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.
With a recent update, Instagram now lets you import an existing video from your library. Not all file types are supported, but for its part, the app can handle whatever mobile video you throw at it. The feature lets you scrub through your video to mark the start and end points you want, but of course, it limits you to 15 seconds. For now, Instagram only lets you import one video at a time, but perhaps in the future, the app will add basic editing features so you can cobble together multiple clips.
It's important to note that with the video-creating functions comes an influx of videos to your Instagram feed. And what many may not like is that as of now, there is no way to filter the videos out. Videos and still photos are mashed together into a single feed, which can get annoying if you're only looking for one or the other.
Explore others' photo and video moments
Even with just the features mentioned, this free app would already be easy to recommend, but a couple of added features make it even better. Once signed up with Instagram, you can follow other Instagram users on the Feed page, which shows recent images taken by you and your friends. Here you can comment and "like" photos and Facebook integration means you can also "like" it on Facebook. Switch tabs to look at a Popular list that shows all the most popular Instagram images from all users. You can search for tags and users in the recently added Explore section. You also can look at a News tab, which shows the latest actions by your connected friends (liked, commented, or otherwise), so you can see what your friends are currently looking at. These features make Instagram an app you might look at every day, just to see what your friends are up to.
Instagram also can categorize your photos and videos by location. The app automatically gathers all your past Instagram media where you activated geotagging and puts them on a map so you and your followers can browse by location. The app defaults to showing all geotagged images and videos (once you have given the OK), but you can select or deselect photos and videos if you don't want certain locations to show on the map. With the new features, people will have a Photo Map button in their profile pages that you can touch to show a map of all their images.
It's important to note that sometimes you won't want to post location information (like where you live) to the public. Parents of kids who use Instagram would be wise to make sure their kids do not geotag their photos and videos for the same reason. With that said, this interface change makes it so your work doesn't disappear down the endless feed and gives people a much easier way to see all the images you have created.
Instagram is an excellent way to take retro-looking photos and videos and share them with anyone. The popularity of the app gives you tons of content to browse and offers the possibility that your photos and videos will be seen by a large number of people.