Reasoning and Use Case
After years of simply storing my pictures locally, avoiding Facebook and its siblings for privacy issues, I suddenly wanted to actually share photos again.
My use case appears to be somewhat untypical. Most offerings are catered either to people who don’t care about their rights (Facebook & Co.) or professionals who want to earn a living from their photos and designs. I on the other hand don’t have much hope that anyone will buy my “works of art”. Thus, I also don’t want to spend a fortune showing it off. Nevertheless, I want my pictures to be mine, know they’re safe and displayed in a decent quality.
I have therefore done two things. I looked at the state of professional picture hosts. Here, I basically started by researching flickr alternatives. On the other hand, I looked at open source solutions that I could host myself. I will summarize those in another post.
I didn’t go very far with flickr. Rumor has it that the free version displays advertisements between your personal photos which I consider completely unacceptable. The Pro version costs 50 USD/year, gives you 1TB of data. They didn’t offer bulk downloading of your own photos in the past and I don’t think it has changed. Once I found out their competitors do, they were kind of out.
500px was the first and cheapest (25 USD/year for ultimate storage) alternative that came up on the flickr forums. I tried it out, but I wasn’t convinced. The Android app felt sluggish and they wouldn’t let me upload photos in bulk. This makes perfect sense since they are really geared towards professionals who mainly exhibit their most important pieces - if I understood that correctly.
My next stop was smugmug. At 40 USD/year + tax, it is still affordable (see http://www.smugmug.com/features), but already approaches the upper end of what I’m willing to spend.
However, I found the overall offering rather appealing. The Android app worked straight away. It took me less than two minutes to upload a couple of pictures from QuickPic (great free app btw).
I received a sub-domain from them and my “site” was live and looked more or less like I wanted it from the beginning.
When I finally found that they would let me download pictures in bulk, they really raised the bar.
Although, I kind of liked smugmug already, I decided to give zenfolio a go as well. I was somewhat influenced by this professional explaining his switching back in 2012: http://blog.ryanrodrickbeiler.com/2012/09/02/switching-from-smugmug-to-zenfolio-why-and-how/
He’s mainly talking about upload issues that smugmug claims to have resolved since then and the price hike of the business account. I wouldn’t know yet (only did light testing), but I presume that my use case is way lighter than his and I’m certainly not too bothered by the cost of the premium offerings. I’m more bothered that the first unlimited option they have is at 60 USD/year which is the highest in the field.
I noticed quickly that they also offer bulk download for pictures. Uploading worked well, both from Android and from my Windows machine. My main grief stems from the design of the page that went live for me. I could not figure out in a reasonable amount of time how to remove their demo galleries from the sidebar and put my own galleries there. After a while, I gave up.
zenfolio and smugmug stand out because they can be considered backup options with the bulk download they offer. All the companies I tested send followup emails. I perceived the amount I received from 500px and zenfolio as significantly higher than smugmug however. Smugmug was the only one where I really had my gallery up and running and felt comfortable throughout the process.
Summary of the day therefore: If I were to spend money for photo hosting, I’d give it to smugmug.
Let me know if I missed an obvious competitor!