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Summary:

You want to badly share that photo of your cat wearing its pumpkin costume. It’s understandable. You’ve got an iPhone and Internet access, but which app best suits your needs? There’s recently been a mini-boom in social photo applications, so we’re breaking down the top contenders.

iPhone 4 Camera

You badly need to share that photo of your cat wearing a pumpkin costume. It’s understandable. You’ve got an iPhone and Internet access, but which app should you use? There’s recently been a mini-boom in social photo sharing applications, so to help you choose, we’ve tested some of the top free social photo sharing apps.

Instagram

Yes, it’s the one with the hipstery faux-vintage effects. Instagram is also the one that seems to get the most press, and it’s also where you’re most likely to run into people you already know from other social networking services. It’s also iPhone-only at the moment, which adds tons of snob appeal for the Apple faithful like me.

Possibly because the Instagram app is iPhone-only, it has some great features you won’t necessarily find in the other apps in this roundup. As mentioned, it comes with a bunch of filters that you can apply right after snapping your photo. These mimic the cheap plastic cameras you can get at Urban Outfitters, which themselves mimic old-school film photography techniques and hardware. If you’d rather not use them, you can always go naked, but Instagram does automatically crop your image to a square picture.

What I really like about Instagram is the variety of sharing options it provides. You can share to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and Foursquare, and you can tag your posts with both a title and location. Your share settings will be remembered for next time, but you can mix and match as you please with each post. Other users can both comment on and like your photos in Instagram, which really reinforces the social aspect of the app.

I also really like the Popular section, where you can view a sampling of photos from users you don’t necessarily follow that other users are really digging. Contact discovery tools that let you find friends from your on-device contact list, Facebook or Twitter friends round out the package.

A warning: if you absolutely can’t stand grungified images created with lomo-style filters, you won’t enjoy using Instagram. Sure, you could share your own images undoctored, but virtually everyone else will be using those effects, no matter what your personal preference.

Burstn

This is a very recent addition to the field. As with Instagram, you can like and comment on pictures, and view photos that are popular even from users you don’t follow. But it isn’t a carbon copy, and that’s a good thing.

Burstn lacks the photo filters that are Instagram’s bread and butter, which makes the appeal of the app quite different. For instance, I like looking at the photos from people I don’t know in Instagram more, since they tend to be somewhat artsy shots just shared for their aesthetic merits. With Burstn, the photos tend to be much more like an actual photo album shared with friends, since they maintain their original aspect ratio and usually depict either a person or a place with a little more of a narrative edge. Of course, you can also edit your photos with an outside app first, then share them with Burstn.

Like Instagram, Burstn also lets you mine your Twitter and Facebook contacts for friends, and share to those services. Unlike Instagram, though, Burstn doesn’t provide Flickr, Tumblr and Foursquare sharing. You also can’t check-in to a location when posting, though your images are geo-tagged when taken with your iPhone’s camera.

Bottom line: Though Burstn doesn’t have quite the reach of Instagram, it’s a nice alternative if you prefer unfiltered images and don’t have extensive sharing needs. Also, the app icon is really cool.

Path

Path is about even with Instagram in terms of buzz lately. It’s the new photo sharing app that limits you to just 50 connections. Hey, if Twitter hit it big with constraint (140 characters), why not extend the concept and see if it works?

Like Burstn, Path wants you to share your photos in their original form, without filters. It doesn’t even let you upload images from your on-device library, instead providing access exclusively to the iPhone’s camera, which makes sense for the intimate feel of photos shared among close friends Path is going for.

That intimacy comes at a price. There are no popular or public images to browse with Path. You’re limited to seeing what you and your up to 50 friends have taken. Even in the “Explore” tab, where I thought I might have access to other photos, you only get to see pictures you and your friends have taken, though they are displayed on a map, which is a pretty neat feature.

True to its aim of keeping your network close, Path doesn’t offer much in the way of contact discovery tools. Basically, it searches your address book, or lets you add people by email address. I think that’s appropriate, given the intent of the app.

My biggest complaint with Path is the inability to comment on or offer feedback on other’s posted pictures. I understand that with only 50 contacts, you probably know these people enough to just speak to them, but then why bother with a social network at all? Why not just show them the picture on your smartphone the next time you see them, or post to Facebook where they can comment and view on a mobile device?

