Review: Freak Show brings Photo Booth to all Macs - Macenstein

Review: Freak Show brings Photo Booth to all Macs

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

I remember early last year taking my then 4-year-old daughter to our local Apple Store and spending a good 40 minutes or so playing with Apple’s Photo Booth software on one of the demo MacBook Pros. She would make the requisite “hilarious” faces all 4-year-olds make when put in front of a camera, and then I would save the snapshots and e-mail them home.

5-year-olds everywhere will love Freak Show’s effects

Well, a month or so later we decided we needed to buy the kids their own computer after an unfortunate incident involving my PowerMac’s optical drive and a Dora the Explorer CD-ROM. When our new Mac mini arrived, I thought to myself, “Oh, the kids are gonna love making faces in that Photo Booth thing.” The Mac mini doesn’t come with a built-in iSight camera, but I had an external FireWire model lying around, so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem (those of you who are familiar with Photo Booth’s system requirements likely can see where this is going). Long story short (or slightly less long), Photo Booth will only run if you have a Mac with a Built-in iSight camera, such as a new iMac, or Apple laptop. This is of course because the longer chord of an external iSight camera cannot send data fast enough to the Photo Booth program, the way a built-in iSight camera can.

Ok, I made that up. The real reason Apple won’t support Photo Booth on Macs which can handle Quartz Extreme effects using an external iSight camera (built BY APPLE, I might add) is… um… well, to be honest, there is no reason in the world Apple could not have included Photo Booth as part of OS X. It should really work on every Mac that supports Quartz Extreme and has a FireWire port that someone can hook up a mini DV camera to, let alone an Apple iSight. But for whatever reason, Apple has decided to turn its back on PowerMac, Mac Pro, and Mac mini owners who happen to also enjoy gimmicky apps, leaving us Photo Boothless.

However, a company called FreakShowSoftware has come to the rescue for those of us who do not need an Apple laptop, yet still want to create our warped, Photo Booth-esque MySpace profile pictures. The company’s free Freak Show application will work on ANY Mac that supports OS X Tiger and has a camera attached. That means not only Apple’s iSight, but ANY digital video camera that is recognized by your Mac. Freak Show comes in 2 versions; Standard (free) and a Paid Version ($12.95). The free version offers 18 effects (well, 17, really) that are pretty much identical to those found in Photo Booth, and can be used to take still photos you can drag into iPhoto or e-mail to friends. The paid version includes an additional 9 effects, plus the ability to record movies using all 26 effects, and play your effects full screen. The movies are recorded at 640×480, and play back at 15 fps (at least on a Mac Pro). One odd thing I noticed is the movies claim to have 44.1 kHz audio when played back via QuickTime, but no audio is actually recorded in Freak Show, so these are actually silent movies (and perhaps larger than they need to be if the audio is indeed taking up file size).

Freak Show’s “Warped” effects: Cycloptica, Baby Jane, Francis Bacon, Queen of Hearts, Perfection, Twin Sister, Super Freak, 8 Ball, and Worry Wart.

Freak Show’s “Artsy” effects: Attic, Monochrome, Bioluminescence, Lichtenstein, Perfection (again), Scratchy, Scanner, Negativeland, and Glam.

Not Quite Photo Booth

As far as a direct comparison between Freak Show and Photo Booth, Photo Booth still has a slight edge over Freak Show is so far as the integration with the iApps. Photo Booth allows for instant e-mailing of pictures, iChat buddy picture replacement, and instant iPhoto import. Snapshots taken via Freak Show are placed in the user’s “Pictures” folder, and must be manually dragged to iPhoto or an e-mail message. This isn’t exactly hard to do, but it IS slightly less seemless. Two other features Freak Show could stand to “borrow” from Photo Booth in a future update are the ability to set up a countdown timer, and Photo Booth’s somewhat inventive “flash” feature, where it turns your computer screen white right before it takes a snapshot to help illuminate your face.

One-upping Photo Booth

There are a couple areas where Freak Show beats Photo Booth at its own game. First and foremost, it pretty much supports ANY Mac. That’s a big plus. Second, the paid version adds an extra 9 effects (Blockhead is the coolest), and can record video. You can even use Freak Show to apply its effects to iMove clips (a method is described in Freak Show’s FAQ).

Freak Show’s paid version offers 9 more “Extreme” effects, such as: Caffeine, HAL, Scope, Blockhead, Cloner, Ghost in the Machine, Liquatic, Thermalene, and Bling.


