Over the last two months, I’ve spent countless hours sifting through 50,000 photos and videos my wife has captured throughout our eight-year marriage.
It was an enlightening experience to re-live old memories, but also see how far smartphone camera functions have come over the years.
After the sorting process was complete, I set out to find the perfect online storage solution. The benefits of using a cloud-based storage system are two-fold: Viewing photos (and videos) online is easier than other methods, because they can be accessed on more than one device, and the service acts as an extra backup (you can never have too many).
The first photo-storage service I tested was Dropbox. The company offers storage plans that range from free for two gigabytes of storage, to $10 per month for up to 1 terabyte. Though free users can earn extra storage by completing random tasks, such as connecting a Facebook account or enabling Camera Upload features on his or her mobile devices. Currently, I have 80.8 gigabytes of free storage thanks to such promotions and offers.
Dropbox (DROPBOX) also offers applications across most platforms, all of which automatically backup your photos and videos without any extra work.
Afterwards I looked at Flickr, once a staple for online photo storage. The company has had to go to great lengths to remain attractive to users, such as providing one free terabyte of storage to every user.
Once considered a premium feature, now-a-days anyone with a Flickr account can upload years of photos with little effort and without spending a single penny. Using a combination of iOS, Android, and desktop applications (OS X and Windows), users can automatically—and privately—upload photos to the service.
After installing the Flickr Mac app and directing it to where my 500 gigabyte photo library was stored, the app scanned my folders and began automatically uploading photos. A surprising feature of the app was that it identifies duplicate photos, automatically skipping them during the upload process. It turns out I had nearly 4,000 duplicate photos in my library.
One drawback, however, is that the service only uploads photos (unlike its competitors), forcing me to use the website to manually upload videos.
Apple’s iCloud Photo Library was recently released through a pair of updates to iOS and OS X, removing the beta tag it had carried for the better part of a year.
The service can sync photos and videos stored on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to your iCloud account, making your entire library available across all of your iCloud connected devices.
The obvious benefits for someone surrounded by Apple (AAPL) products is the seamless integration. Content is automatically uploaded, then easily downloaded with the push of a button: Simply open the photo app on any one of your Apple devices and your photos are available to peruse.
Those with large photo libraries can opt to store smaller, more storage-friendly previews of content on devices to maximize device storage.
The iCloud Photo Library is the most expensive of the services I looked at: Plans start at free for five gigabytes of space, going all the way up to $20 per month for one terabyte of storage.
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon’s Cloud Drive offers unlimited photo storage to Prime members ($99 for the year), but requires users pay $60 per year in order to store videos that go beyond a 5 gigabyte limit.
After uploading a small album and struggling to make sense of the web interface, I decided against using the service. Amazon’s (AMZN) site was hard to navigate, and downright confusing. I soon realized trying to jump between folders and online albums was more work than it should be.
Google (GOOGL) recently launched a new Photos service. So far, I’ve only uploaded small albums for testing purposes, but found the system’s search capabilities far superior than others. The ability to search for something like, say, a pumpkin, and find several photos of my children and I carving pumpkins is mind boggling. Sweetening the pot, Google has also given users unlimited storage space for high-resolution photos and videos.
Despite having tested Google Photos for only a brief amount of time, I’ve decided to go all in. Being able to search for what a photo contains, instead of arbitrary time frames or geo-location data, is what really sold me.
In the end, the best part about having so many photo storage systems available (short of the time needed to invest in uploading a large library) is I can easily switch between services should my needs change or a service not live up to its promise. We’re lucky to have so many viable options for safekeeping of the precious and sometimes not-so-precious memories we capture on a daily basis.