Monday, 28 November 2011

Picasa versus Flickr versus 500px versus SmugMug

I had a few people contact me wanting to discuss photo sharing sites... so I grabbed as much information from the web, from as many places as I could and came up with the following. I hope this helps...

OverviewWhether you enjoy simply sharing photos of your crazy Uncle or you’re a serious photographer that requires a professional level of features and capabilities, you will want to pick a service that best fits your budget and needs. There are many options available out there for you, but when you narrow your search down to what you believe to be the best fit for you; chances are that one or more of these three services will likely be among your considerations.

So, I wanted to take a look at each, including the options, applications and other add-ons services that they have to offer.

Flickr
Flickr is perhaps one of, if not the most popular photo storage and sharing services available right now. It is owned and operated by Yahoo!. The strength of the product comes from its community driven features, ease of use and flexibility to meet the needs of users ranging from beginner to professional. Flickr however, does require you to open a Yahoo! account.

Picasa
Picasa is a popular alternative to Flickr, offered by Google, requiring a Google account. Picasa’s strength lies with its storage and feature integration with other Google apps, affordable and flexible storage pricing, application simplicity and lesser known features. Picasa does have a community aspect but nothing as in-depth as you would use on Flickr.

500px
The quietly growing alternative; 500px sits in the middle of Flickr and SmugMug. Offering a free service that would satisfy any hobbyist yet has a paid service at $40 that offers the functionality that rivals the most sophisticated SmugMug.

The strengths on the product are the social aspect, yet one cannot ignore that the images are far superior to that found on flickr and Picasa. This makes the site the perfect choice for the growing photographer looking to be more inspired.

SmugMug
SmugMug is the lesser known service of these services. This is likely due to the fact that it isn’t an add-on service offered by a multi media giant such as Google and Yahoo!. Don’t let that discredit SmugMug though, as it’s an incredibly powerful service aimed at those a little more serious about their own photography. SmugMug does not focus on community as much as Picasa or Flickr, but instead concentrates their resources to provide very desirable features serious photographers simply won’t find with the other free services.

PricingI’ll go through each service’s pricing options but will only mention a quick overview of the basic features involved in each level. More in-depth features will be reviewed later in the comparison. Or to do the research yourself, I encourage you to visit each website and look into all the features you can acquire for what price.

Flickr is free. Free is hard to beat and this Yahoo! owned service attracts many of its users using that price point. Yahoo!, being such a large company, gives Flickr the resources necessary to reach the free price point with the app design quality to make this service a top choice for those unwilling to pay for photo storage and sharing.

There are drawbacks to free services though, namely advertisements. Flickr does have advertisements if you are on the free service. Of course, this is something we’re all used to and Flickr doesn’t go overboard. The free level account also restricts users to 2 videos and 100 MB of photos per calendar month. You’ll also only have 100 MB of bandwidth available for photos, with “a little leeway for video“. We’ll get into more specific features like photo size limits a little later.

Want to go ad-free? Flickr offers a Pro account, for $24.95 per year. That’s still pretty cheap and gives you unlimited uploads, storage, sets and collections. You’ll get access to your original files, stats on how often people look at your account and the ability to upload HD video.

As with Flickr, Picasa is free. This is no surprise as nearly all of Google’s services are free, a large reason why Google is so incredibly popular today. You might think Picasa’s free price point has held back the app’s design and feature set, but that’s simply not the case. Picasa is uses a simplistic interface by choice and offers many great features, although a little more hidden.

Picasa makes its money by selling storage instead of features or advertising. For free you’ll get all the same features as someone paying a premium, except a lower storage limit of 1 GB. Recently Google reduced Picasa’s storage pricing and increased the number of plans. Remember, purchasing storage for Picasa is shared among your other Google apps because you’re purchasing Google Storage.

At a similar price to Flickr’s Pro, $20 per year gets you 80 GB of storage space. Most users won’t reach that limit and likely won’t even need it for quite some time. Starting at a $5 per year gives you 20 GB of storage space, which can be upgraded (or downgraded) at any time. So upgrade as you need and save money over Flickr!

