Smugmug vs. Flickr

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 who’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.

Recent Changes:
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.

More information: Smugmug, Flickr

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.

Smugmug also just recently started a JotSpot Wiki that is a repository for customizations, hacks, tips, and tricks. A review of the beta AJAX interface is available here.

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:

Flickr vs. Smugmug on Michael McDaniel’s Blog
http://www.tygar.net/photos.htm – Good comparison
Wired Review – Photo Sites Share and Share Alike” (from Januaray 2005)

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

Unlimited photo storage and sharing – FREE Trial of Smugmug.

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Updated: February 21, 2007

29 thoughts on “Smugmug vs. Flickr

  1. Albert Jessurum

    I’m signing up through your link. I’m actually giving it a try, for the 7 days. I’m a college student as well, and I finally saved up to get a digital camera, and I’m in love ith it.

    Your site definitely helped me out in choosing the right site (I was leaning away from flickr because of it’s organization, and VERY turned off by not being able to customize my site)

    I’ll check the 7-day trial, and I’m probably going to go with the power user account, to fully customize it.

    Anyways, Thanks for your help!

  2. pix pixie

    i have started playing around with smugmaps. love this stuff, great for my travelling pics.

  3. Scott K Post author

    Yeah, I’ve just started playing around with Smugmaps too. It’s a great feature! I can’t wait until they implement bulk geography editing; it takes time right now to add the location for each photo. I’m really impressed with their use of Ajax too and expect to see some more amazing things in the future.

  4. nunovo

    I’ve been using Zoto for well over a year now and am generally quite happy with it. My main interest is in organising photos so that they can bew found easily. The Uploader is also very nice in most respect – though it doesn’t let you create new tags on the fly. My other favourite features are that it has a blog-posting function, a javascript slideshow feature, and can upload single photos by email.
    The one thing I wish it had is a method of creating subdomains that can be secured according to variable criteria. I would like secure sections within my site, one for friends and family, one for work, another for subscriber-only images, and so forth. My guess is that nobody provides this kind of structure, along with teh more powerful ease of navigation and the fine graphical layout of Zoto.

  5. V R G

    Your article is why I love the internet. I have available to me intelligent & informative articles, like yours, that make life’s decisions easier.

    Within the last few days I have decided on my 2nd career (Professional Outdoor/Nature photography). Your article was well written & allowed me to decide on smugmug as my primary medium of getting my name out there.

    Wish all my questions, as I start my new venture, could be answered by reading only 1 site. Thanks for taking the time to critique the sites.
    Vincent

  6. Scott K

    Hi Vincent,

    I’m glad that you found my review article informative. I originally wrote the article way back in May 2005, but I’m trying to keep it updated as much as I can. Both Flickr and Smugmug implement changes so rapidly that it is difficult to do so.

    Good luck with your new career!

  7. motherduce

    Excellent article, Scott. This has been a great read for me as I decide between SmugMug and Flickr. I’m a big fan of Flickr, but the organizational and theming options of SmugMug are very tempting. Decisions decisions!

    Cheers,
    Brian

  8. Jeff

    I have done a LOT of searching, researching and RE-searching about the ins/outs of the major online photo sharing players out there. My list had pretty much shrunk to 2. Flickr vs. SmugMug…
    Your review of the two is fair and non-biased (it seems many reviewers have a preference before writing their review which comes through in their writing…).
    Thank you for taking the time to offer such a well-written and thorough review!
    Also, many of the write-ups I’ve seen are nearly a year old, so I must applaud you for your commitment thus far to keeping up with the changes.
    Your inclusion of relevant links is skillfully done and helpful to a reader seeking more knowledge.
    I will be giving SmugMug a trial and I hereby PROMISE to use your referral link. Keep up the good work! I hope you & your article get the recognition you deserve…somebody link to and/or pay this man!

    Thanks again

  9. chris

    Just to say thanks, for bothering. I was considering that a flickr pro account would save me a bit of money, but for my needs, which are to organise and backup my photos primarily, you’ve convinced me to stay with smugmug.

  10. Zorak2d

    I’m storing a account in Smugmug for years, and I love the service. Recently I compared Flickr with Smugmug because I’m living in Argentina, and the currency conversion is $(US)1=$(AR)3, so the difference in price ($15) between Flickr and the Smugmug’s standard account is 3 times bigger for my cost of life here :-) I played a time with Flickr but I think smugmug is better, has a lot of useful features and the home page of your pics sorting by albums is better that your home in flickr. I decided stay with smugmug, the difference worth the money, and I forget evaluate the better tags use of smugmug when I made the decision. And is true, the costumer support is very quickly and efficient.

