VSCO Cam iOS App Makes Pro Pics a Reality for the Rest of Us

By Michael Carney , written on April 30, 2012

From The News Desk

“For Us By Us” is the underlying message behind the popular urban fashion brand FUBU. VSCO Cam, the newest pro photography app to hit the iOS App Store, has the same type of authenticity at its core. It is by creatives, for creatives.

VSCO (pronounced “visco”), which stands for Visual Supply Co., is a company created by professional photographers and designers. The two-year-old brand made a name for itself with its extremely popular film emulation plugin VSCO Film for Lightroom, Camera Raw and Aperture. Its latest product is a slick iOS app that makes the process of shooting and editing professional quality mobile photos surprisingly easy.

VSCO Cam debuted last Thursday and quickly shot to the number one camera app and the seventh most popular paid app overall for iOS. It has since settled as the number two camera app behind Camera+ and the 42nd most popular Paid App overall. The app currently costs $0.99, although the website calls this a limited time introductory price.

Despite this popularity, VSCO Cam actually received surprisingly little fanfare among the tech community. Instead, it was the professional photography and wedding and event industry crowds that propelled its rise. VSCO featured on its website the NYC fashion shoot of a well-known commercial photographer, Collin Hughes, which was completed entirely with an iPhone and VSCO Cam. The results were stunning!

I first came across the app when my girlfriend, a wedding planner herself, called to tell me that her social networking feeds were blowing up over it. I was immediately curious what it takes to convince pro photographers to get excited about a mobile photography app.

According to co-founder Joel Flory, it seems that the key is in balancing simplicity with power. “Camera+ and the other pro apps are too much,” Flory says. “People don’t want to spend 30 minutes editing a single photograph on their smartphone. And Instagram and similar filter apps don’t provide enough control.”

VSCO Cam seems to find a happy medium by not only offering ten predefined filters, three black and white and seven color, but also allowing further manual control after they’ve been applied. The app allows users to adjust exposure, fill, contrast, temperature, white balance, saturation, and highlights as well as add grain and vignettes. The real key though is that each element has only five possible values or degrees, normal or zero, plus one, plus two, minus one and minus two. That’s it. “Keep It Simple Stupid” if I’ve ever seen it.

Each photo masterpiece can be shared in-app through the usual social media suspects, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as email. More importantly, unlike Instagram, the app supports full resolution exports.

On the downside, VSCO Cam’s user interface, although beautiful, is a bit tough to grasp at first glance. This is nothing that a few minutes poking around can’t solve and some of its competitors certainly suffer the same plight, but for an otherwise praiseworthy product it’s a bit of a letdown. Also, VSCO Cam shockingly doesn’t support volume-button shutter control after years of user feedback forced its adoption by Apple. For anyone who likes to shoot one handed, this is really a must feature.

Wedding photographer Bobby Earle didn’t seem bothered by either of these issues, saying in a blog post about the release:

VSCO CAM is out!!! I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this! It’s 99 cents and I can tell you without even a hint of exaggeration that I would gladly pay $50 for it….The filters are absolutely insane. Instagram looks like cheap, overprocessing in comparison to VSCO — which can look like it was shot on a DSLR and edited in Lightroom….I’ve been asked if some of these are DSLR photos loaded into VSCO Cam.  Every one of these were taken on my iPhone 4S.
The feature-rich camera app category is a pretty crowded field. VSCO laid out some seriously ambitious goals for itself including, “changing the perception of camera phone photography from a toy or gimmick to a legitimate photography tool." Looking at its version 1.0 offering and considering the accomplishments of the team behind the product, I inclined to predict that VSCO Cam continues challenging the top apps in its category.

This mobile app isn’t even the only new project to keep an eye on at VSCO. The company has been teasing its upcoming website and portfolio platform VSCO Sites, which is currently in private beta. Flory didn’t hold back, saying “We are going to replace Wordpress and Tumbler for creatives.” If the gorgeous screenshots posted are a true indication of the final product, it could make a significant dent in the category.

VSCO is actually Flory’s second startup. He was on the founding team of the online asset management Varda previously. He and his co-founders have managed to keep VSCO “100 percent client funded” by virtue of a sold out a photography workshop they hosted last spring which was headlined by several of the world’s best wedding photographers and bloggers and was lucrative enough to seed the new venture. The company is currently operating profitably and is not actively seeking to raise outside capital.

A few days ago I had never heard of Visual Supply Co. Now I own its first two products and would gladly pay for its third. That’s enough to place this company on my list of those worth keeping an eye on.