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Give digital photos a retro look with Lo-Fi

Like a smartphone app for your computer, this Windows and Mac software lets you painlessly apply effects to spice up your snapshots.


People take a lot of bad and/or boring photos (myself included). Do it with a smartphone, though, and you've got a bunch of apps, such as Hipstamatic for iPhone and Vignette for Android, to make things more interesting or cover up flaws. However, things are a little more complicated for people who still use a regular camera, and that's where Lo-Fi comes in.

The software--available for Mac and Windows--lets you do what those apps do by quickly applying different effects based on film types, flashes, and lenses. What's nice about using Lo-Fi is that it doesn't feel like software. Instead of working in a typical box with tools and drop-down menus, you get this big camera with easy-to-understand clickable buttons. Drag and drop photos onto the camera and they load up onto the strip above the large screen. From there you select the ones you want to work with and start playing.

The Film, Mood, and Frame area on the right side of the interface have about a dozen options each, giving you a wide range of effects, such as grain, colorful cross processing, lens blur, light leaks, and frames. If you're not sure what one of them does you can just hover over it to get a brief description. There's also on/off buttons for each one so you can shut one, two, or all three of them off. The developer, Wingnut, has updated Lo-Fi three times with new effects since its release in February. It doesn't quite have the number of options that the apps I mentioned earlier have, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's possible Wingnut will add more in the future, too, but right now there are no immediate plans.

The example below was taken with a point-and-shoot I was testing. The original photo was soft, overly cool, and slightly underexposed. I applied a vignette to draw attention away from the background, a cross-processed film to change the tone, and a plastic lens effect to heavily blur the outer edge, which actually helped hide some motion blur. It takes no time to do these things either--just a few mouse clicks--and if you don't like what you have you can just keep clicking till you get the combo you want.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

There's also a button for letting the software apply random combinations that you can keep pressing until you get one you like. Unfortunately, what it won't allow you to do is stack multiple effects in the same category (i.e., you can't use two Moods at the same time) or increase or decrease the intensity of an effect.

Once you've got the result you want, there are one-click buttons to save to your computer as well as share on Facebook and Flickr. You can create entire photo sets and tag them within the software, too. There's no Twitter option, though, which is a little strange.

Overall, it's a fun application for breathing life into your photos and you don't need to work on a tiny smartphone screen to do it. Lo-Fi is available free to try or you can buy it for $15.