Let me preface this post by saying I have zero insider knowledge, and as of the time of writing, I have not seen the app. (Full disclosure: Just this afternoon I received an invitation to be a part of the Stocksy Filmborn beta test, but I have not yet been granted access to the app.) I have seen a few examples from those did get early access and from promotional emails, but I currently have no information as to the interface itself. I'm simply a photographer with high hopes.
In case you’re unaware, Filmborn is the upcoming iPhone photo-editing app from the creators of Mastin Labs. For someone like me who shoots a lot of film and only occasionally dips into digital, Mastin Labs has been an ideal solution to achieving a consistent look across a collection that includes a mix of both film and digital images. My favorite part about Mastin Labs (aside from the stellar results) is that it’s straightforward and doesn’t require dozens upon dozens of decisions to reach a desired look. You choose the brand of camera you’re using, the film manufacturer you want to emulate (Ilford, Kodak, or Fujifilm), and the desired film stock. From there, it’s just a matter of tweaking.
With Filmborn expected to drop this fall, I'm hoping for this same level of simplicity and elegance.
Arguably, the current top dog in the iPhone film emulation category is VSCOCam, and while this app started out very strong, it has become more and more of an unwieldy mess with every update. I don't mean to knock VSCO—from what I know of them, I believe they are a good company with admirable goals in terms of providing useful products to photographers—but I do not agree with the decisions they've made with their iPhone app. What started off as a useful tool for photo editing seems to have gone off the rails, as every update continues to bloat the app with features encouraging users to join yet another social networking community (chasing Instagram, at least ostensibly), becoming less user-friendly and less elegant in the process.
I've written before about the paradox of choice, and this is a perfect example of something that has become so gargantuan it paralyzes users with too many options. Ignoring the social networking portion of VSCOCam, the sheer quantity of presets is overwhelming.
Sure, you don’t have to get all the presets, but for those who even approach doing so, how do you choose between all of those options? Assuming you have some idea of a direction you want to go, unless you are a heavy user, you’re likely to find yourself clicking on every single preset to see what it looks like. This issue is compounded by the fact that the names of the presets give no indication of the result, and there’s no easy way to find a description of what kind of film each particular preset is even aiming to emulate. So, for example, if you’re going for a look similar to that of Kodak Portra—one of the most popular color films on the market today—you won’t find a Kodak Portra preset. You’ll have to poke through all the color presets to find something you think looks close enough.
It’s nice to want to have every option for every possible user and scenario, but there’s a lot to be said for doing just a few things and doing them very well. It’s an all-night diner menu vs. Five Guys Burgers and Fries—the former is overwhelming at best (and a total nightmare for the indecisive); the latter has their menu built-in to their name!
Maybe I'll be disappointed when I finally get to use Filmborn. I'm prepared for that possibility. But I also see room in the market for an app like the one I've described, and I think it's reasonable to conclude that Kirk Mastin and crew may have created it. If the Mastin Labs Lightroom presets are any indication, Filmborn may very well be the minimalist alternative to VSCOCam: An iPhone app for those of us who want a clean, intuitive interface that allows users to make editing decisions quickly and then execute them, and finally share our photos directly from the app. Simple, straightforward, and elegant.
If this app interests you, I encourage you to sign up here for the Filmborn launch.