Old-School Instagram Filters

  • By Helena Price
  • September 29, 2011

At 1000memories, we have a particular fondness for old stuff (if you can’t tell by our homepage). That’s why we’ve always liked Instagram. It celebrates the old, vintage aesthetic of the film photos of yore. But there’s a lot of history behind the photo filter that many folks are not aware of—in fact, none of the photo apps you know today would exist without the vintage photography that inspired them. So we set out to hack the formula to recreate the look of the analog Instagram filters using the technology that inspired them in the first place—vintage cameras and film.

Here’s how we did it.

Step 1: The Camera

First, we chose cameras based on the general aesthetics they apply to photos. Then we whittled them down to the choices below based on how those effects matched up to Instagram filters. Since these cameras are vintage, some of them are out of production, but you can find all of them for sale at flea markets, thrift stores, or online.

Lomo LC-A+
The Lomo LC-A is a 35mm camera that gives you radiantly colored, contrasting and vignette images. The original LC-A was introduced in 1984, and in 2006 Lomography unleashed its successor, the LC-A+.

Polaroid Land Camera
The Polaroid Land Camera comes in a variety of models, all of which allow you to produce instant, self-developing images straight from the camera. Polaroid sold the first Land Camera in 1948 and continued production until 1983.

Polaroid SX-70
The Polaroid SX-70 is a high-end folding Polaroid camera produced from 1972 to 1981, making it a collector’s item among instant-film fanatics. Both the SX-70 and the Polaroid Land Camera use the same film, but most SX-70’s will autofocus (a feature we take for granted on digital cameras), so you’re more likely to get sharper photos with your subject in focus.

The Holga is famous for its dreamy, lo-fi aesthetic. Every Holga is different, but you can expect your photos to have some combination of blur, vignette (dark edges), and light leaks (blobs of light and color in your photo).

In the early 1960s, the Diana was a cult legend and has recently seen a resurgence in popularity with the Diana+, produced today by Lomography. Dianas, like Holgas, are known as “toy cameras,” with plastic lenses for soft, dreamy photos and fragile bodies perfect for creating light leaks.

Holgaroid (Holga + Polaroid)
Holgaroid is a Holga with a Polaroid film attachment on the back, allowing you to create custom, dreamy Polaroid prints with a strong vignette around the edges.

Yashica Mat 124G
The Yashica Mat Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) is a vintage collector’s camera manufactured between 1970 and 1986. It produces astoundingly sharp portraits without breaking the bank.

Step 2: The Film + Process

Next, we researched different film and processes. As avid film shooters, we had a general idea of what certain films look like and how they react to different types of processing.

Here’s a quick rundown of how color film processing works:

There are two types of color film—color negative film, which is normally processed in a chemical solution called C-41, and slide film, which is normally processed in a chemical solution called E-6.

If you want to switch things up a bit, you can develop your film in the opposite chemical solution that it’s intended for, resulting in dramatic shifts in color and exposure. This is called cross-processing. Most professional photo labs will do this for you—just ask for cross-processing when ordering.

The most common type of cross-processing is done with slide film, such as Fujichrome Velvia or Kodak Ektachrome. Different films react differently to cross-processing, and some films cannot be cross-processed at all (i.e. black and white film).

With instant film, it’s a different process entirely. The developing is done within the film as soon as you take the photo, and what results is a fully developed photo within a minute or two. To make up for the lack of processing options, both Polaroid and the Impossible Project have made a large number of films that produce a variety of colors and aesthetics. There are lots of options to choose from.

These are the film + process combos we found that produced colors most similar to the original analog filters.

Fujichrome Velvia 50 (Cross-Processed)
Velvia 50 film provides warm, saturated tones when processed normally. When cross-processed, the colors shift to aquas and greens.

Polaroid 600
Polaroid 600 Polaroid 600 film is a self-developing instant color film that is often true-to-color, though shades may vary depending on conditions.

Polaroid 600 (Expired)
When used past its expiration date, Polaroid 600 instant film can produce images with a faded color cast ranging from orange to yellow to beige.

Polaroid 80 Chocolate
Polaroid 80 Chocolate is a sepia-like self-developing film that produces photos with purple-brownish tones.

Kodak Ektachrome (Cross-Processed)
Ektachrome is generally a balanced, neutral film. When cross-processed, the colors don’t shift much, but photos become brighter and more saturated (particularly the yellows and aquas).

Impossible Project PX 70
The Impossible Project’s PX 70 film produces instant photos, usually with cooler, washed-out, blue tones.

Fujichrome Velvia RVP100
Have you ever noticed the RVP100 in the Nashville filter border? That’s from Fujichrome’s Velvia RVP100 film. When processed normally, this film produces photos with a slight reddish, magenta, pink or purple tint.

Impossible Project PZ 680
This Impossible Project Film produces instant photos, usually with warmer orange or yellow tones.

Fujichrome Velvia 100F (Cross-Processed)
Velvia 100F provides the same colors as Velvia 50 when processed normally. When cross-processed, surprise! The colors shift in the opposite direction, resulting in warm, red-tinted photos.

Ilford XP2
Ilford XP2 film is a chromogenic (color-forming) film—one on which the final image is made of colored dye, allowing for a black and white photo with occasional blue undertones.

Step 3: Research Combinations

The next step was testing different combinations. We began researching film and camera pairings on Flickr, looking for the formulas that best matched what you’d get from Instagram. The winning combos found their way onto the final guide at the top of this blog. And yes, the photos we included are film, not Instagram. Awesome, right? Now grab some film, and get to shooting!

Additional tips
- Want to see all of your Instagram photos in one place? Well now you can on 1000memories. Click here to get started.
- There are lots of other factors that will affect your results—from the age of the film, to exposure of the shot, to the chemicals your photo lab uses when processing your film. That's the fun part though. You never know what you’re gonna get.
- Some vintage cameras have light meters and autofocusing to help you get the perfectly exposed, in-focus shot. Some don’t. Read your camera’s instruction manual (or search for one online) to learn the best practices for your camera.
- Here’s a great guide to cross-processing by the folks at Lomography.

Design Credit

Dan Kenneally, Liz Gershman

Photo Credits (all photos used with permission)

“Walden” - Photo by Leandro Fornasir
“X-Pro II” - Photo by Christian Quirino
“Lomo-Fi” - Photo by Helena Price
“Brannan” - Photo by Daniela Siegenthaler
“Hefe” - Photo by Toby Hancock
“Earlybird” - Photo by Anna Corrianda
“Sutro” - Photo by Jordan Husney
“Poprocket” - Photo by Rachel Winslow
“Nashville” - Photo by Dan Westmore
“Gotham” - Photo by Eric Grosh

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