It seems like there’s no end to the buzz around Instagram, the uber-popular photo sharing app initially released to iPhone users back in 2010. First the launch of the Android version two weeks ago, then the surge of new users (10 million in 10 days), and then the acquisition of the company by Facebook. But does the app deserve all the attention it’s getting in the Play Store?
For those of you who came in late, Instagram lets you take photos, apply filters to spice them up and then share them with the world on social networks. The app is free to use and now boasts a community of over 40 million users worldwide. Since it took so long to reach Android users, other developers created photo apps incorporating similar functionality. Let’s shoot a few pictures and see how Instagram holds up on this platform.
Applying filters to images in Instagram
Instagram is a free app that allows you to shoot pictures, apply retro-style filters and frames and then share them on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr, as well as Instagram’s own social network. The app runs on all devices running Android v2.2 and up. Instagram is also about discovering images among those shared by the community of over 40 million users, and rounds out the experience with features to view and interact with others’ content.
View photos from users you're following in the Home tab, and see what's hot in the Popular tab
Instagram requires you to sign up for a free account to use the service, after which you can also connect it to your social network accounts. Once you’ve done that you can follow other Instagram users from your contacts or your Facebook and Twitter friends. Having set it all up, you’ll be greeted by the Home tab which displays the latest pictures from people you follow.
Next you can start shooting pictures by clicking the large camera button at the center of the bottom toolbar. By default, Instagram will use your device’s camera app and you’ll have to then crop the image into a square format to proceed. You can choose to apply any one of 17 filters available (or leave it as is), each adding interesting effects like cross processing, increased saturation and exposure, fading, etc. The Atlantic has a nice guide explaining which filters to use on which kinds of photos.
Some filters also allow you to add a frame, suited to the nature of the filter. You can toggle these on or off as per your preference by tapping the frame button at the top left of the editing screen. The button next to it (with the sun symbol) allows you to apply what is called the Lux effect – it essentially bumps up the contrast and vibrance to bring out detail and color in your shots. You can also rotate your images if needed.
Uploading and sharing a photo
After you’ve edited your shot, you can share it with the Instagram community as well as with your friends, family and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Tumblr. You can geotag your photos so that their location information is displayed while viewing them on the web. You can also hashtag your photos so that they can be found easily with a keyword search.
See what your friends are up to in the News tab and see who's following you
The Instagram Community
Instagram isn’t just a standalone app for styling your photos – there’s a whole world of photographers and pictures waiting to be explored. The Popular tab (second from left on the bottom toolbar) shows you some of the most-liked pictures from around the Instaverse. You can also see photos and activity from people you follow on the Home tab and in the News tab.
Instagram also suggests people to follow so you can get your daily dose of photographic pick-me-up to go. Apart from users, there are several brands, blogs and websites that use Instagram to report news and tell their stories in pictures. You can comment on photos and Like them as well.
Instagram vs. the Competition
Since Instagram took its own sweet time making it to the Android platform, other similar apps attempted to fill the void, offering similar photo styling features and communities to boot: Hipster, PicPlz, Streamzoo and Lightbox (which we covered earlier) are all on a level playing field – but I believe that it’s the quality of the community that’ll get you to stay with or switch to any of these apps. Even though you currently get a free photoblog with Lightbox (which Instagram is still working on, but could be a while away), I’m partial to Instagram mainly because of the larger number of friends and brands who’re using it. I suggest you stick to the app on whose community you find more relevant content, or on which you have more friends.
Applying the Lux effect to a photo
A Few Tips
There are a few things you can do to get the most out of Instagram:
Use the app’s built-in camera to avoid having to crop images (go to the Profile tab (the right-most button), tap Camera Settings, and tick Use Instagram’s Advanced Camera). Despite the name, this camera doesn’t come with many functions but will save you time if you shoot often.
When you edit your photos, try toggling the Lux effect on and off to see if it improves your shot – it sometimes brings out a lot more grain than you might like.
When you’re browsing other users’ photos you can simply double-tap any picture to like it.
Instagram’s Android app is a solid offering indeed, with an easy-to-use interface and a vibrant community to interact with. There are a few things I’d love to see in upcoming versions, such as additional features to aid composition like grids and exposure control, the ability to control the extent to which filters affect photos and of course a web interface for viewing and sharing images. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven’t already. Happy shooting!