TechCrunch Primer: A Crash Course In Cool Camera Apps

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Let’s face it — there are too many camera and photo sharing apps out there, and not enough time in the day to give each one of them a try. If you’ve been mulling over which camera app deserves your love and affection, or just have no earthly idea where to start, take a gander below at some of your best options for shooting and sharing your life on the go.

For the socialites:

Instagram

Does this thing really need an introduction? Instagram took concept of applying artsy filters (the app has 16 of them), and combined it with a strong social element to become the mobile photo sharing service to beat. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has something like 27 million users at last glance — there’s a good chance your friends are already onboard.

Aside from its famed filters, Instagram also packs a slew of other features — dead simple tilt-shift functionality, one-touch tweaks for lighting and exposure, and so on. Instagram excels at streamlining sharing process, as it’s a snap to push photos to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous, Flickr, and more. If you want to spruce up your shots and get sharing as quickly and painlessly as possibly, Instagram sets the bar pretty damned high.

Available on: iOS (Free)
Sample Photos: Instagre.at

StreamZoo

StreamZoo pegs itself as something of a photo-social game, and if the name wasn’t a tip-off, StreamZoo’s forte is letting people create and join photostreams by affixing hashtags to their uploaded photos. The StreamZoo community is a pretty robust one too, so it’s easy enough to find photostreams of all kinds — I’m a fan of the #robots stream myself, but the more mainstream stuff is easily found in the trending tab.

As far as the game aspect goes, users gain points every time they upload a photo, not to mention every time another user likes or comments on the image. StreamZoo doesn’t skimp on the effects either — it sports a handful of crop modes, 14 filters, plenty of borders, and thoughtful slider controls for hue, saturation, etc. And hey, if you’re tired of your photos only living in your photostreams, you can post them to Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Available on: iOS, Android (Free)
Sample Photos: #Photography Photostream

For the tinkerers:

Camera+

Camera+ first hit the scene back in 2010, and it frankly blew the iPhone’s stock Camera.app out of the water. The app trades some of the sheer speed seen in apps like Instagram for much more granular control over the mobile photography experience. Multiple drive modes lets you switch between taking single and multiple shots at once, and a smart shutter option that snaps a photo when the phone is most stable. Throw in a total of 27 color effects and filters along with 16 preloaded scene modes, and it’s a veritable steal at $.99.

For all of the depth that Camera+ affords its users, it manages to lay everything out in a thoughtful way that does a great job of minimizing confusion. Unlike Instagram or StreamZoo though, Camera+ doesn’t come with its own sharing platform — you can post your handsomely tweaked images to Facebook, Twitter, and yes, Instagram straight from the app. Plus, a newly-released API means some of your favorite apps (think WordPress, Tweetbot) now have Camera+ support baked right into it.

Available on: iOS ($.99)
Sample Photos: Camera+ Flickr Pool

Vignette:

The first thing you notice Vignette is that it’s not very flashy — there’s little visual flair to be found here. What Vignette is, on the other hand, is fast and feature-packed, though you’ll need a bit of patience to really get the most out of it. By default, the app is set to snap a shot when you tap on the screen, but pressing and holding the screen brings up a radial menu that lets you refocus or bring up the rest of the app’s myriad options.

That’s where the magic happens — Vignette offers a truly impressive level of control, allowing users to mix and match over 70 photo effects, 56 frames, not to mention support for time-lapse shooting, composition guides, and more. Hell, if you’re really into niche use-cases, Vignette lets users fire up their Sony Ericsson LiveView gadget for use as a remote shutter. The sheer depth of options may not be for everyone, but some really excellent photos can be had if you’re willing to take a deep dive.

Available on: Android ($3.99)
Sample Photos: Vignette for Android Flickr Page

For the consistently witty:

Blurtt

When I first started playing with Blurtt, one comparison immediately sprung to mind — “It’s like being on Reddit!” I kid, I kid, but Blurtt definitely takes a familiar approach to mobile photo sharing — any photo you upload (whether you took it yourself or grabbed it from the web) with Blurtt goes live with a caption, so you’d better make you’re nice and witty before hitting the submit button.

That’s really it though — right now, there’s no way to edit or enhance the photos other than with your sparkling wit, though you can change your caption’s font, size, and location on the image. Our own John Biggs spoke with Blurtt founder Jeanette Cajide, who fancies the service as more for self expression than just sharing photos, but I’ll leave that call up to you. The exact breakdown of the cool-to-crap ratio depends on your taste, but if mobile meme creation is your thing, it may be the way to go.

Available on: iOS (Free)
Sample Photos: 1, 2 (sorry, couldn’t resist)

For the wanderers:

Hipster

The name may make you bristle, but Hipster is cooler than the moniker lets on. Hipster’s big focus is taking your photos (which are made to look like postcards) and tying them to physical locations. It’s purely optional — users can swap the location caption for their own words, but these “visual check-ins” make Hipster an intriguing way to catch glimpses of other people’s lives.

From the app’s homescreen, it’s a snap to jump between viewing nearby and global postcards, as well as plot those postcards on a map. Hipster’s site allows you to drill down even further — punch in a favorite vacation spot or ancestral home country and see what the locals are up to. Hipster packs 14 different themes for your photos if you want to get artistic, but strangely, there’s no room for users to mix and match filters and caption types. That lack of customization can be a bummer when you compare it to other more tweak-friendly apps, but it’s not enough of a letdown to keep me from poring over far-flung photos.

(Disclosure: I suppose I technically work for AOL, who just recently acquired Hipster. Rest assured, I thought Hipster was cool way before that.)

Available on: iOS, Android (Free)
Sample Images: Newest Hipster postcards