Review: Simple Booth Event Edition photo booth app
Simple Booth Event Edition iOS App
$60/£45 | www.simplebooth.com
Photo booths are a pretty popular item to have at your event these days. Weddings, parties, fundraisers – you'll find a photo booth at many of them. From a simple camera on a tripod with a remote to fancier automated systems that take multiple images and print instantly, people seem to love being able to control their own image making. Could it be the result of selfie-obsession on steroids? Or is it nostalgia for the chemical-photography based photo booths of our past? Either way, people are fascinated by them. Because of this, having the ability to set up your own booth could make you the star of your office holiday party, PTA fundraiser, or child's birthday.
Into that popularity steps Simple Booth. Simple Booth is an iOS app designed to place all of the software you need to take, layout, share and print photo booth images into the hardware of your iOS device. There are four versions of the app with varying capabilities (one for the iPhone and three for the iPad): iPhone, Event Edition, Pro Edition 2, and Enterprise. Simple Booth Event Edition is the version I focus on in this article. It is the best choice for a photo enthusiast who wants to set up a photo booth. The iPhone version is pretty limited and while the Pro and Enterprise versions offer a number of additional options, they are probably overkill for anyone who isn't running a photo booth business.
What does Simple Booth do?
When you start the Simple Booth app, you are presented with a setup screen with a number of options for how the app will work and your images to be laid out. You can choose 2/3/4 image photostrips for the classic booth style. For a more modern look, there are also a number of other multi image options in square or rectangular layouts. You have are options for setting background color, auto cropping, custom logos, and even Instagram-style film effects. You can also give your users the ability to crop, change the layout, and apply effects once the photos are taken. Though, to be honest, this doesn't lend itself to the quick in-and-out pace of photo booths and I would suggest leaving that option off. I tend to feel the same way about the "retake" option, it encourages picky people to monopolize the booth trying to get the perfect photos.
For output, you can set up a printer (more on that option below), send to various social media services, email, or sync to dropbox. You can also tell the app to save each individual image taken to the camera roll as well as saving the photostrips. Honestly, the print option is the winner here. The social media options require people to mess around logging into their accounts, thus taking up time in the booth when others are waiting, and the email has to use the iOS mail app. Now, if you have an extra iPad handy, you can use Simple Booth's free companion app Live Booth Lite to create an "out of the booth" interface for people to use for emailing, sharing, and even printing. In order to connect with any of the social or output options, you will need to have access to an active wifi network. One odd thing for a photo app in this day and age is that there is no Instagram sharing option. The Simple Booth crew explains that this is because Instagram doesn't offer an API that would enable uploading. You can choose to use either the front or rear camera on the iPad but there is no option to use an external camera. In all honesty, the front-facing camera is the one you are going to want to use. Using the rear camera has advantages as far as resolution and image quality, but it means that someone has to stand there operating the booth because users will not be able to touch the screen to do so themselves. And if you are having someone standing there, you might as well have them take the photos with a real camera. Part of the allure of a photo booth is that it can operate unattended.
Once you have decided on your initial settings, you put the app into booth mode, and it's ready to go. Users cannot get back to the settings page and muck things up. Okay, well that isn't completely true, if they think to double tap the home button and shut down the app, then restart it, they could get to the settings. But that is why you will probably want to use Guided Access to limit the iPad to just running Simple Booth.
From the user POV, the app is really quite simple. Clear "tap to start booth" and "look here" messages instruct them on what to do. A visible countdown timer and beeps mark the pace between the images being taken. Once complete, the photostrip appears on screen with the various edit/print/sharing options. If anything can be described as foolproof in the digital age, at least as user interface for the end user, Simple Booth is pretty darn foolproof.
What equipment will you need?
At the very least, you will need an iPad. The newer iPads with improved cameras will have better resolution and low light performance. But just about any recent vintage iPad will work. A tripod and mount capable of holding your iPad will make interacting with the app much easier for your subjects and safer for your iPad. You'll need a neutral backdrop of some sort, though a plain wall could be used as well. And you will probably want some lights. Unless you are outdoors in open shade on a bright day, you will likely find ambient light to be too dim for the iPad's camera. This is one area where having the ability to use a DSLR would be an improvement, both for the improved low light performance and ability to connect to strobes. But as is, you can solve the problem with something as simple as a couple clip on fluorescent work lights.
