Instagram is one of the most popular social media apps currently available, allowing users to share pictures, videos, and livestreams of their daily lives. The Facebook-owned app is pretty casual – with face filters, stickers, and location tags – but it might leave some more serious photographers wanting more.
VSCO, a photo-editing and social media app, is aimed at artsy photographers who want a little more control over their photo editing. It’s focused on artistic photography, while Instagram is more centered around snapshots of daily life. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but both apps serve different needs for different people.
Here are some of the differences between the two apps, and which app I would recommend to anyone:
Both apps have an in-app camera. VSCO’s gives you more control over how the final product turns out. You can choose to use separate points for focus or exposure within the frame, while Instagram is limited to one point for both focus and exposure.
Instagram’s camera is less technical and has more social-based features. Since Instagram has the ‘Stories’ feature, there are additional filters and lenses focused around it.
In total, Instagram’s story camera has type (text over a background), live, normal, boomerang (a looping video), music, focus, superzoom, rewind (a video that plays in reverse), and hands-free. Instagram’s regular camera, meant for posting photos to the feed, only has flash and focus/exposure.
VSCO has a few additional features, like a bar that shows how much your phone is tilted.
You can also let VSCO allow screen-tap photo capturing, which means you can tap anywhere within the red frame to snap a photo.
Once you’ve taken a photo, you’ll probably want to edit it. Both apps have pretty much the same editing process — the basics like exposure, contrast, highlights/shadows are present. Where they differ, however, is with filters. Instagram has a decent collection of filters, but it’s not a very large collection.
VSCO’s expansive collection of filters is where it shines. You get a few with the free version, but when you upgrade to ‘VSCO X,’ the premium subscription service ($US19.99 per year), you receive a huge collection of VSCO filters that emulate classic and modern films.
Both apps also feature direct messaging. Instagram lets you DM anyone who has open DMs enabled, otherwise you can DM people who follow you.
VSCO lets you DM anyone who follows you. It’s described as a way to get tips and tricks from other photographers, and less as a social or chat feature like on Instagram.
Both apps have a social feed. On Instagram, a single post takes up the entire phone screen.
VSCO’s feed is much more minimalistic, and only features the name of the uploader. Multiple posts can be seen on the screen.
Where VSCO is lacking in social features like Instagram’s live, stories, face filters, and lenses, it makes up for it with creative control. With the VSCO X subscription service, you get access to all of the filters, some additional editing tools, tutorials, and the ability to add borders to your photos.
VSCO also has the ‘Studio’ — a place where all your imported photos are stored. You can edit them here, and then either choose to save them to your phone’s camera roll or post them to VSCO’s social feed.
You can refine the Studio feed as well, to filter out photos by file type or whether they’re edited or published.
VSCO has community ‘journals,’ or text-based posts that can be used to provide some background behind a photo session, editing tips, or shooting tips.
The verdict: It depends on what you need out of a photo app. You don’t have to choose between one or the other, and the apps can actually complement each other. But there’s a winner in my eyes.
It’s hard to recommend one app over the other, as they’re somewhat aimed at different needs. Instagram is a more powerful social platform, while VSCO is a more powerful photo editing tool. However, on face value, I think VSCO is the winner here.
VSCO simply better suits my needs as someone who enjoys taking and editing photos as a hobby. I’m not a professional photographer, but I’ve used VSCO for years, and I use it when I’m on the go and don’t have the time or ability to use my desktop photo editing software. That’s simply something that doesn’t work as well on Instagram. However, I don’t personally use the social feature of VSCO. So, as a compromise, I edit my photos with VSCO and post them on Instagram. That way, you get the editing capabilities from VSCO, and the social reach of Instagram, an app which most of my friends and family use.
VSCO is definitely aimed at photo enthusiasts, while Instagram is a casual way to keep up with your friends and their lives. If you want more editing control over your photos, the VSCO X subscription might be worth it to you. Any desktop photo-editing software worth using has a subscription price anyway.
Most of your friends will probably be using Instagram as far as social feeds go. I personally don’t know anyone who uses the VSCO feed, but plenty of people use the app for its photo editing. If you enjoy the editing capabilities of VSCO, you can just edit your photos there and then post them on Instagram.
VSCO’s film emulator filters can’t be beat by Instagram, though. If you dish out the money for the subscription you’ll get a pretty big variety of preset filters that you can then refine through VSCO’s editing software. Instagram’s filters aren’t bad, but there’s simply not as many options.
Instagram’s live and story options have proven immensely popular, and neither of those are present in VSCO. As a social platform, Instagram has the upper hand here. Instagram also lets you post videos to the social feed, which is something VSCO currently doesn’t offer. But, you can apply filters to and manually edit videos with VSCO X.
So, if your needs center around using a social platform where you can most likely find your friends, Instagram is the clear choice in that regard. However, VSCO is a more powerful editing app, and if you’re in a circle of photo enthusiasts you might not have trouble building a social circle on there as well. The two apps are simply aimed at separate audiences – Instagram is generally for casual photo takers (while enthusiasts are still welcome and omnipresent), while VSCO is for people who want a little more refinement.
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