There is really only one major issue that affects Freak Show, and that is performance. Unlike Photo Booth, Freak Show does not rely soley on Quartz Extreme, thus the support for older computers whose graphics cards may not support QE. However, this comes at the penalty of performance. Even on a reasonably new Mac mini Core Duo with 1 GB of RAM, the video recording aspect was choppy, and the playback in the photo preview window was a bit stuttery. This in no way affected the ability to use Freak Show as a Photo Booth replacement, but taking video was pretty much out of the question.

When I ran Freak Show on a Mac Pro with 2GB of RAM and an ATi Radeon X1900 graphics card, the performance was great (and it better be, as this is pretty much the fastest machine that can currently run it). However, video frame rates were still limited to 15fps, and with a couple other “Power Apps” open (like After Effects 7, and PhotoShop CS2) I occasionally got stuttery video capture as well.


If you have an older Mac (or even a brand new one like me) that Apple has decided doesn’t support Photo Booth, then Freak Show is a great app to try. I would definitely recommend you download the free version before contemplating purchasing the paid version, as there are darn few Macs out there that can properly take advantage of the paid version’s video capture capabilities at this point. If you find the performance and playback of the preview window is fast enough on your system, then splurging for the extra effects and video option is a good idea, especially if you have small children who will find it fun to record themselves making those ” hilarious” faces.

Freak Show by FreakShowSoftware

Price: Free or $12.95 for the paid version

Pros: Mimics pretty much all of Photo Booths functionality, Paid version captures video and offers additional effects, brings Photo Booth’s effects to the masses

Cons: Not-quite-seamless integration with the iApps, performance is sluggish on even some newer systems, video capture requires a fairly robust system

15 Responses to “Review: Freak Show brings Photo Booth to all Macs”
  1. Kevin says:

    Looks cool, thanks. I am downloading the free version now.

  2. Zach says:

    Photobooth works fine on my Mac Pro with external iSight. Works no differently than it would on a mac with the camera built in.

  3. Way Cool Jr. says:

    Do you really mean PhotoBooth works on your Mac Pro using an iSight?
    Or did you mean your MacBOOK Pro?

    It doesn’t even ship with the Mac Pros, so unless you are using one of those downloaded cracked Front Row/PhotoBooth things, I think you are mistaken.

  4. Michael says:

    You don’t need a “cracked” version of Photo Booth to run on a Mac that didn’t come with a copy.

  5. Way Cool Jr. says:

    OK, well, it doesn’t ship with the Mac Pros (or mini’s, I believe) so what are you gonna do? You need to grab it from a Mac that already has it installed. Or get a cracked version.

  6. huy says:

    photo booth works on my unsupported mac. all you need to do is find out where to download it.

    not only does photo booth work with my mac, it works with my very very old usb camera.

    something not mentioned in this review is that while photo booth does take better pictures with effects (even though freak show tries its best to mimic the apple counterpart, the quality difference can clearly be seen), freak show is A LOT more lenient with lighting than photo booth.

    under bad lighting conditions (the normal room lighted by normal lights at night time), freak show ends up taking better pictures.

    great review!

  7. Eli says:

    @Way Cool Jr.: As with Zach, my new Mac(not Book) Pro runs both of these apps just fine with an external iSight.

  8. Scott says:

    Funny, I use Photo Booth on my PowerBook G4 with an external iSight…I had my brother send me the .app from his iMac. Works without a hitch.

  9. Scott, the point here is more that Apple only ships the (working) app on Macs that have an isight, and makes it necesary for those people on older machines to get the app from a friend (likely considered stealing by Apple) or do some terminal and plist hacks to enable it.

    -The Doc

  10. BAM says:

    PhotoBooth will run on my flat panel iMac but not on my iMac Snow, both using 10.4.8. On the Snow, video worked fine in iChat AV. PhotoBooth wil launch, but all I get is a black screen. The camera’s green light goes on, but no video feed. there’s also no video feed in iMovie HD.

    Freak Show works VERY S L O W L Y. Anyone have ideas?

  11. bobby says:

    how do u download photobooth without having the imac comp?

  12. Anonymous says:

    jow do u down load with a mac comp

  13. ed says:

    does anyone know how to get good resolution pictures with photobooth? I would like to enlarge to at 11X18”…

  14. ajpoker says:

    how do u download it

  15. blahshpy says:

    how do you download it……i cant find it!

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