25 June 2016
RNI Flashback – second iOS app from a small UK-based photographic startup ReallyNiceImages, offers an interesting twist in the analog film simulation genre of AppStore apps. In this article we have a closer look at the app and examine its capabilities.
Really Nice Images is known in the professional photography world as a producer of analog film presets for Adobe Lightroom. RNI Lightroom filters are praised for their subtleness, beautiful color separation and rich skin tones. In August 2015 the company has released its iOS mobile app – RNI Filters, which delivers high-quality analog films simulations on the mobile device. We have been reviewing RNI Filters in the separate article.
Their second app – RNI Flashback – is a twist of the original analog film simulation concept, simplifying the photographer’s role to push of a button. This is how one of the app’s creators is describing RNI Flashback:
Originally such a simplicity wasn’t among our main goals. All we wanted was to make digital image processing as analog as possible in terms of visual aesthetics and fun. So we built our own rendering engine that recreates the fundamental principles of colour film: four independent colour layers each converting its part of the input spectrum (digital camera colours) into film colours (the ones collected from real film samples).
The whole process is randomised: every time each digital colour gets a random substitution form the appropriate range of film colours. By running this simulation again and again you can eventually get to really remarkable results: nice neutrals, outstanding skintones, cool shadows with calmed down reds and greens. The resulting picture is often far beyond what’s achievable in Photoshop or Lightroom with their conventional RGB-editing tools.
But sometimes the resulting image in Flashback is a complete rubbish :-) Because it is an experimental app, and we are yet to learn how to control our algorithm without losing in variety.
One of my favourite comments from the AppStore US (by Jason R. Johnston – May 10, 2016), explains the whole thing better than I ever could: “A pleasant change of pace for achieving the “feel” of old film prints. The one-button random splash of digital photochemicals is a fresh technique that removes the exactness of other apps but rekindles a certain sense of wonder about what might literally develop next. RNI Flashback brings back the excitement of uncertainty with film and forces you to simply capture better photos.”
This review is based on version 1.0 for iPhone, released in May 2016. The app was tested on iPhone 6, running iOS 9.3. The app is paid and costs $3.99. It’s a one-time payment, there are no in-app purchases.
Application interface is minimalistic and extremely simple to master.
Application startup screen
The startup screen displays a prompt encouraging to load a photo from the Camera Roll, or allows to go to one of the company’s social profiles: Instagram, Facebook or their website.
After selecting a photo, main application window is displayed:
Application main window
The main feature of the app is the big button in the bottom middle part of the screen. When pressed, it will give you a random analog film filter. Eg. this:
The fun part is that the result is completely random. It might be wonderful, but it might be horrible. You keep pressing the button to render new look.
Time to look at the other elements of the interface. Two buttons looking like rewind and fast forward, placed next to the New Look button, allow you to move between already generated looks, backward and forward.
If you tap and hold on the picture, you can see the before and the after.
When you tap on the crop symbol located in top left corner, you will access the crop and straightening tool.
Crop tool allows to crop the photo, using one of the predefined rations: 3:2, 4:3, 5:4 and 1:1, in both portrait and landscape mode. I like the fact that unlike in other apps the crop frame is alway using the maximum of screen’s real estate – meaning you can see more and do more detailed crop. In RNI Flashback (contrary to RNIFilms), you can change your crop decision at any point of time, while editing the picture.
Straighten tool is relatively standard, allowing to fix crooked horizons and titled architecture photos.
By pressing the Share button, located in bottom right corner, we are able to export the image to the Camera Roll, share it on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, or go into the iOS’ standard Share screen to explore more sharing options.
If you click on the Gear icon, located in top right corner of the app, you go into the Settings. Which essentially has only one setting: the possibility to switch between the simple and advanced mode. Simple mode offers maximum simplicity and minimum options.
Main application window – advanced mode
The advanced mode offers two additional capabilities: ability to mark certain looks as favourites and access to the advanced editing toolbar.
The heart symbol, located above the New Look button, allows you to remember favourite look on a shorter list of favourites. Which you can also traverse, by using back and forward buttons placed in the upper row.
So, in the advanced mode your workflow could look like this:
Please note that the list of favourite looks is not preserved between the editing sessions. It exists as long as you are working on a single image, and it’s re-set when next image is loaded.
Advanced image editor
The advanced image editor is available after tapping on a little arrow, visible on the very bottom of the screen. When tapped, it reveals a menu, which contains the following tools (from top to bottom):
Hint: not all the tools are visible at once – slide you finger to the bottom to reveal Shadows and Highlights tools.
The folks from ReallyNiceImages claim to be using a special ‘virtual chemicals’ engine to render the looks. No matter what is there behind the scenes, the results are really good. Many looks end up as eye-pleasing, naturally looking images which remind days of analog film.
Sometimes the app produces the look with too much of dust and scratches, but with the advanced mode turned on you can easily tune that down using the appropriate slider.
I can clearly see the similarities in the output between the RNI Flashback app and RNI Filters app. With two big differences:
This randomness is my only complaint about the app. I have nothing against the randomness when proposing looks, but if I really like particular (randomly generated) look, I should be able to save it as a favourite and re-use it for any future photos. It is especially important when I’m editing a batch of photos shot on a single location and would like to apply the same look on all of them. So I’m just hoping that folks at ReallyNiceImages consider adding such a feature in a new version of the app.
One additional wish I would have is to be able to run RNI Flashback as a Photos app extension. This way we could skip the load photo and share photo screens, limiting the app to the bare essentials which is the New Look button. Another consideration for future version of the app.
It would be not so wise to show you the quality of RNI Flashback, based on one image only. Here are some other images, showing the subtle quality of greens and skin tones developed in RNI Flashback:
In addition to testing the app, we have reached out to the app creators to ask them a couple of questions. I had the privilege to talk with Olly, who is the Product Manager at ReallyNiceImages:
Michal: Hello Ollie, my name is Michal, I’m a member of Grupa Mobilni, Polish mobile photography collective. Can you shortly introduce yourself to our readers?
Olly: Hi Michal, really pleased to talk to you! I am Olly, and I am responsible for the design and some key algorithms behind RNI’s mobile products.
Michal: How did you start with ReallyNiceImages? What was the original idea behind it?
Olly: Not surprisingly, it started on the intersection of profession and hobby several years ago. Being a digital product designer and a passionate film photographer one would inevitably end up with something like RNI.
Michal: What is your vision about the RNI mobile apps?
Olly: A very good question. As we all know, the mobile photo market is saturated and overcrowded. So why would the world need another photo app? Because, despite our digital cameras and software are getting better and better, something is still missing. It is important to humans not only capturing what they see but also expressing how they feel. And this is still the area where film can’t be beat. At RNI we are building bridges between two worlds by using analog film data in digital processing. Not to be arrogant, there are many great filtering apps in the market, but I haven’t seen anything done at such level of subtlety and colour harmony as RNI Films and nothing capable of such colour separation as RNI Flashback. Though we are at quite an early stage now, and there is a lot to do in this field.
Michal: What sets you apart from other (often bigger) analog film simulation companies such as VSCO?
Olly: May be more stars on the AppStore (laughing). Speaking seriously, we are trying to stay humble. We are not a social platform, therefore we do not treat our customers as a resource. What we do is simply producing good and useful tools for photo aficionados. Tools designed for enriching people’s creative process and making them happier, without obscuring the subject and the purpose of photography. In terms of visual quality we focus a lot on film-like colour separation and harmonising digital colours, making very subtle yet very distinctive difference. That is probably the reason why so many passionate photographers, especially those experienced with film, prefer RNI’s apps and Lightroom presets.
Michal: Your apps are currently available on iOS only. In fact, many of our readers are Android users. You are probably very often asked about the Android version of your app(s). What is your take on that?
Olly: One of the most popular questions indeed. It is true that we develop our apps for iOS exclusively. But we think Android is a great platform with some of the world’s best cameraphones. And we would love to develop for Android too. Unfortunately that’s not viable right now. Mainly because of a significant revenue gap between the platforms in favour of iOS and high piracy rates on Android — up to 95% in some categories. Being a small company we are not ready to handle these challenges right now. However, we are definitely considering coming to Android in future if our iOS apps happened to earn enough to cover the costs.
Michal: As you know with the previous article and this article, we have a very extensive coverage of RNI’s iOS app. Is there any hidden trick or tip in RNI Filters or RNI Flashback you can offer to our readers, that we might have missed?
Olly: Good question! Surprisingly, I’ve never been asked it before. RNI Films is designed in a quite straightforward and ‘trickless’ way, so you’re unlikely to find any massive Easter eggs inside. But any experienced creator certainly has a favourite technique of their own. For example, personally, I often use one particular combination of adjustments in RNI Films. When editing, I often set Brightness to around -20, Contrast to +30 and Shadows to +30 as well. Smartphones tend to slightly overexpose images rather than underexpose. And reducing brightness can often compensate on that. While increasing contrast along with shadows reveals more details from darker areas without losing contrast. This technique can often make for nicer and more film-like results, with more details across the tonal range. Similar trick but with reducing contrast instead of increasing it may work well in RNI Flashback.
Michal: Thanks a lot for the talk, we are wishing you all the best in the future development of your apps and products!
Olly: Thanks Michal! At RNI we always enjoy your substantial approach to reviews and your attention to details. I hope your readers will enjoy our apps. Also we’re always open to any suggestions and new ideas, so please don’t hesitate to drop us a message if having any thoughts about RNI’s products or some interesting images to share. We’re always keen to hearing from the creators.
RNI Flashback offers a very interesting twist on a classical analog film simulation app. Equipped with the RNI analog film engine, the app is able to generate interesting analog looks which offer authentic analog film experience on the iPhone.
Thanks to ReallyNiceImages, for all our readers want to become users of free RNI Filters app, we have an additional bonus: a hidden set of filters based on vintage Autochrome emulsions.
To unlock it please do the following:
In collaboration with ReallyNiceImages we are launching a weekly contest with great prize: Really Nice Images All Films Pack (for Adobe Lightroom), worth $122.
We are looking forward to your contributions.
Grupa Mobilni and the folks at ReallyNiceImages
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