I’ve taken a lot of pictures during this trip. In fact, Scott and I are swimming in pictures — some good, some bad and some we won’t show. I take them with my fancy digital camera, my not-so-fancy Holga, my underwater point-and-shoot and, of course, my iPhone.

A camera is an essential for any traveler. But I have to admit that the versatility of my iPhone sometimes makes carrying three cameras seem, well, excessive. The iPhone is pretty amazing. Its camera rivals point-and-shoot cameras I’ve shot with, and it allows us to share pictures with friends and family with ridiculous ease and immediacy. As if it couldn’t get any better, the iPhone offers dozens of cool photography applications that turn mediocre pictures into something more.

Take for example, one of my favorite photo apps — the Hipstamatic.

This popular app adds vignettes, discoloration and rough edges to your digital image. The artful distortion varies depending on the lens and “film” style you choose. The basic Hipstamatic download, which costs $1.99, features three lenses (John S., Jimmy and Kaimal), three film options (Blanko, Ina’s 1969 and Kodot Verichrome), and two vintage flashes (Standard and Dreampop). Additional lenses and film are available via 99 cent bundled downloads.

As with other iPhone apps, a swipe of the fingertip lets you change settings on the Hipstamatic, and artificial sounds — a clacking shutter, a gently buzzing flash — heighten the sense of reality and nostalgia.

The Hipstamatic is effortless and groovy, and you don’t have to be a pro to make interesting pictures with it. This messes with my instincts and work ethic as a photographer. For me, making a good photo has always been hard; it’s about quality of light, quality of subject and the quality of my eye. The Hipstamatic is a cheat. In mere seconds it makes images that would take hours to create in Photoshop.

Still, after learning more about the Hipstamatic, I feel less like a schmuck for falling in love with it. The makers of the app are paying homage to the original Hipstamatic, which was an actual film camera. The back of the camera’s body as it appears on the iPhone’s screen looks just like the back of the original plastic camera, which sold for $8 in the early ’80s.

The Hipstamatic was born out of a passion for photography and conceptualized by two art students in a Wisconsin cabin. Brothers Bruce and Winston Dorbowski loved the Kodak Instamatic and set out to build a camera “even a child could afford on a small allowance.”  They designed and built such a camera, and sold it through a local electronic store.

There’s no telling how big the Hipstamatic could have been. The Dorbowski brothers produced only 157 before they died in a car accident in 1984. The were killed by a drunk driver. Three years ago, however, their older brother Richard created a simple blog about the creation of the Hipstamatic. The website is a celebration of his two brothers, who were dubbed by neighbors as the “crazy hippies on the lake.” On a post dated July, 29, 2009, Richard wrote, “Today I met with two young gentleman that want to bring back the Hipstamatic … well, sort of.”

Those gentleman were software designers, of course, and their visit with Richard Dorbowski lead to the creation of an iPhone app that has been downloaded more than a million times.

I doubt the Dorbowski brothers could have imagined the Hipstamatic’s phenomenal success, let alone its reincarnation as an app for the iPhone, but I’m sure they would be thrilled that so many people — even kids with small allowances — have access to it. “It doesn’t matter if the photos aren’t prefect,” Bruce Dorbowski once said. “As long as people are capturing memories, I will be happy.”

One App Store reviewer thanked the makers of the Hipstamatic app for creating a “program for the ‘photo-stupid’ among us.” Professional photographers aren’t always so complimentary. Many see it as one more gimmick that cheapens their art form. As one photographer I greatly admire put it: “The proliferation of imagery lately is slowly sucking the creativity out of photography.”

Maybe. I admit that I sometimes feel a little dirty when I take pictures with my Hipstamatic app instead of my fancy Canon. But other times, when I’m in harsh midday light and feeling like a tourist, I just want to make a picture instead of a fuss with my gear. That’s when the Hipstamatic is my best friend. It lets me enjoy the moment, be silly, feel like a kid. I think the Dorbowski brothers would dig that.

— Jill

7 Responses to “My Hipstamatic makes it hip to be square”

  1. mim says:

    Might I just say how sad it is to not have a trip wrap-up?

  2. I love playing with this app – thanks for your suggestion all those months ago.

  3. Hey Jill,

    Wow, those are some amazing pics for a camera phone. My Droid takes pretty good snap shots in a pinch, but doesn’t rival these. Nice to see some new posts on your site. Hope all is well with you an Scott. I’m in Bozeman for the month of Nov., then I’ll be heading down the 101 for a month. I think I’ll hang out in the Phx area for a few months of winter…then, who knows.


  4. Abigail says:

    Uhh! I already want one, you’re killing me!!!

  5. […] this week I was over at 12 Legs Travel and got a kick out of their post about how they manager their cameras on the road. Since you all […]

  6. Ali says:

    I just downloaded Hipstamatic on my iPhone – it’s pretty cool. I like the funkiness to the pictures.
    Always a good read Jill. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Sam says:

    I’m not sure I’m going to get a iPhone anytime soon, but the pictures are really awesome!


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