Sunday June 10, 2012

Facebook’s new camera
app makes sharing photos on the social media site a breeze. It’s an improvement on posting photos using its main mobile app.

But other camera apps such as Instagram and Hipstamatic still reign supreme. Facebook Camera doesn’t have the same level of addictiveness or the range of tools for sprucing up images.

Many people were perplexed when Facebook Inc. released its own camera app late last month, just weeks after snapping up the popular Instagram photo-sharing app for $1 billion.

The two apps, both free, have some similar features. Both have a scrollable feed of photos posted by your friends and other people you choose to follow. They also have a set of tools, or filters, which let you adjust contrast, color and other attributes.

But they are different enough that Facebook’s camera app is more of a complement to the main Facebook app than a challenge to Instagram. Facebook’s camera app is only available for Apple devices, while Instagram recently came out with a version that works on Android phones and tablet computers.

The app is easy to use with intuitive taps and swipes.

When you open it, you see a scroll of your friend’s photos -- the ones you would see if you clicked the photo tab in the Facebook app or on Facebook’s website for regular computers. Tap on a photo to see a larger version, optimized on your phone.

Above that is a bar that shows you the most recent pictures in your device’s camera library -- all the photos you have stored on the iPhone or iPad. You can swipe down the feed of your friends’ Facebook photos to see more of your own pictures, which you can then choose to post on Facebook.

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You can comment, tag and ‘like’ photos, just as you can with the main app or website. You simply tap icons that hover over the photos. Change your mind? Just swipe away the comment box, and it disappears.

It is kind of a shock to suddenly see your whole photo library within a Facebook app. Before I got comfortable with the navigation, I was slightly paranoid I would accidently post a photo on Facebook without meaning to. But once I got used to the easy navigation within the app, that was less of a worry.

Once you select a photo from your library (or take one within the app by tapping the camera icon), Facebook Camera gives you much better editing options than the main site or app. You can crop the photo to any dimension, or straighten it slightly -- something I almost always need to do. You can tweak images with 14 filters that have such names as "Cool" "Light" and "Rouge."

For people used to the dramatic filters of Instagram and the wacky lenses and film-like options of Hipstamatic, the filters on the Facebook Camera are underwhelming. They didn’t make a dramatic difference on photos I used them on, and I doubt I would use them before using Facebook Camera to post a photo.

For those who like a lot of editing control, Facebook Camera lacks the full-featured photo-adjustment capabilities available in PhotoToaster or Snapseed. But I was pleased with the ease with which I could post photos to Facebook with its camera app. I will probably use it whenever I post a photo to the site now.

Unlike the regular app, Facebook Camera makes posting multiple photos easy as well, although there’s no ability to create albums on Facebook without going to the main site.

Still, it’s not going to replace Instagram for me. I follow an assortment of people on Instagram based solely on the quality of their photos, ranging from gorgeous landscapes to gritty street scenes. I’m always excited to check out new pics.

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I friend people on Face book for different reasons -- and it’s not because of the quality of their photos. As a result, the stream on the Facebook Camera app has a random feel.

It also has a bit of a dilutive quality when I check the main Facebook app at work (ahem, not that I ever do that) or at home.

Since I’ve already seen most of the photos, the main Facebook news stream feels less "new."

So think of Facebook Camera less as competition for other camera apps, and more of a complement -- like Facebook’s other standalone apps, for messaging and for managing business brand pages -- to the main Facebook site.

Follow Mae Anderson on Twitter at http://twitter.com /maetron and on Instagram at maetron.