5 photo apps that make your iPhone photos look like film

iPhone on table
Photography has come a long way since the days of film. But, much like physical music media, analog photography has had quite the revival, largely thanks to the growth of film-inspired photography apps available for your iPhone and iPad.

Here, we take a look at a few of our favorite film emulation apps for iOS, and share our thoughts on what sets them apart from the competition.

Filmborn – Free (+in-app purchases)

analog photo apps iphone ipad filmborn ios app

As its name suggests, Filmborn was born to replicate the aesthetic of film photography on mobile devices. It’s one of the newest apps on this list, but it’s already gained a massive following, and rightly so.

Filmborn features nine different presets designed to replicate various film stocks from Kodak, Ilford, and Fujifilm. Whether you use the in-app camera or are editing images from your camera roll, Filmborn makes the workflow simple with three steps: Select the filter you want to use, make any additional exposure adjustments, and crop the image to your liking.

The best part about this app, over apps such as VSCO, is there’s no internal library to deal with. Edits you make get saved directly to images in your Camera Roll. This prevents the hassle of constantly exporting images and trying to figure out where edits are located.

Additional in-app purchases include the ability to create pre-defined camera setups so there’s no need to add filters afterwards, upgraded editing tools such as curves adjustment, as well as a unique rangefinder mode that ensures you never miss a moment.

VSCO – Free (+in-app purchases)

VSCO Cam app

VSCO has become the gold standard for film emulation on-the-go. Its interface is a challenge to understand if you’ve never used it before, but despite this, it’s an interface that many apps emulate.

When you download the app, you’re given a small set of presets to use. Unlike Filmborn, VSCO’s presets aren’t meant to be exact replicates of specific film stocks. Instead, they’re more vague representations of various film stocks, and the additional presets available through in-app purchases are grouped together around a specific theme or concept.

There are more than three dozen presets to choose from and each can be fine-tuned to look exactly how you want. The best part is, once you find a specific edit that you like, you can copy and paste it onto future images with a few taps of the screen, rather than having to replicate it all, piece by piece.

VSCO also features an integrated library, where you can store photos captured in the app, or import photos from your Camera Roll. While this is nice if you like to keep your photography work away from your other snapshots, it can prove to be cumbersome if you’re taking a lot of photos and exporting them. You tend to end up with a lot of doubles and have to manage two photo libraries compared to one.

RNI Films – Free (+in-app purchases)

analog photo apps iphone ipad rni film ios app

RNI film is lesser known than VSCO, but absolutely deserves to be mentioned alongside it. The app itself is a blend of Filmborn and VSCO, in the sense that its interface bears a striking resemblance to VSCO’s, but it goes about emulating films in the same way Filmborn does (by making the presets based off very specific film stocks and processes).

RNI Films splits their presets into categories, including negative, slide, instant, black & white, and vintage. These can be acquired via in-app purchases.

The quality of the emulations is right alongside VSCO, but in our experience, the app does have the slight upper-hand in terms of the overall interface and, more specifically, the grain feature in RNI produces better results.

Pico – Free (+in-app purchases)

analog photo apps iphone ipad pico ios app

Pico is the most simple of the apps on this list. We called Pico “VSCO Lite” for the fact that it offers a select few film emulation presets in a very minimal, unobtrusive interface.

When shooting or editing a photo, you’re given eight individual presets to work with: Max, Ultra, Plus, Pro, Noir, One, Gold, and Xtra. Each of these presets vaguely represents a style of film stock from the days of analogue photography.

Like Filmborn, photos captured with Pico are saved directly to your Camera Roll, and all photos edited from your Camera Roll will be edited without the need to duplicate or add them to a dedicated library.

One of the best features of Pico is its simple exposure control. When taking a photo, all you do is slide your finger across the display to adjust the exposure. You don’t have to worry about messing with shutter speeds or anything else.

Darkr – Free (+in-ap purchases)

darkr darkroom burning dodging ios iphone ipad apple app 2

Darkr is unlike any of the other apps on this list. Rather than replicating the look of film used in analog photography, Darkr replicates what comes after — the printing process in the darkroom.

Just as you would in a darkroom, Darkr lets you expose a test strip to see what type of base exposure you’re working with. From there, you’re given the option to dodge and burn the image using your finger as the guide. Once finished, you can adjust various layers and get the image to look exactly as you’d like.

As a bonus, Darkr provides a series of included tutorials that help guide you through the process of editing apps in its digital darkroom.

It’s a clever concept that’s equal parts novel and effective. If you’re looking for a unique experience in a photo-editing app, Darkr is definitely worth taking for a spin.


Sweet 16: Wacom’s Cintiq 16 pen display makes retouching photos a breeze

Wacom’s Cintiq pen displays are usually reserved for the pros (or wealthy enthusiasts), but the new Cintiq 16 brings screen and stylus editing to an approachable price. Does it cut too much to get there?

Free your digital memories, and frame them, with the best photo printers

Printed photos are experiencing a revival at the moment, but you don’t need to go to a special lab. Here’s our favorite options for making quality prints, from pocket-sized printers to wide-format photo printers capable of spitting out…

Earn more likes on your photos with the best cameras for Instagram

Looking to snap better Instagrams? Instagram doesn't demand high-resolution files, but upgrading your camera can deliver better bokeh and low-light quality. Here our the best cameras for Instagram.

Photography News: Instagram’s disappearing likes, the best photos of the year

In this week's Photography News, see why Instagram is testing a version that excludes the number of likes a post gets. Also, see the impressive winners from two photography contests and the latest features coming to the Fujifilm X-T3.

China bans selfies at gigantic Aperture Spherical Telescope

You can't take a selfie with the world's largest single-dish radio telescope anymore, as the Chinese government has banned everything from smartphones to digital cameras in the surrounding 5-kilometer area.

Light on price but rich on features, these are the best cameras for students

Need pro-level features on a budget? The best cameras for students mix advanced features with a more palatable price point. From $2K entry level full frame cameras to $600 budget picks, here are five of the best cameras for students.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!

After controversial video, China bans ‘Leica’ on social media

A video that referenced Tiananmen Square got the name of the camera company Leica banned from the social media platform Weibo. Leica says the video wasn't an officially sanctioned promotion.

Panasonic Lumix S1R vs. Sony A7R III: Which pixel-shift powerhouse is better?

The Lumix S1R and Sony A7R III are different in design, but similar in performance, and both offer pixel-shift high resolution modes which pull even more detail out of their already high-resolution sensors. Here's how they compare.

Capture life in every direction with the best 360 cameras

While 360 cameras are still a new technology, that doesn't mean there's not a few that are worth a look. Whether you want to shoot from the middle or just need a simple, affordable option, here are the best 360 cameras on the market.

These point-and-shoot cameras make your smartphone pics look like cave paintings

If your smartphone camera isn't giving you the results you want, maybe it's time to step up your game. The latest and greatest point-and-shoot cameras offer large sensors, tough bodies, and long lenses -- something no phone can touch.

These are the best action cameras money can buy, from GoPro to Garmin and more

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.

Starting your very own vlog? Here are the best cameras to buy

Any camera that shoots video can be used to vlog, but a few models stand out from the crowd thanks to superior image quality, ergonomics, and usability. When it comes to putting your life on YouTube, here are the best cameras for the job.

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.