Hands-on: Flickr’s slick iPhone update puts filters in the foreground

About seven months ago, Yahoo! took its almost moribund Flickr mobile app and improved the hell out of it. But that was only the beginning. In a universe dominated by Instagram, in which other shooting and sharing apps struggle for eyeballs and fingertips, Flickr's new moves are, at the very least, inspiring.

Today's brand new free update of the storied photo sharing app—for iOS only, so far—unveils updated camera shooting features such as new, live-view filters; customized filter adjustments; and sophisticated grid, zoom, focus, and exposure lock controls. And everything's wrapped in an intuitive, gesture-based interface.

Tapping two fingers on the screen allows you to set focus and exposure, and then lock them in before you tap the huge white button.

The updated app lets you shoot in either portrait or landscape orientation (with the shooting icons cutely flipping sideways), but the balance of the controls are still best used in the portrait view.

New image filters immediately call up animated interface controls for effects with names like Ice Tea, Brooklyn, Louisiana, Throwback, and Newsprint, each offering a different stylistic color effect. Graphite, Noir, and Antique round out increasingly popular black and white image treatments.

New Live View filters let you choose the look you want before taking the shot.

But filters by themselves are so last month. Flickr now offers a new function within each filter that lets you adjust it even further with special effects like Vignette, horizontal and vertical Tilt Shift, Light Burst, and Worn. Unlike in an earlier iteration of the app, these are applied before you take your shot, saving time and assuring you get the image you're looking for.

A two-finger tap on the screen reveals focus and exposure controls simultaneously, and you can change one or both instantly by tapping elsewhere. A humongous white button lets you see where the shutter is, regardless of how dark your environment may be.

The app also includes professional-style controls. You can crop your photo by using pinch-to-zoom gestures, or straighten with the gyroscope, as well as flip and rotate. Resizing options let you choose the aspect ratio of your image from an Instagram-style square to popular ratios like 4x3, 16x9, 3x2 and others.

Within each filter, you can add more special effects.

Built-in sliders for Brightness, Contrast, Satuation, Exposure, and White Balance give you all of the editing facility that's built into more advanced photo editing programs, such as SnapSeed, and others. There's even Photoshop-like controls for Color Balance, Levels, Sharpen, and more.

These editing advancements will go a long way in placing Flickr at the forefront of the shooting, editing, and sharing spectrum—in effect, its bidding to be your go-to app for all iPhone photography. (Instagram may be a cultural phenomenon, but more serious photographers still have to visit several apps to create an image that's good enough to share).

Yahoo's new capabilities are a result of Yahoo's June purchase of GhostBird Software, creators of KitCam and PhotoForge2, according to the Flickr blog.

We'd like to see more flexibility is making horizontal shooting more natural and easy to use, as that's how most people naturally frame their images. That's an engineering challenge, for sure, but seeing the steady stream of improvements Flickr has shown recently, we're sure the team is up to the task.

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