Using a printer...
While the social media sharing features are handy in this day and age, having a printer on site is really the way to go with a photo booth. You increase the smile and fun quotient 1000% when someone is able to walk away from the booth with an image in their hand. While an inkjet printer will work, as any event photographer can tell you, a dye-sublimation printer is the way to go in this situation. The speed and toughness that dye-sub prints can offer over inkjets is significant in an event environment.
When looking at dye-sublimation printers, you have options on either end of the market, and not much in between. Both offer excellent prints, but at vastly different prices. At the one end is the Canon Selphy series of printers. At around $100, the compact Selphy 1200 won't break the bank. With wifi connectivity and AirPrint, connecting to iOS devices is easy. Print speed is a somewhat slow 47 seconds and it can only hold 18 sheets at a time. Finally, print prices are a fairly inexpensive $0.28 cents per 4x6.
At the other end of the market is the $1000 DNP DS620A. Designed for the high volume, high speed needs of event photography printing, the DS620A prints a 4x6 in as little as 8.3 seconds and can print up to 400 images without needing the paper roll replaced. The dye transfer is all done internally and the image only pops out once it is completely done. This makes it perfect for an unmanned both, you can set the DS620A up and leave it running all night. Print prices for a 4x6 work out to $0.14 a piece.
Inkjet or dye-sublimation connecting Simple Booth to a printer needs to be done in one of two ways. If you have an AirPrint compatible printer, like the Canon Selphy 1200, the app can connect directly to the printer as long as both are on the same Wi-Fi network. If you have a printer that isn't AirPrint compatible, such as the DNP DS620A, you'll need to connect it to a computer and run an app to make it available via AirPrint. I used Printopia, a dead simple $20 utility app that works perfectly for sharing a printer with your iOS devices.
How does it work in the real world?
While I was working on this review, my son received an invitation to a classmate's birthday party. So, I offered to bring along a Simple Booth setup and printer (in this case, a DS620A) for the kids to play with. Partially, I was just helping a dad-buddy put on a party. But I also wanted a chance to see how Simple Booth worked in real life with people who had never played with it before. Would 6-8 year olds be interested in something as retro as a photo booth? Would they have trouble operating it? Would the printer jam or run out of paper?
Since this was a sunny summertime party, I had been planning to just set up a backdrop and tripod in some open shade and let the kids have at it. But my friend is a carpenter and decided at the last minute that he wanted to knock together a real "booth". A few trips to the hardware store later and we had a low rent copy of an old school photo booth. It was nothing fancy, but the ipad was mounted and the printer delivered the print through a slot into the grubby over-sugared hands of the party goers.
Did it work? It couldn't have worked better. Being an old-man tech-nerd, I insisted on showing the first group how to do it. But with much eye-rolling, they made it clear that I might as well have been teaching them to drink a glass of water. They had no problem understanding how to make it work. The DNP DS620A printer was outstanding for this sort of use. Having a print in their hands in less than 10 seconds was pretty exciting for the kids and knowing that I could go hundreds of prints without having to reload the printer was pretty relaxing for me. The kids piled in and out of the printer in group after group. They giggled, laughed and loved it completely and all went home with handfuls of photo strips.
What's the bottom line?
Simple Booth is a pretty amazingly full featured solution to creating a photo booth out of gear that many photographers already own. It is simple enough for children or technophobes to use, but offers enough options to allow customization of layout and operation.
At $59.99, it is likely more expensive than most any other iOS app that you own. That said, when you consider what you are getting and what it would cost you to figure out a way to do it without Simple Booth, it starts to look like a bargain. Perhaps more importantly, the proof is in the pudding. Even our hastily knocked together photo booth was a huge hit with the kids at the party – plenty of smiles and laughs and threats of tantrums if I didn't print out duplicates for the kids in the group shots.
Tired of bringing meatloaf to your local block party every year? Bring Simple Booth and a printer instead and watch yourself turn into the neighborhood hero.
What we liked:
- Easy to set up
- Customizable layouts
- Pretty fool-proof in operation
- Saves individual images as well as the "photo booth strips"
- Print, email, social media integration
What we didn't like:
- iPad front camera offers limited resolution and quality, using higher resolution rear camera eliminates the viewing screen
- No options for flash lighting, must use constant lights
- While inexpensive for a photo booth, somewhat expensive for an app
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