A new challenger appears! Facebook is now beginning to eat up its children, releasing a Camera app that competes directly with its recently purchased Instagram. Is it any good? Should you use both? Which one is better? Let's dig in.
Instagram and Facebook Camera have the exact same promise: the easiest (and most fun!) way to share pictures from your life with people in your life. Both rely on the same general process: fire up the app, select a photo, add a filter if you're feeling sassy, and upload to the world. But there are some serious differences that should make anyone using Instagram and/or Facebook to reevaluate how they spread photos around.
Instagram is the product of two years of incredibly rigorous work by an incredibly dedicated team — myopically so, even! It shows. Its interface is simple to the point of austerity — there's a fat button in the middle to take a picture, and even the process of applying filters has been streamlined with live previews. Double tap a photo to like it. Instagram is super simple, but that's part of its familiar charm, and it's all pulled off sans bugs.
Facebook Camera is a 1.0 app — the first version of something that will doubtlessly transform quite a bit in the near future (this is Facebook we're talking about, after all). This means it's expectedly imperfect. iOS users are used to pulling down at the top of apps to refresh a stream, but this action reveals your iPhone's photo album, instead. This takes getting used to, as does the process of selecting multiple photos to upload, or changing your mind and removing one. Tags, multiple uploads, cropping, hundreds of friends — there's a lot going on here! It's "busy," like you might remark politely about a polka dot dress — but it's just short of being cluttered.
That aside, the photos in this photo app are lovely — displayed slightly larger than in Instagram, and zoomable.
Facebook has to (and will) streamline the way you take and view pictures with Camera, but it's a stellar start. Still, Instagram takes the crown for ease of use. And will keep it until Facebook completes its acquisition and just dumps everything that's better about Instagram into its own baby.
Almost a tie. Instagram's shutter button is more prominently placed than Facebook Camera's, and the former's filter offering is much larger. But as FWD points out, by some strange coincidence, the filters Facebook does offer are identical to Instagram's.
Winner: Instagram by the width of several virtual photo filters.
Facebook bought Instagram because Instagram became a mainstream competitor; it did a better job of letting people share pictures they'd taken with people they cared about. And Facebook wants that market all to itself. Camera is very much a Facebook-and-Instagram lovechild: It gives you graceful control over who you want to see your pictures — which Instagram sure doesn't — while simultaneously integrating the photos into your existing online social life. Meanwhile, Instagram fragments the snapshots you take into a separate shoebox. Though it's got room to improve, Facebook Camera begins to unify your digital brain.
Instagram has been terrific because it's a one stop shop for your friends' shots — all the images without any of the social network noise. Facebook Camera now does pretty much the same thing, siphoning off all of the uploads that would appear on your News Feed and sticking them into an app, while giving you the opportunity to throw your own shots into the mix. You add likes, comments, tags, captions, and locations as you would on Facebook.com, but that's it — no status updates, no ads (yet), no detritus. Just photos. Yours, and those from the hundreds and hundreds of people you've accumulated over the past half decade. This is a little headache.
Whereas Instagram works like Twitter — you only see stuff from people you explicitly follow, and only your followers see your pics — Facebook Camera tosses you images from literally everyone you're friends with, all in one cascade, without a way to filter folks out. You might have your reasons for being friends with your uncle, but that doesn't mean you want to look at his skiing pictures. Facebook Camera's first improvement should be such a filter. It'd be easy! When you upload a photo with the app, you can already choose to make it available to the friend list of your choosing (which Instagram can't), giving you total control over who sees what on a photo by photo basis — these exact same lists should decide whose pictures appear in your Camera feed to begin with.
But even with unwanted photos in your feed, Facebook basically wins by TKO: There are 800 million active users, and odds are most of the people you know are in that bin. Camera takes the best parts of Instagram and mainlines it directly into the social network everyone has been using and will continue to use, making sharing feel almost lazy it's so easy.
Winner: Facebook Camera
So long as Facebook remains the social gold standard online it makes sense for it to be the central place for your photos. Once Team Zuckerberg adds small, powerful changes like a feed filter, you'll have the best of both worlds: the photos of people you care about, tight privacy, delicate design, and cohesion. And even if there's something about Instagram's functionality that you prefer, it's only a matter of time until it's absorbed into Facebook Camera. Facebook didn't spend a billion dollars just to let Instagram lie fallow.
With Camera, Facebook's back to being a one stop shop. Any argument for Instagram to the contrary is just contrarianism; the urge of the cool kid to do something unconventional and away from the crowd for its own sake. It's time to give in.
Champion: Facebook Camera