Editors' note: This review was updated March, 2014, to cover new features added.
Instagram 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. With recent updates, the app adds video, letting you add filters and post to your feed much like you do with photos. It also got a new way to adjust brightness and contrast in the most recent update with a new Lux slider. But what's really 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 e-mail 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 e-mail. 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. 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. There's also an auto-straightener that you can use to get your horizon right. An included slider also lets you fine tune the effect. For even more control, the latest update adds an adjustable Lux slider (shown as the sun icon), where you can When you're satisfied with your shot, you can add a caption along with geotagging, then share it right away.
With Instagram, you can now shoot videos and add filters much like you would with photos. The Instagram app has a second 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. The added stabilizers make your video much smoother if you shoot while moving.
After only a few minutes of use, it's easy to see how Instagram's video features could unseat Vine as the go-to social video app. With Instagram, you get more time to shoot, you can choose from several filters, you can pick your cover frame, and you get the giant Instagram audience to showcase your work. There will still definitely be an audience for creative, 6-second videos on Vine, and the continuous loop is something not found on Instagram, but for the most part, Instagram is the new best of class.