AMITIAE - Monday 30 September 2013

Rollei Foto-App: Flawed App Bearing a Great Name

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By Graham K. Rogers


I have always enjoyed photography. Although I enjoy using the iPhone as a photography tool and make good use of my own digital SLR cameras, I always enjoyed using film. As a child I owned cameras like the Kodak Box Brownie as well as a succession of inexpensive plastic cameras, all of which were capable of producing some good pictures.

When I started work (and finally had my own money) - after a short foray into the 8mm movie medium - I finally bought a decent SLR camera using both print and slide output. Although I eventually moved to digital cameras, now owning a couple of Nikons, I still find film interesting.

A colleague uses a Leica and develops his own pictures, and not long ago I was at the home of a documentary-maker who had a twin-lens Rolleiflex camera. These two brands, along with the Hasselblad, are ideals for me. With a lot of use out of my Nikons (and the iPhone of course), I began to think recently of acquiring an analogue camera and looked at several examples of Rolleiflex devices. Despite predictions of the death of film, some manufacturers still produce this, and there are labs in a number of countries that will process the exposed film.

While looking for information, I discovered that Rollei have an app for the iPhone: Rollei Foto-App. It is free, it looks well made and has several unusual features that might appeal to many users. It does video tricks too. Unfortunately, I found it rather unstable.

After a quick display of an opening screen, the app is right down to business. The working panel has a camera icon at the bottom right. As someone who is left-handed I initially found this awkward, but all lefties learn to adjust. However, if this were centred (or had an optional left position) it might be easier. That quibble aside, the rest of the app had a number of interesting features.

Rollei Rollei

The left side of the panel (in any orientation) displays 10 options for taking photographs (plus a link marked "i" for other Rollei devices), beginning with a straightforward camera output. As each icon is selected, a brief text explanation appears. Options are:

  • A music note icon that allows a sound to be used to take a picture. The app measures ambient levels of sound which the user selects. A noise above this (I clapped my hands) takes a photograph.

  • The circular arrow is used to take a series of photographs over a number of seconds. A slider is used to adjust the time, up to 10 seconds. The default was 5 seconds. A user may select one image from the series for export (or Save). I did find that the app crashed a number of times while I was trying out this feature.

  • An egg-timer icon is for a time delay to be applied. The default is 10 seconds, but the slider adjusts up to 60 seconds. The time left is shown on the screen. When needed, the flash shines at 3 seconds (red eye) and the picture is taken when the countdown reaches zero.

  • A hand icon is for a useful motion sensor option although this may be limited according to the instructions, which also recommend (insist on) a tripod. When the feature is activated, waving the hand past the screen will take a picture after a 2 second delay. This is a cleverly thought-out addition as with 2 seconds, the hand will not be in the picture.

  • A clock icon is a timer function for a series of images to be taken. A slider allows the interval between photographs from 3 seconds up to 10 minutes, with the default at 15 seconds. A countdown is displayed on the screen, which begins over when a picture is taken.

  • An icon that looks like a flower (perhaps a light icon) allows an extended time to be specified for taking a picture. 10 seconds is the default, with the slider running from 3 seconds up to 60 seconds. The instructions recommend a tripod be used. In low light conditions, I was able to take a reasonable picture with a 5 second exposure by holding the iPhone rigidly. There were some app stability issues with this feature when I tried longer times and it did crash a number of times.

  • An icon that looks like a couple of files, is to create an image with an overlay. The example in the text description given is for passing cars in the dark. A slider allows the time between shots to be adjusted from 3 seconds up to 60 seconds with 10 seconds as default. As with other time-related options, the app crashed a couple of times.

  • A face icon allows the user to overlay another face or parts of a face onto an initial face image. The user has the ability to rotate and enlarge. This is described as a "fun function."

  • The final icon resembles an acorn (or a grenade) and is also described as a fun function. It allows aging to be applied to an image. Despite taking a number of photographs of my face (albeit in low light), the app was unable to detect a face, so I was unable to test this.

Rollei The top of the working screen shows a panel that indicates the mode selected and alongside this is a square icon that allows the user to enter Video mode. With this there are only four options: basic video, ambient noise/noise activation, time delay and motion sensor (hand movement).

Both Video and Photo screens also have an "i" icon but this links to advertising materials for some interesting products under the Rollei Mobile and Rollei Musicbox names. Although some of the information screens showed that there were related apps in the App Store (or Google Play) these were not live links.

Output may be saved to the Photo Library or exported to Facebook or Twitter.

Photographs saved to the Photo Library and transmitted to the Mac via PhotoStream were a limited 1080 x 1920 (2.1 MP) with a file size of around 600 KB. Bearing in mind the cachet the Rollei name has in photography circles, I was disappointed with this and the general instability I found.

With the iPhone 4S the app crashed too many times. Particularly if a good shot was set up that needed a time exposure, a crash would lose the image. I did a reset of the iPhone and restart of the app, but the problems persisted. While the app is useful and takes some reasonable pictures, some of the options that use time controls may need work by the developer. As the last update to the app is shown as 28 July, perhaps the introduction of iOS 7 has caused some difficulties.

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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