If an app version is incremented by a whole number, this usually indicates that many new features have been added. In some cases, it could mean an almost complete overhaul of the app itself, both visually and functionally. Rarely have I seen an app undergoing such an upgrade that negates the core purpose of the app itself. Judging by the recent reviews I’ve seen on the App Store, I’m not the only one who’s facing these problems with the FilmLab 2 app. I hope the app’s next update corrects what I’ve observed, which I detail below.
Too Long; Didn’t Read
I wouldn’t call this roundup scathing, but I really think the folks at Develop and Fix, Inc need to fix the main reason why someone would use this app (to seamlessly and flawlessly preview negatives). Version 1 of this app was really amazing. But the experience of using version 2 might be why someone will look for another app that does the same feature better. I used the Android version a lot when working on my Negative Supply Basic 35mm Kit review earlier this year. That app worked great (and still does on version 1.5.0, released on Apr 17th, 2020). It was a real time saver when it came to picking negatives to scan for the review.
In September, the developers got in touch to state that the iOS version 2 was in beta. The apps we tested on my iPhone and iPad weren’t the beta ones though. They were tested on FilmLab 2 after it was released to the App Store. If you’ve got the FilmLab iOS v1 app, I strongly recommend not upgrading it to v2 for now. You’ll see why in the review below.
Pros and Cons
- FilmLab has moved to a freemium model
- The mobile version now uses the same colour conversion engine as their desktop software
- There’s an optional Pro version that allows you to import and edit files stored on your mobile device
- Finer, in-app edits with numerical adjustment values for each slider
- Integration with Files app on iOS to allow file imports from Photos library, memory cards, iCloud etc.
- All edits done in the app are non destructive
- Pro upgrade has the same license as the Desktop app. You don’t have to pay extra for the license on multiple devices
- What was earlier a simple inversion of the negative (which allowed you to see what the photo was) now has the preview screen cycling through Yello, Cyan, and Magenta, as well as varying levels of exposure when the app’s camera is open and focused on the negative
- Eventually the negative preview has a highlighter pen-yellow tinge to it
- The headaches that come from viewing (or trying to preview) your negatives because of the above points
- Previewing the negative has become a lot more painful in version 2
- iPhone SE on iOS 14.8; FilmLab 2.0.1 (non beta)
- iPad 6th Gen on iOS 15.0.2; FilmLab 2.0.1 (non beta)
- Huawei P30 Pro on EMUI 11.0.0; FilmLab 1.5.0 (to compare new version against previous)
- Negative Supply 35mm Basic Kit
Ease of Use
“FilmLab makes it easy to view and digitize film negatives. All you need is your iPhone or iPad, and a light table or other back light.”
I hadn’t tested version 1 of the app on iOS, but assuming it had similar functionality to version 1 on Android, I would agree with the above statement. I heavily relied on it while working on my Negative Supply 35mm Basic Kit. Having to sift through tons of negatives to pick a handful of images for that article wasn’t easy. Then I discovered FilmLab (for my primary phone using Android). I didn’t even use the LightSource that came with their kit for this. I just held up the strip to the ceiling light or my monitor and use the app to quickly preview the negative.
If it was worth working on further, I’d then use the kit to take an image of the negative with my camera and invert it using their desktop software. The simplicity of this process made me love the FilmLab app for what it was – something that would help you quickly identify what a negative contained, so you could decide if it was worth spending more time on.
It’s Not Easy Anymore
The app has altogether lost its charm for me with version 2 update, so much so that I refuse to use the updated iOS version to preview a negative until this psychedelic colour cycling issue is fixed. For many photographers like me, the app isn’t going to be used to snap an image of a negative and then edit it using the app’s correction tools. We’d just like to be able to instantly see what memories the negative holds. This would make it easier to take a call on whether it needs to be scanned at a higher resolution using a proper scanning kit or a negative flatbed scanner. I understand entirely that this feature of the software is provided for free.
