A review of the online photo sharing sites Smugmug and Flickr and why I prefer both of them for different things. I am no longer updating my Zoto review…I just don’t have the time to keep it relatively up-to-date.
Ever since I got a digital camera I’ve wanted to have an online photo gallery. Attempts at creating my own photo gallery were awkward and slow at best. Then I discovered Smugmug and Flickr. I actually read about Flickr first (it has gotten a lot of publicity) and signed up for it. I also purchased an account for my parents as a Christmas present. A few weeks later I decided to try the free trial of Smugmug. The main difference between Flickr and Smugmug is that Flickr wants to facilitate an online photo sharing community more so than Smugmug. Smugmug has that capability as well but is more apt at organizing photos into galleries for long-term photo storage/organization. While both sites offer tags (ability to assign words to certain pictures to assist in searching), Flickr does not have as good of an organization system as Smugmug does. Photos on Flickr are grouped into “Sets”; but there is no further hierarchy than that. For example, I could not create a gallery called “Travel” and have multiple sets within that gallery on Flickr. Smugmug makes it very easy to set up this hierarchical organization system, as shown with my “Travel” site here.
Smugmug seems to be a more professional photo-sharing site than Flickr and seems more refined. And, as a Power user, you can customize your site however you like as well as upload MPEG1 video. Both allow you to order backups of your photos on DVD or CD for a nominal fee. Flickr, on the other hand, looks to appeal to the “blogging generation” of Internet users. With Flickr you have the ability to order photo books, DVD slideshows, or postage stamps of your photos. Read more about this. One of its best features is the “Save to Favorites” ability. Whenever you see a great picture you can click that button and it will save it in a central place for you. There are so many amazing pictures on Flickr that this comes in much use. You can also browse other people’s favorites. Smugmug does not currently have this feature. However, Smugmug does have a feature called PhotoRank that allows you and everyone else to vote…either thumbs up or down on a photo. To see this feature in action, browse the favorite photos. In place of the community created through browsing and commenting on Flickr, Smugmug offers an excellent digital photo forum called Digital Grin where you can share and get feedback on pictures. There are also photo contests with prizes. The cool thing about this versus Flickr is that the people on Digital Grin are professional photographers and can give you excellent advice. Plus, there’s entire forums devoted to Photoshop and advanced photography techniques. Smugmug also has communities where users with similar interests can get together and share their photos.
Customer service for both Flickr and Smugmug is great compared to the typical online site. Flickr’s responses have generally been fast and helpful. They offer a few ways to contact them: Flickr Mail, standard email, or leaving a message in one of the forums. Smugmug has two ways of offering support. You can post and ask questions on the Digital Grin forum or via standard email. I just emailed Smugmug a question and they responded satisfactorily literally within minutes. Smugmug has always replied quickly, even when I emailed them at 10PM (Central Time) on a Saturday night. Flickr’s responses generally take a few days, which is not that bad at all. The speed difference could be because Smugmug has significantly fewer users that Flickr.
Here is also a message board posting that testifies to Smugmug’s dedication to the customer: The 2+ terabyte Question. On the second page, the Smugmug CEO replies:
“Wow, that must be close to 500,000 JPEGs! Quite a collection – I can’t wait to see them.
So we’ve always said “unlimited storage” and we mean what we say. We’re happy to take your photos and host them, but we need a little time to prepare.
Just so you know, this is something like a $20,000 first-year commitment for us in terms of disk space, power, cooling, and physical space. You’ll basically have two complete RAID arrays to yourself in our datacenter. Of course, you’ll only pay your [$40, $60, or $150] per year, depending on your account level. Again, we’re happy to do it – but I want to be up front here and let you know that we need to order some equipment and get it installed to accept your photos. We’re not geared for accepting 2.5TB overnight.
We’ll also be buying extra image processing machines just for your batch of photos. Luckily, once yours are done, everyone else at smugmug will get to benefit from them, so I don’t consider that a cost to host you.
Does that sound fair? Can we ask you to hold off while we order and install the equipment and power required?”
A unique feature of Smugmug is its ability to sort photos by keyword. Yes, Flickr offers tagging, but Smugmug’s rendition is much more powerful. Consider: I’m attaching the keywords of any family members and the location to all my photos. So, if I want to find all the photos that include a picture of me, then I just click “Scott.” Or, should I want to find a picture of my brother, “Ross,” I would click his name. The powerful features are called “Related words” and “Combine with.” For example, suppose I want to find a photo that has a picture of Ross and I from our family trip to California. I would just click on the keyword “Scott,” then choose to combine with “Ross,” and finally to combine with “california.” It’s as easy as that! Removing keywords from the search is just as simple.
Smugmug also offers integration with the Google Maps API. In layman’s terms this means that you can tag a photo with a specific location. For example, I could search for all photos from Ireland. Or, I could restrict my search to specific keywords for photos within Ireland. Here’s one of the examples given on Smugmug’s website: Dgrin’s World Tour. Flickr has this ability but is using Yahoo Maps instead. Flickr Geotagging
Things not yet mentioned regarding Smugmug:
1) Themes: All users have access to a huge variety of themes. You can even have different themes for different galleries. And, when creating a new gallery, themes can be quickly previewed before using. Standard users ($39.95/year) have access to all the themes, but only Power ($59.95) and Professional ($149.95) give you the option to customize your site with your own code. All users have access to the recently updated AJAX interface. This new interface is much faster than the old one…the entire page isn’t reloaded when you click on a photo, just the photo. Flickr does not offer the ability to customize your site directly (Power and Pro level users) or with Themes (all users).
