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Mattebox App Turns Your iPhone Into A Virtual DSLR

Ben Syverson’s elegant interface gives you pro-level image control without a thicket of menus.

I’ve been a mostly satisfied Android user for a few years now, but if there’s one thing that is seriously making me consider switching to the iPhone, it’s the camera. I was recently swapping baby photos with fellow new dad Mat Honan, and I was blown away by what his iPhone 4 was able to capture. It looked equal to (or maybe better?) than what my Canon DSLR could do.

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Then again, my DSLR packs a boatload of professional-grade features and ergonomics. Except that now there’s an app called Mattebox which brings all those pro-level touches to the iPhone’s infinitely more portable profile–with elegant interaction design that gets out of its own way. Suddenly that bulky DSLR is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.

I try not to use words like “masterpiece” here very often, but Mattebox’s interface design is so thoughtful and detailed, it just might warrant the term. It’s one thing to pack your camera app with features that let you control every possible aspect of the image. It’s quite another to design them so that they don’t get in the way of actually making an image in the decisive moment. An example: professional shooters are used to having a two-stage shutter release that lets them acquire focus and lock exposure before snapping the shot. That’s easy enough to do with a physical button, but how do you translate that to a touchscreen? Like this:

What about those aforementioned deep features like color-correction, white balance, exposure, vignetting, cropping, and gamma? My point-and-shoot has all that stuff, but it’s buried five levels deep in a terrible menu hierarchy, so I never use it. But with Mattebox, you can use multitouch gestures to activate and manipulate each of these controls instantly and intuitively. It’s complete genius:

Even the viewfinder is artfully fused with form and function. Syverson took inspiration directly from the legendary Konica Hexar, which he describes as “a luxury point and shoot which is powerful enough for the professional photographer, yet easy enough for the complete beginner.” On most smartphones, the “viewfinder” is just a low-res video feed with shutter and zoom controls exactly where you don’t need them and no useful information about the image displayed. Here’s Mattebox’s version:

Seeing Mattebox brings back memories of my Photography 101 class in college, where I delighted in the sheer fun of mucking around with manual controls, instead of fearing and loathing them like I tend to do now. The difference is all in the design. My old Pentax was a joy to use, my current Canon not so much. An iPhone with Mattebox looks like the best of both worlds.

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About the author

Drew Anthony Smith plays with pictures for Fast Company online.

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