[Favorite App] VSCO Cam

If you want to experiment with something similar to Instagram, but want to lean towards a more professional look, then you’ll want to give VSCO Cam a try. The company behind VSCO Cam is better known for their Lightroom and Photoshop plugins which emulate the look of various kinds of film for digital photography. A few short years ago, VSCO brought their technology to iOS and then to Android. The app is many things and figuring it all out isn’t the most intuitive, but it’s a step up from Instagram.

What is VSCO Cam?

  • Camera app
  • Photo editing app
  • Filter app
  • Social network


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Upon opening VSCO, you are taken to your gallery with the option of opening a slide-out menu. The gallery, at least on Android, is completely separate from the other photos on your phone or tablet. In fact, you have to take steps to share photos outside of the app, even with other galleries on your phone. The slide out menu presents options to view your profile, explore the social network, view the VSCO Journal (which is just news and updates from VSCO), access your library, buy new filters, access the camera, and edit settings. I must admit that the access to the camera  and settings are fairly hidden and the least obvious buttons in the menu.

Using the camera is very minimal and self explanatory. Faint buttons in the top corners allow you to change between front and rear cameras and change the options for the camera. The bottom features a quick access to view your photos and the shutter button. While options are minimal in the camera, it works as it should. VSCO isn’t about the camera, though. It’s about the filters. I’ll spend more time on those later.

The library, or gallery, section of VSCO is laid out nicely and with a minimalist style. The buttons, unfortunately, are too simple — it’s difficult to know what most of them do without tapping them and seeing what they do first-hand. The most important button in the library is the + button. This one imports photos from your regular photo gallery or elsewhere on your phone or tablet into VSCO to use.

Editing Photos

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Editing photos is easy, but some features aren’t immediately apparent either. Since VSCO Cam is more about filters that emulate film than a real photo editor, applying these filters dominates the editing screen. All filters are labeled with a letter an a number and are color-coded similar to the affect they give. A small thumbnail preview is also visible with the filter before you apply it as well. Some filters are black and white, some low contrast, others high contrast, some wash the colors, others add a color tint, and so forth. You can think of the filters as being like Instagram in the sense that they’re a sort of presets, but they’re not similar in the looks they provide. All of VSCO’s filters are meant to emulate the look of film rather than aging, light bleeding, and other fake damage to the photo. Additionally, tapping the filter a second time enables you to adjust the strength of the filter, so you can retain more of the original image in the final product.

Applying presets isn’t the only thing you can do, however. Tapping the up arrow under the filters reveals another editing panel. The brush icon takes you to applying filters, the wrench opens controls to things like adjusting exposure, saturation, grain, sharpness, tinting, cropping, etc. The bent arrow is for undo and the u-shaped arrow resets the image to the original photo. Once done, tapping the check box saves your edits and you’re ready to share.

Being Social

Sharing your photos is not much different than any other app. You can share them to your favorite social networks, text message, email, etc. But such an app wouldn’t be complete without it’s own social network. VSCO includes a profile page for users to share their photos edited with VSCO as well. Unlike Instagram, only photos you choose are shared to your profile. This is not an automatic feature, so also be aware that this is an extra step to take if you do plan to use this feature. What I like about this is that I can still use VSCO to edit personal photos and only share those that are professional. I can have the best of both worlds in one app and on one account.

Summing it all up

VSCO Cam is a great app for a more professional look in a filtered world. Rather than applying effects that try to simulate vintage or damaged photos, VSCO aims to emulate the look of various films. It offers a similar image style to Instagram, but much less “over the top” and the effects feel more natural and intentional than letting the effects distract from the photo.

Navigating is a little less intuitive than I would like, but it doesn’t take long to figure out. The ambiguous icons may scare or intimidate some weary users, but I feel they encourage exploration for those confident in themselves. With that said, don’t be afraid to explore all of the buttons in the app. None of them can break your phone or tablet and there is a reset  button for any edits you make.

If you’re looking for a social app that lets you easily change the look of your photos, but want something more professional-looking than Instagram, look no further than VSCO Cam. The film emulation it provides looks both professional and trendy, yet feels like the images produced will be timeless. The app offers more than great film filters too. Almost any photo editing tool is also at your fingertips, so you can fine-tune the effects and correct many imperfections of your photo all in one place.

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