Photo App VSCO Cam Wants To Be A Museum Not Social A Network

It’s easy to want to compare mobile photo apps, but if Instagram is mainly about sharing, then VSCO Cam is about editing. Instead of the two mobile photo apps competing head on for users, VSCO has focused on the product the app is outputting. “We believe the devil is in the details–that the details are where quality is found,” says VSCO co-founder and CEO Joel Flory. “But, as a creative photography company, we ask ourselves the question ‘Does this honor the art and artist above all?’”

Beyond the twenty something updates and improvements in the new version of the app, the biggest addition is the implementation of the company’s publishing platform, VSCO Grid. With version 3.0 the company is not just adding social in a nontraditional way, it’s also solidifying its stance on how they think a startup should be run.

“The number one request since we launched VSCO Grid was the ability to follow other photographers,” says Flory. “As humans, we are inherently ‘social’, but VSCO Grid is not, nor will ever be a social network. You’ll notice there are no follower counts, no likes, no comments. We like the metaphor of a physical art museum. You would never walk into a exhibition and scribble comments or smiley faces next to a piece of artwork. It’s photography for the sake of photography, without the pressure to create images for the sake of gaining followers. We see the ability to follow photographers’ work as an ever-changing art gallery, not a social network.”

Also part of the new, 3.0, version of VSCO Cam, the company was trying to improve the finer details, important to its enthusiast users. “With the new version we took a step back and listened to the people who use our tools,” says Flory. “We literally read every tweet, post and email people send, then use that feedback to improve things.”

Co-founder and CCO Greg Lutze adds “Hopefully, people can see that we care about what we do, that we are inherently interested in building things that work well for creatives. We take great pains in paying attention to pixels, to kerning, to all those important little elements that create a polished finished product. We come from creative backgrounds (photography, graphic design, industrial design, etc.) and those things matter to us.”

“A lot of tech companies operate with a ‘fail fast!’ mentality” says Lutze. “We are the exact opposite. All our decisions are carefully considered. We are an unfunded, independent company so we have no wiggle room for poor decisions. If we are going to put our name on it, it is going to be the best thing we can possibly create.”

What Makes VSCO So Good?

Before the Cam app, VSCO originally made–and still very much does–a product called Film. The software is presets and camera profiles for higher end software such as Lightroom and Photoshop which lets you mimic the effects of using different cameras and different types of film. In addition to easing any transition to digital photographers might have, the software also gives creatives a host of new tools for their job.

There’s lot of praise around the web for Film and the plugins the product offers. In addition to color consistency and other technical features, it gets a lot of credit for streamlining photographers workflows.

Fast forward to building VSCO Cam, the app has present some technical challenges and limitations that come along with mobile devices. Getting the same quality effects and speed on iOS and Android as on a desktop can be difficult. In its push to produce the best photos, version 3.0 of the Cam app continues to iron out some of those challenges.

Flory wouldn’t disclose the technical details of the company’s image processing that were addressed, but did say, “We’ve taken what we learned in making VSCO Film and applied it to our image processing in VSCO Cam.”

Mobile Apps

Mobile photo apps like VSCO and Instagram, or even Snapseed–another mobile photography app that Google snapped up–all overlap, but the reality is that there’s room for them all. It almost doesn’t matter if one is significantly better, if all the apps are able to spark a new creativity in someone that wasn’t there before.

These mobile apps aren’t only serving the purpose of enhancing lackluster camera phone pictures, they’re increasing use cases. It becomes more gratifying to take a picture with a phone, immediately edit it, and share it, than it is to take a better picture with a dedicated camera that will sit dormant much longer.

These apps like VSCO, Instagram, Snapseed, and others are what’s killing the standalone camera.


It’s encouraging to see a company that’s sweating the detailing being rewarded for doing so. In addition to the rise in popularity recently, VSCO Cam was also 2013 runner up for Apple’s App of the year.

While most companies are chasing users, VSCO chases quality which will attract users. The path is long and difficult, but very much appreciated by creatives looking for an app with their same standards.

VSCO has also just published what it calls its manifesto about the Grid service. It reiterates what Flory and Lutze told me, that the company isn’t interested in creating all of this for the sake of popularity.

“We want to expose quality work to a larger audience,” says Flory. “VSCO Grid encourages the discovery of amazing artists around the world. It’s not a popularity contest based on followers or likes, it is a community based on great work from anyone, anywhere.”


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