500px is ad-free and is available in 2 flavours: Free and Awesome. Awesome if $50/year, and offers the following features:
• Unlimited uploads
• Unlimited traffic (bandwidth)
• Unlimited collection in portfolio
• More design layouts for portfolio
• Ability to use custom domain (e.g. username.com)
• Ability to use Google Analytics
• Control over SEO/metadata
• Ability to white-label it (remove any 500px-branding)
• And more.
Free accounts are limited to 20 photos a week, and have fewer options and design themes in portfolio.

In essence, awesome accounts gives an ability to create custom great looking portfolio without worrying about anything else.

SmugMug offers no free plan. This is probably a large reason why it’s much less popular than Flickr or Picasa with novice photographers and weekend warriors. With plans starting at $40.00 per year it’s like purchasing an expensive Flickr Pro account with some advantages and some disadvantages.

You get a free 14 day trial, enabling you to try any plan you would like for the duration of your trial. So, no free plan but you get to try the best SmugMug plan for 14 days to determine if it’s worth your money.

At their base plan, $40.00 per year, you get unlimited storage and traffic with absolutely no ads (or spam). You don’t get video upload capabilities and you have a 24 MB file size per photo, unlike Flickr and Picasa who offers a 20 MB limit (Flickr Pro) and at least basic video upload options.

From a feature POV, this is where Smug Mug accelerates from the pack for more advanced photographers. At $60.00 a year you get DVD quality video uploads, limited to 20 minutes and a 24 MB file size per photo. Right click protection on your images and the ability to customize the look with a custom URL also make this a superior offering against flickr or Picasa.

At the $150.00 PRO level you’ll get all the options of the $60 level, a file size limit (24 MB) and 20 minute HD video uploads, full e-commerce and third party printing capabilities and custom watermarking to further protect your images online.

SmugMug’s real advantages lie with its customization capabilities, giving you greater photo gallery and album theme customization options. Clearly SmugMug isn’t the best choice for those on a budget or looking for something basic to get the job done and store the family vacation photos. But for more serious photographers, IMO, SmugMug should be the choice.

Pricing update on SmugMug... rate increase http://www.petapixel.com/2012/08/31/smugmug-pulls-a-netflix-raises-fees-for-some-customers-by-67/

Interface ComparisonComparing interfaces is difficult and will ultimately come down to your choice of design style and interface features.

Flickr is clearly designed with community in mind and sports a relatively clean and minimalistic overall design. It’s somewhat text heavy (aside from photos) but easy to navigate.

Your account page includes recent photos from your photo stream, contacts, community photos and other general information in the sidebar. It feels a little cluttered a busy to me but going with the Pro account would remove the advertisements and alleviate some of that.

Exploring community photos is definitely one of the best features of these three photo services if that’s what you’re looking for.

Editing and organizing in Flickr very simple and enhanced with JavaScript to create a more seamless experience for users. Creating photo projects to be printed is incredibly easy (and affordable) with tons of great options.

Picasa, however, takes a much different approach with barebones simplicity focused more on your photo albums overview than community or other major features. Picasa feels more directly in touch with your photos and feels better than Flickr for photo storage.

Picasa’s interface is more “folder” oriented, viewing your albums overview, then album photos, then individual photos. With each view, related information is available in the sidebar, most of which can be changed inline. Ordering prints is simple but not nearly as intuitive as Flickr with much fewer options and capabilities. The same applies to photo editing and organizing.

Exploring the Picasa community photos is really quite limited and, although entertaining to a certain degree, it just doesn’t compare to Flickr.

500px has very good social aspects for the photographer to use. Their interface is simple to use and all available options are easy to find. You can easily find photos you post and from your contacts. You have a blog, an area to view all the activity on your images and a wall, reminiscent of facebook.

Customization is easy and the platform is global, making contact with photographers half way around the world is simple and definitely beneficial.

I found SmugMug’s interface to be an entirely different beast than Flickr or Picasa. SmugMug’s account page was quite lacking in overall aesthetics. I was quite concerned that this would apply to the rest of SmugMug’s interface, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was absolutely not the case.

Viewing albums and photos may not be quite as sexy as Flickr but it does have its advantages. For example, instead of viewing a single photo, navigating through the album, you can view a grid of the photos to the left of the main image. Expand the browser window and the page expands to fill the available space, maximizing space utilization, creating a much better navigating and viewing experience.

