Using VSCO Cam for iPad



Waking up this morning turned out to be a little bit like Christmas. At long last, VSCO Cam has a native iPad app.

Ever since I upgraded to the Olympus E-M10 earlier this year, the iPhone’s VSCO Cam app has become an excellent way to edit my photos when I’m traveling. It’s not exactly ideal compared to importing a batch of images onto my Mac and editing them in Lightroom. But for sharing one or two images here and there, it’s great.

For the past year, VSCO Cam has been the “missing” iPad app for me. When I travel, I often take just my iPad as my “main PC”. And I’ve always wished there was a way to use VSCO to edit my images on the iPad instead of on my phone. I think the VSCO photo filters are second to none. I use them in Lightroom on my Mac, and I have the VSCO Cam app on my iPhone’s first Home screen. Aside from my lenses and my own eye, VSCO is one of the most important aspects to my photography workflow and style.

All that said, I’ve written below some of my first impressions of the new VSCO Cam app for iPad and what’s good and bad about the app.

Also, I bought one of Apple’s Lighting to SD Card readers so I could directly import my photos to the iPad instead of using my Camera’s wi-fi connection. I’ll explain the process of each, but in short, the latter is quick and easy for one or two images at a time, while the former is better when importing many photos to the iPad.

The E-M10’s Wi-Fi connection and the Olympus iOS App

Though not exactly cumbersome, neither is it delightful to import more than just a few images to the iPad using the Olympus Wi-Fi connection and the Olympus iOS app. The process looks like this:

  1. Turn on Wi-Fi on the Olympus E-M10
  2. Launch the iPad Settings app and join the Olympus’ Wi-Fi network
  3. Open the Olympus Share app
  4. Chose to import photos
  5. Browse the photo viewer to find a photo you want to import
  6. Tap on that photo
  7. Wait for the photo to load
  8. Tap the “Share” Icon and chose to save to Camera Roll
  9. Once the photo has been saved to the Camera Roll, the Olympus app asks you if you want to turn off the camera. Tap no if you want to keep importing more photos.
  10. Go back to the photo viewing gallery and repeat steps 5-9 for each photo you want to ad.
  11. When you’re done, the photos you’ve imported will be in the Camera Roll as well as an album called “Olympus”.

I’ve been using this process on my iPhone since February of this year. It works great for weekend trips and times that I just want to import and share a few photos before I get back to my Mac.

Moreover, I’m grateful the E-M10 has Wi-Fi because the Lightning to SD Card dongle doesn’t work with the iPhone (no, really). And so the Olympus importing workflow is the only way to get photos directly from my camera onto my iPhone.

Long have I wished for an iPad-centric workflow. For one, the larger screen of the iPad far better suited to photo editing. Moreover, for extended trips, I’ve always wanted to be able to edit a dozen or more photographs and then send them out to the relevant friends and family. But importing them one at a time and then editing them on my iPhone just never felt appealing.

But, now there is VSCO Cam for the iPad. Combined with the Lighting to SD Card Camera Reader, my wish may have been granted. Is it all I ever hoped for? I don’t know — I’ll find out at Christmas when I go back to Colorado for the holidays and leave my Mac behind. But in the meantime, here are my first impressions of using the adapter to import photos and using VSCO Cam on the iPad to edit them. This is how I spent my afternoon.

The Lightning to SD Card Reader Dongle for iPad

How the Lightning to SD Card Reader works

Unsurprisingly simple, but not exactly quick.

  • When you plug in the adapter with an SD card in it, the Photos app instantly launches and you are taken to the Import tab.
  • The iPad then loads up all the images that on the card so you can preview their thumbnails. This took my iPad mini literally almost one second per photo. So, if you’ve got hundreds of images on the card, it will take several minutes before the Import tab is ready to go.
  • You can then tap on any of the photos you want to save to your iPad, and those thumbnails will get marked with a little blue checkmark circle.
  • The Import button is dangerously close to the Delete button, be careful when you are ready to import your selection.
  • You can then chose to import all the photos on the card, or just import the ones you’ve selected.
  • Once imported, you get the option of deleting those images from the SD card, which is nice. But I’ll keep them for now, thanks.

