iOS App Review – Hipstamatic Oggl

Introduction

Hipstamatic was released for the iPhone on December 9, 2009 and was quite popular from the beginning. It tries to faithfully replicate the feel of an old plastic film camera by creatively using an interface of the front and back of a camera.

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It also has various virtual lenses, flashes, and films that it uses to create specific looks for the pictures taken with the app. It comes with a default set of films and lenses and you can add more via in-app purchases of “Hipstapaks”. If you are a fan of old 126 format cameras, such as the Kodak Instamatic, and their square format pictures, Hipstamatic is probably the closest the experience of those cameras is going to get on the iPhone. Hipstamatic pretty much started the vintage camera craze on iPhone but then along came Instagram.

Let’s say you’re an app developer who likes photography. You love Hipstamatic but you don’t like the fiddly bits. You want to keep the square format, the effects, and you want to make the whole thing social. What do you get? You get Instagram.

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Launched in October 2010 Instagram was an instant success. Within a couple of months there were 1 million users signed up for the service. What was not to like? The app made sharing photos with your friends and other Instagram users insanely easy. With a small selection of filters and other effects you can make your photos unique. You can even upload photos not taken with the app to the service. Much more about social really than about photography, Instagram’s popularity has continued to skyrocket.

Meanwhile Hipstamatic, despite many users and a lot of money coming in from in-app sales, was having financial problems. After some turmoil and layoffs the company emerged again with a new product, the focus of this review, called Oggl.

Oggl

Introduced in May of this year, Oggl is Hipstamatic’s answer to Instagram, but where Instagram is really a social app with a camera Oggl’s focus is still photography. Its core is Hipstamatic, but made easier to use. It isn’t about the skeuomorphic interface and trying to replicate the feeling of an old plastic camera. It’s about serious photography and sharing. The focus seems to be towards serious photographers who want to share their work via an Instagram-like interface.

Even with a Hipstamatic core, Oggl and Hipstamatic only really share one major feature: all lenses and films that exist in Hipstamatic also exist in Oggl. Hipstamatic is expandable via the in-app purchase of “HipstaPaks”. If you own HipstaPaks from Hipstamatic you can import the lenses and films to use in Oggl.

The other major difference from the Hipstamatic app is that Oggl has a subscription component built on top of the free offering. Oggl operates on a freemium model. The free version of the app includes a small number of lenses and films but all of the other features work. If you want to get access to all of the other lenses and films you have two choices, a $2.99 quarterly membership fee or a $9.99 yearly fee. Once you pay the fee every film and lens is instantly available for import and use in Oggl.

As I noted earlier if you’re a Hipstamatic owner you can import the lenses and films from the HipstaPaks that you previously purchased. I found this design choice odd. As a Hipstamatic owner who has purchased nearly all of the HipstaPaks I was very happy to see this feature but it seems that it negates a big part of their income generation, which is a subscription fee for the lenses and films. From what I can tell this feature is completely separate from the subscription so right now there is very little incentive for me to pay them. This might change if they make Oggl-only lenses and films but so far all releases of films and lenses have been done for both apps.

Oggl User Interface

The main Oggl UI consists of a camera view with a multi-function slider area that allows the user to manipulate lens/film combinations in various ways (more on this later), and three button which allow the user to access the built-in photo library (picture frame icon), trigger the shutter (camera icon), and get to the social/sharing portions of the app (globe icon).

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Camera View

The camera view in Oggl is pretty standard with the view window and a button to take a picture. There are several markings in the view that are a bit odd:

  1. Crosshatches in the corners.
    • I did some testing to see if these had any effect and I found that parts of the picture on the outer edge of the crosshatches still show up in the final photo. I had expected them to control what part of the frame actually showed up in the final shot but they appear to be cosmetic.
  2. Two rounded rectangles on the sides and two in the middle.
    • I am not sure what these are for. I assume composition aids but I really can’t tell.
  3. An exposure box.
    • Can be moved to set exposure somewhere other than the center of the frame.
  4. A focus circle.
    • This rotates while the camera is focusing. Focus is strictly in the center of the frame and can’t be moved as in other camera apps.

Slider and Presets

The slider control that sits under the camera view slides to the left and right and allows the user to do multiple things. The center of the slider is where the user can choose a preset. The icons that represent the built-in presets are probably the one thing most camera owners would recognize. There are built in presets for landscapes, portraits, etc., five in all.

Creating Presets

Presets are simply a combination of a lens and a film. It is possible to create your own presets or replace the ones that come with Oggl. Swiping to the right in the slider brings up a + sign (see the screenshot above) once the end of the presets are reached.  Tapping on it brings up the following screen:

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All of the presets are shown along with a preview of what they look like on a photo. Tap an existing one to change it or the + sign to create a new one.

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Choosing a lens and a film combination will update the preview. Tapping on the text showing the name of the film and lens chosen will bring up a keyboard allowing you to name the preset however you’d like as well as allow you to choose an icon to represent the preset.

Manual Mode

Sliding all the way to the left on the slider brings up an “M” icon which I assume stands for “manual”. Here you can choose a film and lens combo that stays in effect until you either choose another or choose a preset.

Photo Library

Tapping on the picture frame icon in the main view brings up the photo library.

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This is a view of pictures saved in the Oggl internal photo library and looks similar to the built-in Photos app. Tapping on a photo here brings up a view of the picture along with controls to delete the photo, edit the lens and film, and a sharing icon.

Tapping the trash can to delete the photo gives several options depending on whether or not a photo has been shared. If it has, you get the option to delete it from the internal library,  the Oggl community, or both.

Sharing options include:

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Foursquare

Tapping one of the sharing icons and then the “Share Photo” button will upload the photo to the selected service. If the service hasn’t been set up in Oggl yet you will be prompted to do so before the photo can be shared.

As can be seen in the sharing UI there is a small representation of the photo to be shared in a circle in the middle of the screen. That is surrounded by other services to which Oggl will upload photos. If the photo hasn’t been shared to Oggl the circle is surrounded with a yellow band. If it has been shared to Oggl it will be surrounded with a white band and there will be indicators for how many likes and favorites the picture has received. Sharing always involves uploading to the Oggl community. If a photo hasn’t been shared there and you share it with Facebook for example, it will also be uploaded to the Oggl community.

A recent update added a feature that I’ve been waiting for since the first day Oggl was available in the App Store: the ability to import photos from sources other than the app itself. While I was very happy with this feature being added apparently a few people aren’t so happy about it. As I was browsing through the community photos I came across some funny photos that people have posted showing their displeasure with the addition of this feature, like this one:

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Funny enough the only way they could do this was to actually use the import feature.  I guess you can’t please everyone.

On the Library screen there is a button in the upper right corner which, when tapped, brings up a screen that shows your camera roll. This is a standard view that shows a grid of thumbnails of all the photos in your camera roll. Thumbnails are marked depending on where they came from.  Photos that were taken with the iPhone camera are marked with a gray camera iris icon. If you have Hipstamatic installed it will mark any photos in the “Hipstaprints” album with a yellow camera icon. Photos that came from other sources are desaturated a bit but still selectable.

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In the upper left corner there is the now-standard “hamburger” icon which, when tapped, brings up a list of the photo albums on your iPhone.

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A curious design choice was made here to show the list as buttons. It would have been better to implement something along the lines of the built-in Photos app which shows the album in a list with a picture thumbnail that represents the album.

Tapping a photo marks the photo with a yellow checkmark indicating it will be imported. A button with the count of selected photos also appears to start the import process. After importing a photo the library will show a new thumbnail for that photo but heavily blurred.  It also marks it with a white camera roll icon.

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I like the way that photos are marked to indicate where they came from. I don’t like the desaturation of photos that come from sources other than the iPhone camera or Hipstamatic. User interface standards generally have desaturated buttons and other controls indicate that something isn’t selectable. The combination of saturated/desaturated photos makes it confusing. A better choice would have been to have all of the photos fully saturated but have some marked with icons.

One of the nice things about Oggl is that you always have the option of changing a lens and film selection. When viewing a single photo tapping on the photo again will bring up a screen that allows you to change the location the picture was taken, the lens and film, and the caption for the picture. It also allows you to share to other sites if you haven’t shared there previously.

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The recent  (8/21/2013) update also added the ability to crop the photo on the same screen where you are able to change films and lenses. Simply dragging and pinching allows you to easily crop the photo. Because the app only works in the 1×1 format this is enough to easily do a crop. This was a huge feature because without the ability to crop previously you were stuck having to frame the photo properly when it was shot. I think that was fine with Hipstamatic because of its simulation of a real camera but Oggl is different and I’m glad they added this feature.

The Oggl Community

Tapping on the globe icon brings up the Oggl community view. This is where you can view all of the photos that are being shared with the rest of the Oggl community.

The first list of photos that comes up when you tap the Community icon is the “Editor’s Picks” list. Tapping on the “hamburger” icon in the upper left allows you to change the list you are viewing. The expected options are here: the people you are following, the “hot” photos that are getting attention, etc. There are several other lists here which might also be curated lists from the Hipstamatic team.

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Tapping on a photo in one of the lists allows you to see who shot the photo and either “love” (heart icon) it or “curate” (picture frame icon) it. The difference between favoriting and curation is that tapping the curate icon adds it to your curated list that shows up in your profile. I guess these are the photos you love so much you don’t want to lose track of them.

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I’m not sure I really understand why they have the distinction between love and curate. There is no way to see the list of photos you’ve loved. They could have combined the two. The difference is subtle but maybe they just wanted to allow more community involvement. You might like a photo but it isn’t special enough to you to keep track of it. Curating your own collection allows this while still letting people know you did like their photo.

