Cloud services compete for photographer clients

Australia has a photo management issue, according to Canon, while releasing findings from a survey that revealed 66 percent of us have lost precious memories from ‘the damage or failure of physical technology’. But, there’s are solutions – cloud-based solutions! And boy, are there a lot to choose from.

PrimeAmazon recently announced unlimited cloud-based photo storage for members of Amazon Prime. At US$99 a year, it would be a great way for photographers to back-up gigabytes of work, until one discovers in the fine print it’s not permitted for use by a ‘professional photography business’, and it is ‘US only’. Meanwhile, recently-launched Mylio has made headlines in the photo media, and in our research we found this one isn’t available in Australia either.

With two new US-exclusive cloud/workflow services being announced over the last week, and Canon launching its own Irista storage service locally (the research findings were part of the launch campaign) it seems that cloud storage is big business. But photographers have to be careful choosing a service to suit their business requirements. So we’ve done the hard yards and compared the major players against each other in alphabetical order – we’ve looked towards services that offer at least 1TB of storage and accept RAW file format.

Bitcasa Drive – Bitcasa came out swinging in early 2013 by boasting it would ‘destroy the hard drive’ with the Bitcasa Infinite Drive, that offered unlimited storage. For whatever reason this offer has recently been removed, so the hard drive will live another day or two. Bitcasa still, however, offers 10TB of storage for US$99 per month (1TB for US$10/month also), accepts any file types and can be accessed from all common device/smartphone/PC operating systems. Files can be password protected and are encrypted. Files can also be backed up with mirroring, videos can be streamed, and it is reportedly fast at uploading and downloading provided there’s a strong internet connection.

dropboxDropbox – Dropbox is becoming a household name as it’s probably the most common cloud storage solution for photographers, businesses and regular PC owners. In response to Google Drive’s US$9.99 for 1TB per month (see below), Dropbox matched this price, but doesn’t appear to offer storage greater than 1TB yet. Two years ago Dropbox charged US$49.99/1TB per month which demonstrates just how dramatically prices have dropped due to the aggressive competition among cloud services. Sharing work, especially creating a shareable gallery, is simple on Dropbox and it’s an attractive tool for photographers wanting to show a client or co-worker a shoot. Those galleries can also be password protected, have expiration dates and files can be accessed from all devices. And, uh, all your files are safe and secure – according to Dropbox, that is.

Flickr – Yahoo-owned Flickr is one of the original photo sharing services with many millions of accounts. What is most attractive about Flickr – and the reason for its inclusion, as it’s not really a ‘cloud service’ – is that users are given 1TB of storage for free. But don’t plan to upload any RAW files, or any files over 200MB for that matter. Flickr is more of a photo sharing community, catering to professionals, amateurs and enthusiasts alike. Lately Flickr has been rolling out a few different features that can generate income, such as selling prints. While this is not yet available in Australia, Flickr seems to be adopting features that could come in handy to professionals.

Google Drive – The photographic media were quite excited when Google Drive announced 1TB of cloud storage for US$9.99 per month, all the way up to 30TB for US$199.99. Any files can be uploaded, and Google was kind enough to support photographers by providing RAW previews. It is worth noting that Google Drive includes storage for Google+ and Gmail attachments, which may suck up some space. Google Drive is in fierce competition with Dropbox, and both services share similar features, such as file syncing and organising via folders on a desktop, which can be shared privately with clients. Google promises to give full access for files to their owners and keep intellectual property private – onya Google!

IristaIrista by Canon Australia – This is Canon’s new online photo storage platform. While Irista is geared towards the average Australian protecting personal photos, it’s a local service, it’s from Canon, and it supports RAW files. But that’s about it for now in terms of perks to professional photographers. In early 2015 we can expect multi-device compatibility, direct upload from a Canon Wi-Fi enabled camera to Irista, and Lightroom integration, but for now the service is only integrated with Flickr and Facebook. There is a free ‘entry’ tier that offers 10GB – a good way to check the new platform out – but enthusiasts and professionals may be more interested in the 50GB and 100GB option. The 50GB is $6.99 per month, or $69 a year up front; and the 100GB is $14.99 per month, or $149 up front per year. Additional storage can be purchased for premium subscribers, with 20GB costing an additional $20 per year; 50GB costing an additional $59; and 100GB costing $119 per year. It will be very interesting to see how Canon Australia develops Irista in the future, as it already has professionals and amateurs in mind!

PhotoShelter – This dedicated website has caught the attention of a large portion of the professional and enthusiast photographic community, as it’s not only a cloud storage service but also an online portfolio/web page platform. With a Pro account, which costs US$49.99 per month, you can upload 1TB of data, create a website with any domain name and choose from multiple web page templates and several options to present your images – be it a slideshow, photo wall or thumbnails. The Standard and Basic accounts are cheaper and have significantly less storage and features. Storage supports RAW and other files types, and files can be uploaded directly from Lightroom, Photo Mechanic or Aperture. Images can be protected with a built-in watermark, and when someone attempts to right-click save an image, a blank .GIF is overlaid the top which stops the offending individual from taking the picture, but this doesn’t prevent those pesky print screeners. However these images are presented in low resolution and hopefully a watermarked is used. There are a number of other appealing features for photographers, such as the ability to sell prints (with the option to use a local Photoshelter approved ‘print vendor’), create private galleries for clients, and sell stock photography – with Photoshelter taking an 8-10 percent cut.

Smugmug – This website is similar to PhotoShelter, as it too is more commonly used for online portfolios and web pages, but stores photos nonetheless. There are a range of different membership types, with Portfolio and Business being of most interest to pros. The Portfolio membership is priced at US$150 per year (US$20/month) and provides unlimited storage, a variety of customisable templates and layouts, a Lightroom plugin, an app for mobile devices, and the option to sell prints, books, and so on. However, RAW files are not supported and there’s no local printing options – only international – but for those looking to sell digital images, this could be the pick.

Zenfolio – Again much like PhotoShelter and SmugMug, acting more as an online business platform, but again is useful for file storage – as a standalone for cloud storage none of these type of services are priced practically, unless a photographer wants to present or sell their work. Prices range from $80 – $300 per year, and while the storage is unlimited, an additional 8.5 cents per GB is charged each month for RAW files. So storing 1TB of RAW files isn’t exactly economical. Zenfolio offers pretty much all the perks of Photoshelter, from selling prints and products (from Nulab and Nushots); to client galleries; to watermarks. There’s more, but I’d risk sounding like a broken record.

Zoolz – This is no-frills cloud storage, best fitted for photographers looking to lock their files away in a safety deposit box for their next of kin to inherit. Zoolz describes stored files as being in a freezer, meaning they aren’t deleted if users fail to reconnect or refresh the files over time – which most other clouds apparently do not offer. RAW files can be previewed, and ‘lost files’ are easily restored after three to five hours. Both internal and external hard drives can be backed up (many other cloud services cannot sync with external hard drives). While there are cheaper options, photographers will be interested in the 1TB or Unlimited ‘home’ plans, which are US$79.99 or US$199.99 per year. ‘Business’ plans are far more expensive and assume your business includes 15 computers. While a photographer is operating a business, most are small businesses and would not require a cloud to reach 15 different computers.

This is in no way an indication of all the Cloud-based services out there. New clouds are literately popping up on a weekly basis, appearing in all different shapes and sizes. Prices and features change regularly and what may be considered cheap today can be expensive tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment below on any cloud storage solutions you’ve been pleased or displeased with, or any we’ve missed that has been kind to you!

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