An overview of Google Photos
For starters, Google Photos is now a standalone service. It is no longer tethered to Google+ and its not clear what this means for Google+ as a social stream.
One of the best features of Google Photos is what Google described as a “single, private place to keep a lifetime of memories, and access them from any device”. You can store “unlimited, high-quality photos and videos, for free”. That bit got my attention immediately and features strongly in any discussion about Google Photos. It is a bit misleading, though, and I’ll get into that below.
One feature which was carried across used to be called Auto-Awesome. It is now called “Assistant” and it takes your photos and does some really cool stuff with them; adding effects, creating animations and a number of other really nice effects. It is one of my favorite features of Google’s photo service (here is a cool example based on some of these photos) and I’d love to see this in Flickr even though I’m not sure anyone other than Google can really pull it off.
Google Photos will take your photos and organize them automatically based on when you took them, where you were when you took them, who features in the photos and what is in the photos. It potentially takes a lot of that manual effort you usually put into organizing your collections. You can create manual albums too and you can even create Collections (these used to be called Stories in Google+) which are also very cool ways of telling stories using your photos from events and locations.
Another feature is your ability to share your photos using other services (like Twitter or Facebook) or even using a link that gives people who have the link access to your photos even if they wouldn’t otherwise have access. That is something Dropbox practically pioneered and Flickr emulated. It is great to see services supporting sharing across more external services.
Google has released iOS and Android apps as well as a new desktop uploader that, like the Flickr Uploadr, watches specified folders and uploads automatically. The apps are very clean and work pretty well. The iOS version works on iPhones and iPads.
Overall the update is a great one. Google Photos is a pretty compelling option for consumers who never really saw the point of Google+ as a separate social thing.
Google’s bait and switch
Google says users have “unlimited” space for their photos but there is a catch, a big one. The “unlimited” space applies to photos uploaded from now (or probably photos which were previously covered by Google+ Photos unlimited option – roughly 2 megapixels if I remember correctly) and only if you choose the option to upload “high quality” versions of your photos.
High quality images are compressed versions of your photos and are limited to 16 megapixels. That is probably fine for most casual users but it becomes a problem for more serious users and users whose devices natively shoot more than 16 megapixels (it won’t be long before this is the norm).
There is more, though. Your existing photos aren’t included in this new unlimited plan if they exceeded the resolution that qualified for the original “unlimited” so don’t expect space you paid for to suddenly be freed for other uses. Also, even though Google Photos will upload RAW photos (something Flickr doesn’t do), those photos probably won’t be included in the “unlimited” storage – RAW photos are usually very high resolution images and will probably use your normal storage allocation.
Flickr, on the other hand, gives you what it promises: 1 TB of free storage. Within that, you have pretty generous limitations:
- Videos can be up to 1GB each and playback on Flickr is limited to the first 3 minutes;
- Photos can be up to 200MB each (that is probably the equivalent of a direct export of a RAW file at maximum resolution for most DSLRs);
- Photos can’t be more than about 31 times wider than they are tall (not sure what this is about but I usually don’t encounter this problem).
Flickr prefers JPG and PNG images and will convert to JPG for viewing. That said, it retains your original files which you can download as and when you want:
The original, completely uncompressed version of your content is always saved to Flickr, along with several alternate photo sizes for you to use around the web.
Google Takeout will let you download your photo albums but bear in mind that you will be downloading the compressed, “high resolution” versions of your photos if you take advantage of the “unlimited” space. This means you can’t count on Google Photos for uncompressed photo archives unless you pay for enough storage.
The real losers
Google Photos isn’t going to replace Flickr for me but it is going to be a great option for casual users, especially people who use Google’s other services like Gmail, Google Drive and others (which is a lot of people). It is also going to be an easy choice for Android users (as you would expect).
My reasons for sticking with Flickr as my primary photo storage and sharing service remain compelling, even with Google Photos’ improvements. What Google Photos prompts me to revisit is how I’ve been lazily uploading photos to Dropbox to share with people who can’t seem to get to my Flickr albums. I got into the habit of just exporting photos from Lightroom to a Dropbox synced folder and just kept that running because I had enough space.
I don’t need to do that anymore. I have pointed Flickr’s and Google Photos’ desktop apps to a local folder outside my Dropbox folder and they will upload new exports as soon as they appear. This means I can remove all my stored albums from Dropbox and keep that space available for other files I need to store on an ad hoc basis.
Dropbox’s appeal is your ability to store your photos in their original format on Dropbox and that includes RAW and other more specialized formats. Of course that means you need a fair amount of space but if you have followed all the suggestions to earn more free space you probably have more than the basic 2GB for use for a variety of storage requirements.
Paying for premium Dropbox accounts to accommodate photo libraries has become an unnecessary extravagance and, despite ripping off many of its features, Dropbox’s Carousel is just less compelling than Flickr and Google Photos now. If I were a casual user, I wouldn’t even bother with Dropbox.
iCloud Photo Library is also a waste of money and for a far more limited service. I wrote a bit about this in my previous post so I won’t go into more detail here.
Other losers include all the other paid photo storage and sharing services. Some of them, like 500px, are really good services but they are becoming niche services for professional photographers who want more advanced analytics and the ability to charge for their work.
Flickr and Google Photos have won the consumer space
The elephant in the room is Facebook with its huge market share. It doesn’t have the features Google Photos and Flickr have and may add those in down the line but my preference is to stick with a relatively free-standing service for my memories.
Consumers who feel similarly have no real reason to go with services other than Google Photos and Flickr. If you want to share high quality versions of your photos and be able to store them reliably (as much as you can with 3rd party services), stick with Flickr. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a secondary backup to Amazon S3 in addition to local backups and I recommend a similar setup. Don’t trust your only backup to just one service, whether it is Flickr, Google Photos or something else. Have multiple backups and blend local with online to keep your stuff safe.
When it comes to an overall winner, I still pick Flickr and you should take another look if you dismissed it previously.
What do you think?