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October 15, 2008

Here’s an idea. Take a great product with one glaringly flawed feature, put together an application that exploits the awfulness of that feature in a few brilliantly simple ways, and then sell it for a few bucks.

Something like a month ago, a $5 app called CameraBag hit the iPhone app store. I read the description, took the risk and bought it. I turns out it’s no more complicated than a few pre-built filters that will take a typically crappy photo with the iPhone’s camera (or let you choose one from your library) and make it look as if it were taken from one of a variety of classic low-quality cameras. You’ve got your Lomo, Holga, 1970’s faded and yellowing print, high-contrast B&W, infrared, and a few more (though you’ll find the first two as “Lolo” and “Helga” in the menu, for trademarks reasons naturally).

It’s basic, it’s slow (the filters take a while to render), the already-low iPhone image quality doesn’t hold up at large sizes after the filter, and it’s nothing I couldn’t do on my own in Photoshop. But I love it for being so simple, and doing such a good job at making lemonade out of the iPhone’s lemon. It turns one of the phone’s most obvious flaws into a desirable feature. Almost.

I put CameraBag to the test on my way out for lunch in Vancouver’s Chinatown last week. Here are some selected photos from the full set on Flickr.

October 15, 16h

I’ve actually wondered why Lomo hasn’t jumped onto something like this already. I love my Holga, but film is painful to work with these days if you don’t have your own developing resources. Someone needs to put a decent-quality CCD inside of a cheap plastic body with all the susceptibility to light leaks and see what happens. Obviously, CCD’s aren’t like film so the effects wouldn’t match up, but I’d love to see something similar be done with the camera body affecting the end-result. If it’s been done before I’d like to see it

Nik says:
October 15, 16h

When I thought about buying an iPhone, I argued that the crappy camera would not be a deal-breaker for me since I rarely took pictures on my N95 (which has a very decent camera). But the few snapshots that I do want to take, I am annoyed that in anything but complete brightness, the photo is guaranteed to be almost unusable.

This set of filters may not make the quality better, but it will at least make the crapiness look intentional.

October 15, 16h

Awesome! With filter names like 1962 & 1974, I’d probably be too tempted to eliminate any anachronisms from the frame, but I love the concept. Especially love the desaturated 1974 shots.

Dave S. says:
October 15, 16h

@Brian Hefter - I think you could get away with doing it all in software, to be honest. A consistent image defect could be fairly easily replicated with a good algorithm that introduces a bit of randomness and unpredictability. No need to lock yourself into one specific effect/camera in the hardware, when you can have a bunch in the software.

To be clear: CameraBag is hardly a reasonable replacement for a Holga, it’s more like a nice upgrade for the iPhone camera. But it does seem like the way I’d want to go in the future were there a crappy digital pocketcam devoted to simulating film cameras.

October 15, 16h

I picked up CameraBag last week and at first I was disappointed. Bug deal, just a couple of filters that take a long time to render. But for a few bucks, who cares, right?

I went through a weekend of taking as many possible photos as I could using CameraBag and had a lot of fun. I have noticed, however, that since then I rarely use CameraBag. Still, it’s nice to have on hand and I look forward to future iPhone camera apps.

Here’s the link for the CameraBag group on Flickr:

October 15, 16h

Like Joshua, I love the concept especially of the 1974 shots. That alone seems like a source of geeky fun right there. Especially considering my sideburns…

I might have to check this out.

October 15, 16h

No app store link!?! Now I’m gonna have to go search for it :)

Awesome post … I love the look you were able to pull out of those. I think you’ve always had such a great eye for composition … one thing that any filter can’t help with … so this particular tool adds a really cool one-up on what you can do with the phone. Can’t wait to grab it and try it out … maybe now I’ll be able to post shots to my Flickr account from my iPhone, something I’ve always stayed away from.

October 16, 04h

Nice little write-up Dave, and thanks for the sample photos.

It’s only $2.99 / ¬£1.79 at the moment, so even more reason to give it a go.

Installing now…

October 16, 07h

The 1974 effect is so spot-on. The Cinema effect looks good too. Cool little application.

October 17, 01h

WOW!Those images are incredible! I actually can’t believe they have been taken with a camera phone!!!

October 17, 19h

Sold! Especially at the new sale price. I just bought the app and am really looking forward to getting better photos on the go. Thanks for the tip!

October 18, 03h

Fantastic post, and what a great application. It is definitely useful and for such a little amount of money there is really no reason for not buying it.. Thanks for sharing.

October 20, 06h

I have to say, I’m one of those people that has to have a camera phone and yet never uses the camera (I know, I know). I much prefer taking pictures with a regular digital camera and perfecting it in Photoshop. I have to admit though, your sample pictures are pretty impressive Dave!

Do you know of any Photoshop filter plugins that acheive similar effects to CameraBag?

October 20, 07h

No link to Camera Bag in the post? For shame, Dave. For shame.

October 20, 08h

Also, has anyone tried Pano? It helps generate panoramic images on the iPhone by providing a translucent guide of the previous image you took to aid in lining up your shots.

Dave S. says:
October 20, 09h

If Apple made iTunes / iPhone app pages available to web browsers instead of requiring the launch of a separate app, I’d most certainly have linked it.

As it stands, typing “camerabag” in a search field on the store isn’t really that onerous of a task, is it?

October 21, 16h

How about a link to the developer’s web site, then?

Dave S. says:
October 21, 16h

Now that I can do. Thanks for the link Andrew, updated the post with it.

mibu says:
October 21, 18h

I also like GothPix, which gives photos a morbid and antiquated look.

Walter Davis says:
October 21, 18h

I bit, just on the strength of seeing it on the Deck. And I was astounded at the way it changed the most basic of shots. My paint-cracking bathroom radiator, seen through the (new in the latest version) Ansel filter took on the look of high art. A cheap thrill. I parked it right next to the camera on the home screen for ease of use.

Daniel says:
October 22, 04h

Could anyone recommend a nice filter for Photoshop to do the 1974 and 1962 effects? I’d like to try them on some higher quality photos!

basetta says:
October 22, 06h

the app is amazing, i’ve just bought it and i’m taking my first photos with it.
this is one with the holga effect

October 22, 23h

Thanks for the recommendation. This app just got a major renovation and as it’s on sale for $2.99 it was a great way to spend the loose change jangling around in my iTunes account since that last gift card.

It’s worth noting that this app seems to have really good, literally professional developer support - which is quite a value add for $3.

Vagelis says:
October 23, 03h

That’s a very nice app! Not being a photography expert, I am quite happy with my iPhone’s camera though :)

Eric says:
October 23, 20h


I’ve had great results using Alien Skin Exposure.

A bit pricey, but great results.

ray says:
October 30, 21h

Love the Holga filter. Was thinking about actually getting a real Holga but I am too impatient to mess with real film. This will be great for when you come along some great subject matter but are not carrying your camera.

November 16, 10h

This application is funny. Not only is it really basic and also somewhat useful to people to take a lot of photographs. But I think it’s funny because of how the customer’s buying process works while on the iPhone. What feature can this application do that a couple of minutes on Photoshop cannot do? Don’t get me wrong, I am not demising the integrity of the application nor am I doubting that it’s useful or even interesting. But to me, after reading multiple articles on various blogs and tweets about iPhone applications, has the customer base or demographic been changed because of the instant gratification that comes with an application and it’s ability to expand an already great product?
Interesting to think. Great write up Dave.

January 30, 12h

I’m really enjoying using this app! I downloaded it a week back after reading this article and seeing the phones you uploaded to flickr. And I have to agree, I had my doubts due to the poor quality of the iPhone camera. However, it really works and makes it a lot more fun to snap with the iPhone.