Something else I like about importing to the iPad from the SD Card reader is that iOS remembers which photos I’ve imported already. And so, if I’m importing just a few images now, next time I go to import photos from that same card, I won’t be forgetful about which ones I already brought in.

However, there are two things I don’t like about this process.

  • It loads the images from oldest to newest. So if you plug in the SD card to import a few images you just took, you have to wait for the whole card full of images to load before you can select the most recent images.
  • You can’t enlarge the images to view them in full-screen before importing — you have to import them based on the merit of their thumbnail view alone.

Once imported, the photos get saved in the default Camera Roll and photo stream albums. From there you launch the VSCO Cam app, and add them to your VSCO Cam Library at which point you can edit them on the iPad. Wouldn’t it be great if the VSCO Cam app could see the SD Card and I could add directly to my VSCO Library? Ah well

VSCO Cam on the iPad

VSCO Cam for iPad

The VSCO Cam app for iPad is great. Just like the iPhone app, VSCO on the iPad is free and the filters it comes with out of the box are fantastic. And the design of the app makes it feel like a first-class citizen on the iPad, as it should.

The layout of the iPad interface is different than the iPhone’s. The filter selection and editing tools are on the left and right sides, instead of on the bottom. Holding the iPad in landscape orientation with both hands is the best way. This way you can operate the app somewhat like a game — using your thumbs to navigate the controls on both the left and right sides as you move around the app, editing images, uploading them, etc.

With this update, your VSCO Cam Library now syncs across devices. You can tell if a photo is synced by the double-circle icon in an image’s top right corner.

And, not only do the images themselves sync, so too do the edits you’ve made. But! Not only do the edited images sync, it’s the non-destructive edits. Meaning, you can edit an image on your iPad, save it, sync it, open it up on the iPhone, and revert it back to the original version. Slick.

There are, however, a few things I’d love to see added to the app:

Right now, there is no way to apply the same edits to a batch of photos. Not only does the larger screen of the iPad make it more friendly to editing photos, it also makes it more of a go-to device for editing a lot of photos. The way I edit in Lightroom is that when I’ve got a batch of images all from the same event, I edit one to get just right and then I synchronize those edits to the group of photos. It’d be awesome to have that same functionality in VSCO Cam.

And, curiously, there is not yet a share extension for iOS 8. This is unfortunate. It means you can’t make VSCO edits to your photos without first importing them into the VSCO Cam Library. In my link to VSCO Cam this morning, I commented on the lack of the share extension saying that who knows if the omission of the share extension is due to technical hurdles or if it’s a philosophical move.

The VSCO Cam app is much more than just a photo editing app — it’s an entire photo platform. It’s clear that VSCO Cam wants to be your one-stop shop for all your mobile photography needs: from the camera, to the photo library, to the best editing software, to their own Instagram-esque publishing platform (Grid), and their own photo-centric blogging platform (Journal). What’s awesome is that VSCO Cam does all of these things with aplomb. Their in-app camera is excellent, their Library is easy to navigate and it syncs seamlessly, their editing tools are second to none, and their Grid and Journal platforms are polished and well used. But not everyone wants to use all of these tools. Some folks just want to snap a photo from their iPhone’s Lock screen, apply a one-tap filter, and then share it on Facebook. It would be unfortunate if VSCO Cam was holding back on their implementation of an iOS Extension for political and philosophical reason.

However, considering the fact VSCO Cam was highlighted during the iOS 8 introduction at WWDC, something tells me their missing extension share sheet is due to a technical hurdle, and eventually it’ll make its way out.

* * *

All in all, I’m so glad to have a native VSCO Cam app for my iPad. Though it’s not a life-changing revolution to my photography workflow, it certainly is something I’ll be using.

And now it has me curious if we’ll see VSCO Cam for Mac some day. I mean, we know that VSCO’s bread and butter is their Lightroom presets. Why not roll those presets into a stand-alone Mac app that they sell? And now that they’ve got the Library syncing, it’d be a piece of cake for the photos you take on your iPhone and/or iPad to sync to the VSCO Cam app on the Mac.