For people like me who love film and mobile photography in equal measure, mobile apps that simulate film are a way to scratch both those itches. There are quite a few of them, most notably VSCO, which I’ve been using for a couple of years. But Filmborn, the latest entry in the field, has become my new favourite over the past few months. Here’s what I like about it, and why I think you should give it a try. The app itself is free, but to unlock all the features requires three in-app purchases. (Full disclosure: I was an unpaid beta-tester for Filmborn and some of my images are used as examples inside the app, and on the App Store.)
1. A versatile camera mode
Filmborn’s camera mode has a range of helpful options. There are spirit levels to ensure you’ve got things straight; highlight clipping display to ensure you’re not overexposing; a manual focus option; gesture-based white-balance control; and a choice of “lenses” of different focal lengths with the option of rangefinder-style viewfinder lines (which requires an in-app purchase). So you can, for example, pick a 50mm lens and then, just like on a Leica, you can see the scene around the capture area. This can help with “decisive moment” pictures, because you can see what’s about to come into the frame. Filmborn lets you save frequently used combinations of film setting, lens setting, aspect ratio and so forth in presets called “kits” (again, an in-app purchase), so you can flip between them quickly.
2. It’s quick
But here’s the crucial thing: while you’re using the in-app camera, the film simulation can be applied in real time, so you can see a live preview of exactly what you’re getting. This means you can take pictures and they go onto the Camera Roll already processed. And if you are doing post-processing, Filmborn opens pictures from the Camera Roll and saves images straight back there; there are no “import” or “export” steps. This cuts out lots of taps and swipes, which can be a real time-saver when you are processing lots of images.
3. Good film simulation
Filmborn doesn’t offer very many film simulations, but I really like its limited selection: three colour films each from Fuji and Kodak, and three black-and-white films from Ilford (I particularly like the Pan-F). Some people may find the choice of nine films restrictive, and the Fuji 800Z can be a bit pink for my liking, but as a Portra fan this selection has pretty much everything I need. Indeed, I quite like having fewer options to choose from. (If you like the faded look, though, then Filmborn is not for you.)
4. Powerful editing controls
The usual options are here: exposure, contrast, white balance, tint, saturation and sharpness. The cropping tool allows rotation and perspective correction. There are also a set of contrast options that mimic different kinds of processing (high soft, shadow hard, etc). But the jewel in the crown is the Curves option (the third in-app purchase). It allows much more subtle tonal control than the usual brightness-contrast combination. Another thing about all of these editing controls is that they all allow very small, continuous adjustments, rather than working in finite steps.
5. The Filmborn community
The final thing I like about this app isn’t to do with the software at all: it’s the community that is growing up around it on Facebook. The developers are very open and responsive to feedback, the other photographers are very supportive, and it’s a great way to see how other people are using the app and pick up tips. It reminds me of the old days on Flickr, and then on Instagram.
At the moment Filmborn is only available for iPhone, but an Android version is in the works. There are also plans to support the iPhone 7 Plus telephoto and “depth effect” options in the camera, and iOS 10’s RAW mode, in future updates. But even in its current form the app is well worth checking out for its combination of elegance and power. If you like film, or mobile photography, or both, you should give it a try. And for people who don’t shoot film, I wonder whether this app might even end up being a gateway drug to the real thing.