Why would you try and fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place? If you think I’m being unreasonable, you should see the last six reviews on their App Store page. This app certainly can’t replace a professional film scanner for everyday use, mainly because it relies on your smartphone’s camera and sensor quality.
How Good Are the Changes in Version 2?
Improved editing tools (after clicking a photo using the camera, or selecting a photo from the Photo gallery)
While version 1 only had sliders to adjust Exposure, Contrast and Colour (with an unnamed slider for Tint), FilmLab 2 has replaced the Colour sliders with two titled Yellow Filter and Magenta Filter.
In addition to this, the sliders all have numerical values against them to make for more precise and accurate, repeatable adjustments when needed.
I really like this change; it makes editing a lot easier when you have multiple negatives shot under similar lighting. There’s also a new selection option that allows you to select the type of light source. This is presumably to set a base value for the white balance of the image of the negative you’ve clicked. They’ve also added a one-click Auto setting in the editing tools, whereas each slider previously had its own individual Auto button.
Who Thought It Was a Smart Idea to Remove the Crop Tool?
Version 1 had a crop tool that wasn’t just a way to resize and crop into one negative. If you hadn’t handheld the negative strip parallel to your smartphone camera, you could also skew the crop in the edit tools.
The crop tool has been removed in version 2, meaning that you need to get the frame perfectly aligned before you click. This is a problem if your iOS device’s camera cannot get the negative in focus when it’s closely held to the camera. You’re then left with at least a negative and a half in the frame: a pointless removal of a useful tool.
That Yellow Overlay
I hope the developers either reverse or give users the option to view negatives using the same algorithm in version 1. I know it’s an app that most will not use to save an analogue negative into a positive digital file. But believe me, the stress that your eyes and mind will go through while trying to get the negative strip in focus (while handheld), while the whole frame decides to look like it was dunked in Mountain Dew — that’s just wholly avoidable, I think. Photographers, especially analogue photographers, go through a lot of hardship already. Trying to use software to preview a negative doesn’t have to be added to that list.
What’s With the Colour Cycling?
Each time I slide a negative strip under the phone while the app is open, depending on how much black (while using the Negative Supply Basic Film Carrier 35 ) or white (when directly on the Negative Supply LightSource) around the strip, the app screen starts cycling through different colours and varying levels of exposure as seen in the below sequence of images, taken across 2 seconds.
In many instances, I noticed that the app didn’t know when to stop this cycle of colours. On some occasions, when the negative came into focus, it would stop the Magenta/Yellow refreshing and just continue cycling through dark and light exposure changes.
Delayed Response to Pressing the Shutter Button
It didn’t matter if the phone was handheld or mounted to the holder; there were times when the app would hunt for focus. As soon as I saw that the negative was in focus, I’d press the white shutter button here. For some reason, the app would not register this response until some moments later but by then the focus hunting would still continue. This then meant that the image being saved into the app’s gallery folder was often out of focus.
- The ability to save your scanned images to your iOS device on FilmLab 2
- Addition of numeric values to the edit tools in the app
- Shared licensing between mobile and desktop apps
- Yellow (mostly), magenta, and sometimes cyan overlays being cycled while you’re trying to get a steady shot of the negative strip
- Not being able to select a light source option before opening the app’s camera feature (which could help mend some of the damage done by the feature of the earlier point)
- Removal of the crop tool (unless this is a paid feature now)
- Pro options seem to be a paid feature even for original Kickstarter backers of the app
I’m honestly not sure why the app’s developers have made the negative preview process so complicated now. Maybe version 2.1 should just bring back the colour science algorithm of version 1 of the app. That algorithm made it much quicker to preview a negative and may go a long way in getting more users onto their Pro mode. I don’t see any reason, as a user who just wants to preview negatives, to use FilmLab 2 over Filmlab 1 at this point. The potential for this mobile app is huge; Develop and Fix, Inc please get this one improved upon soon
In its current state, FilmLab 2 for iOS deserves just 1.5 stars out of 5.