2) Bandwidth/Space: All users get unlimited space and bandwidth. Photos in Standard and Power accounts can be up to 8MB big, while Professionals get up to 16MB. For all users, 48 megapixels is the limit.
3) Backups: Smugmug now stores at least 4 copies of every new photo in 3 different datacenters in 3 states, using both internal SmugMug storage and the storage infrastructure of a partner whoâ€™s in the business of data availability.
4) Private Photos: Private password-protected galleries can be created. You can choose if you want the private galleries to appear on the main page (with a password hint or not) or to be completely hidden from the public. ShareGroups offer the ability to create a unique URL that you can give to people to access the photos directly.
5) Professional Specific Features: Sell prints and digital photos. Protect photos with watermark and right-click protection. Use a custom domain name. Completely remove all references to Smugmug, effectively hosting the photos transparently.
6. Dynamically resizing photos: This means that if you have a larger monitor, photos will automatically be resized to use the extra space. This feature can also be seen just by resizing your browser window. Try it out here with your browser window at maximum size. Wait until it loads, notice the size of the photo, and then make the window smaller. The photo will automatically be resized to fit better in the smaller window.
7. Customize resized photos: Smugmug offers the typical tiny, thumbnail, small, medium, large, and original (if you choose to allow originals to be downloaded). However, you can also choose custom resolutions. For example, this panorama of 17 photos of Dead Horse Point State Park is originally 14708×2698 pixels. Even the large size can’t do it justice. It would be nice to have a size somewhere between the original and large. Now you can —> just append the resolution you want to the end of the file. For example, the last photo becomes http://scottklettke.smugmug.com/photos/132873354-5451×1000.jpg.
Release Notes. Smugmug constantly adds improvements and new features. These include most recently: custom watermarks, priced digital downloads, dynamic backprinting, and proof delayed shipping.
Things not yet mentioned regarding Flickr:
1) Free Account: Smugmug offers a complete, fully functional 14-day trial account. Flickr has a limited-function free account. This is great if you have a smaller number of photos and/or just want to comment and keep track of your favorite photos. There is currently no way on Smugmug to keep track of your favorite photos, though you can comment without creating an account.
2) Bandwidth/Space: Free users have a 100 MB monthly upload limit of photos up to 5 MB in size. Pro Accounts ($24.95) get unlimited bandwidth, upload, and storage with a limit of 10 MB per photo. Maximum resolution is not stated directly but is approximately 30 megapixels.
3) Private Photos: Photosets (equivalent to a gallery in Smugmug, though without hierarchical organization) can be set so that viewing is restricted to family and/or friends or viewable at a unique URL with a Guest Pass.
4) Groups: Similar to Smugmug’s Communities, Flickr offers a ton of Groups that you can join. If you want your photos to get views and comments, joining and contributing to an appropriate group is the best way to do it.
In summary, Smugmug is great if you desire to have very well organized photo galleries with the ability to order high quality prints. Feel free to take the tour of Smugmug. If you prefer a sense of online community over organization of your photos than Flickr may be best for you. I ended up getting my folks a subscription to Smugmug instead of Flickr. For their purposes, Smugmug’s site was less confusing and easier to use, and the ability to organize photos and order prints made Smugmug the best for them. Flickr now also offers printing through its partnership with Target Stores. 4×6 prints are 19 cents each (same price as Smugmug) and can be delivered or picked up from any Target Store. I can personally vouch for the quality of the Smugmug prints but have not yet tried Flickr’s printing, though I would also expect it to be high quality.
Flickr’s annual fee has been reduced to $24.95 with Yahoo’s acquisition, while Smugmug’s annual fee is $39.95. Try both and see which one you like. Flickr offers a free but restricted version, while Smugmug offers the real thing free for a 14-day trial (during the trial you can switch between Standard, Power, or Professional accounts). If you decide to try Smugmug, enter NJBJXBBbPEToI in the email/coupon section near the bottom of the sign up page. (Or follow this link Smugmug. You’ll help a college student save $10 off his next subscription and you’ll save $5 off of your subscription.) Smugmug no longer requires a credit card to set up…if you choose not to stay with Smugmug after your free trial, your account will automatically be canceled.
Update (1/22/2007): AJAX interface is now live on all Smugmug accounts. Read about it here: Speed, Beauty, & Brains
If you have any questions please ask below. I usually respond within a day. If you want a personal response please direct your query to the Contact at the top of the page. Thanks! Please comment and let me know what you ultimately chose.
(This review was originally written for my Smugmug Review on Amazon).
Other Smugmug and Flickr sites:
Photo Site a Hit With Bloggers – An older Wired article talking about the advantages of online photo sharing, Flickr specifically
Smugmug.com Review and Overview
Smugmug: a hot photo-sharing site
Smugmug’s own page claiming to be the best
Digital Dad – Taking a Look at Smugmug
Flickr (beta) Review by PC Magazine
USA Today: 2/8/2007 Pictures worth more than a thousand words on upgraded photo sites
Updated: February 21, 2007