There’s Apple’s Live Photos, Microsoft Pix’s Live Images, and now with the new Polaroid Swing iOS app (free on the iTunes Store), there’s Polaroid’s Moving Photos, the latest in a series of image hybrids created for times when a picture equals more than a thousand static words. Polaroid Swing creates a one-second photo/video that aims to capture an instant the way we actually see it—in motion.
Recording a second of time in a high-speed 60-frame sequence, Swing uses a stitching algorithm to output a smooth moving image, which you can shoot with an iPhone or iPad. Viewers get to see the entire spectrum of movement in one frame: Go forward in time with rightward movement of the phone or swipe of the finger, and backward by moving in the opposite direction. You can endlessly rotate the image back and forth, like a hologram. And if you rotate the camera around you while holding down the Record button, you can use the front camera take a quick 3D-like selfie, complete with rotating background. That’s pretty cool.
Despite its nostalgia-inspired Polaroid name, Swing’s concept is not unique. Phhhoto, Boomerang, Fyuse, and others also produce a variety of dynamic images.
Swing is more challenging than it looks. That’s because despite its point-and-shoot ease of use, creating something worth looking at with Swing requires a different type of vision, and some pretty good reflexes. Don’t get me wrong: You can always launch Swing, aim it at your subject and tap to shoot—and every time you do that, you get a one-second video with the potentially engaging visual movement. Potential is the key here, because not all movement is inherently interesting and not all images will discernably move.
Upon choosing the app’s shooting pane, a set of icons lets you switch between the front and the back camera, turn the flash on or off, and apply one of four extremely basic built-in filters. Then tap the big red Record button for your shot, write a caption or not, and then share. Shooting is in portrait orientation only. A tiny pulse counter at the bottom of each image automatically registers how many times the photo has been swiped or rotated to view a photo’s motion.
The Swing team says that’s because pulse is an engagement tool designed to show how often users actually examined the posted Polaroid and how many times they interacted with it. It’s not about the quantity of likes, but the quality of engagement.
After you shoot, the app lets you post to Facebook or Twitter, share via a web link, and post your picture directly to the app’s own social network platform. The app now also lets you save your images directly to the Camera Roll, post to Instagram, and send pictures via iMessage—major improvements over the app’s early versions.
Within the Polaroid Swing platform, you can follow people and like their photos. But you cannot view all your liked choices in one place, or comment on images. Even when you post to Facebook, you must view your shot on Polaroid’s platform. Moreover, each image you take must either be shared or trashed, and anyone who finds your profile will automatically be able to view everything you’ve shared.
Swing is designed to be mobile-centric and most of the app’s functionality is concentrated on the handset. Thus, there’s no way to find a particular photographer on the desktop site unless their images are featured. To find a photographer, you must search for them directly via the phone app.
There’s no way to see all of your images together on the desktop site, as you would with Instagram—though you can scroll through all your images on the iPhone.
Polaroid Swing is at once more and less than the sum of its parts. It can be cool for certain kinds of shots, but you have to be quick to get compelling results. While it’s more than a static image, the overall effect is often less evocative than one might expect. The app produces handsome output by virtue of its high frame rate, but the one-second limit and lack of artistic flexibility detracts from its overall aesthetic value.
That said, if you are enchanted by Apple’s Live Photo feature, then you will want to give Polaroid Swing a try. The app’s simplicity is its challenge and the skill needed to create a compelling moving image lies in the shooter’s cinematographic-style perception rather than in the app’s mechanics.