Hipstamatic Failure

Hipstamatic on the New iPhone 4

by Tobias on June 28, 2010

(Click to see my Flickr set of test images used to write this article.)

The much loved photo app for the iPhone, Hipstamatic, is one of the first apps I booted up when I got the new iPhone 4. Sadly, I ran into some problems right away. What should be black & white pictures come out with odd blue swaths (like in this extreme example) in the darker areas. The other problem seems more serious: The first few times I took pictures it froze just as the shutter went off.  I took some time to look into both of these problems.

Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4

The new camera on the new phone is impressive.  Most of us have read the tech specs, but in use the 5 megapixel camera really goes all out for a phone. Impressive low light response, nearly instantaneous click & shoot, the ability to click on the screen where you want to be focused, HD video, and a built in flash.

I would love to be able to choose, in the application itself, what resolution I want to take the next picture.  I have frequently wanted to just get a quick snap shot, but then wanted to take a picture that I could use as a high resolution piece of artwork.  The resolution and processing is there, I just think they have to take the opportunity to use it.

It turns out that this built in flash is what causes Hipstamatic to crash.

Here is what is going on…

Crash by Flash

This is yet another case when something is being crashed by something other than an Adobe product when I refer to “flash”.

This means that once the iPhone detects that the light is too low the flash goes off.  Period.  No way to modify this.

The camera on the iPhone has three settings for the built in physical flash: Auto (default), On, & Off.  Since the flash is a completely new option only available in the new iPhone 4, Hipstamatic has yet to adapt.  Hipstamatic merely interfaces with the camera and uses it in the default mode; no ability to touch to focus anywhere and now no ability to control when the flash goes off.  This means that once the iPhone detects that the light is too low the flash goes off.  Period.  No way to modify this.

The sad thing is that Hipstamatic, in its current form, doesn’t know what to do with the flash and immediately hangs once the shutter goes off.

Here is how I went about testing this theory:

Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4

Dark image automatically engaged the physical LED flash.

•First, I took some test shots with the camera app and not with Hipstamatic.  Tested with the flash set to automatic and found a low light scenario where I knew the flash would go off.  I took a picture and verified that nothing was wrong with the built in camera app.
•I then set the camera’s flash setting to “Off” just in the chance that Hipstamatic may inherit those settings.
Loaded Hipstamatic, selected a black & white film and the basic lens settings (John S. lens & BlacKeys SuperGrain), & made sure the software flash was disabled.
•Clicked off a picture in Hipstamatic.
•The “shutter” graphic closed on the screen, the physical LED flash on the back of the phone went off, and a picture was taken, but the application was frozen.
•In the Photos -> Camera Roll was the picture I had taken with Hipstamatic, but Hipstamatic had to be re-launched in order to take another picture.

Since that process froze, I needed to make sure it was in fact the automatic detection of low light that both enabled the physical flash and crashed the application.  I had to test it in normal lighting conditions.

Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4

Hipstamatic used in daylight.

•I made sure that all of the first tests settings were intact.
•I went outside and took a picture with the built in camera app on the iPhone to make sure that the LED flash did not go off.
•Clicked off a picture in Hipstamatic.
•The shutter went off, the LED flash never was engaged, and the image went into the “developing” stage in the Hipstamatic app, eventually was “printed”, and the camera app was ready to shoot another picture.
The software worked as planned.

It would be nice if there were controls to activate the real flash on the iPhone in addition to selecting what size image you would like to take in app instead of going out to Settings in order to select “high res” images.  It is worth noting that the current version of Hipstamatic doesn’t support the new 5 megapixel resolution of the iPhone 4.  Sometimes I need speed, other times I need quality.

Hopefully this gets fixed once Synthetic Corp. releases an iOS 4 optimized version of Hipstamatic.

Shadows Give it the Blues

(Don’t you hate “witty” titles like that?)

Blue/magenta seems to go right through all of the processing in the dark or “shadow” regions of the images.  Even black and white images come out with pure blue portions.

Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4

The other odd thing happening with the app is that it is, as far as I can tell by my testing, not prepared for the the color profile of the camera.  Blue/magenta seems to go right through all of the processing in the dark or “shadow” regions of the images.  Even black and white images come out with pure blue portions.  My assumption is that the new camera has a completely different color profile than the 3GS or there is a processing glitch which passes blues through the shadow color processing that happens in app on the iPhone 4.

You’ll notice that the heavy blues only show up in the shadows and not on the brighter portions of the image.  I had originally thought that it was merely an overload of a certain band of colors coming in from the camera, but I purposely overloaded the camera with UV light (see below) which instead put those portions into the “highlights” processing and thus no blue came through.

Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4Hipstamatic tests on the iPhone 4

As you can tell from the above images, the UV light did indeed feed a heavy amount of light pass the camera’s filters.  On the left hand image (a color Hipstamatic picture) you can see that it drove the right hand petal nearly white.  When I took the same picture with black & white “film”, the portions that were loaded with UV light actually don’t have any blue at all.  This made it clear that the blue saturation was limited only to the shadows and had no relation to the new iPhone 4 camera’s UV exposure.

For comparison, here are the same Bougainvillea flowers shot on my iPhone 4 camera at night time with a pocket UV light on the left and the same flowers during the daytime on the right.

UV Infused FlowersBougainvillea shot with an iPhone 4

What Hipstamatic for the iPhone 4 Should Have

Aside from fixing the obvious bugs, it seems that Synthetic Corp. has a great opportunity to access some new features on the iPhone 4.

I would love to be able to choose, in the application itself, what resolution I want to take the next picture.

