality camera…

    • there are a few problems with having apps on more expensive/enthusiast/pro cameras. one is philosophical, the other technical.

      on the technical end, while the tech is available, there are practical considerations. these apps require extra processing power and extended lcd usage. this will impact battery life greatly or at least to a noticable degree. thrn it also requires a touchscreen which adds cost to an already expensive equipment as well, it drains additional battery. the ppl that have touchscreens on their higher end cameras generally use it as a quick setting panel, for which it is invaluable, but not much use thereafter; mainly due to battery drain and external controls that are more immediate and easier to use for mot other operations.

      the other consideration is that cameras would need to come with higher built in storage to handle the OS, app and short term storage. this adds cost.a few dollars for the manufacturer can add up to a hundred to the end user. one could argue what’s another 1 or 2 hundred on a $2000 camera, but it remains, even to the well heeled, a point of consideration.

      the other area is a philosophical and ideological one but still translates into practical considerations. the ppl who buy high end camera are more likely to want finer control over their output. while these apps are great and usefuul, they offer global editing and fuddly fine control, if even that. also, raw file editing is a bear even on core i7 machines. many of us will be shooting raw.

      also, editing in camera takes time away from shooting. for examplr, if i shoot an event/wedding, i’m not going to edit thrn and there. that time is better shooting. tbat battery is better used shooting. the act of in camera post processing is at odds with shooting. you are either doing one or the other.

      most cameras akready offer in camera filters and styles but i dont know any shooter with mid to high end cameras who even uses them. it’s not compatible with the philosophy within this bracket.

      cameras like the NEX offer apps but to be honest, it’s just filler at best. samsung offers an apsc camera with android. good photo quality but the app centric philosophy mixes unwell with the phptographic philosophy. it makes many tradeoffs to allow those features. some of which include clunky interface, fuddly touch controls for shooting, ergonomics not really suited for shooting, battery life that lasts in the low hundred shots and start up times in the 30 second range (when photographers expect 1-3 seconds as already being too long).

      for the time being, it all adds up to meaning that it just isnt really practical even if useful for some ppl.

      • Yes! But we’re still a few years out on the concept. If it ever catches on at all. And who doesn’t think the iPhone 8S will allow Siri to perfectly control full CS for iOS? While displaying the results in real time wirelessly on the nearest (very commonplace) 4K monitor after, of course, calibrating it to your iPhone 8S preferences. All like it’s no big deal. It’s called (yet another) paradigm shift. No?

  20. I guess that says it all. There is a color photo combination for everybody. Sure the pure realistic color tones make for the original actual photo and that is what great photographers seek with the definition of light, shadows, clarity. Now we of course have the crayon box of color the picture anything that pleases you so what the heck if somebody finds that fun, and, enjoy the results give it to them. It still is not the photograph as at this point it is purely photo-art.

  21. As a Hipstamatic user myself I would fully endorse Ibraar’s piece. The point with the Hipstamatic is that the processing is pre- conceived. You have to select your film, and know what the effects will be as they mimic some of the old types; choose the lens not in terms of focal length or aperture but for look, soft , sharp, old style portrait, etc, and then flash if you want extra lighting… It is a great App and used to good effect by many serious professionals and for enjoyment by many others. It ‘copies’ the instamatic – a fun camera… As Ibraar has shown. Some films are not for me – a film left in the car glovebox all summer with light leaks, a badly cross processed version or a totally OTT vibrant one, but others are great for images with a max of around 2mb. Thanks for sharing once again Ibraar.

  22. Back in the days when people actually learned the skills necessary to achieve interesting effects, one could appreciate the time and knowledge involved into applying them, to deliver something meaningful and sometimes special. Today, because it is so easy (and I won’t even mention crappy looking), who really cares?

    • Yes, I remember, back in the days when one had to build one’s own car, that’s when driving was a real skill.. Now you can just buy a ready-made car anywhere and simply drive off in it! ..Shouldn’t be allowed.

