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A Comparative Guide to Online Photo Archives

Find a comparative guide to online photo storage. Prices range from free web space to thousands of dollars.

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July 9, 2007 - Irony. Irony is losing a year’s worth of work and personal photos while writing this article. As I sought to inform readers about the benefits of backing up photos online, I had, in an instant, lost a year’s worth of memories and work. "Remember to store photos online," I wrote in the article. Only I hadn’t.

We know we should. We keep meaning to, but we are just too busy, too cheap, or too lazy to back up. Like resolving to lose five pounds, photographers promise to back up their images - eventually.

Consumers will take an estimated 900 billion digital images by the year 2010, according to market research firm InfoTrends. Digital photography has made it easy for consumers to take large numbers of photos. However, it is as easy to take 500 photos as it is to lose or erase them from a memory card or computer hard drive.

Online storage is a simple way to preserve and protect precious photos. However, despite the number of online storage offerings, consumer behavior indicates that picture-takers not only neglect to back up their photos but are not even concerned with doing so.

"Consumers don’t understand the problem," said InfoTrends Associate Director of Internet Imaging Trends Service Alan Bullock at this year’s PMA InfoBriefing.

Some popular backup methods are time-consuming and have inherent risks. For example, CDs and DVDs can degrade over time, external hard drives can be destroyed in a fire or flood, or photo-sharing sites may delete files if left dormant for long periods of time. Online storage lessens these risks.

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Despite this, users aren’t backing up as they should be, according to InfoTrends representatives. There is an abundance of online storage providers that offer something for everyone, from the casual snap-shooter to the professional photographer; photo-dedicated sites in which users can turn a profit from their images, all-in-one solutions for business professionals, or storage for tech junkies looking to save everything from their family photos to their entire iPod music collection. With a multitude of online sites that offer several gigabytes to unlimited storage at a variety of price points, there just isn’t a good excuse not to back up. Read on for online storage providers and take backing up your photos off your neglected to-do list.

Photo-dedicated Online Storage

PhotoShelter – PhotoShelter is for professional photographers and press agencies. and the National Association of Photoshop Professionals are among its clients. In addition to archiving photos, users can buy and sell images through the site. The site supports 400 file types including RAW files. Users can customize and integrate their PhotoShelter account to fit their existing online portfolio. There are packages available for individual photographers or multiple users.

Sharpcast Photos - Sharpcast’s motto says it all: "Sync, because uploading blows." Sharpcast automatically backs up photos by syncing several devices: compatible cell phones, work and home computers. Sharpcast Photos also includes image editing tools such as auto colors and red-eye correction. Any edits made to an image are automatically updated across devices, according to the company website. Users can share their photos in real time with Sharpcast features such as Group Albums and Photo Chat Buddy List. Interestingly enough, more than half of users of the initial beta testing of Sharpcast were over the age of 50, according to Sharpcast representatives, indicating that it appeals to the traditionally less tech-savvy.

Photo and Video Storage

Phanfare – Phanfare is dedicated to archiving both photos and videos. Phanfare offers unlimited storage for photographers and has an emphasis on online-sharing. Users receive a personalized URL (eg. and can customize their online galleries. The site uses what it calls "background uploading," an automated uploading system that synchronizes a users PC and their Phanfare account.

Phanfare albums can be integrated with existing photo-sharing sites such as Snapfish, Kodak EasyShare Gallery, and Shutterfly. The system displays images at 700 pixels wide, but stores full-size images on its server, which users can download.

Phanfare offers monthly, yearly, and lifetime membership plans. The company also offers an additional backup system. Phanfare will burn recovery DVDs of your photos for $25 per disk for those on the free and yearly plans. Lifetime members receive one free recovery DVD.

For Everything Digital

Box – Box offers storage for photos, videos, and documents. Users can upload files up to 1GB if they have a paid plan and 10MB per file if they use the free plan. Users can create shareable online galleries, a Box widget tool for linking photo collections to MySpace and blogs, and access their account using their mobile phone if they have a Business plan. The Business Plan also comes with 15GB of storage and 20 sub accounts, allowing multiple people to access the same account.

Carbonite – Carbonite is a Windows-based online storage system that provides unlimited storage of documents, photos, and audio files. With one click, users can back up an entire hard drive, excluding application and temporary files. Users also have the option to designate which files to back up. In addition, Carbonite notifies users if data hasn’t been backed up in the past 24 hours by displaying a lock icon on the PC toolbar. Carbonite expects to release Mac compatibility in August, according to the company website.

iBackup – This Windows and Mac-enabled online backup system stores photos, music, and documents of any file type, according to a company representative. Users can share their online photo collections using Media Gallery. iBackup also offers sub-accounts for multiple users.

iStorage – Offered in Home and Professional editions, iStorage is a basic backup solution for PC and Mac users. iStorage’s 15GB storage (Home edition) or 25GB (Professional edition) limit may suffice for some photographers, but may not be adequate for heavy shooters. Unlike some of its competitiors, iStorage does not offer a photo-sharing feature. iStorage also includes a feature aptly named "WhaleMail" that allows members to share large files through iStorage rather than through e-mail.

Mozy – Mozy offers 2GB of storage for free and unlimited storage for under $5 a month. Although Mozy is not photo-dedicated, it can handle different types of image files. Mozy advises that users backup only their essentials, and not use it as a replacement for an entire hard drive. Mozy supports Windows 2000 and higher and now includes a Mac OS X beta.

Xdrive – Xdrive offers 5GB of free storage. Xdrive supports multiple types of photo, video, music, and document files. Users can drop and drag their files onto the online server and share files, folders, or postings.

A photo collection can take years to build, but seconds to lose. Online storage can protect your memories for just a few dollars a month. Online storage options are plentiful and come in many different features and prices. When choosing a provider, photographers should consider price, operating system compatibility, sharing options, and storage amounts. See the chart below for comparisons.

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