  11. tuxboy

    The tagging in http://atpic.com is even better than those used at flickr and smugmug: it is both a bookmarking and a folksonomy tool. The popularity of a page is also function of how many people bookmarked (tagged) you documents.

  12. JerBear

    hi. thanks for the article — i liked it. well i just signed up for smugmug and used your coupon code. oh yeah, happy thx giving too. i should prob go to sleep now and start uploading my photos later.

  13. Maxwell

    Dude, greetings from East Africa.
    If I’m setting up eCommerce websites with an accompanying weblog, which is better for my clients…SmugMug or Flickr?? My client hired 3 models for a photo shoot about 2 months ago to showcase her fabulous Afro-Italian inspired beaded jewelery and other amazing art decor. I’m trying to figure out WHERE I should keep the photos: On the web hosting account I got for her? On a site like Flickr or SmugMug?
    I want the weblog to be the focal point of the site and I need to be able to EASILY reference these pics in my blog posts. I really don’t like websites any more…I believe blogs are the way to go. And it’d be easier for my client to add kool posts, etc. without being at the mercy of a web developer.

    Oh, great article BTW and I love your blog layout!! I might have to ditch Blogger soon. Any new improvements in WordPress after the 2.5 release?? I was leaning more towards ExpressionEngine.

    Peacies.

    - Max (IT Consultant, aka MaxTheITpro)
    blogs: http://MaxTheITpro.BlogSpot.com & http://GoAfricaGo.BlogSpot.com

  14. Scott K

    Greetings from Wisconsin, USA. I would recommend Smugmug at the Professional level (http://www.smugmug.com/help/pro-faq). It costs money but allows you to use your own domain name as well as completely remove all Smugmug branding, if so desired. Also, you can customize the layout so that it fits into the style of the blog. Furthermore, it lets you set prices for all the photos. Smugmug handles the printing and credit card processing and you get to keep any profit above the standard cost of printing. Both Smugmug and Flickr would be great for linking to blog posts, but only Smugmug allows you to sell photos and photo accessories. It would be straightforward to display photos on the blog and then link to Smugmug to handle processing.

    After re-reading your comment, I just realized that I’m looking at this from the perspective of selling the photos rather than selling the products that are showcased in the photos. In that case, I would still go with Smugmug but would probably use just the Power user account which is pretty much the same as the Pro user account except you can’t sell the photos through Smugmug. It still allows a custom domain name and the ability to customize the look of the site to match the blog.

    There are a number of new features in WordPress 2.6. Here’s a video that talks about some of these: http://wordpress.org/development/2008/07/wordpress-26-tyner/ WordPress has a huge development network and a ton of terrific plugins, including integration with Smugmug and Flickr are available.

    Best of luck with the websites!

  15. Maxwell

    Aah, thanks for the quick reply Scott! I see where you’re coming from.
    What I’m thinking of doing is having a blog with static pages too.
    So I’d have these links: HOME, ABOUT, SHOP, GALLERY, CONTACT and some other static links. I’m also concerned about nice looking URLs…no id=123 entries.

    When the user clicks SHOP, it’ll go to my CubeCart install. When they click GALLERY, I’d like it to go to SmugMug (or Flickr) so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. What’s this issue with Flickr that I have to provide a link back to their site? Is that a link on each page or for each photo they’re hosting?

    I guess I’ll have to dip my feet in WP 2.6. I just don’t want to have to mess around too much with PHP pages whenever I’m trying to do anything that’s not too complicated – even though I’m a coder. I want my client to be able to handle her content without too much fuss. Perhaps things have changed in 2.6 because I’ve heard horror stories about earlier versions.

    Thanks again for the quick reply!

    - MaxTheITpro

  16. Scott K Post author

    Hey Maxwell,

    I’m not really sure about Flickr and the issue with linking back to their site. I do know that Smugmug does not require a link back to its site. I haven’t had to edit PHP by hand in WordPress for a long time and Permanlinks allow for nice looking URLs. And, upgrading is super simple with the Automatic Upgrade plugin.

  17. Stefan

    Excellent post – I really found a lot of use from it as I am looking at both Flickr and Smugmug. I like the dynamic and customizable behaviour of Smugmug and will register with them. I would like the idea to sell photos with a pro account but I don’t know if you could expect any sales really… there are so many free pictures available out there. Does anyone have success stories with smugmug and picture prints/sales?

