Mobile Photo Editing 101: Which App is the Best- VSCO or Lightroom?

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Although there are literally hundreds of photo editing apps for iOS, the two apps that I tend to turn back to time and time again are VSCO Cam and Lightroom Mobile. As a photographer, I like to have as much control over my image as possible and although the recent refining improvements that Instagram has implemented do a pretty good job, it cannot compare to either of these apps.

Although this technically could be a head to head comparison of the apps to see which one is “better,” there is honestly no way to determine that. Both VSCO Cam and Lightroom share the ability to adjust things like temperature, exposure, shadows, highlights, sharpening, etc, they have very very distinct differences.

For starters, VSCO Cam is more meant for the mobile photographer that is looking for a quick, pleasing edit that can honestly be accomplished by many of the apps included filters (as well as others than can be purchased) and just may want to tweak a couple things here and there. Lightroom on the other is much more intensive and is surprisingly similar to the capabilities that one would have in the desktop version including clarity (midtone contrast) adjustments, a ton curve, precise vignetting controls, and more.

For this post, I am going to edit the same exact image in both applications and utilize each apps tools to create what I feel is the best version of that image that the application can help create.

Here is the image that we will be using today that I snapped at a local farmer’s market here in Houston, TX.


At first glance, you can see that there are some blown highlights as well as dark areas that can be played with to try and give an otherwise stale image some character.

VSCO Cam Edit Process
I am going to start this edit by choosing one of the available filters as I feel that the edits come out a little better when you have the foundation of the filter to work with.

Filter F2 is my personal favorite in VSCO Cam because I love how the fade in the shadows really gives some mood to whatever color may be adjacent and gives it the grungy vintage feel that fans of VSCO have come to love.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Image after applying the F2 filter

As you can see, the filter really changed the image for the better out of the box and for a lot of people, this would be ready to go, but we have a little more work to do.

VSCO Cam – Settings

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

My settings for this image are as follows, if I did not list a setting, it is because I did not feel that it was necessary to utilize that particular tool.
Final Image after making the adjustments listed below

Exposure = -2
The image itself was a little too bright and over exposed in certain areas for my liking so I knocked the exposure down just a couple notches to try and bring a little more tonal range into the image visually.

Contrast = + 2
Since you do not have the fine control of a tone curve in VSCO Cam as you would in Lightroom Mobile, contrast is the only setting that can be adjusted to try and give some pop to your image

Sharpen = + 5
Sharpening, self explanatory right?

Saturation = + 1
Didn’t want to bump this up too too high but a little more vivid color was definitely needed.

Highlights Save = + 12
This setting needed to be maxed out for various reasons but the main one being the completely blown out windows in the image. Although this was not able to save the tones entirely, it did a decent enough job to improve the image.

Temperature = + 3
Due to iOS’s annoying white balance inconsistencies, the room looked much more blue than it actually was that sunny morning so I added a little warmth by bumping this setting up a few notches.

Vignette = + 4
There was no technical need for this adjustment but I feel like it helped focus the composition on the vanishing point in the dead center of the image.

I am pretty happy with this edit for the fact that really reaffirmed the grungy feel of the space, but let’s bring it over into Lightroom and see if we can maybe improve on that a little more.

Lightroom Mobile Edit Process

When it comes to Lightroom Mobile, there are no filters, yes there are presets that some could be considered filters, just not in the traditional context of mobile photo editing applications in my mind.

When you first get into Lightroom, you must first import the image into a collection or album before you can get to editing. This process can be confusing and honestly pretty annoying but if you have it set to auto add from camera roll you are good to go.

You will be immediately brought to 3 major categories of editing tools, crop, presets, & adjust. I am not going to discuss the crop and presets options in this article for the simple fact that they are pretty much the same in any photo editing app you’ve ever used. So let’s dig in on the adjust options.

There are 4 subcategories of the adjust panel, each of which have their own sub tools as listed below.

Black & White, White Balance, Temperature, Tint, Auto Tone, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation

Tone Curve
This is a graphical tone curve that you can adjust by holding and dragging however you have the options to manually adjust highlights, lights, darks, and shadows as well.

This panel is nearly identical setting wise to the desktop version of Lightroom and lets you adjust the amount, midpoint, feature, roundness, style, and highlights.

Color & Black and White
Personally, this is my favorite aspect of the whole edit for the simple fact that you can control individual color ranges just as you would on the desktop version with the ability to adjust each color’s saturation, luminance, and hue or just make a custom defined black and white conversion.

Final Image After Lightroom Edits

It is not hard to tell that this edit is much more like something you would see from a desktop software that doesn’t rely on filters or vintage looks to edit images. The darkness of the image combined with the bright highlights of the product and tables gives a much grimacing view of the same happy local farmer’s market from the VSCO image. Check out the specific adjustments below broken down by their respective category.


White Balance = Auto
There wasn’t a huge change but a much more noticeably accurate change than expected. The image was warmed just enough to match the environment in the market that day.

Exposure = – 0.81EV
Lightroom measures exposure in EV just as you would see it on any desktop editing program and darkening the image a little less than a full stop gave me the look I was going for.

Contrast = + 30
The exposure adjustment and tone curve will take care of this problem mostly so only a small increase was required.

Highlights = – 100
Just as with VSCO Cam, I had to use the maximum amount available to try and bring some detail back into the highlights, the result was pretty much the same.

Shadows = + 44
Although I did not touch the shadows in VSCO, the exposure adjustment required me to bring the shadows up just a bit to get some detail in those dark areas.

Clarity = + 75
Some people hate how clarity adjustments look, I am personally not one of those people and applied a hefty amount on this one to get the look I was going for.

Tone Curve
I used the graphical curve to edit this image but the exact manual settings are as follows:

High = + 22
Lights = + 29
Darks = + 12
Shadows = – 27
Vignette = – 23

No additional settings were changed because I really just needed a little darkening of the edges.

Color = Individual Luminance Adjustments
I cannot provide the manual inputs for this since you basically drag a color left to darken it and right to brighten it up but I basically bumped up red, yellow, and green to the right while dropping blue slightly to the left to account for the sky lights in the image.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset grant4
Comparing the final two images, I personally prefer the Lightroom version as it is a little more edgy and “realistic” as compared to the vintage VSCO edit but I really love how both came out.

Keep in mind that VSCO Cam itself is free however you do have to pay for any collections of filters that you may want to use. Lightroom on the other hand requires a Creative Cloud subscription so technically it is much more expensive however if you are paying for a CC membership, you are most likely not using it for Lightroom Mobile on its own.


This guest blog post was written by Grant Tucker. Grant Tucker is a Social Media Manager and Freelance Commercial Photographer based in Houston, TX that has worked with the likes of NIKE, Under Armour, Procter & Gamble and many more. Check out his portfolio, SCKNOWS and be sure to follow him on Instagram @SCKNOWS.



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