Review: 4 camera app alternatives to Instagram

Apr 25, 2012 By MAE ANDERSON , Associated Press
This undated screenshot provided by Microsoft shows Photosynth, which lets you take 360-degree panoramic photos that become interactive on a smartphone or computer screen. While it's wildly popular and the target of Facebook's $1 billion takeover deal, Instagram isn't the only camera app. (AP Photo/Microsoft)

(AP) -- I'm one of the millions of smartphone owners addicted to Instagram, the free camera app that makes tweaking and sharing photos miraculously easy. While it's wildly popular and the target of Facebook's $1 billion takeover deal, Instagram isn't the only camera app worth having.

I've been hooked on taking photos on my and sharing them using Instagram since I bought my first iPhone last fall.

With Instagram, I can make my photos look better by using one of the app's 17 pre-set filters to adjust lighting, color and other things. I can then share my enhanced photos on , or Instagram's own social network.

But Instagram has a limited range of filters and camera effects, and it isn't always easy to edit pictures with it.

I've had a chance to test a wide range of Instagram alternatives during choice picture-taking opportunities over the past few months, including my sister's wedding in Hawaii in December and a trip to Lebanon this month. I also had my phone for shots along the streets of New York, where I live.

Of the dozen or so I tested, here are four I find myself using over and over again:

- Photosynth by . Free. For iOS only (Apple's iPhone, and iPod Touch).

My favorite among the ones I tried, Photosynth lets you take 360-degree panoramic photos that become interactive on a smartphone or .

The app guides you as you stand in one place and capture photos in all directions. Then it stitches those images together to create a sphere-like panorama that viewers can scroll around in and zoom in and out.

You can share the panorama on Facebook, Twitter or

It takes a bit of practice, and it's not an app I would use every day. But I found that in the right setting - such as Roman ruins by the sea in Byblos, near Beirut, or my sister's beach wedding - the results can be breathtaking.

It's a great way to capture a panoramic landscape such as mountain views, beaches or bridges. Plenty of examples - and inspiration - can be found on

- TiltShift Generator by Arts & Mobile. Free for basic features, 99 cents for higher resolution and album upload. For iOS only.

Tilt shift is a camera effect that blurs the edges of a picture, creating an optical illusion that makes everything in the photo look miniature.

Instagram has that feature (it's the droplet icon when you are taking or editing a picture). I prefer TiltShift Generator because it gives you more control.

You can control where and how much blurring to produce. You can also determine how much darkening around the corners you want to produce a vignette effect. You can also adjust the saturation, brightness and contrast.

Pictures turn out gorgeous. Some of my favorite iPhone pictures during my trip to Lebanon were taken with this app. The effect makes houses high on a mountaintop and a courtyard fountain stand out in my images.

- Hipstamatic by Synthetic LLC. $1.99 for basic features, with 99-cent add-ons to give you more imaging options. For iOS only.

I had a hard time figuring Hipstamatic out, but it's worth making the effort.

Unlike most filtering apps, you don't adjust a photo after you've taken it. Instead, you choose different virtual lenses, flashes and film beforehand, and you can't change the setting after you take the shot.

The app is not very intuitive, the settings are hard to keep track of and the accompanying guide isn't very helpful. But I was able to catch on after a friend gave me a tutorial. Once you get a sense of which virtual lens works best under which conditions, you can create stunning photos.

In Lebanon, in fact, I ended up taking most of my pictures with Hipstamatic because of how it gave life to street scenes that would have looked gritty otherwise. Its "Helga Viking Lens" gave the yellow dust filtering through the streets a romantic feel, and its "John S" lens transformed crumbling ivy-covered pre-war buildings with a retro-cool blue.

- PhotoToaster by East Coast Pixels, Inc. Free version called PhotoToaster Jr. Full version costs $1.99 and gives you more choices and control. For iOS and Android devices.

I love the ease of flipping through filters on Instagram until I see one that makes my photo pop, but sometimes I want a little more control over the specific effects.

PhotoToaster lets me do both. You can apply preset filters such as "Tuneup," "Pro," "Happy" and "Chill." You can also tap a button and have more precise control over exposure, color temperature, light and other settings.

I often brighten up a photo with PhotoToaster before importing it to Instagram. You can't fix an underexposed shot in Instagram, for example. But with PhotoToaster, my shot of a beautiful but dimly lit wisteria vine crawling up five stories of a building became infused with light.

None of these apps replace Instagram's addictive ability to let you instantly share pictures with friends and strangers alike.

Photosynth is probably the closest to having its own social network for sharing results, but you must go to its website and images are limited to the 360-degree panoramas. You also don't have a circle of friends you regularly exchange images with.

The other apps are more tools for enhancing your photos, which you then take elsewhere for sharing.

That includes taking them to Instagram.

Don't think of these alternatives as replacing Instagram. These apps supplement and enhance the Instagram experience and can make on a lot more versatile and fun.

Explore further: Android gains in US, basic phones almost extinct

More information: One of Mae Anderson's Photosynth's images from Byblos, near Beirut:

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Review: Warming up to photo-sharing app Instagram

Apr 11, 2012

(AP) -- I was skeptical, even horrified, when I first heard about the photo-sharing craze Instagram more than a year ago. As a journalist trained to reject alterations in words and pictures, I didn't get ...

Loyal Instagram users fret about Facebook's reach

Apr 10, 2012

(AP) -- Poor Instagram users. First, their beloved photo-sharing application moves from iPhone-only exclusivity to the Android phone masses. A week later, Facebook swallows up the tiny startup behind the ...

Recommended for you

Android gains in US, basic phones almost extinct

Apr 18, 2014

The Google Android platform grabbed the majority of mobile phones in the US market in early 2014, as consumers all but abandoned non-smartphone handsets, a survey showed Friday.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

Apr 17, 2014

( —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Microsoft CEO is driving data-culture mindset

Apr 16, 2014

( —Microsoft's future strategy: is all about leveraging data, from different sources, coming together using one cohesive Microsoft architecture. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tuesday, both in ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

( —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...