    Stefan
    http://www.imphenzia.com

  18. Nimo

    Hey,
    This is a great comparison, thanks a lot!
    Just signed up with smugmug using your code,

    Thanks!

  19. John

    Umm, You say you can remove all references to smugmug from your site… However you can not. It is against the policy and you MUST leave smugmug in the footer.

    I am a pro user and the reason I chose smugmug is because of the selling, printing, and control it offers.

  20. Scott K

    Hey John,

    Thanks for the clarification. Yes, you are correct that each Smugmug hosted page requires the “mini-footer.” The mini-footer will display, at the minimum, “Powered by SmugMug Portions © 2008 SmugMug, Inc.” All Smugmug branding besides this can be removed.

    I’ll update my review when I get the chance.

  21. gtdmouse

    I think you may have posted this before the feature was available, but flickr does now have collections, which I think would give you the hierarchy that you found lacking.

  22. Stéphane

    Hello.

    Thank you very much for this text, very interesting and useful. I had a preference for Smugmug, and it consolidates it !

    Anyway I have in mind the same questions than.. another Stephan. :)) Here it is :

    “Excellent post – I really found a lot of use from it as I am looking at both Flickr and Smugmug. I like the dynamic and customizable behaviour of Smugmug and will register with them. I would like the idea to sell photos with a pro account but I don’t know if you could expect any sales really… there are so many free pictures available out there. Does anyone have success stories with smugmug and picture prints/sales?”

    -> So, are there any feedbacks about the international audience of SMugmug ? I know a few photographers that were contacted from different parts of the world, and could sell a few pictures, from the Flickr galleries.

    Could it be the same with Smugmug ? Have they got the same public audience ? I fear not… (perhaps a “double account” is better then ?)

    Thank you, Stephane

  23. Scott K Post author

    @Stéphane,

    Thanks for the comment! I’ll get around sometime soon to updating my review because there have been so many enhancements to Smugmug over the last few years. In regards to your first question, I would check out the excellent discussion forum at http://www.dgrin.com. They have sections devoted to Pro-related sales questions and is run by the people that run Smugmug. You’re right, though, that there really are so many high quality photos on the Internet (and easy access to DSLRs) and it is getting tougher and tougher to stand out. However, Smugmug gives you excellent tools to keyword and advertise your photos and get found in search engines like Google. Also, it is quite easy to customize your site to initially entice people to stay on your site and check out the photos. I was contacted a couple of years ago because someone wanted to use one of my US Open tennis pictures in a small trade journal ad. I was so excited that I let them use it for free in exchange for a copy of the finished ad!

    I’d recommend asking your questions about sales and an international audience on the dgrin forum. Hope this helps!

    Good luck,
    Scott

  24. I

    Can anyone shed some light here. I’ve just created a pro flickr account and can’t seem to find where there is an explanation of the difference between “contacts” , “friends” and “family” in the privacy setting.

    Anyone help please?

    Thanks for the information here, I’m also thinking that I might have been a bit hasty in buying pro … SmugMug might have been better for my storage/categorising needs rather than a lot of sharing

    Thanks
    Gordon

  25. Scott K Post author

    Hi Gordon,

    I think some of the information you’re looking for can be found at the sites below:
    http://www.flickr.com/help/privacy/#32
    http://www.flickr.com/help/sharing/#168

    Now here’s my quick explanation of it: Contacts is a general term to refer to anyone that you add to your Contact List (see http://www.flickr.com/people/your_flickr_id/contacts/). These could be people you know or people that just take good photos that you want to keep special track of on your Flickr homepage. Within these contacts you have the ability to further classify each contact as friend or family. You can change the privacy level of each photo that gets uploaded. Photos initially default so that everyone online can see them. This default privacy level can be changed if you wish or the privacy level can be manually adjusted for each photo and, I’m assuming, set of photos. Upload a photo you just want your friends and family to see and check those boxes for the privacy setting for that photo. Upload a photo you only want your family to see and then just check the box for only being viewable by family. Anyone that might have added you on their Contact List but that you have not added as a friend or family will not be able to see those photos.

    So, to sum it up, contacts refers to anyone that you might know and/or really like their photos and want to keep special track of any new photos they upload. Within these contacts, you’ll have closer friends and family that you can then grant special viewing permissions based on the privacy settings that I described above.

    For categorization, reading about collections and sets on Flickr is the way to go.

    Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions.

    Scott

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