The first phone we had with a camera was the Sony Ericsson T68i. Strictly speaking it didn't have a camera, because you had to buy it separately and plug it into the bottom.
The results left a lot to be desired. They were small, low quality and invariably out of focus. In fact, the snaps we took only really helped us remember the holiday we used it on, because they were so laughably poor.
That was 2003 and these days buying a phone without a camera is almost impossible. Not only that, but taking pictures on a mobile phone has surpassed all expectation: the iPhone 4 is now the biggest contributor to online photo site Flickr.
But mobile phone photography has gone full circle and retro fashion has spoken. Small sensors and a lack of glass need not be a problem when you can add effects that make your pictures unique and, ironically, apply the sort of noise and distortion that the T68i naturally gave you.
With that in mind, today we've got an app for you that many see as Hipstamatic for Android.
- Android Market
Vignette has been around for a while and as the name suggests it is a camera app that can add a wide range of effects to your Android phone.
It offers its own camera interface, so operates separately from the camera app you already have on your phone. We tested it on the Samsung Galaxy S, which we mention because different phones may well handle the app slightly differently.
The app is divided into two different sections. The first is composition the second is effects. When lining up your shot in the composition view, you get a clear picture of the scene in front of you.
You can adjust basic settings, like the resolution, as well as basic camera phone controls, like auto save and overriding standby, but we found the most useful setting to be the "show full viewfinder" because if you don't select this option, what you see on the screen can appear distorted compared to the scene in front of you.
Essentially you can then line up your phone and take the picture you want by touch. Touch the screen and keep your finger on it and the camera will focus. While your finger is in place, a controller pops-up underneath it. Take your finger off and it will take the shot, or you can slide you finger to select one of the other options - refocus or options.
In our tests, the refocus option is only really good for re-composition, i.e., when you move the camera to improve the shot: it didn't focus on a different object within the scene we already had, so we couldn't touch to choose the exact focal point for example.
Once you have your photo, it's time to start playing around with it and creating something altogether more funky. But before you get to this stage, it's worth mentioning what there is in fact another option: you can import an image you already have in your phone Gallery. That means that if you have a camera, like the HTC Sensation XE which will let you touch focus for a more dramatic effect, you'll get the best of both worlds.
Of course, some phones offer a range of effects (having mentioned HTC) but Vignette goes much further. There are a range of classic film type effects like Portra, Velvia and Ilford and then a wider selection of retro effects and options grouped into drop-down sections.
This grouping helps keep the effects menu under control, but it can still be a little fiddly to find exactly what you want until you get to know the app. However, because you layer the effects over the top of the image, you can change things around as much as you like until you get the result you are looking for, remembering to save your image at the end, of course.
You get the option to save copies as you go, which is important as if you take a particularly nice shot, you might want to save a copy of the original, before you start to tinker with it.
Aside from the effects you can also add frames which help to complete the overall impression of your image. If you find a combination you particularly like, you can save it so you can easily apply it again in the future.
There is the option to share from within the Vignette app, but this gives you a warning that it will share the low resolution preview, rather than the higher quality final image. With that in mind, heading back into the regular Gallery and sharing from there will give you better results.
Overall there are some fantastic options to add a little more buzz to your photos, although this sort of camera app is becoming much more common, so there are other free options out there to try. The app lacks some of the cool factor that Apple rival Hipstamatic offers, but the end results can be very close.
It isn't only about the extreme effects either. Sure, the tobacco filter is dramatic, but adding a simple border to an Ilford portrait can give some great results. And whilst using these filters can dress up the poor performance of your phone's camera, if you have a cracking shot to start with, you'll get substantially better results at the end.
If we have one criticism of Vignette, it is that it can drag its feet at times. Applying the effects is sometimes a little slow, as is saving the image. We also found that it would, on occasion, become a little unresponsive, especially when returning to take more pictures.
But despite this, we've found that Vignette offers a great collection of effects and so long as you you don't expect this to be your fulltime and only camera app on your smartphone, then we can live with those slight delays.
Vignette is available as a free demo with limited functionality, but for us has been £2.49 well spent for the full version.