AMITIAE - Tuesday 2 July 2013

A Vintage-style Camera App for the iPad: FieldCam, from Michael Hardaker

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By Graham K. Rogers


In the past month or so I have examined a couple of the apps of Michael Hardaker and find myself impressed by both the quality of design and the output that these apps can produce in a digital homage to the analog camera. As well as the two recent reviews - PureShot and 645 - a while back I had looked at two others from the same developer: 6 x 6 and 6 x 7. These four work on the iPhone and the iPad, but there is one more: a photographic app, designed by a developer whose other apps show a high regard for the quality output that is achieved by medium format cameras in particular. Why would there be a need for a specialist camera app for the iPad?

Part of the answer to the question, may lie in the apparent philosophy behind Michael Hardaker's apps which imply a form of respect to older techniques. Once set up, a modern digital camera can almost be used like a point and shoot camera, with the software in the camera compensating for the photographer when necessary. Once in a while, a good picture may come from this.

Those who use older cameras (and skills) do not rely on the luxury of automatic operations, taking great care with the physics of photography, balancing light, aperture and time, perhaps with a fourth variable: film. Older types of film are still manufactured and sold. The film type (grain, saturation, ISO rating) should be carefully chosen. As each shot is set up there may also be an awareness of the economics. Unlike with digital photography, the medium - analog film - costs money. A true photographer brings an acute awareness of input to each shot that the digital photographer may not always apply.

Michael Hardaker's apps return some of that awareness to taking pictures with devices that need little help. FieldCam, the only app from this developer that is iPad-only, is another nod to older technology: the massive wooden cameras that early photographers would have, usually with a tripod as the film was so slow. The app is priced at $1.99.


The interface seeks to recreate the idea of a vintage camera. Instead of buttons there are virtual brass switches with brass edged sliders inset into the warm wooden finish. It is however, truly a digital recipe as the sliders are for filters and the interface also has indicators for warmth, zoom level and epoch: as a Time Machine wheel is rotated, so the image output may be changed to reflect the type of photographs from a particular era (from 1855 - 2015).

Controls are a mix of expected (grid line, metering) to some that are more unusual, like "night" which makes it easy to see the target in low light situations, and flip which inverts the image in the viewer, just like older cameras. Filters and these other effects are not shown unless the switch marked Preview is moved to On. When this is operating, the image in the viewfinder may move slowly if the iPad is panned.


To the right of the image viewer are a Lab window which indicates how many images are being processed, a Review and Share button that will allow an image to be exported to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as by email. It also allows the images to be exported to other apps on the iPad. The test images I took in mixed domestic lighting were all 2420 x 1936 and around 1 - 1.7 GB (color images were larger).


Above those two buttons is an icon that looks like an open book. This links to the manual, although it is not like Hardaker's usual output, such as the PDF files for 645 or PureShot.

In keeping with the style of the app, the image used in the manual, and the text are in a form that looks as if it had been created at the end of the 19th century. The "Guidance concerning the use of the FieldCam" has an old-fashioned feeling to it, and ends with the note, that FieldCam "may be a source of both instruction and amusement to Photographers as they practise their Art".


This is a get over it moment: as much as I prefer to stick with the viewfinder on my Nikons, the iPhone which I also like for taking pictures, does not have one. Those whose sole computing device is the iPad, want to take photographs, so use what they have. Apple ran an ad a a short while ago claiming that more photos were taken on the iPhone than any other camera. As I look around at the number in use, the iPad must be running near.

While I may want to consider the output from my DSLR cameras in 20" x 30" poster format, users of the popular iPad are satisfied with a pic on Facebook or other social networking sites. To those users, such output is no less relevant to them than the work of the professional photographer. It is not simply that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that the eye of the beholder is the sole criterion by which the photograph (and the app) need to be judged.

As the developer website notes, "If you think your iPad might be a tad bulky to use as a camera, just marvel at how much slimmer and lighter this "steampunk" alternative is when compared with an actual Victorian field camera - and how much more capable!"

See also

  • Another Excellent iOS Photography App: 645 PRO Mk II from Michael Hardaker
  • PureShot: A Higher Level iOS app from Michael Hardaker for the More Serious Photographer

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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