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September 22, 2017

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Digital tricks give pics retro charm, experts think little more than trend

BERLIN--Retro is all the rage when it comes to digital photography. For proof, look no further than this year's billion-dollar purchase of Instagram by Facebook, which made it easier for users to make modern photos look dated and then post them online.

Even modern compact cameras contain retro options. Still, most experts see little more than a trend that will yield a few interesting snapshots.

It is not the first time vintage-looking pictures have gained a niche. What's different this time is how easy it is to create them.

People who are interested in retro photography don't want to search through millions of digital pictures for one good one. They're turned on by having the technology delivered to them, says Edgar Idler, a professor at Berlin's Design Academy.

It only takes a quick look in the app selections of Apple and Android to confirm that there's interest in the trend. There are tons of applications available. Many are cheap; some are free. They specialize in a variety of services: blurred edges, light effects, or bleached or grainy colors.

There are two basic categories. Most take the pictures directly in retro format. Others edit the picture into the desired format after shooting.

Hipstamatic is a very detail-oriented app for iOS which also imitates the flash of the bulb and the sound of film rolling. It also comes with a variety of effects that can be combined. Pictures can be mailed immediately or posted on sites like Flickr, Tumblr or Facebook.

Retro Camera is the closest Hipstamatic equivalent for Android devices. A free app, it offers a variety of features, including taking images Polaroid-style.

Other iOS apps like Incredibooth (US$1) and Snappr (US$2) operate on similar principles as Hipstamatic. Snappr specializes in fisheye-lens style shots, distorting all images. It comes with five lens choices and a flash, though it has low resolution.

Incredibooth tends to have higher quality. Imitating a photo booth, it spits out strips of four photos. Pictures can come in color or black and white, decorated with scribbles or gold glitter.

More widespread, perhaps because it's free, is Instagram. It provides 18 filter effects, with options for black and white or bleached images — all as part if creating retro images. To use it, one needs to sign up for a free membership with Instagram.

Another freebie is PuddingCamera, for both iOS and Android. It comes with nine camera models, eight kinds of film and additional filters, a light sensor and a flash. Images come with a maximum resolution of 1,200 X 1,200 pixels.

Digital cameras are also getting into the act. Many now come with retro filters prepackaged. Canon's Powershot series includes them under its creative filters. Sony and Kodak have also gotten onto the bandwagon.

In general, they don't do much the apps don't do says Hans Starosta from the Central Association of German Professional Photographers. But he remains unimpressed with the whole trend.

"If I go to a party and take a bunch of old-looking pictures, that's fun with the filters. But it's not professional quality."

Those who want to go further need to consider photo editing programs, he says. These allow users to focus on exactly the look they want.

In the end, everyone needs to decide what works for them. But those truly interested in vintage looks will most likely find themselves with the real deal — a vintage camera — says Idler.

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