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Film, reborn: A detailed look at Mastin Labs’ Filmborn app for iPhone

In the ever-evolving world of analogue photography emulation, a new competitor has emerged: Filmborn. Meticulously crafted by the team behind Mastin Labs Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw presets, Filmborn is an iOS-exclusive app designed to bring film stock emulation to the iPhone.

There are dozens of film emulation apps available for download, from VSCO and Black to Rebelsauce and RNI Films, just to name a few. Filmborn is striving to set itself apart by creating an all-encompassing film emulation workflow that ensures photos will have similar aesthetics across the board, whether you’re shooting with the actual film stock or emulating it on your desktop and mobile device.

Below, we break down our hands-on into three separate categories: UI, presets, and editing tools. We’ve spent the past week playing around with the app and in addition to insights, we’ll also provide original photographs edited entirely in Filmborn.

User interface

Filmborn’s interface is a unique combination of Mastin Labs’ branding aesthetics, with a little inspiration from other photo editing apps on the market.

Aesthetically, the interface of Filmborn resembles that of VSCO. Rather than text, Filmborn relies almost entirely on icons. This design choice makes for a difficult learning curve initially, but once familiar with the icons and know how to navigate the app, the decision to use icons proves vital for a mobile workflow, where screen real estate is at a minimum and time is of the essence.

filmborn-navi
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For as rich as Filmborn is in features and capabilities, the interface is structured nicely and takes a natural progression through the image capture and editing process. Put simply, it flows. Using simple swiping gestures while capturing a photo, you can adjust both the exposure and color temperature of the photo, which helps immensely, especially when used with the live filter capabilities of Filmborn.

One of the most impressive features is its method of managing and modifying photos. Rather than creating a separate library (we’re looking at you, VSCO), Filmborn utilizes iOS 10’s ability to edit photos right within your iPhone’s camera roll from a third-party app. No more exporting or sharing through a convoluted menu. The only downfall with this is that iOS requires each photo to be approved before being modified, for security purposes. There’s no way around this, though, so Filmborn isn’t really to blame here. It’s as streamlined as Apple currently allows.

Presets

Unlike other apps, which charge you for various packs of presets, Filmborn comes with every preset readily available. Conveniently, the presets are meticulously matched to offer the exact same set of film stock emulations as Mastin Lab’s Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw presets. This helps to further promote consistency across the board, whether you’re shooting with actual film, using the presets with your DSLR photos, or shooting with your iPhone.

What stands out is the way presets affect the aesthetic of the photos they’re applied to. Unlike other editing apps, which more or less feel as though you’re simply overlaying a filter, Filmborn’s presets seem to take the same approach as their desktop counterpart by dramatically altering the HSL (hue, saturation, luminosity) levels of the images.

The result is a type of aesthetic we’ve yet to see in any mobile photo editing app. That’s not to say it’s always for the better, but once you familiarize yourself with what film stock emulations work best with certain types of images, it’s easy to nail the perfect edit almost every time. To help speed up this learning curve, Filmborn has integrated notes about each film stock, which includes sample images, a description of the film it’s designed to emulate, and a breakdown of what genre of photographs it best works with.

Other editing tools

Beyond presets, Filmborn offers a handful of other editing features, including exposure control, color balance adjustments, contrast adjustments, and cropping tools. Also included are dedicated contrast presets, taken directly from Filmborn’s desktop counterpart.

The only downfall with these adjustment tools is the contrast slider. In every image we’ve edited within Filmborn, it seems as though the contrast slider only affects the shadows and midtones of an image. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can prove to be a pain when you want your highlights to be a little more pronounced without having to bump up the overall exposure of an image. Admittedly, this is a little nitpicky, and if we know the creators of the app as well as we think we do, this was likely done on purpose to protect the highlights from being accidentally overblown with contrast, as film tends to preserve highlights incredibly well, even when overexposed by a few stops.

For more precise control of your photos, Filmborn also offers a Curves adjustment feature, which is offered as an in-app purchase. For those who enjoy tweaking every aspect of their photos, it’s nice to have this option. Offering the curves feature as the in-app purchases is also a clever move, as it tends to be more of a pro-oriented editing tool.

Final thoughts

This author has used and reviewed no fewer than two dozen mobile photo editing apps, yet Filmborn stands out more than any other. Despite bearing a similar overall aesthetic to apps such as VSCO, it differentiates itself in the overall experience.

The workflow, from capture to finished image, is smooth, thanks to the progression of editing features and clever use of the new photo modification features Apple implemented in iOS 10. No longer do you have to worry about duplicate photos in your camera roll, where the original might accidentally be deleted instead of the edited one. All edits are non-destructive and reversible from directly within your camera roll.

Figuring out what preset works best with an image can be a challenge, but much like shooting with real film, it’s a lesson of trial and error of figuring out what film stock emulation works best with particular photographic styles. And when you do figure it out, the presets nail it every time, creating an image that doesn’t sacrifice quality for a clever aesthetic. The resulting images always feel clean – something I can’t say about many images exported from other editing apps.

Filmborn isn’t designed to replace analogue photography. It’s meant to “bring the beauty, history, and consistency of traditional film stocks to mobile photography,” as the company puts it. And it does just that. There are some features we’d like to see added, such as RAW photo editing, use of the dual cameras of the iPhone 7 Plus, and a grain feature, but those are on the way, according to the Filmborn team.

Filmborn is free to download in the iOS App Store, with three separate in-app purchases available for additional editing tools.

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