Over the last few months, I’ve been developing my interest in photography, in particular as a result of acquiring a new digital SLR camera earlier this year (a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT – it’s a great camera, incidentally). Despite my best efforts at editing unwanted pictures out of my collection, I currently have approximately 7,000 images (and counting). Aside from my desire to backup these precious memories in as many locations as possible, I’ve also been looking for an online hosting service where I can make selected images available for distant family and friends to view at their leisure. I’ve not yet found the ideal photo sharing site for my needs, which surprised me given how many are springing up all over the Internet. Perhaps my wish list is unreasonable, but I don’t think any of my requests are outlandish:
- I’d like to be able to upload all of my images for storage (so I potentially need up to 10GB of storage space);
- I’d like to be able to make the original images available for download, whilst also providing reduced sized versions for visitors with a limited bandwidth connection;
- I’d like to be able to filter images by a keyword or rating so that my poor friends don’t have to wade through all our photos just to see a few highlights;
- I’m looking for some semblance of privacy: I’m not prepared to have my photos splashed all over the home page of the provide for any random individual to browse (à la Flickr), yet I don’t really want to force my visitors to become members of the site to be able to browse my images. Knowing the URL for my site is sufficient obfuscation for my purposes;
- I’d rather like to be able to order framed and unframed prints, enlargements and albums from the site at a reasonable cost (extra points if the site supports international orders).
So far, I don’t seem to have found any one mainstream site that can deliver all of the above. Sites seem to fall into two categories – those whose primary function is hosting (usually for a membership fee), and those who are primarily selling prints and photo gifts (usually free). Here’s a quick run-down of the ones I’ve looked at:
- MSN Spaces has a user-friendly interface and integrates with MSN Messenger, but it has a ludicrous 20MB limit and is clearly not designed for more than the casual snapper;
- PBase seems popular amongst the semi-pro crowd, but have suffered reliability problems and would cost me $600/yr if I uploaded all my photos at the original size;
- Shutterfly is free, great for ordering, has unlimited storage and good album editing facilities, but the album sharing capabilities are new and still fairly primitive;
- Snapfish look good on the surface except that they charge you per photo to download your own images at high-resolution – a little cheeky, I’d say;
- Flickr are perhaps the most famous, but they’re not really orientated around a private photo collection, as described above, unless everyone becomes a Flickr member.
- Ofoto are much like Snapfish – they’re geared very heavily around selling you stuff, and the images that are available for sharing are tiny.
For the moment, I’m currently splitting my allegiances across two sites. I’ve started to upload all my photos to Shutterfly, since they have unlimited storage. I’ve ordered a couple of photo books from them and the quality has been really excellent, and they always have some special offer or another on which makes their prices reasonably attractive. I’m hoping that their photo sharing facilities will also gradually improve as they mature. I’m also investigating a new entry on my radar called Fotki which on the surface seems to do everything on my wish list above at a pretty reasonable price ($50/year). The one thing that puts me off Fotki so far is that the interface isn’t as polished as some of the other sites – it’s all a bit of a mish-mash of functionality rather than an integrated whole, which lends it a rather amateurish feel, but that’s a minor point.
I’d be interested in any other recommendations or experiences: has anyone used another site other than the ones I mentioned above?