In SmugMug, you’re able to quickly and easily view the largest size of the photo available that fits within your browser window. Click the image being viewed in an album and a sleek overlay smoothly pops into full browser view, loading the image.

Albums can be individually themed, and there are quite a few to choose from. You can even completely customize themes, even to the point of providing your own custom HTML and CSS. This feature really allows users to customize nearly every detail of their albums, a huge advantage over Flickr and Picasa.

SmugMug is definitely focused on your photos, almost completely leaving out the social aspects aside from comments. You can, of course, easily share photos but exploring community photos is incredibly limited.

While some aspects of SmugMug’s overall interface could be further refined, the important aspects (your albums and photos) is very well designed. Not to mention that Picnik’s online photo editor is integrated for fast and easy photo editing, a feature Picasa lacks (Flickr also includes this). I have to say that I’m impressed with the interface features SmugMug provides, especially in its flexibility to customize it so greatly.

Photo Web UploaderAn important aspect of these services is the quality of web-based photo uploading. While all three services offer desktop tools for this task, I expect a quality web-based uploader that I can reliably access, anytime, anywhere, without issues.

Flickr’s uploader is straight forward, enhanced with JavaScript, showing each item’s progress with an overall progress bar below. The uploader handled small groups of 10+ photos with ease and uploaded photos at a relatively quick speed (not quite utilizing my full bandwidth though).

Picasa’s web-based uploader is… well, it’s not to user friendly to put it nicely. Apparently you’re able to select and upload multiple photos at once using Internet Explorer. In other browsers, however, you’re limited to selecting each photo individually, up to five. For me this is simply unacceptable. Using their desktop software is an easy way to upload and manage your photos, although that’s not really what I want.

500px has a web uploader that allows you to upload multi photos at a time. You simply choose your images, add keywords and descriptive text and the upload is fast. A real positive here is the lightroom plug-in to quickly and efficiently transfer your images right from adobe lightroom.

SmugMug’s web-based uploader is fantastic, featuring drag-and-drop capabilities, incredibly fast uploading speeds (utilizing my full upload bandwidth), individual image progress, time remaining and even actual upload speed. If you do need a plugin or desktop uploader, there are several to choose from.

Features and SpecificationsIf you’ve made it this far, you’re definitely interested in the lesser known capabilities of the three services. These will be the details that will likely be the deciding factor for those more serious photographers. I’ll do my best to include the pertinent information clearly compared.

Max Image File Upload Size
[Flickr] Free: 10 MB, Pro: 20 MB
[Picasa] Free and Paid: 20 MB
[500px] Free and Paid: 30 MB
[SmugMug] Standard and Power: 24 MB, Pro: 24 MB

Max Image Resolution
[Flickr] Not listed, approximately 30 Megapixels
[Picasa] no limit
[500px] 50 Megapixels
[SmugMug] 48 Megapixels

Accepted Image Formats
[Flickr] .jpg, .gif, .png, .tiff (all images converted to .jpg and compressed after upload)
[Picasa] .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp
[500px] .jpg only
[SmugMug] .jpg, .gif, .png

Max Video Upload Size
[Flickr] Free: 150 MB (Standard Definition, 90 second length), Pro: 500 MB (High Definition, 90 second length)
[Picasa] From Picasa software: 1 GB, from general uploader: 100 MB (Standard Definition)
[500px] Not Supported
[SmugMug] 600 MB (Power users: DVD quality, Pro users: High Definition), 10 minute length

Accepted Video Formats
[Flickr] .avi, .wmv, .mov, mpeg, .3gp
[Picasa] .3gp, .avi, .asf, .mov, .wmv, .mpg, .mp4, .m2t, .mmv, .m2ts
[SmugMug] Unlisted, they claim “99% of the time we can convert from whatever you upload to the h.264 format”.
[500px] Not Supported

Flickr Pros and ConsDue to Flickr being one of the most widely used photo storage and sharing services, there is a large variety of tools, plugins and addons for everything from uploading and downloading to viewing and integrating. Flickr provides their own desktop uploaders and many third-party upload tools are also available via Flickr’s tools page.

If you need custom integration of your photos in your website or somewhere else, Flickr will likely be the easiest way to accomplish that. Although, all these services offer an API.

