Hands-on with the Facebook Camera app: Can it rob the house that Instagram built?

facebook camera logoWell it’s finally happened. After all this time and all those rumors, Facebook has introduced its own lomo-loving, filter-fanatic, Instagram-inspired photo app for iPhone. Facebook Camera was launched today to make using and posting photos “faster and easier.” Before you jump from the Instagram-ship, check out how the Facebook Camera app works and consider the pros and cons of going all in with Facebook photos.

Installation

First thing’s first: downloading Facebook Camera today might not be as easy as you think. I searched for it in the App Store this morning after it was officially announced and wasn’t able to find it. The link on the official page that says it will send you a text to download the app also didn’t work and now is just yielded a “try again later” message.

installUnfortunately, the easiest way to get the app is to manually download and transfer it from iTunes. So be sure to back up your existing apps first and then grab the new app.

Once you’re able to grab the app, the login is — as you might expect — your Facebook account.

Interface

What you won’t see once the app is up-and-running is a knock-off of the Instagram interface. The homescreen shows the iPhone photos you’ve taken. You have to pull down the main feed to see or access all of them. The feed is full of your uploaded photos as well as any photos your friends have uploaded to Facebook — all photos, not just Facebook Camera-taken ones. It’s a little strange seeing Instagram images pop up in this app, but it’s all-inclusive and Facebook’s late to the game so… so be it.

croppingIn order to take or choose photos to upload, you either pull down the main feed to look through your gallery or hit the camera icon to capture new images. You can take multiple photos at once and then select later for editing if you want. From there, it gets more Instagram-reminiscent. You’ll have to scroll through the a tab below the image of different filters.

The overall interface experience errs on the utilitarian side. The fluid, visual Instagram UI is definitely prettier and lends itself to browsing better. But the Facebook Camera app is far more practical. It’s organized to get your pictures up on Facebook in as few steps as possible.

Features

The man features in the Facebook Camera are are its edits, filters, and tagging function. When you upload photos to post, you can crop (which, strangely, also houses the rotate tool) and add filters — and there are an impressive amount of filters. Fifteen, to be exact. It might be that we’re brainwashed by Instagram filters, but there isn’t quite the variety from filter to filter like you find with everybody’s favorite photo sharing app. Still, it’s impressive. 

features Being able to instantly tag friends in your photos is perhaps the most useful feature the app has. You’ve been able to push photos to Facebook from outside photo apps for awhile, but tagging people in-app is less than universal and makes sharing even just a little more difficult. Fortunately, the Facebook Camera app makes it possible.

Where Instagram still shines

I could wax philosophic here, but I won’t. Here is the quick and dirty on the areas in which Instagram easily holds itself against this new competition:

  • Tilt-shift tool
  • The lux light auto-fix feature
  • Better photo quality
  • Better browsing
  • A different community — focused on photos, not necessarily the people in them

What does it all mean?

Overall, the Facebook Camera app experience is good, maybe even great, but the interface and interaction aren’t going to catapult it to the top of the photo-sharing app platform — it’s the Facebook integration that will. This app means Facebook is cutting out the middle man of photo-sharing: the smartphone has become a incredibly popular consumer camera; Facebook is the most popular photo-sharing platform; and until now it hasn’t directly capitalized on that. Now it is.

So what does it mean for Instagram? Well a user’s reach on Facebook is greater than on Instagram — that’s just math — so those who want their photos to get an audience might switch teams or at least use the new app more.

Photos on Instagram are bigger and more beautiful. The app in general just looks and feels better, but Facebook only had to be good enough; and it is. It’s a really curious move to make: after nearly a year of photo app rumors, Facebook finally debuts its client just after purchasing Instagram — which, mind you, Facebook says it’s committed to running and growing independently.  

But Facebook’s also committed to fixing its mobile problem, and photos are a big part of that. What’s also interesting is what this says about Facebook’s mobile strategy. Facebook’s creating standalone apps that integrate with its service instead of one central hub for doing everything (which is an option, but one that Facebook is apparently steering us away from).

Have you given the new app a shot yet? Sound off in the comments.

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