App

Propel your iPhone’s camera back to the days of neon socks, terrible hair, and pixels as big as a house brick

Photographic representation is often defined by technological limitations, and this was especially true in the age of film cameras, with each era having its own distinct feel. But technology holding back digital reproduction was even more stark during the early days of home computers, which boasted palettes and resolutions that seem positively archaic today.

The C64/Spectrum playground battle hits an iPhone photo app!

The C64/Spectrum playground battle hits an iPhone photo app!

As ever, though, retro always seems to have a certain kind of cool appeal, or at least the ability to be intriguing, and Retrospecs is nothing if not intriguing. The idea of the app is to use modern technology to send scenes from today into computing’s distant past, by taking your photos and converting them into something resembling what you’d get out of an ancient home computer. If you ever wondered what your pet cat would look like if the only technology currently available to humankind was a ZX Spectrum, Retrospecs can provide that truly terrifying and gaudy vision.

This probably sounds terribly throwaway, but as with the better toy camera apps for the iPhone, Retrospecs is an awful lot of fun, and it boasts an interface that proves the developer cares as much about the user as recreating a visual effect from some long-dead piece of technology.

A beautiful blue sky becomes like a landscape in IBM EGA mode.

A beautiful blue sky becomes like a landscape in IBM EGA mode.

Picture perfect

To start, you tap the camera icon and turn your iPhone to portrait; landscape isn’t catered for — a limitation of the app’s algorithms, which prize historical accuracy regarding the hardware of the day’s output over your ability to hold your iPhone in a particular manner. Once you take your snap, you then immediately find yourself in the Converter screen.

Saved images are available in-app and can also be automatically sent to a Photo Roll album.

Saved images are available in-app and can also be automatically sent to a Photo Roll album.

Here, three tabs enable you to change the system generating the effect, adjust the dithering used to eke out the appearance of extra colours and detail from the emulated technology, and mess about with contrast and vibrancy, which can significantly alter the end result. Options elsewhere in the app provide the means to save both original and ‘retro’ images and show or hide a slew of CGA (old PC) video modes; it’s also possible to work with an image from your Camera Roll or Photos albums, if you’ve nothing nearby to photograph.

It’s unlikely Retrospecs will ever be your first-choice photo app, even if you’re a big fan of esoteric filters. But some of the filters give you really interesting results that are full of character. While it’s arguable you’ll unlikely create a digital masterpiece from the likes of the overtly crude Teletext and lo-res Apple II settings, we found the PC, Sinclair and delicate mono hatching of the Apple Macintosh filter particularly interesting. Undoubtedly, Retrospec will mostly strike home with those harbouring a nostalgia for a certain era and hardware, but even if you didn’t once experience a world of 8-bit systems and chunky pixels, there’s plenty to like here due to the unique nature of the output and simple, well-considered interface.

Boosting vibrancy can bring new colours into Retrospec pictures.

Boosting vibrancy can bring new colours into Retrospec pictures.

Price: $0.99 / £0.99
Size: 7.0 MB
Version: 1.3
Platform: iOS Universal
Developer: John Parker

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Retrospecs Review: Pretend your iPhone is a BBC Micro
Verdict: Not the most essential photography app around, but one of the most fun we’ve seen, especially if you lived through 1980s home computing.
For
  • Authentic old-school graphics
  • Very fast
  • Polished interface
Against
  • Portrait-only
  • Can’t hide unwanted systems
4.0Overall Score