Flickr converts your images to .jpg and compresses them once uploaded, not something I want done to my photos.

Flickr does provide a pretty decent selection of settings and options, although not at the level of SmugMug.

Picasa Pros and ConsPicasa provides a high quality free desktop application for photo library management that even supports many RAW formats. Picasa offers a standalone uploader for OS X along with plugins for apps like iPhoto. Although images appear to be compressed after being uploaded, it’s only when viewing them. You’re able to download your images in their uncompressed format.

Picasa’s uploaders all seem to have issues at times uploading and downloading large sets of images. On more occasions than I can remember I’ve uploaded 50+ images, sometimes getting upload errors, and then later when I try to download the full albums it misses a few of the images. It’s quite frustrating and even happens in their dedicated software.

Unfortunately, images viewed at Picasa Web Albums look terrible. Most images, especially high resolution images, are blurry and oftentimes dull. If you have a huge number of photos, you should be aware that you’re limited to 1000 albums and 1000 photos per album.

500px Pros and ConsIt’s a personal pet peeve of mine; 500px does not have a right click protection tool. Anyone can right click and save your images right from the site. The only other con I could find is that they are not under the umbrella of a large media company. Flickr has the edge here. It will levy the social networking success of the company.

Your images however will be displayed in excellent quality and facilitated by a slick uploading tool that I enjoyed using. Another huge advantage over other basic services is that you can completely customize your look.

For us in Canada, they are a Canadian company. If SEO and privacy are high on your priority list, unlike USA based services that will have your images reside on their servers in the USA, the images on 500px are not subject to the USA Patriot act. – I suggest you look that up to learn more. Big Brother is watching.

Another advantage to using this Canadian company is as follows. When someone using BING searches for only Canadian search results your photos will be found… unlike the other three services… if a web browser is using BING and searches for Canadian search results, the images of Canadian photographers using Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug will not be seen in the search results.

SmugMug Pros and ConsIt’s more expensive. Simply put, SmugMug is going to be a deal-breaker for many people due to the fact that it’s outright more expensive. With that being said, if you’re really interested in photography and ensuring your library doesn’t suddenly vanish along with your computer one day, it’s hard to beat SmugMug.

While it is more expensive, it’s also the most feature filled of the three services. Smart galleries, theming, enhanced and customizable security and privacy, and even customizable image sharpening are included in each album independently. You’re able to add custom water marks and even sell your own photos (Pro only). You can even setup your own custom domain for your albums.

Your images are displayed at top notch quality, looking simply fantastic. It’s a night and day difference in comparison to Picasa. With the optional and customizable image sharpening, photos that would be otherwise slightly blurry end up looking like they should.

They also offer what they call SmugVault, a backup service, along with their regular SmugMug photo service. These are tied together so you can upload large format images such as RAW, TIFF, PDF and PSD.

In addition to all this; if customer service is important to you, SmugMug delivers the best customer service out of any photo sharing company I have ever used. “Support Hero’s”, an actual person on the other end of a phone are extremely helpful and seem to live by the mantra, under promise and over deliver. The fact that SmugMug has a real person available to answer technical questions is a PRO that trumps and CON in my book.

Final ThoughtsConsidering there are so many features and aspects of these major services, I obviously couldn’t cover everything. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and will appeal to each person differently. With that being said, here’s my short evaluation of each.

Social, easy and with many integration options, Flickr is your Facebook of photo storage and sharing services. It’s super affordable, very well designed and, from what I’ve experienced of the web interface, functions very well. While it will do the job for professionals, there are other options available that would offer more power, control and features.

Barebones and minimalistic, Picasa might be best suited for those looking for something basic or an easy and affordable location for photo library storage. For Google users, it might just be an easy choice, especially for those who’ve already purchased additional Google Storage. Of the three services, Picasa would have to be placed in last place. The strength of Google has made it a contender but it has many weaknesses that will need to be addressed before it will be on par with Flickr or SmugMug.

500px is the web company to watch. It is positioned to grow. Their product suite is excellent, their service feature rich and the image quality is superior to Flickr and Picasa. 500px should be, if not already, for the serious hobbyist that wants to become better. It reminds us that we are a small fish in a sea of talented photographers... it is inspiring to browse through the global pool of images.

