Photography website 500px has always straddled the line between being a portfolio service, a competitor to Flickr, and a marketplace. It's where photographers go to exhibit their work and maybe make a few bucks in the meantime. It's worked, too — the 500px community has grown to more than 6 million users since 2009. But today the company is releasing a completely redesigned iPhone app meant to attract new users with a much more modern, social experience.
The new 500px app works very much like Instagram. There's a main feed for viewing, commenting on, and favoriting photos from the people you follow, and a section for shooting and editing your own. There's a discovery section where you can search for tags and users, as well as view popular photos sorted into various categories. Rounding out the app are sections for notifications and your profile.
The new app works just like Instagram
Where 500px sets itself apart from Instagram is that the app is much more flexible. For one, you're not locked in to only posting square images. From the main feed you can view the EXIF data of any photo (like shutter speed, aperture, and which camera it was taken with) and — if it was edited with VSCO Cam — see which filter was used. And you can examine the details of every picture with a simple pinch and zoom.
"We’ve had a reputation of very good photography and high-quality photos, and we’re trying to keep up with that," says David Charlec, 500px's head of mobile products. Over the years, that reputation made 500px a destination for photographers who are looking to exhibit and sell their work. (The company recently secured $13 million investment to grow this part of its business.) The 500px website is as much of a marketplace as it is a social network, and visitors can buy images directly from photographers — a feature will make it into the mobile app eventually, according to Charlec.
The new 500px app also integrates with Adobe Lightroom, allowing access to Adobe's Creative Cloud storage and providing some powerful mobile editing. On top of basic tools, there is a wide range of filters (called "presets" here) and a few unique features like noise reduction and a perspective tool. None of it will stop people from using other mobile photo editing apps like VSCO Cam or Darkroom, but 500px is completely capable of being the only app you use from capture to publish.
But as a social network for photography, 500px has a chance to carve out some space thanks to the way it handles images. While Instagram recently bumped its max resolution to 1080p, images sometimes still look compressed in the app and on the Instagram website. With 500px, this isn't a problem. All the images that I edited and uploaded on my phone didn't look compressed on the web, and high-resolution images uploaded from my laptop looked great when I pinched-and-zoomed around them on my phone.
The new 500px is built for high resolutions
500px does this by storing the highest-resolution version of your photo, no matter where you upload it from, and then serving up a copy that's appropriately compressed for whatever you're viewing it on. "We’ve built a lot of IP around automatic resizers," says CEO Andy Yang. "It’s our secret sauce."
"It’s a nightmare for our engineers," Charlec adds.
Social networks for photography have finally caught on, and Flickr is no longer the only option. There are growing pains, though. Instagram dominates the mobile world, but the web version is severely handcuffed. Websites like Exposure and VSCO are so stylish they can be used as professional portfolios, but their social capabilities are limited. The redesigned 500px offers the best of both worlds by putting a very social experience in front of a deep archive of high-quality images and the community of photographers behind them.
The new version of 500px is available today on the App Store for free. An updated Android version is scheduled for later this year.