VSCO Cam review: Take photos, edit, and share online in one snazzy iOS package

vsco editing

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At a Glance
  • Visual Supply Company VSCO Cam

vsco cam

You can separately lock the focus and exposure—tap the screen with two fingers to conjure up separate focus and exposure reticles.

There are no shortage of camera app replacements to choose from, but that doesn’t mean they’re commodities. Despite excellent choices like Camera+ and Top Camera, there’s always room for an app like VSCO Cam—a great alternative that combines picture-taking, photo-editing, and online sharing in a snazzy package.

The app does take a little getting used to. In part because it does so many things, and in part because the interface is mostly made of the sort of wordless iconography you’d expect to find on the starship Enterprise. The camera itself is just one of a half dozen options you’ll see on the app’s default start screen. (However, you can change the app’s preferences to bypass the start screen and open immediately to the camera.)

Once you’re in camera mode, though, it’s a joy to use. A toolbar at the top of the screen lets you toggle the flash, change the display (you can show a line of thirds grid, horizon level, or nothing), lock the white balance, and choose a mode that takes the photo by tapping the screen instead of the shutter release. Even without that last option, though, taking pictures is much easier than with the iPhone’s default app, since you can trigger the shutter by tapping anywhere within a huge band at the bottom of the screen.

VSCO Cam has a robust assortment of editing tools as well—15 in all. You can adjust a photo’s exposure level, color temperature, contrast, saturation, sharpening, and cropping, as well as perform less common tweaks like adding grain and changing the tint of shadows and highlights.

vsco filters

Filters are unfortunately poorly named.

You also get a small set of about a dozen Instagram-like filters, each of which can be fine-tuned with an intensity slider; you can add about two dozen more via in-app purchase. While many of the free and paid effects are quite nice, the app’s minimalist approach can get in the way: Every effect has a useless name like B1, C1, or G3 that tells you nothing about what it does—only when you select the effect and tap it a second time do you find out that it also goes by an only slightly-less-obscure name like Moody, Mellow, or Classic.

Like several other photo apps, VSCO maintains its own camera roll. You can automatically add photos taken with VSCO to your camera’s roll, or keep them separate—your choice. You can also import photos one at a time into VSCO for editing. The app lets you share images via conventional means, like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but it desperately wants you to submit your images to the app’s central sharing feature, an online photo gallery called the Grid. It’s curated, which is a bit dangerous: You can easily get lost browsing gorgeous photography from fellow shutterbugs. The only way to get your own shots into the public Grid is to be selected via a mysterious vetting process, but if all you want to do is make your photos available to friends, you can share a URL for the images you add to your own personal Grid.

The Grid is a nice idea, and it’s certainly a wonderful way to discover great images, but the emphasis on curation and letting the photography speak for itself means there’s no community here—you can’t like, promote, or comment on any images. Nor can you discover artists except in the rudimentary way; photos aren’t divided into categories, nor are there user profiles. That’s too bad, because without such features, the Grid is likely to be neglected.

Bottom line

VSCO Cam is a great camera and editing app with a half-baked online sharing experience bolted onto the side. The editing tools and filters are better than what you’ll find in many other apps, and most of the experience is free (you only need to pay for additional filters). And while the sparse icon-driven UI is initially confusing, it’s easy to figure out. VSCO needs only to find a way to smooth the rough edges in its interface to be a truly essential camera app alternative.

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At a Glance
  • VSCO Cam is a snazzy camera and editing app with a half-baked online sharing experience bolted onto the side. The app needs only to find a way to smooth the rough edges in its interface to be a truly essential camera app alternative.

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