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VSCO Cam for iOS review: A great minimalist photo editor gets even better

VSCO Cam is excellent for editing your images with an intuitive interface and precise tools, and new syncing and Journal features make it even better.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
6 min read

Editors' note, November 13, 2014: This review has been updated with new features from version 4.0.


VSCO Cam for iOS

The Good

VSCO Cam has a cool interface layout for editing and putting effects on your photos. Fine-tuning capabilities with sliders for every effect help you get the look you want.

The Bad

The Grid feed is curated and doesn't give you any way to post feedback or start a discussion. You can't break up the Grid by category to find photos that interest you.

The Bottom Line

VSCO Cam is a great download for taking and editing photos, and with tools that take advantage of the iPad's larger screen and new Journal features, it's easy to recommend.

VSCO Cam is an elegant photo effects app with a minimalist interface, which lets you create great-looking shots in only a few steps. Now with version 4.0, VSCO Cam is optimized for iPad and offers new tools for both devices in this universal update.

VSCO Cam has been available since mid-2013, with great tools for editing images and a social layer came later with a photo feed that's sort of similar to what you get on Instagram. Unlike Instagram, the news feed (called "The Grid") is curated by VSCO Cam and doesn't have nearly the user base of Instagram. But where VSCO Cam shines is in its delightfully minimalist interface that boasts several more photo-editing tools for better quality shots.

What developers Visual Supply Company have done in the latest update is add new tools for both the iPad and iPhone versions. Both get new manual photo tools for things such as focus, white balance, and exposure, along with a Journal feature that lets you pair words with your photo projects.

VSCO Cam's minimalist interface helps you take great shots (pictures)

See all photos

Getting used to the layout

The new version got some design changes since its launch last year, but VSCO Cam has mostly kept its minimalist look that makes all the app's tools only a couple of taps away. It can be a little confusing at first with unnamed buttons and only icons to guide you, but once you learn the ropes, the controls start to make sense. To get started, you can touch the camera icon to snap a fresh photo or grab one from your iPhone camera library by touching the plus sign.

The app has a sort of photographer's light table experience, where you import a photo from your library or the camera, then decide what to do with it. Touching a photo on your light table brings up a bank of buttons at the bottom for flagging it for later, performing edits, sharing to social networks, or deleting it.

Touching the edit icon (a combination of a paintbrush and wrench) gets you to a screen where you can choose between basic edits (wrench) or effects and filters (paintbrush). VSCO Cam's filter's are shown across the bottom of the screen on the iPhone, and down the side on the iPad, right withing thumbs reach. None of these filters have fancy names as you browse, and are instead just labeled things like B5, C1 and G3. Touching each button will show how the filter effects your photo, and each one has a slider so you can fine-tune the effect. On the iPad, you have the option to touch a grid-like button at the bottom to see how each filter changes your photo with big thumbnails.

More traditional editing tools such as brightness, contrast, and saturation are found behind the wrench icon, but you'll also find things like cropping and rotate tools.

On the iPad the controls are on the sides, right within thumb's reach. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Saving and sharing

When you're done adding filters and fine-tuning your image, you have a few options for sharing. You can post to Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, Google+ or Facebook, or you can simply save to your camera library, or send via e-mail. In the latest version you can also use VSCO Cam's Sync tool, that automatically syncs up your VSCO photos across your devices. In my testing it worked great, and synced images showed up almost immediately.

There's also a chance your photo will make into VSCO Cam's Grid (the social feed I mentioned earlier), but that is left up to whomever curates the feed. When you finish a photo, you'll see that it is pending for the grid, but it's pretty clear that the images that make it through are of high quality (judging from the feed), so you'll have to take a particularly nice shot and hope for the best.

Fortunately, if you want to share all your work, VSCO lets you create a URL to your personal "grid" of shots. I like that I can send a link to all my shots, but I'd prefer to have feeds that I can customize to include photos from both me and my friends.

Check out the Grid to see a curated collection of the best photos. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The feed lacks features

You can view VSCO Cam's grid by touching the button in the main menu. Here the focus is obviously on the content, with big images that take up the screen, and a swiping interface for moving on to the next image. If you touch an image, you can get more info, such as the date it was taken, along with other stats like the ISO, whether the photographer used the flash and what filter was used.

What you don't get, however, are any ways to "Like" or comment on a photo. VSCO seems to be focusing more on the images themselves, which is fine, but it might be better to be able to at least give some feedback and create a discussion.

On the bright side, an issue I had with the earlier version has now been fixed. You can now perform a search on the Grid or in the new Journal (more on this below), using keywords to find the content you're looking for. Before you were basically left to look at what the people who curate the lists wanted to show you, so I'm happy that I can now do a search for photos.

With the Journal you can write to describe your photo collection and the layout is great. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The new Journal

Version 4.0 adds another great feature -- and probably my favorite so far -- with the new Journal. What the Journal lets you do is assemble several photos of the same theme together, then write as much text as you want to introduce and talk about your project. A new swipeable interface lets you go from the Grid to the Journal with a swipe to the left, then you can see examples for how people are using the new Journal features.

What's really cool about looking at a journal is you get a nice layout for all the photos with variable sizes that lay neatly on the page. When you touch an image you can look at a close up without distraction, then touch it again to go back to the Journal view.

It's a really great addition because it lets you present a group of photos a lot like a magazine, but the interactivity of viewing each photo up close lets you appreciate the choices the photographer made to take the photograph and edit it in VSCO.

Final thoughts

VSCO Cam was already a well-designed photo editor with a unique minimalist interface. The app looks great on the iPad, and really takes advantage of the larger screen with controls that are easy to get to. It takes great shots, and the filters and tools included are better than what you'll find in most apps. I also really like the capability to fine-tune each of the filters and effects to get the exact look you want.

The interface can be a little confusing at first, so you'll need to be ready for some trial and error to get the hang of it. I also think people will appreciate how the images are front and center in the Grid and Journal sections of the app, without a lot of noise to distract you from the photography.

With all that said, I still think the Grid doesn't have enough ways to sort content, making discovery limited to what is curated by VSCO. Some of that is fixed with new search tools, but I'd like more filter options. Still, VSCO Cam is much better than before and anyone from photographers to photo enthusiasts should check it out.


VSCO Cam for iOS

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Interface 7Performance 9