Instagram has become part of the culture, the world mobile culture, that is. So reviewing it is almost academic?hundreds of millions will use it regardless of what I say. The last time I reviewed the mobile photo blinger-sharer, I was perhaps a bit too hard on it. You see, the photo effects found in Instagram had been available in other apps for years, but somehow Instagram got the recipe right?offering a limited number of fun filters without giving the user too many adjustments. The Snapseed app offers infinitely more control over the look of your photos than Instagram does, but maybe the difficulty or overabundance of choice in that and other iPhone photo apps scared off potential users.
But the real point of Instagram may have nothing to do with photo editing at all: It's its social component that caused the app to take off like gangbusters. And that it has, despite the usual privacy brouhahas since its becoming part of the Facebook family: According to the company's press site, the app and service reached the 100 million active user mark last February. That community uploads 40 million photos a day, hits the Like button 8500 times per second, and comments 1000 times per second.
When the Facebook/Instagram privacy snafu occurred, several Instagram clones came out of the woodwork. EyeEm is an interesting one, with an emphasis on tagging photos for public groups.? Another more recent photo app celeb, Repix, runs with the idea of selectively enhancing just parts of a photo with Instagram-style effects, though it doesn't have its own social network. The Flickr and Tumblr iPhone apps aren't strictly Instagram clones, but they also let you take and upload photos to a public photo stream where other users can subscribe to your feed, as well as commenting on and favoriting your pictures. But Instagram's focus on community is a plus, and the app can really become addictive once you start hopping around among users' uploads.
Signup and Setup
Signing up for Instagram is a lot simpler than it was the last time I reviewed the app: You can just tap the "Use Your Facebook" button to instantly populate all the required fields; alternatively, you can create an account using an email address. You then choose a user name and password. After this, a list of all your Facebook contacts appears, each with a button for following their photos, or you can just hit the "follow all" button. Next the app setup wizard asks to peruse your iPhone contacts to find more users to follow. For those with no contacts, you're shown some popular accounts complete with sample images for your following consideration.
In a Twitter-like setup you click a button to "follow" other users. After finding and choosing folks to follow, the app suggested celebrities and the like for me to add?Rosie O'Donnell, Foo Fighters, and NPR were presented for my consideration. Each of these showed four rotating image thumbnails, in a pleasant UI touch.
Shooting with Instagram
One of Instagram's coolest features was removed when the app was updated for the iPhone 5: You used to be able to show the enhancement filters while you were shooting, but now can only apply them after the fact. Perhaps the company got feedback that this feature wasn't used much or was confusing. An email sent to Instagram representatives on this still awaits an answer.
Unlike Camera+, the camera view in Instagram doesn't add much to the default iPhone camera app?in fact, you lose a couple of options, including HDR and panorama. You do still get to choose a focus-and-exposure point by tapping on a point on the screen image, and you can show a 3x3 grid, change the flash setting, and switch between back and front cameras. Once you've snapped the shutter, you'll see Instagram's trademark style and effect filter options along the bottom.
You also can rotate the image, add a frame (matched to the filter you choose), auto-adjust lighting (a feature called Lux, not available on Android), or choose a selective focus point. This last may be the coolest feature, since it lets your little phone cam simulate the bokeh effect so beloved among photo enthusiasts. A lighter circle follows your finger as you choose the focus point; you can also enlarge or shrink it with two-finger pinch gesture. A linear focus area appears when you tap the drop icon again, for that popular tilt-shift miniaturization effect, which is also nicely customizable with pinching and rotating gestures.
One missing capability when shooting from the app is that re-framing is not possible unless you go back and reload the image from your Camera roll. This is important, because Instagram still restricts you to the square image that fits on the phone, so viewers can't zoom in for a closer look.
There are 19 effect filters in all, ranging from simple B&W to retro film styles to techniques like cross processing. A great infographic about many of the filter's derivation can be seen at 1000memories.com. PCMag has also published another intriguing infographic called What Your Instagram Filters Say About You, which shows, surprisingly, that the most popular filter is no filter at all! I vacillate between finding the artistic/retro filters pretentious and appealing. There are definitely cases where a pedestrian image has been given interest with them.