The photo display also shows the film and lens combination that was used to shoot the photo. Tapping on the icon brings up a display that lets you do several things. You can set your camera settings to use the same film and lens. You can also create a favorite film/lens combo from here. Finally you can view other photos in the community that were shot with the same combination.

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One thing that is nice on this view is how photos from different sources are marked. If the photo was shot with Oggl the background color for the film/lens icon is gray with a white icon. Photos that have been imported have a white background with a red film/lens icon. Photos shot with Hipstamatic have a yellow background with a gray film/lens icon.

The User Profile

Tapping on the icon of the person’s head brings up the Profile screen. This allows you to view all the details about your profile on the Oggl community including how many followers you have, your membership status, and a list of the photos you’ve shared to the community and the photos you’ve “curated”. Back in the section discussing the Community view I talked about the ability to favorite a photo or add it to your curation list. This screen is where those curated photos show up.

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Two Week Trial

I tested Oggl for about two weeks as my exclusive camera app.    This is definitely not your everyday camera app if you mostly take photos using iPhone.   Because there is no way to shoot film or lens-free, every photo is going to have the “Hipstamatic look” to it.   This is in stark contrast to Instagram which makes the effects optional.   Oggl has many more options in the looks it can generate given the large number of films and lenses and the nearly endless combinations that are available.  But in the end if you want to be able to post standard shots Oggl isn’t the app for you.

Oggl, like Instagram, also forces a square ratio for every picture which might mean some inventive framing or cropping at the moment a photo is taken.   This also enforces a certain kind of discipline on you as a photographer that you might not necessarily like.   In general I prefer taking photos and cropping them later to get the look I’m after.   This just isn’t possible with Oggl due to the enforced square format to every photo. As noted earlier you can crop photos but only in the square format. I would have liked the ability to use other formats but I understand their decision to stick with square.

Those points made, I don’t think “every day camera app” is what the Oggl folks were after.  I think they were after the “more serious” segment of the Instagram market.   These folks probably used Hipstamatic in the past and Oggl brings all of the power of Hipstamatic in an easier to use package.  With sharing designed into the app as an integral piece there is an instant audience available.

Oggl is a pretty good app.  It is what I wish Hipstamatic was from the beginning.   I always loved the effects Hipstamatic was capable of but I wanted to be able to edit those after the fact.  Oggl does that.  I also was never a fan of the plastic camera emulation.  I used Hipstamatic a lot because I liked the way it made photos look but I never liked the interface.   Oggl makes choosing effects much easier and I like the way it operates much more.  I do wish they would make the effects real-time in the camera view.  I know this is possible because my favorite, but now discontinued, camera app, KitCam, is able to do it without issue.  I also know its possible because they give a preview in the camera view.   It would be better if they just left the effect running so you would know exactly the shot you’re going to get.

I also wish they would rethink the ability to import stuff from Hipstamatic.  I know a big part of the initial audience for Oggl were Hipstamatic users and I’m sure they complained about having to pay a fee for lenses they already bought in Hipstamatic but Oggl isn’t Hipstamatic.  Oggl needs subscribers in order to survive and prosper.

A major oversight is the inability to leave comments on photos. I would love to be able to people know what I like about their photos but this isn’t possible in Oggl. I suspect they looked at Instagram comments and wanted to avoid that type of system but in trying to grow a serious photo community it is important to let people have feedback on their photos beyond a simple favorite option.

While some of the UI leaves me scratching my head (I’m looking at you camera display) there is a wonderful consistency throughout the interface in the use of color and iconography. For instance, I love the way the Oggl team has used different colors for icons in the Community view to indicate where a photo came from (Oggl, Hipstamatic, or imported).  They also use the same idea in the photo import screen.  Again they use the same idea in the library view to make it obvious to the user where a photo came from (blurred thumbnail with icon = imported photo). These little touches make it very easy for the user to know the source of a photo and I suspect part of the design for this was driven by the backlash they knew they’d get from users. To those users I’d say “at least it isn’t Instagram”, where you have no idea where a photo has come from.

Final Thoughts

Overall I really like Oggl. It is a more useful app than Hipstamatic because there is far more control available. The purists would prefer “Hipstamatic with Sharing” and make the experience more about the spontaneity. To those people I say go back and use Hipstamatic.

It’s a better app than Instagram because the UI has clearly been given a lot of thought and attention to detail, and to be honest the effects are just all-around better. To use the phrase that seems overused in app reviews these days: it delightful to use.

I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far from the Oggl team and I hope they keep up the good work. There have been some fabulous pictures posted as of late so the community is getting better as well. Will it be my go-to camera app? No. But it will be in heavy rotation and I’m glad that now I can post other images to the Oggl community. I prefer having more control over the picture-taking process and now I have that. I can take a photo with another camera app, make edits that I want, and then import that photo and add the Hipstamatic look. I can then share it with the community. And I think that’s what the Oggl team was really after…community. It isn’t about being a purist. It’s about sharing the best photos we can create.

If you’d like to find me on Oggl I’m @jasonkratz.

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