Say Cheese: Social Photo Sharing App Throwdown

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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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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