Bonnie Cha

Oh, Snap! Flickr Takes on Instagram.

You probably know someone who does it. I’m talking about the friend who can’t start dinner without taking a picture of it first. Or the family member agonizing over which Instagram filter to use before uploading his 100th picture of last night’s sunset.

For better or worse, apps like Instagram have made sharing with photos easier than ever by allowing you to do it right from your smartphone. But this week I took a look at a new challenger, Yahoo’s Flickr. You might know Flickr best as a Web service, but Yahoo is making a push in the mobile space, and recently released a major update to its mobile app that puts it more on par with Instagram.

Among the big changes to Flickr is the addition of filters. These allow you to apply various effects to your photos to give them an artsy look. You can also now share those images from this app to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Previously, it only offered limited sharing to Twitter and Flickr contacts.

Both filters and social integration have long been available on Instagram, but Flickr couples them with more advanced editing features. It’s a solid and powerful photo-sharing app, particularly for more serious photographers and current Flickr members. But casual users might find Instagram’s simpler approach more appealing.

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Flickr is free, and is available for iOS and Android devices, but only the iPhone app has been updated with all the new features. Yahoo says an iPad-optimized version and Android app are in the works.

I tested it on the iPhone 4, and there are many aspects of the app I like. But two things stood out in particular: The quantity of tools it gives the photographer, and the ease with which you can view a friend’s entire collection of photos.

To upload photos, you can either take a picture right from the app using your smartphone’s camera, or select an existing image from the photo gallery. Afterward, you can apply one of 15 different filters (all named after animals) to enhance the colors in a photo or give them a retro look.

I had fun with the filters, but if you’re more of a purist, you can turn them off in the settings menu.

Perhaps more useful is Flickr’s set of editing features. There are controls to adjust contrast, saturation and brightness. You even get tools to minimize red-eye, whiten teeth and eliminate blemishes. Instagram only offers the ability to rotate an image, add borders, adjust brightness and change focus.

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I found the tools handy for cleaning up my camera-phone pictures. For example, after adjusting the sharpness, I could see more details like individual tree leaves in a landscape photo.

I definitely spent more time editing my images on Flickr than I did on Instagram. If you’re simply interested in quickly sharing a photo, or you’re not too concerned with making that lemon tart you had for dessert look like a piece of art, Flickr might be too much.

A big advantage to Flickr is that you’re not forced to crop your picture into a square image, as you are with Instagram. There have been numerous times, particularly with group shots, where I wasn’t able to use a photo in Instagram simply because it didn’t fit within the square frame.

When you’re done editing, you can add tags, titles and description and location information, and then share photos via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or email. Images are posted in their original size, and they also show up on your profile page within the app and on your Flickr Web account.

I liked that, from my profile page, I could sort my photos in a list view, quickly see how many comments a photo received, and how many people viewed a photo or added it to their favorite list. With Instagram, you have to click on each individual image to see likes and comments.

As much as I like sharing my own photos, I also love checking out what my friends are up to. To add contacts, you can connect to your phone’s address book, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail or Yahoo accounts to see which of your friends are using the Flickr app. There’s also an Explore page where you can view popular photos or images from other Flickr community members in your area.

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The Photostream section of the app lets you view all of your contacts’ images. You can scroll vertically to see recent posts, just like with Instagram. But what’s nice is that each person’s photos are organized in a filmstrip-like format, so you can also swipe horizontally to see someone’s entire photo album.

I found this a quick and easy way to check out a friend’s photo set without having to leave the current screen. With Instagram, you either have to continually scroll down the screen to look for previous photos, or tap on a user’s name to access their entire album from their profile page.

Tapping on any photo will bring up a larger version, and there you can add it to your “Favorite” list or leave a comment. There’s also a little information icon at the top right of the screen that will surface such details as what kind of camera was used, exposure and aperture settings, ISO speed and other extra details. This information might be of interest to you if you’re into photography, but it is probably more than most people need to know.

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Privacy and ownership of photos are big issues with these photo-sharing apps. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, recently took some heat after updating its terms of service to make it sound like the company could sell your photos for advertisements without compensation. Instagram has since backtracked and reiterated that users retain ownership rights of their photos.

Flickr’s terms of service state that each member maintains ownership rights to their photos. You can also apply privacy settings for each image or an entire set of photos.

In many ways, Flickr feels like a grown-up version of Instagram. Some of the features will be more than what people need. But those looking to be social while taking their photography to the next level will find what they need in Flickr.


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus