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Best Cloud Storage Services for Photos

Tercius Bufete

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It can be all too easy to take hundreds of photos and let them sit on a phone, a camera, a computer or another device, but physical storage drives can crash, go missing, or be destroyed in a fire, for example. That’s why it’s smart to build in redundancies, storing your pictures in more than one place, including in the cloud. 

For most people, using cloud storage in tandem with a physical device should be enough to safeguard their data. Finding a reasonably priced physical hard drive is not that difficult these days. But shopping for a cloud storage service that’s better than what you might get free with your phone can get awfully confusing.

When you use cloud storage, your files live on a remote drive owned by a host or vendor. You may then be able to access those files via app or website for viewing, editing, and downloading from wherever you have an internet connection. 

So how do you choose the right one? Consider three factors: the price you’re willing to pay, the amount of storage you need, and the items you wish to store. (Some services allow you to archive video, music, and documents, too.)

What You Need to Know

Free sounds great, but you have to be prepared to make a few compromises. As the chart below shows, most services limit the amount of storage available at no cost.

Some services may allow you to store photos but not video or other files. And they often shrink the size of your image files, which can be a problem if you later want to have those images printed, edited, or displayed on a tablet or TV screen.

Even plans billed as unlimited may shrink image size, so be sure to ask for clarification on that before moving your entire photo library onto the cloud.

For the casual, social photo sharer whose snapshots won’t make it further than the occasional Instagram or Twitter post, downscaling isn’t that big of a problem. 

If you want to print gallery-sized images or create images with a powerful, dedicated camera, look for services that won’t lower your image quality and that come with a large storage allotment. 

Being able to save all your images in their original size is what makes the paid options appealing—especially if you’re serious about photography.

If you’re looking for a mountain of storage, Dropbox will grant you 1 terabyte’s worth for $100 per year. (For $500, you can add a 12TB hard drive from Seagate.) But most shutterbugs will get along just fine with 100 gigabytes for $20 per year with Google Drive.

Once you have a sense of which plans suit your storage needs and budget, consider the devices you own, how you’d like to access your images, and what you intend to do with them.

For instance, Amazon offers 100GB for $12 per year. That’s double the storage space available from Apple’s iCloud for the same price. However, if you own a MacBook, an iPad, or an iPhone, you may prefer to remain within the Apple ecosystem for access to apps such as Pages or Sheets. The same holds true for fans of the Microsoft and Google ecosystems. In the end, paying a bit of a premium might be worth it to keep things simple.

If you need help with routinely backing up your work, consider a service that does that for you. All the apps we looked at, except for Nikon’s Image Space service, support automatic backup, but Box and Dropbox require a paid subscription to unlock this feature.

Before we fully evaluate each service, here’s a quick look at how much photo storage space each one offers free of charge.

What Are My Choices?

Amazon Photos
Pros: Unlimited storage, automatic photo uploading, photo printing service.
Cons: Requires $119 annual subscription to Amazon Prime.
Quick take: If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you already have access to this free unlimited service. And unlike most free options, Amazon Photos has no size restrictions for images. For files larger than 2GB, though, you have to use the free Amazon Drive Desktop app instead of the Drive website to upload images. Like photo storage services from Apple and Google, Amazon Photos also features a mobile app, Prime Photos, which offers editing features, tagging, support for those “live” motion photos you see on smartphones, and machine-learning-supported search. That last perk uses artificial intelligence to recognize objects in your photos, which can help locate items in your collection. For instance, you can use search terms such as “tree,” “cat,” or “man” to find the photo you’re looking for. 

Apple iCloud
Pros: Free but limited storage, automatic photo uploading.
Cons: The free storage limit is only 5GB.
Quick take: For those who own Apple products, this service makes backing up your images super-convenient, but the 5GB of free storage doesn’t get you very far. You need to pay about $1 per month for 50GB, $4 per month for 200GB, or $10 per month for 2TB.

Like Amazon’s service, this one offers automatic uploads and a mobile app with photo-editing features, tagging, live photo support, and machine-learning-supported search.