      And once upon a time, when I were a lad, you had to dissolve your own gelatine to make film ..now you can buy it ready-made by Kodak or Fuji or Efke or AG Farben! ..Disgraceful.

      I, of course, am building my own digital sensor from this silicon crystal I’m growing right here in this egg-cup – otherwise I wouldn’t feel entitled to shoot digital photos – and then I’m going to hand solder four thousand diodes across the width of it, three thousand times down the height of it. It may take me three years to do it, but that way’s the only way I’d feel entitled to use a modern camera..

      • +1
        Well said. Hipstamatic is a tool, as is the IPhone in this case, and what matters is the result (which you may lie or hate, that’s a matter of taste, as with all photography), not what got you there and whether the process was painful or easy.

    • Hi Max. I get a tad nervous when I read things like “Back in the days when people actually learned the skills necessary…” I don’t think that’s entirely fair. People do experiment with Hipstamatic. I always see people taking picture after picture tweaking the settings because they just have to know how every parameter affects the image. Once they know, it’s real easy for them to remember how to set the app up for any scene.

      Back in the old days I don’t know if it was as much of a learning process as much as an experimentation process. It certainly was more complicated and difficult to pinpoint how to get what you wanted or remember how you did it, but I don’t recall it being terribly academic. In fact, most camera and film companies didn’t want you to experiment like that. They felt they spent so much effort making films that were predictable and “normal” and you shouldn’t want to play with your colours or contrasts.

      Anyone remember those great Cokin kits? Resin flats and a holder for your lens. I still use those on my digital and film cameras from time to time because I kinda like holding and handling those wonky resin filters. Those things gave the owner a lot of fun! They were cheap too… I used to buy a filter or so a month using my allowance money.

      …and of course companies like Tiffen came out with all sorts of bizarre soft, multi-photo, and effect filters and I definitely remember burning cash on those things.

  23. I agree that square format is brilliant. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would invent a non-phone camera that could use it? 🙂

    (Actually, I use my E-M 5’s 1:1 aspect setting a lot. Flip up the tilting LCD and you can enjoy TLR-style eye contact with your subject.)

    Incidentally, while you do see a lot of “filter abuse” photos on Facebook etc., I think Ibraar’s choices are all tasteful and appropriate. It’s not the technique that’s good or bad, it’s how you use it…

    • Panasonic LX series cameras have had the 1:1 ratio from the LX3 of 2009 onwards.

      Although I regularly used 6×6 Rolleis in my film usage days, I haven’t found this setting to be of much use. I can always crop. Of course, viewing in the 1:1 ratio may force one to look at the composition from the outset and the resulting image may, just may, be different to what I could later achieve with a crop from a 3:2, 16:9 or 4:3.

  24. “Brilliant in simplicity”, how ironic, I laughed. It’s completely overdone and tacky. Blurred zones that don’t even resemble the effects of thin dof or tilt shift lenses, color shifts that seem very artificial, poor imitation of different materials… It’s the photography equivalent of crappy 90s internet websites with a million *.gifs.

    • +1 on this. Consider me old perhaps, I can’t help but not impressed by these instant noodle quality tacky effect. Ibaar is a good photographer though, some of his other works on this site were awesome. Just not these iPhone photos with tacky effect. The only few that I like are the stonehedge and grass-sky photo.

    • it is tacky. however, it fits with the immediacy of the platform. this app, along with a few others, with this style of cheap, tacky look, is exactly what has so redefined mobile photography.

      i personally have a nice Lumia phone but ALL my shots are from my EM5 or EM1. the look of mobile and its immediacy arent my cup of tea, though i certainly do and can enjoy filtered shots like the above. there are a few up there i really like. the lone tree on the hill is particularly strong and enjoyable to me to see.

      to the author, i believe hipstamatic has an app for windows phone. or at least it is similar but as far as i know, only comes with the Lumia series phone cameras.

  25. Yep.
    And this Facebook app too.

    PS. Maybe someone could have a Hassie V series app? And bring out a app to properly orient all of collective long disused Hassie eye level prisms too? And a little holder device to mate the two? What a hoot that would be!

    Happy New Year.

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