Path works best for those super-concerned with privacy, and who have an interest in building and maintaining more of a local network thanks to its map-based Explore feature.

picplz

This new kid feels a lot like Instagram and Burstn, and comes complete with Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare sharing options, although it doesn’t do Flickr or Tumblr. Unlike other apps, it provides an option to automatically follow your Facebook contacts, which is a nice time-saver.

You can like and comment on any picture, and view both images that are in your network or just “interesting” picks from across the picplz userbase. Stats junkies will love that you can also see how many views any photo has received, including your own and any posted by any other user. picplz also uses these stats to organize photos by popularity, a viewing option when you zoom in on any user profile.

picplz also mirrors Instagram in that it allows you to use filters on your photos. There’s a smaller selection of choices, but the app maintains the original aspect ratio of your photo and doesn’t add a border, so it may be a nice middle ground for people who want to spruce up their images a bit, but don’t like Instagram’s heavy-handed approach. You can also choose an image from your device’s photo library if you’d rather do that.

Of all the apps, picplz has the least appealing user interface. It seems almost like a very basic bottom menu bar overlaid on a web app in terms of how it loads and behaves. It seems much slower to respond to any command than a native iOS app should be.

However, if it’s a popularity contest you’re after, picplz fits the bill. The ability to see both likes and the number of photo views makes this the perfect app for the traffic-obsessed, and positions pretty much directly opposite Path on the photo sharing app spectrum.

Conclusion

So there you have it: four fine contenders to scratch your mobile photo-sharing needs. Each has its strong points and its downsides, but for my money, either Instagram or Burstn are best suited to the task, depending on whether you fall into the pro- or anti-filter camp. Let us know your favorite in the comments.

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  1. Instagram is the only camera app I use these days. The filters are excellent and simple to apply and the square format reminds me of my old Kodak Instamatic shooting 126 cartridge film. It is the only one here who’s sharing options cover the holy triumvirate of Twitter, Flickr, and facebook. And iPhone 4 only does keep the riff-raff out even better than Path’s attempt at exclusivity.

  2. Instagram wins hands down. The rumored million users in weeks of launch can’t be wrong!! I use daily, choosing Twitter, Flickr, tumblr and Facebook feeds as appropriate or wanted. Foursquare is there too but I’ve stopped using it as the location feature in instagram is just as good.

  3. I never signed up for Flickr or other photo sharing sites. Recently I started using burstn and found it gradually became addictive. There’s something compelling about scrolling through so many different people’s photographs as they appear in burstn’s timeline as well as contributing your own.

    I started thinking about seeing all those different photographs side-by-side over time and started to experiment with photo collages – probably not what burstn was designed for- but uploading works fine, and their system seems to handle all the weird photo sizes I throw at it.

    It’s been a lot of fun.

  4. @instagram FTW!

  5. I am not sure if this article was based on the newer Burstn version of their app coming to the app store any moment now. I got a sneak peak and it has been jacked up with a lot of new features.
    It is interesting watching pictures come in from all over the world on the main web-site. Even some nice panorama shots come out great.

  6. My favorite (which you didn’t mention), is “BestCamera”, an iPhone only app. In addition to multiple filter that can be stacked, it also allows export to facebook, flickr, twitter and email.

  7. Interesting review but I don’t see any mention of the terms and conditions of the various apps. I know a lot of pro photographers are concerned about ‘rights grabs’ in which anything you post can be taken and used commercially by anyone else. It would be interesting to know if any of these apps address this problem.

  8. Russell Heimlich Saturday, November 27, 2010

    PixelPipe is my favorite because rather than joining a new network to keep tabs on you can use PixelPipe to send your photos or videos to practically any other social site out there. All with one upload instead of several more. It’s awesome to send a photo out to Picasa, Flickr, Facebook and others where all of my friends really are and they can comment on them there.

  9. Malcolm Bastien Sunday, November 28, 2010

    So I’m friends with one of the developers of Burstn, though I want to say that Burstn and Path are the two most interesting of the apps. The reason is that each lets me not worry about particular things when taking and sharing photos.

    Path lets me take and share photos in a super close/social way that no one has ever done before. Letting me associate who I’m connected with on Path and making it automatic that only my closest friends and family will see those photos and take part with me on that system makes me connect with the app more, and removes the twitter/noise problem that many platforms have.

    Burstn on the other hand lets me do what I actually want to do, in that it turns taking photos into sharing photos. With Burstn, those two are it’s the same thing.

    For now I actually much prefer to not see filters.

    Filters, just like black and white photography work best in moderation and when applied properly. When I look at people’s photos from Instagram, it looks like puke.

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