SmugMug is a top choice for anyone serious about photography. It’s definitely not a service that outpaces Flickr for beginners or intermediates but it’s clear that SmugMug isn’t focused towards people looking for a free or really cheap solution. Lacking the impressive community integration of Flickr or even the mediocre community integration of Picasa, you’ll really only want to choose SmugMug if you’re more focused on your photos than sharing them with millions of strangers. Photo viewing, customer service and album customization are the areas SmugMug really shines.

Here are my personal thoughts and what I use and have used
I have a flickr account, I also have a Picasa account, albeit just used for my storing photos for my other Google applications like Google+ and Blogger and I also have a SmugMug PRO account that has been fully customized, complete with a custom URL. The only thing I have not deployed is my e-commerce capabilities, but that is in the works as I currently use PayPal and want to transition that properly in the new website environment that I have created.

If you are like me and you are trying to build a photography business, you need a website. Flickr and Picassa are just not going to do that for you. These two online photo sharing destinations are a social medium where you can share photos with communities and discuss techniques with other photographers, get feedback on your images, and they will offer you beneficial residual search engine optimization goodwill for your company name and your company website. The more photos you put up, and add links to your photography website, them more SEO goodwill you create, the higher you will show up in search rankings.

For me Flickr was becoming more about socialization, I was spending more time on there commenting on other photographers images than making images of my own and growing my own photography business. Don’t get me wrong, it has its place to help you become a better photographer, it’s just not where I would suggest you spending a lot of your time. The feedback on your images, while is an ego boost and can direct you in making better images, is not the most technically correct. Don’t think I am being a negative Nelly about flickr and the people on there; I made some great friendships on Flickr, learned a lot about photography and Flickr was significant in getting me to where I am today.

I still have the account but do not really use it anymore. I feel it served as a valuable tool while I was still growing as a photographer and looking for an online presence… but now that I have found my tool of choice, I do not leverage Flickr as much anymore.

SmugMug is now my web destination of choice. It is my website, my blog, my photo collection tool and I still have the opportunity to look at other images and be inspired by what others are posting, plus I get more insightful feedback from the professional photographers in the SmugMug online community.

The money I spent on SmugMug has paid for itself tenfold since I launched my new website, www.kpepphotography.com six months ago. I have sold more images since this website has launched, had more articles published since this website has launched, and at the end of the day, have made more money in the last six months than I have in the last 3 years. I do not regret the decision to switch to SmugMug for a minute.

SmugMug allowed me to integrate my blog, leverage my social media tools like DIGG and twitter, run my website both on the web and through mobile devices, plus have a photo sharing tool all into one easy to use web destination that I use to market my products and services, showcase my images and blog my reviews, tutorials and opinions.

SmugMug even allows me to post client images online, password protect them in specific galleries, and only allow who I want to see them, access them. So, not only am I making more money with SmugMug, I am saving valuable time by allowing clients to view photos on their own time, right from their own home.

But the real winner for me in this exercise is 500px. After originally reviewing SmugMug, Picasa and Flickr I was directed to 500px from a few people. After registering and going through the sites capabilities and features I was thoroughly impressed. 500px offers users an abundance of capabilities, the photoraphers on there are a few notches above what you will find on flickr and picasa and they offer just a bit more of the social aspect than SmugMug.

Let me relate the strength of 500px in terms of benefits if you are trying to generate traffic to your website. I registered, posted 20 photos on my profile on a Wednesday night between 10pm and 11pm. I added some basic HTML coding in my listings with a few deep links to my website and put my website URL and blog URL in my profile. On the Wednesday the traffic from 500px was 5% of my daily traffic, on the Thursday 500px had accounted for over 25% of my daily traffic to my website and blog.

The plethora of options like the Adobe lightroom plug in tool, the built in blog, api's, your own discussion board, very user friendly uploader and the ability to build a custom looking website with your own URL aside... 500px is a very solid online tool that you seriously need to consider.

I just considered it, I joined and it is now a very important part in my social networking platform and web strategy to grow my photography business.

If you have any questions about one service vs. another, please ask in the comment section below. I will do my best to answer any questions as fast as I can.