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 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.
Of the dozen or so I tested, here are four I find myself using again and again:
• Photosynth by Microsoft Corp. Free. For iOS only (Apple’s iPhone, iPad 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 computer screen.
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 Photosynth.net.
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.
• 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 look miniature.
Instagram has that feature (it’s the droplet icon when you are taking or editing a picture). TiltShift Generator 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.
• 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 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 once you get a sense of which virtual lens works best under which conditions, you can create stunning photos.
• 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 a photo pop, but often I want more control over 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.
4 camera app alternatives to Instagram