First of all, don’t get me wrong, I love each of the three photo services reviewed here. I’ve been a long-time user of both Google Photos and Flickr. I’ve put a ton of time into these tools, and I’d like to share my thoughts in case it helps anyone else decide what to do now.
Google Photos was my favorite photo service. Until now I’ve been hopelessly optimistic about its potential. Even though I’m leaving it behind, it’s got a lot going for it. It’s seamlessly integrated with your Google account, has the best user interface and iOS/Android apps.
But as you probably already know, Google decided to remove its best feature; free unlimited high-quality uploads. Soon, you’ll need to buy a Google One subscription if you want more than 15Gb of storage.
For people like me who shoot and upload unreasonable amounts of photos, even 2TB isn’t enough. I’d need to pay for at least the 10TB plan, which would cost $50/month. Not only is this unaffordable for most of us, I see two other major problems with Google Photos:
- They still don’t allow any folder or sub-folder organization. They just want you to search for stuff. Yes, their search is very good and I use it frequently. Still, I assume most people want better album organization.
- You can’t have a public profile with public albums. You can only share albums one by one, using links. There’s no community, and you can’t follow creators or be followed.
I’m not opposed to paying for good services, I’m actually paying for several. But, if you pay for a photo service, I think you expect to at least be able to reorder albums.
But most importantly, I don’t want to lock myself into an infinite cycle of increasing storage costs. For those reasons alone, it doesn’t make any sense for me to invest time and resources into Google Photos.
That said, if Google decided to offer a paid plan with unlimited storage at a reasonable price, I would probably stay.
SmugMug is probably the best photo service out there. It has the best organizing and sharing tools, a great user interface, and pro features like the ability to sell photos, attach a domain, or even edit the CSS & HTML.
But, it lacks one crucial ingredient: community.
Yes, you can technically search across public photos on SmugMug, and leave comments. But, it’s not built around an iconic brand or community where you can follow people, like Instagram or Flickr. Instead, individual photographers use SmugMug as a tool to showcase and sell photos to clients. It’s much harder for your content to be seen, found, or easily followed by others.
Also, licensing photos under Creative Commons is now the main purpose of my photography and I can’t do that with SmugMug.
Flickr isn’t perfect, but I think it’s the best offering and choice:
- Unlimited storage for $60/year.
- Iconic, well-known Flickr brand.
- Best & largest community of photographers.
- Auto-upload from iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS.
- Ability to license photos under Creative Commons, largest collection of CC images.
- It’s owned by SmugMug, and they’ve already made the service much better and more reliable.
- Flickr won’t sell or use your data to train apocalyptic AI.
- You can’t sell photos.
- The interface is inconsistent. Flickr has been around for a long time, and some old pages clash with clean, redesigned ones. For instance, only the first tab of the “Account settings” was redesigned; the other tabs weren’t.
- Uploading and organizing albums is functional. But, it’s nowhere near SmugMug’s beautiful & efficient user experience.
- I think “Collections” should be much more prominent. They deserve their own tab on people’s profiles, and are in dire need of a redesign.
- Plans range from “Free”, with a limit of 1,000 photos, to $60/year with unlimited uploads. It would be great if there was an additional, cheaper plan with a storage limit. Maybe something like 1TB for $30/year? With that sort of offering, I think more people would join Flickr, and help the service thrive.
- I’m not a fan of the iOS app. I think it should be redesigned entirely to be more intuitive and modern. (Please don’t add Stories, though)
- Like Gumroad or SmugMug, it would be great if custom domains were supported. I’d love to edit the branding, while retaining the original Flickr profile. The profile could live and be accessible at the original URL to avoid dividing Flickr, and keep the community intact.
- Let’s basically merge Flickr and SmugMug.
Since acquiring Flickr, SmugMug has already improved the service immensely. They’ve decoupled from Yahoo, moved photos to AWS, fixed many problems and added new features. Even if the comparison is unfair, it feels like SmugMug has done more for Flickr in 2 years than what Google has done with Google Photos in 5 years. And I’m sure SmugMug will continue to improve Flickr by addressing the minor design/interface issues.
This is the best and worst of times to be a photographer. We have so many tools at our disposal. Yet, many of the best services are changing, and are becoming exploitive. Instagram has replaced its notifications tab with a shopping tab. Google pulled a great bait-and-switch.
Meanwhile, SmugMug has remained faithful to their customers for 18 years and that’s why I really want Flickr to succeed. They actually care about photography, and photographers. I hope you too, will join us on the good side of the Internet! :)
EDIT: Thanks to everyone who shared thoughtful commentary and ideas. Many of you mentioned Amazon Photos. I actually also use Amazon Photos, and yes it’s unlimited. The reason I didn’t include it is because it suffers from the same problems as Google Photos, and more:
- You can’t have a public profile or public albums.
- You can’t create folders or collections of albums.
- The interface isn’t great on desktop. The view is too narrow.
- It often logs me out inexplicably, even while uploading photos.
- You can only upload 5Gb of videos.
- There are regional limitations, like the rest of Amazon.
- It’s part of Prime. So if you ever cancel your Prime subscription for any reason, you’re screwed.
- A Prime subscription includes many different things. This makes it difficult to understand what the intent of Amazon really is. Amazon Photos may be vulnerable to future price hikes or unfavorable changes.
For all these reasons, I only use Amazon Photos as an additional backup solution, nothing more.