App of the week: Retrospecs review

Get your retro art on with this superb app for making photos party like it’s 1984

19 March 2018
by Stuff Staff

At one point, retro graphics were just graphics. Computer visuals were vibrant and chunky, with edges pointy enough to take your eye out, because the hardware was limited. Today, digital artists have enough colours to choke a thousand art students, and resolutions so fine you can’t see the dots. But Retrospecs wants to hurl you back to a halcyon age, so your iPhone can pretend it’s a ZX Spectrum.

That’s meant broadly literally, too; Retrospecs is a master of retro art, able to accurately ape a staggering range of systems, along with dithering styles that were popular in the day. So if you ever wanted to find out what your face would look like as reimagined on a Commodore PET, or how your neighbourhood would appear if your brain interpreted the world as a giant Game Boy, this is your app.


From the off – and especially if you’re of a certain vintage yourself – Retrospecs is grin-inducing fun. You can load an image or take a photo and sit in a kind of nostalgic haze, flicking between well-known systems and outputs (C64; Amiga; NES; Game Boy; Teletext) to niche fare. (Thomson TO7? Nope. Me neither.)

Usefully, a Levels tab enables you to fine-tune your original image’s saturation, brightness and contrast, so it works perfectly for whatever virtual system you’re hammering it into. Then you can pop to the Options tab and attack your miniature retro masterpiece with noise, image corruption, scan-lines, and the kind of phosphor glow/chroma shift that makes you pine for CRT.

Many of these effects and styles look even better when applied to imported video. If you’re sick of super-crisp iPhone footage, you can mash it into a kind of vibrant glitch-fest that’s sure to make it stand out – and your friends suddenly consider whether you arrived here after hitting 88mph in a DeLorean.


As if that’s not enough, Retrospecs invites you to fully unlock your inner nerd by devising your own retro systems. That’s right: if everything Commodore, Nintendo, Sega, Atari, and all the others, once sent your way isn’t good enough for your pixel-art loving sensibilities, you can fashion your own emulation from the engines, palettes and screen sizes on offer.

This level of attention to detail, apparent throughout the app, propels Retrospecs beyond typical filter fare. Sure, other apps with a tap can transform photos into something that might have graced a screen in a 1980s bedroom. But Retrospecs feels like a labour of love – a fitting, respectful tribute to the graphics of a bygone age.

Most importantly, though, its many options allow you to be creative – it’s as much a box of toys as a set of filters. It’s this that makes Retrospecs more than just a nostalgia fix for greying old gamers, transforming it into a novel, capable, and entertaining filters app anyone can enjoy.

Retrospecs is available for iOS. The free download provides access to a limited number of systems and dither styles. The sole US$1.99 IAP unlocks the rest.




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