Swankolab: A Stylish Handheld Digital Darkroom

by Pu on December 21, 2010

Swankolab has a different approach to image editing on Apple devices: you cannot take photos within the app, you can only alter images stored in the camera roll. As with its famous sibling Hipstamatic — but differently from it, as Hipstamatic does exactly the opposite by not letting the user alter previously taken photos — Synthetic Corp created an app that is very focused and specialized. Although many may object it’s not convenient in terms of creativity and also of money, Swankolab and its strategic limitations represent a very interesting take on photo editing, especially considering most apps in App Store’s Photography category are hybrids, letting the user both take and edit their images at the same time.

Main Features

  • Full resolution available;
  • Eight photo-altering  chemicals (+ nine available to subscribers);
  • New chemicals added with updates (for subscribers only);
  • Create and save custom formulas;
  • Retina display support;
  • Share via email and Facebook.

Appotography Opinion

From the very first instants, one cannot help noticing how Swankolab is very stylish. Every detail is incredibly refined and also the sound effects and the animations are definitely above most apps’ standards. To process your image, you can choose among previously used formulas, which you can always save as a reference, or mix the different available chemicals. As with actual darkroom processing, sometimes you’ll get appealing results and some others you’ll have to start over because the outcome is so-so.

Swankolab iPhone

Swankolab: the darkroom

Here are a few examples. The same photo was edited using different chemical combos in Swankolab.

Swankolab iPhoneSwankolab iPhone

You are given a basic kit of chemicals with the initial purchase, but you can subscribe (for other $1.99) and access Uncle Stu’s Photo Emporium, which will grant you a variety of new chemicals and lifetime upgrades and extras with future updates.

There are many valuable aspects about Swankolab. Most of all, the quality of post processing you can achieve. The filters obtained by mixing the chemicals are very neat and being a little creative you can indeed enhance the looks of your photos. The fact the app is focused only on post processing will hardly make you feel uncomfortable with its relative complexity. You cannot expect to edit a photo in a cinch, but since you’re supposed to use the app only on photos you have previously taken, it’s not very likely you’ll end up using Swankolab when you intend to edit a photo in just one click.

The app has its cons. As I have explained, you are not allowed to take photos within the app, so basically you have to rely either on the native camera of your device or on other apps to take your photos before you can edit them with Swankolab. The massive use of animations, especially on older iPhone models, can cause the app to slow down significantly, making the experience more unnerving than it should be. The price may also be an issue for some people, as  Swankolab is on the expensive side for the category, especially considering you don’t have many options coming with the app before upgrading (although the quality of effects achieved is well worth both the price of the app and the in-app subscription).

If you want a more complete darkroom, one that allows you to obtain quick results and not only to filter the photos, but also for instance to do some more, like cropping and adding fancy frames, Swankolab is not what you should be looking for.


Name: Swankolab
Developer: Sythetic Corp
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. iOS 3.0 or later.
Price: £1.19||$1.99||€1.59
Vote: 4/5

SwankoLab - Synthetic Corp

Misha December 22, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Thanks for the sweet review. I tried the app and it has indeed its idiosyncrasies, but that is exactly what makes it special.

Jai Schleinitz December 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I agree! SwankoLab is one app I use a lot to process the photos I take! The filters are some of the best you can find!

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