VSCO Cam is an essential component of our "ultimate mobile darkroom," offering no shortage of ways to edit, crop, and filter photos. We liked the app because it focused almost exclusively on making photos look their best — a refreshing perspective in a time when every mobile app has a friend feed of its own. But today, VSCO Cam is joining the social fray with version 3.0 for iPhone, which introduces a feed of your friends' photos edited inside the app.
"VSCO Grid has not, and will never be, about numbers."
When I spoke with VSCO co-founder Joel Flory back in August, he said that VSCO Cam was for editing, and Instagram was for connecting with others around photos. Apparently, Flory changed his mind — but don't worry, he's done it without changing VSCO's tune. The app's new "Home" section is now composed of a feed of photos from profiles you follow on VSCO Cam, and also includes a link to your own profile — but offers no way to like photos, make comments, or see how many followers you have. VSCO 3.0 is social, but that doesn't mean it's competitive like Instagram, where users add dozens of hashtags to their photos in hopes of increasing their likes and followers.
"It would be odd to walk into a museum and write comments or put gold star stickers on the wall next to artwork you like, and we apply this same mentality to Grid," Flory says. "VSCO Grid has not, and will never be, about numbers. It is not a social clout platform." The reason VSCO added profiles and a feed to the app was because it was the number-one request from users, who are increasingly turning to apps like VSCO and Exposure to exhibit their work. The focus here is still on photos, thankfully, and VSCO's full-bleed and minimalist profiles are an elegant way to experience them. After a few minutes trying it out, a social feed feels right at home inside the app — in part because it's not just your friends' photos that appear. The Grid section in the app's sidebar includes a feed of photos VSCO has handpicked, and they are often stunning. Instead of displaying a bizarre mix of celebrity photos and odd memes like Instagram's Explore page, Grid offers inspiration from strangers.
"People are discovering that a camera phone can be used for more than selfies or latte art."
Back in the early days of Instagram, I remember voraciously following dozens of strangers who took beautiful photos. As Instagram evolved into a social network which let you tag friends and share in small groups, I unfollowed most of these strangers. Back then, Instagram was solely about the photos, and this is the place where VSCO now finds itself. Yet, VSCO doesn't let you plug in Facebook and Twitter to add friends en masse. You'll have to add them one by one. That encourages you to carefully add your friends to the equation without jeopardizing the content that makes VSCO Cam great, but it also means you'll need to manually type people in. "People are discovering that a camera phone can be used for more than selfies or latte art — that creating powerful, beautiful imagery is possible," Flory says, jabbing at Instagram stereotypes.
Setting aside profiles, the new app also introduces a few new features: tilt and level adjustments in Camera view, alphabetical preset ordering, an autosave to Camera Roll option, pinch-to-zoom in Detail view, and a revamped Crop tool. Flory didn't offer a timeline on when 3.0's features will come to Android, but we'd bet it would happen sooner rather than later. VSCO Cam has already accumulated more than a million downloads since its launch on Android in early December, and the app's reviewers are begging for more.
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