Alien Skin Alt Photo for iPhone, iPod touch review

Sections: iDevice Apps, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod touch, Reviews

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Provides: Filter-based photo editing
Developer: Alien Skin Software
Requirements: iPhone 3GS or above, iPod touch 3rd gen or above, and iPad running iOS 5.0 or later.
Price: Free

Alien Skin software has a long history of helping digital imaging pros achieve their artistic vision, primarily through Photoshop plug-ins. Late last year, the company brought their digital imaging prowess to the iPhone with the Alt Photo app, featuring a powerful blend of tools for iPhone photogs, a throwback to pre-digital imaging days, and a genuinely useful alternative to more popular but technically limited photo filter apps like Instagram. Alt Photo gives you more control over your the filter processing of your photos, as well as the ability to shoot and edit on the spot, and features a sharing interface chock full of options for getting your photos out to your followers.


Alt Photo’s filters are broken down into two broad categories: color and B&W/monochrome. Each category has three subcategories—film effects, print effects, and vintage looks—and each subactegory has six choices for a total of 36 default filters. The filters are based mainly on vintage film stocks, so you choose looks that would have been achieved with a particular film and processing, rather than picking a subjectively-named filter based on a location, mood, etc. To browse available options, you simply swipe up/down to switch categories and left/right to see the various filters available in each category; a live updating preview is accompanied by the filter name.

It’s also possible to step out to a larger view of little thumbnails showing each effect, letting you see anywhere between nine and twelve preview thumbnails at a time.

The looks of the various color filters correspond to the looks that were available with well-known film stocks, such as Agfacolor, Kodachrome, and slide film, as well as various processing techniques such as bleaching and cross processing. For black and white looks, things are a little bit different. Although some old films are present as filter options, the app also contains monochrome options like cyanotype and selenium brown. The vintage color looks provide realistic results looking like old photographs, while the black & white vintage looks go so far as to even emulate scratches, extreme shadows, and aging associated with early 20th century photography.


Alt Photo’s effects can be applied to existing camera roll shots or you can fire up the app and snap pictures in single or burst modes.  Once shot, you can crop to a freeform, 4×3, or 1×1 aspect ratio (the square crop being the obvious choice for any Instagram users still left).  The Adjustments toolbar places brightness just a tap away, with a slide left/right to dial the brightness up or down. Each filter’s intensity can be adjusted in the same way, resulting in photos that look slightly aged and moody to downright groovy (or other decade-appropriate adjective, depending on which filter you’ve chosen).

Some filters include a built-in border (or frame), as appropriate for the period. Some of the color photographs include it for a look reminiscent of a Polaroid, and the B&W Vintage “Studio Print” filter even goes so far as to include a fake studio name/information in the lower border of the picture, as photo studios did in the early 20th century. You may add a frame to any photo regardless of the chosen effect, and can also choose a different border ranging from simple black to a faux light leak to a dramatic mat.


When your photo is perfect, Alt Photo gives you an exceptionally well-designed workflow to share it via multiple sources at once. A simple tap-to-select interface lets you share snaps via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr (including, if desired the hashtag #altphoto, a caption, and geolocation), and you can also decide whether to save your edited picture to your iDevice’s camera roll. The app remembers your last sharing settings, so sharing is simple, but the extremely granular level of control is also a welcome feature, as it provides a nice meta interface to the mishmash of social networks and photo sharing sites many of us use.

While Alt Photo offers a simple and quick-to-use interface, it hides a well-designed and very powerful filter-based photo editor underneath. As Instagram-filtered photos become cliché, the additional control Alt Photo offers photogs looking for more artistic control is a welcome feature. The app’s vintage-inspired filters and slick sharing options make snapping, editing, and uploading less of a task and more a natural extension of the photographic process, and this app does it all in a way that feels smooth and natural. That this app is free feels almost criminal, but that worry soon passes as you begin shooting.

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