I turned myself into a masterpiece using Lensa, the chart-topping app that can make anyone a digital work of art - here's how it works




 
Lensa app
Lensa app  
  • After seeing all my friends transformed into works of art, I finally decided to download the Lensa app.

  • Lensa uses AI technology to turn 10-20 images into artwork across categories like anime, fairy princess, and pop.

  • The service costs $3.99 for 50 images, and is a fun and interesting way to see AI technology at work.

While scrolling through Instagram this weekend, I couldn't help but notice that suddenly all of my friends had been transformed into works of art.

Wedged between photos of babies and brunches, my feed was filled with digital images of friends' likenesses turned into anime characters, fairy princesses, and art pop figures. The longer I swiped, the more I wanted to become a masterpiece, too.

So I downloaded Lensa, the wildly popular app behind the digital self-portraits, made with AI technology that renders selfies into artwork.

Lensa first launched in 2018 as a photo editing tool, though it wasn't until the company debuted its "Magic Avatars" tool last month that the app exploded in popularity. It's currently the top downloaded app in the Apple Store's Photo & Video category, a particularly impressive feat given it's not free.

While Lensa offers a seven-day free-trial to use the app before charging $29.99 for a monthly subscription, access to the avatar tool costs a separate $3.99 for 50 images. According to Lensa, the additional payment is to offset the cost of the "tremendous computation power" needed to create the avatars.

So I decided to swallow my pride and pay up because I simply had to see how it worked.

Upon downloading the app and opening the Magic Avatars feature, Lensa walks you through the process, explaining that the technology, which operates using the open source Stable Diffusion model, is not perfect and "may generate artifacts, inaccuracies, and defects in output images."

Thankfully, I had already been warned by a friend who received a distorted image of himself with two heads, so I was primed for some odd results (which I did indeed receive, but more on that later).

Lensa app
Lensa app  

The next step is to upload 10-20 photos. Lensa recommends close-up selfies with a variety of backgrounds, facial expressions, and angles to get the best results.

After submitting 10 photos, I was asked to indicate my gender as female, male, or other. I was then directed to a checkout page, where users are given the option to select from 50, 100, or 200 "unique avatars." I opted for 50 for $3.99, which is half the regular cost as part of my free trial membership.

Selfies used for Lensa
Selfies used for Lensa  

Once I made a payment, I was informed the process would take about 20 minutes, and I was given the option to receive a notification when the avatars were complete. I selected yes.

About 15 minutes later I received a push notification that my avatars were ready. My 50 avatars were delivered in 10 categories of 5 images including Iridescent, Light, Stylish, Anime, Cosmic, Fantasy, Kawaii, Pop, Focus, and Fairy Princess.

Lensa magic avatar categories
Lensa magic avatar categories  

As expected, some of the results were very bizarre, while others made me feel quite beautiful. Many looked absolutely nothing like me, and in one I look vaguely like disgraced Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes, black turtleneck and all.

As my friend warned, I did receive a handful of distorted renderings with multiple limbs or heads, which was ... the stuff of nightmares.

Lensa
Lensa  

But for a robot creating art in 15 minutes, it did a decent job. Ultimately, it was fun, though maybe not worth $3.99.

Still, there have been concerns about Lensa. In addition to some users scoffing at the price, others worry about how the images are used, raising privacy questions similar to those surrounding the 2020 launch of FaceApp, a Russian app that also uses AI technology.

Though the app says photos are "immediately deleted" from its servers after the avatars are complete, some are questioning whether they may be used or stored.

Meanwhile, others are speaking out against Lensa and AI-generated art for detracting from the work of human artists, with some accusing the company of stealing artwork from digital creators.

Lensa did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. And despite its detractors, the app is showing no sign of slowing down: According to SensorTower data cited by TechCrunch, in November the app was downloaded 1.6 million times, up 631% from 219,000 downloads the month prior.

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