First off, the current version of Hipstamatic only supports the old 3 megapixel camera.  In Settings we have the option of choosing “High Quality Prints“.  With the addition of both a higher resolution camera (5 megapixels) and the beefier A4 processor, I would love to be able to choose, in the application itself, what resolution I want to take the next picture.  I have frequently wanted to just get a quick snap shot, but then wanted to take a picture that I could use as a high resolution piece of artwork.  The resolution and processing is there, I just think they have to take the opportunity to use it.

While on the topic of processing, I hope that they can take advantage of the limited background processing API (some info about the new background processing) to let us develop pictures in the background.  Far too many times have I accidentally hit the Home button while “that perfect picture” was developing forgetting that the second I did that, the image was lost forever.  This would be even more helpful for when I want to develop a picture in a very high resolution that might take a good chunk of time.

Finally, the physical flash on the iPhone 4 should be integrated with the UI of Hipstamatic.  As it stands, the in app “flash” is merely another digital effect that is applied to the image.  It is cute, but personally I never use it.  I should be able to, in app, turn on and off the physical LED flash on the iPhone 4.  Now, if they can also modify the simulated flash in tandem with the simulated flash, then perhaps that could manifest some interesting results.  That being said, I like to have control over these things and would want to control both the physical flash and their in app software flash.

Update (June 28th, 2010): As commenter, mauricio, mentions, Hipstamatic should also include the front camera functionality.  On top of the ease of framing yourself in the image, it is also a low res camera and would go quickly through their processing.  That being said, I have a stinking suspicion that their answer will be to just go out and buy their new photo boot app, IncrediBooth,  that does specifically that.

I understand that their mantra is to let it all just kind of hang loose to keep with the vibe of the original camera, but I absolutely love the processing they are doing on the images, and I would prefer to be a power user rather than a Happenstance User™.

As they stated in the Hipstamatic FAQ:

“…Hipstamatic is a camera app, and it seeks to recreate the experience of using an old analog camera as accurately as possible. Some of the greatest qualities of these old cameras was their unpredictability and quirkiness, and we wanted to bring that to the iPhone.”

I am a fan of the application and am happily looking forward to the iOS/iPhone 4 update that I am sure is being worked on as I write this.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

mauricio June 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm

you forgot to mention the front facing camera. I was using the hipstamatic all weekend on the new iphone 4. I had it set to high quality prints and they look superb. However with the new front facing camera I wished (more then then I ever would have prior to knowing the new phone would have this feature) that i could take pictures of myself and my girlfriend with hipstamatic. This has to be on top of the list. Above any other request as far as I’m concerned. I realize that the downfall to this is that the quality of the front facing camera isn’t as high, but it’s a trade off that I’m willing to live with in such cases.


T.bias June 29, 2010 at 3:54 am

Thank you for the mention of the front facing camera. I updated my blog post to add this to my list of desired features.

I am guessing that Synthetic Corp. will probably just point you to IncrediBooth for all your "front facing camera needs" while they keep in line with their stance to "recreate the experience of using an old analog camera".

I hope they can find the leg room to keep that asthetic while still providing advanced features for people like me who want to take full advantage of their great processing.

They tried to cover that base by releasing a developing app, but I found it to be full of "cute" and lacking in the Actual Usable Tool™ department.

Hopefully the next version of Hipstamatic blows us away.


j.s. June 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Regarding the blue shadows — I’ve been experiencing this while using Hipstamatic on my 3Gs, ever since installing iOS4. On the surface, it would therefore appear to be software related. That said, I’ve had some wonderful surprise results.


Bruce Glider June 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

Can’t wait for update. My 1 feature request:

A countdown timer; I love shooting
“macro” on my hipstamatic.


Smeds June 29, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I’ve been having trouble importing pictures into iPhoto, get an error message to say the file is not recognise. Think it is another bug with Hipstamatic.


Rob July 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I’d have two (and a half) things on my Hipstamatic wish list:

Rename Hipsta’s software flashes to “Gels” and create a Gel Lock option. Currently, there are two conflicting kinds of flashes: Apple’s LED and Hipsta’s gels. Renaming Hipsta’s flashes and calling them Gels instead fixes this confusion.

The second half of that suggestion: Hipsta needs a “Gel Lock” because it’s annoying to have to turn on the flash/gel after each shot. While I appreciate the look and feel of the UI, it’s far more important to make Hista as usable as possible. Think of how annoying it would be to have to turn on a lens or turn on a film after each shot. If I want to shoot with Lucifer VI, Blanko and Laser Lemon Gel, I shouldn’t have to turn on the Laser Lemon again after each shot.

And finally, I’d love to have a border/no border option in settings. The Ina’s border is annoying after I’ve seen it on a few shots.


Mia Hasser Hozhona September 11, 2010 at 2:28 am

Thanks for a great article.

I have facebook download problems with the G4 Hipstamatic. 🙁 It doesn’t allow me to choose an album on fb, so every time I post a photo, it creates a new “My Hipstamatic Prints” album.

Anyone knows how to get around this?


media tablet September 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I owned an iPhone 3GS and it genuinely does wonder. I like it from the icons to how the transition functions. Pondering of altering to iPhone 4 quickly after my next month’s salary.


J Johansson January 2, 2011 at 4:36 am

Recently having upgraded from 3gs to 4, my biggest problem
I am having problem adapting to the heavily
“cropped” viewfinder. I understand that
perfection is not a goal here, but with the 3gs I was still able to
more or less compose my pictures. On the iPhone 4 all I see in the
viewfinder is really just a fraction of what will actually be in my
picture. I find this very sad as I really loved the Hipstamatic
pictures I produced before. I am now less inclined to use this
application and lean towards using post-processing applications
like PictureShow, however they don’t produce square images


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