VSCO Cam (for Android) review

VSCO Cam is a beautifully designed photo app and sharing site, but the Android version lacks the features and stability of the iPhone version, as well as community features found in Flickr and Instagram.
Photo of VSCO Cam (for Android)
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Visual Supply Co., creator of VSCO Cam makes professional photo filter software, most notably Film, which reproduces the looks of analog film photos. The company it puts that expertise to use in this appealing app, which sports a minimal, intuitive interface that belies powerful photo-shooting and editing tools. It also offers great looking Web galleries for your images, but VSCO Cam lacks anywhere near Flickr or Instagram’s social interaction features.

Install
Any Android user can get VSCO Cam free at the Play Store. It’s also available for iOS (see my review of VSCO Cam for iPhone), but unfortunately, there’s no Windows Phone version—unfortunate because of the top-notch cameras available on that platform, such as the Nokia Lumia 1020′s. You have to agree to a slew of privacy permissions when installing the app on Android, including letting it know your location and account details.

On first run, the app displayed a progress bar with the message “Optimizing for your device,” which took just under a minute on my test Samsung Galaxy S III. After this, the app’s main menu appeared—unlike the iPhone app, which simply showed the app’s camera mode.

Interface
The interface design of VSCO Cam for Android, like that for the iPhone version, is clear, clean, and attractive. The main menu offers six choices: VSCO Grid, Journal, Settings, Store, Library, and Camera. The first three simply go to company sites, but Library is where photos you shoot in the app will appear, and Camera is obviously where the shooting is done. Your Library thumbnail grid of the photos you’ve shot can use three different size options. Double tapping a photo takes you to a full screen view, where you can flag, edit, or share it, using clear icons.

Shooting
You can easily switch between the front and back cameras, and tapping a gear icon offers flash settings square shooting, and a grid overlay option. There’s also a “big shutter” option, which turns the whole screen into a shutter button. Holding a finger on a spot on the screen at first showed a red circle and cross-hairs, but this soon changed to green, indicating that focus and exposure had been achieved. You can use two fingers to separately adjust these, as you can on the iPhone app {though that’s a limitation of the phone rather than the app). Nor can you lock white balance as you can on the iPhone or use the low light boost moon icon.

Editing
VSCO Cam offers a surprising number of image adjustment tools. Where many other photo-sharing apps (yup, Instagram, lookin at ya) dispense with photo-editing basics like exposure, contrast, and saturation, VSCO offers these and more. The controls are simply, clearly, and cleverly designed.

When it comes to filters, VSCO doesn’t resort to evocative names like Instagram’s Mayfair or Hefe, instead going with simple codes like M1, B5, and the like. There are only ten filters included in the free app, but you can purchase additional filters in sets starting at 99 cents. There are even a couple of free effect downloads that look pretty good.

One advantage over Instagram is that VSCO’s effects include sliders that let you adjust their strength. But you don’t get Instagram’s cool selective blur tool (aka “tilt-shift”) that lets you set off your photograph’s subject.

Happily, you can subject any existing image in your camera roll to VSCO’s editing and effects, unlike some photo apps that only work for pictures shot inside the app. (This is thankfully becoming less common.)

>>Continue reading: VSCO Community and Sharing


Sharing, Web
After you’ve edited and glitzed up your picture, VSCO Cam offers the expected sharing options with one notable exception—Flickr. You do get Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and email as output options, however. And of course you can save your result to your phone’s gallery. A “More” button brings up any apps you have installed that can accept photos.

If you finally decide you want to delve deeper into the VSCO world, you can sign up for an account. With this, you build an online grid of your photos shot in the app. After this your own grid will appear in the app as a menu choice with your username. You also get your own URL in the form USERNAME.VSCO.CO. Yay, another place to upload photos!

Fortunately, all the photos you take and edit in the Cam app aren’t automatically uploaded to your grid; rather, you pick photos from the app’s library to include. You can apply hashtags and a 150 character description to each photo—only one photo can be uploaded at a time. This contrasts with Flickr, which lets you upload multiple pix; VSCO hews to Instagram’s one-at-a-time philosophy. Navigation is nearly identical to that in Instagram: you choose a tiled thumbnail grid or vertically scrolling view—no swiping through photos side to side.

A big point of the app it seems to me is to get your photos on the VSCO website’s grid. When I signed in there, however, I didn’t see my photos when choosing to view “my feed.” VSCO’s site design is responsive to browser resizing, and resembles the beautiful work done by SquareSpace. Only wish you could change the background to dark (I use the Maxthon browser’s “night mode” to accomplish this).

The site VSCO creates for you is indeed lovely—far more appealing than Instagram’s Web version of your photo set. But I didn’t find any privacy options for photos put on the grid—no private accounts like you see on Twitter and Vine. Flickr is even more granular, letting you set privacy per photo.

Social interaction is minimal on VSCO, too: there’s no liking, commenting, or people tagging. I actually found it frustrating to browse pictures I liked without being able to “like” them. Sure, you can Tweet or Pin them, but that’s not the same thing. But if you browse the main grid or search a user (there’s no tag search yet) you can create a feed of followed posters. There’s not location or EXIF information like you get on Flikr, and finally, you don’t get to see traffic statistics for your views of your photos.

If you want to see VSCO’s view of the crème de la crème, head to the main VSCO Grid page. But one gripe is that you can’t just arrow through top photos the way you can in Flickr Explore photos, you have to make trips back and forth between the main grid and individual photos unless you want to be shunted to an individual user’s grid.

Camveat Emptor
I must note that the Android version of this app, in addition to lacking some features of the iPhone version, is a bit buggy, where I ran into no issues in the iOS version. When I tried cropping to a square, the app didn’t crop at the point I’d selected, and in the store, I tapped on one filter set and was presented with another. And at one point, the app just shut down with an “Unfortunately…” screen message.

VSCO Cam is a newcomer compared with now well-entrenched players like Instagram and Flickr, and it still has catching up to do, not only in user base but in quite a few community features. But this beautifully and simply designed nevertheless brings powerful tools and an appealing Web-sharing experience to the table. It’s a delightful, cleanly designed photography app to use on your Android phone that offers appealing, though info- and interaction-weak, online galleries.


Verdict
VSCO Cam is a beautifully designed photo app and sharing site, but the Android version lacks the features and stability of the iPhone version, and both lack some community features found in Flickr and Instagram.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc