iPhone app gives digital shooters a taste of film

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This app may inspire you to grab an old camera and shoot a roll of film.
Photo: Filmborn screenshot/Mastin Labs

What is the best way to convince a global community of mostly digital photographers that they should pick up an old camera and shoot film? Put film on the iPhone.

That is exactly what Seattle-based Mastin Labs has done with its new film emulation app for iOS, Filmborn.

Filmborn lets you shoot pictures with the look of a classic film by Fuji, Kodak or Ilford or import a photo from your camera roll to change its appearance.

Every color film is different, with some created with a bias toward a certain color like green or red with degrees of varying saturation. Black and whites can vary in contrast, tonal range and grain.

But there is no great way to describe the difference between a digital image and one made with film. To discover this, one must play and Mastin Labs founder and CEO Kirk Mastin believes film can be saved by giving the digital shooter a taste of film. The company has created presets for Lightroom and Photoshop to match the look of classic films and now brings the same easy-to-use technology to iOS.

Apple has empowered millions of people to take more pictures with an iPhone camera and software that greatly reduces the need for technical expertise. We just see, react and let the iPhone sort out the settings for exposure, focus and shutter speed. There are a number of apps with filters to give iPhone users the ability to change the look and feel of a finished image.

One of the most popular, especially with iPhone shooters who know a thing or two about film, is VSCO, a sophisticated camera app with advanced camera controls and moody presets.

The most experienced film photographers got to know the subtle ways certain films captured light and color and spent years mastering their craft.

Filmborn
Choose from nine different film presets.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Filmborn can increase your understanding with just a few clicks. It is free to download with in-app purchase options for additional custom features. The app has already earned five-star reviews (including one who said “Unicorns live in this app”) since its release on Nov. 9.

The app comes with nine different film finishes – three from each of the big three film brands – and a long tap on any of these presets gives you a quick summary of the qualities to expect.

Fuji 160NS bends toward green with high contrast and high saturation that warms darker skin tones and enhances foliage in landscapes. While not ideal for pale skin tones, Kodak’s Portra 400 is better with lighter skin.

Intrigued by what you are seeing? The app’s manual will take you deeper into each film and how you can use the app to achieve that analog finish.

I have mainly played with the film filters with photos I captured with the native camera app, but have started shooting some with the app’s live camera mode. It has been so long since I have shot film, but Filmborn has the presets so well tuned, I am remembering some of the qualities, especially with the Ilford black and white films.

Filmborn may just inspire you to try analog. But in the time you will wait to get film and prints back, Filmborn could help you fill your iPhone camera roll with dozens of pictures with the same look.