I don’t remember how I discovered Mattebox for iPhone, probably after following someone’s mention of it over Twitter, but I’m glad I did. Yes, my first thought was ‘Great, another camera app on my phone’, as Mattebox was joining Hipstamatic, Camera+, Instagram, CameraBag, ShakeItPhoto, Lo-Mob, and a bunch of other camera and photo editing apps which by now take up two folders on my iPhone.
But Mattebox by Ben Syverson is a whole different thing. The best overview of its interface, features and user experience is provided by the beautiful website itself, so please explore it for further information. I’ll just share some of the reasons why Mattebox has quickly become my favourite, most used iPhone camera app:
- Landscape as default orientation. I like how Mattebox’s photo-taking experience makes me ‘think horizontally’ and use the iPhone more like a compact camera than just a smartphone with a camera. Too many camera apps are focussed on taking square photos or photos in portrait mode. You can, of course, shoot in portrait mode with Mattebox, but the interface doesn’t rotate and adjust. It stays in landscape mode, like any ‘real’ camera.
- An elegant, minimal, usable interface. Mattebox’s interface is clearly inspired by professional cameras, as Syverson says in the Philosophy page. I love how the interface is almost completely out of the way, letting me concentrate on the subject. I love how well thought-out the controls are. It may be an abused term, but they’re really intuitive. The dual-stage shutter release can feel a bit strange to operate at first (in most camera apps, the shutter is just a button, not a slider), but you soon realise just how useful it is to be able to lock focus and exposure.
- The adjustments screen. Speaking of well-designed interface, Mattebox’s adjustments screen is one of the clearest, easiest and most effective interfaces I’ve ever encountered in an iPhone camera app. Take a better look at its controls and how they work at the Image Adjustments page. Even in the photo editing stage, the app’s interface doesn’t get crowded with abstruse controls or a multitude of options and previews that take up whole screens. I love Mattebox’s direct approach: you slide your fingers and see the result in real time. And all the icons are very easy to understand, despite the lack of labels. Everything looks and feel really fluid, and you get to adjust and fine-tune your photos in a way that resembles a painting or drawing app, more than a photo app.
- It’s not about filters. Mattebox’s default filters are few and very well executed, and give very pleasing results without further modifications. I particularly love Mattebox’s black and white results (see this photo I took a while ago). You can also save your adjustments and create a filter out of them, if you like, which is another welcome feature. But what I really like about Mattebox is its lack of emphasis on filters and gratuitous effects. Most camera apps are basically galleries of effects to play with, some of which are so outlandish it’s hard not to think of them as mere gimmicks. Instead, I love how Mattebox’s main focus is to provide you with a series of selected, professional-looking tools to really perfect your shots.
Mattebox is $3.99 or €2.99 on the App Store, and believe me, it’s money well spent. What’s more, Mattebox has also a Web interface at Mattebox.net that lets you apply Mattebox’s adjustments to any photo you’ve uploaded on the Web. Just enter the image URL in the address field below the sample photo, click on Open and start editing. You can save your changes by clicking on the Save button.