Instagram Superzoom records dramatic close-up videos

Instagram’s newest feature lets you make your own “Dramatic Chipmunk”-style video by shooting a stuttered zoom-in, including cinematic sound effects, with a single tap. Superzoom is coming to Instagram Stories on iOS and Android today, alongside an array of spooky Halloween stickers and augmented reality masks.

Superzoom joins Instagram’s Boomerang GIFs, Hyperlapse time-lapse and Layout collages amongst its tool kit of extra camera effects. As Instagram battles Snapchat for users, and both now have AR masks, each is looking for new effects that will inspire creativity and tip the balance as people choose between the competing apps. You can watch our hands-on video below.

We tested Instagram’s Superzoom and found it easy to use and entertaining. You pick the front- or rear-facing camera, and the targeting reticle makes it simple to line up your shot. Instagram does the rest of the work with a three-stage zoom in with synced-up bold orchestral sound effects.

The videos last three seconds, but you can hold down the shutter button longer to extend them up to 15 seconds, lingering with a slow final zoom on your subject. It’s great for catching people candidly, or turning a selfie into something much more grandiose and hilarious. And Instagram confirms to me that special stabilization tech allows it to keep the frame steadier than you could do manually. You can post the videos to your Story, Instagram Direct or save them to your camera roll for posting to Instagram’s feed or elsewhere.

How did Instagram come up with Superzoom? “Our users,” product manager Jyoti Sood told us. “Time and time again, we have seen people using Instagram’s camera to zoom in on their friends to capture and create funny moments. We wanted to make it easier for them to do that in our camera while also offering a playful new touch with sound.”

Those users were probably taking inspiration from the classic dramatic chipmunk meme, but also Viners like Sarah Schauer, who popularized the comedic effect a few years ago.

It’d be great if there were more sound effects to choose from for Superzoom, and an Instagram spokesperson tells us “We would love to explore more options for music and sound, but we don’t have any concrete plans to share right now.” With just the one musical style that can get a bit old, I expect Superzoom to become a solid arrow in creators’ quivers, and it will surely be a fad for a few days. But it doesn’t have the same open-ended potential of Boomerang — which Snapchat has still yet to copy.

What about Instagram allowing licensed music soundtracks or a sound board for adding effects to your videos? Sood says, “We’re excited about the opportunity to add more sound and music options to Instagram’s camera so users can share even richer experiences with their friends. While we have no plans to share right now, we’ll be listening to our community for feedback on Superzoom to learn and improve.”

As for the Halloween features, you’ll see the expected array of pumpkin and candy corn stickers. The AR masks play with light in interesting ways, from putting a creepy flashlight on your face in the dark, shrouding you in fog or putting you on night-vision camera. There also are vampire fangs and zombie make-up selfie filters to play with. They’re all a bit more palatable and predictable than Snapchat’s Halloween masks that give you a floating banshee body, bloody ghoul strobe effect or some kind of beach Frankenstein look.

If Instagram can use the size, money and engineering resources to develop new features faster than Snapchat, it could escape from being pigeonholed as a copy cat. That could let it grow even faster, score more ad views and regain “cool” amongst teens.