Editor's note, April 27, 2015: This review has been updated to cover new features added in the latest version. It was originally published in August of 2012.
Instagram (iPhone|Android) is a popular photo- and video-sharing app that requires only a couple of touches to produce retro-looking projects and then share them with friends and other Instagram members. The latest version of the app adds three additional filters, and new ways to spice up your photos including a fade feature and color overlay options. It also has a new Post Notifications feature to make it easier to see what your friends post. Finally, you can now add emojis to hashtags, to share your photos within the Instagram community.
But what's continues to be special about the Instagram phenomenon is how users have used the app to create a story about their everyday lives through stylized photos and videos.
You start by signing up with Instagram with an email address, username and password. From there you can configure Instagram to autopost to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare and Posterous, or just choose to share images from within the app or via email. You can also turn any of these options on or off if you don't want to share your shots with everyone.
Once you're connected, you'll be able to snap a photo wherever you are, move and scale the image, add an effect with a touch of your finger, and then touch Done to share your photographic moment with the world.
Adding filters and effects
The app comes with several free, custom-designed filters that can give your image various retro effects, a grainy black-and-white look, or even adjustable tilt-shift options. A recent update added three new filters for both iOS and Android; Lark, Reyes and Juno. Lark emphasizes green and blue colors in your photos, Reyes give you another vintage effect (like many of Instagram's filters do) and Juno brings out warm tones and plays up any white colors.
The Android version of Instagram got an update adding a few new features for your photos and a new option for notifications. An iOS update with the same features should be coming soon.
To add something more to your images, there are new Fade options and Color overlays you can add along with the usual tweaks. Fade gives your photo an aged look by softening the colors. The color overlays come in eight different color options with yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, cyan and green. They can be applied to shadows or highlights in your images.
When you're satisfied with your shot, you can add a caption along with geotagging it, then share it right away.
Thanks to a recent update, the app now gives you the option to send a private photo or video to one or more friends, without sharing it to your Instagram feed. On the main screen, there's an inbox at the top right, where you can view all the photos and videos you've sent and those sent to you. From there, you can send new direct photos or videos by tapping the plus sign and following the prompts.
Your friends can comment on the direct 'grams you send them, but no one else can see the likes or comments. The idea is similar to Snapchat, the app that sends private photo messages. The difference here is that images and videos don't disappear as they do on Snapchat.
With Instagram, you can shoot videos and add filters much like you would with photos. In the camera mode, there's button to switch from photo to video. Just like Twitter's Vine app, when shooting a video, you touch to shoot and let go to stop shooting. Where Vine has 6 seconds of shooting time, Instagram lets you shoot for 15 seconds. You also can delete sections of your video as you're making it, letting you quickly fix a section of your video without having to start over from scratch. You can then pick from 13 new filters, and you can preview each of them live as your video is playing -- no need to wait for a render. To make your videos more stable, Instagram also has what the company calls Cinema, which help make your video much more smooth if you shoot while moving.