Hands on with Flickr for iOS, Instagram for photographers with self-respect

Hands on with Flickr iOS App

Until this week, Flickr for iOS was a sad piece of work. The Flickr community reviled the app for its poor functionality and slow operating speed. And, despite these complaints, the Flickr development team didn’t offer an update for 12 months – a lifetime in app years. The app just kept sucking, and there was seemingly no end in sight for the community.

That pitiful era is now behind us. Marissa Mayer, the president and CEO of Flickr’s parent company, Yahoo, promised users when she took over the company this summer that she would revive Flickr. And that is precisely what she and the rest of her team have done with the new Flickr for iOS, which is easily one of the best photo apps currently in the App Store. Let’s dive in and see what’s new.

Overall style and functionality

Flickr users will immediately notice that the iOS app is essentially a mini version of the website, with all the same functionalities – more, actually, since you can take and edit photos with the app itself. Groups, sets, tags – it’s all there. And it’s really smooth and easy to use. Compared to some, I am more of a casual Flickr user, so there may be features that more advanced (or just picky) people will find with the app. But as an average user, I was quite impressed with the design, depth, and functionality of Flickr for iOS.

Flickr for iOS 2

Taking a photo

After firing up the app – you can sign in with a Yahoo ID or your Facebook credentials – you can immediately start snapping shots. The actual taking photos part works more or less like every other iOS camera app out there, with a few exceptions. For example, using two fingers, you can set both focus and exposure at the same time – the blue square is for focus, the red circle for exposure. Touch with just one finger, and both focus and exposure will be set by the same spot in your frame. I found that this feature worked surprisingly well, especially in instances with extreme differences in lighting.

Other on-screen features include a grid, which turns on or off with a single button touch, flash settings, and digital zoom. You can also bring pictures from your Photo Stream into the app for editing and sharing, either one at a time or in batches. All these functionalities work as they should.

Flickr for iOS 3

Filters and editing

Ah, yes, filters. It’s the hot new thing. Everybody’s doing it, including the new Flickr. But that’s not the only trick Flickr for iOS has up its sleeve.

Flickr’s app includes 15 stylized filters – three fewer than Instagram. And they are all pretty much what you will find in most other photo apps with filters: Lomo and cross-processed wannabes, black and white, Hipster blue, etc. (Their actual names are perhaps the most obnoxious part of Flickr for iOS, cutesy things like Ocelot and Narwhal and Salamander. Fortunately, this is entirely inconsequential.) In fact, the filters come courtesy of a company called Aviary, which provides the filters for other such apps, including the new Twitter filters. As Digital Trends’ Molly McHugh pointed out, however, this isn’t really a good thing – Instagram still has the best pre-cooked filters.

Flickr for iOS 6

Fortunately, you aren’t stuck with nothing but baked-in filters with Flickr’s app, which has a complete set of photo-editing tools. Don’t like one of the pre-cooked filters? Make your own – and make it better. That’s what Flickr for iOS is for: Making great photos with your phone. And it might be the first app to give users the ability to actually do this easily and well.

To access the photo-editing tools, click the pencil icon that appears in the top-right corner when viewing the photo in its “original” form. If you’ve added one of the filters, the editing option disappears – a slightly annoying feature when you’re first starting out.

Of course, Flickr also gives users the ability to crop a photo however they like, or to not crop it at all – something I consider a major advantage over Instagram, whose tenaciously square crop has pissed me off on more than one occasion.

Flickr for iOS 4

Sharing

Because this is a Flickr app, all photos you share will be posted to your Flickr profile. Wisely, Yahoo has made it just as easy to share across other social networks. After you’ve edited or filter-ized your picture (or set of pictures – batch editing is possible), you can add a title and description, and post to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or send via email with the touch of the corresponding buttons. And unlike Instagram, images shared to Twitter with the Flickr app will still show up for your Twitter followers.

The entire set of Flickr functionality is there as well, under the “advanced” drop-down menu, which reveals the ability to add the pictures to a photo set, or create a new set; add groups and tags; set the photo’s safety level; adjust location privacy settings, etc.

Yet another leg up on Instagram is the ability for Flickr users to choose the upload size. This can be changed under the Settings menu, which is accessible via the Flickr icon button on the home screen. Size options include original, large, and medium.

One thing that Pro users might not like is the fact that the photos taken with the Flickr app are not automatically separated from non-smartphone pictures, nor are they identified as having been taken with a mobile device. Of course, you can always tag the photo as such, or add that in the description. But it would be nice if there were a way to turn on automatic differentiation.

Flickr for iOS 5

Browsing

The ability to browse and discover other users’ photos is just as deep as Flickr’s photo-editing capabilities. Under the “people” icon, you can access photos from your Flickr contacts, or groups. To scroll through a specific set of photos, just swipe to the left – a feature Instagram should steal. Tap the “world” button, and you’re given “interesting” (popular) photos from around Flickr. And the “nearby” tab will show you images uploaded close to your physical location. You can, of course, easily access your personal profile, where you’ll find all the photos you’e uploaded to Flickr (not just those added through the app), as well as your sets, groups, favorites, and more.

Final word

Flickr has completely won me over with this app. I went in preparing to hate it, but fell in love. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is significantly better than Instagram. Are the filters as good? Nope. But everything else about it is superior. And I adore the fact that you can apply more of your photography skills than just clever framing – as it should be in a photography app that caters to actual photographers.

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