Box
Pros: 10GB of free storage.
Cons: Requires paid subscription for automatic photo uploading, no in-app photo editing.
Quick take: That 10GB of free storage is generous compared with the plans of other services on this list. Box also offers a Personal Pro plan with 100GB of storage for $10 per month. Box lacks features such as tagging powered by artificial intelligence and photo-editing software, however. And you have to pay the monthly fee to unlock the automatic uploading feature.

Canon Irista
Pros: 15GB of free storage, automatic photo uploading, photo printing service.
Cons: No in-app photo editing.
Quick take: With that 15GB of free storage, Canon Irista ranks tops on this list. You can also pay about $2 per month for 100GB, $8 per month for 500GB, and $13 per month for 1TB. Other highlights include automatic uploads, AI-powered search, and photo-book-printing services.

Dropbox
Pros: Free but limited storage.
Cons: Only 2GB of free storage to start, automatic photo uploading requires paid subscription, no in-app photo editing.
Quick take: To stretch beyond that meager 2GB of free storage, you have to do some outreach. Each time you refer a friend to the service, you get 500 megabytes more, maxing out at 16GB. Dropbox’s paid tier costs $100 per year for 1TB of storage. 

Google Photos
Pros: Free unlimited storage, automatic photo uploading, photo printing service.
Cons: Downsizes photos archived in the unlimited storage.
Quick take: With Google Photos, you get unlimited storage space if you’re willing to limit photo resolution to 16 megapixels. According to Consumer Reports’ experts, that’s adequate for most purposes—it’s enough to print a 16.40x10.88-inch image at the industry standard of 300 pixels per inch.

You can store some images at full resolution, but they count against the 15GB allotment granted for Google Drive. You can also pay $2 per month for 100GB and $10 per month for 1TB. The service features a mobile app that offers photo editing, tagging, live photo support, and machine-learning-supported search.

Microsoft OneDrive
Pros: Free but limited storage, automatic photo uploading.
Cons: Only 5GB of free storage, no in-app photo editing.
Quick take: While it’s a bit sparse on helpful photo features, OneDrive might appeal to Windows users. Whether or not you use Microsoft Office, you can access and share photos using the OneDrive app, which does not require an additional download for computer use. If the 5GB of free storage is too slim, you can pay about $2 per month for 50GB or $70 per year for 1TB.

Nikon Image Space
Pros: Free but limited storage.
Cons: No automatic photo uploading, no in-app photo editing.
Quick take: Nikon’s free basic plan includes 2GB of storage, but Nikon camera owners can access up to 20GB of free storage in the company’s Image Space service. (Both options accept photos only.) There are no paid storage tiers. Those who own certain Nikon cameras, such as the D7100 and D5600, can also store an unlimited number of photos, scaled down to 2MB, using the Nikon SnapBridge app.

Image Space lacks the post-processing and AI features of other apps.

Shutterfly
Pros: Free unlimited storage, automatic photo uploading, photo printing service.
Cons: Limited download resolution, no in-app photo editing.
Quick take: While Shutterfly is best known as a photo-printing service, it also offers free, unlimited storage for photos. (Sorry, no videos, spreadsheet documents, etc.) And as with Amazon, there’s no real limit to the size of the photos you can upload. But here’s the catch: Shutterfly doesn’t offer full-resolution downloading. Instead, you get a scaled-down 2-megapixel file, similar to those provided by Nikon’s service.

Sony PlayMemories Online
Pros: Free unlimited storage, automatic photo uploading via mobile app.
Cons: Downsizes photos during backup, no in-app photo editing. Photos only.
Quick take: This service lets you upload as many photos (though just photos) as you want. However, Sony downsizes the images to about 3-megapixels, which roughly translates to a 6x5-inch print at 300 dpi. There’s no paid storage option. It may not be an ideal solution, but because it’s free, the service can serve as a smart secondary or tertiary backup plan because it allows for automatic photo uploads through your smartphone.



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Service

Storage

Apple iCloud

5GB

Amazon Photos

Unlimited1

Box

10GB

Canon Irista

15GB

Dropbox

2GB2

Google Photos

Unlimited3

Microsoft One Drive

5GB

Nikon Image Space

2GB/20GB4

Shutterfly

Unlimited5

Sony PlayMemories Online

Unlimited6

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