Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug Shootout

Flickr, Picasa or SmugMug—which is best? Which one best suits your needs and your budget? What kind of professional level features do you get with each? These are questions I’ve been asking for awhile and it’s now time to compare three of the most popular photo storage and sharing services available today.

In this comparison we’ll pit Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug against each other so you can see which would best suit you.

Overview

Whether you simply enjoy sharing photos of your life moments or you’re a serious photographer that requires professional level features and capabilities, you’ll need [and likely want] to pick a service that best fits your budget and needs. There are many options available on the web but if you’re looking for the best of the best, these three services will likely be among your top choices.

We’re going to take a look at each, a little more than skin deep, along with options, plugins, apps and other addons each service has to offer.

Flickr

Flickr is perhaps one of the most popular photo storage and sharing services available right now, offered by Yahoo!. It’s strength comes from its many community driven features, ease of use for people at all skill levels and flexibility to meet the needs of users ranging from beginner to professional. Flickr requires a Yahoo! account.

Flickr

Flickr

Picasa [Web Albums]

Picasa is a relatively popular alternative to Flickr, offered by Google, requiring a Google account. Picasa’s strength lies with its storage and feature integration with other Google apps, affordable and flexible storage pricing, app simplicity and lesser known features. Picasa sports a community aspect but nothing as in-depth as Flickr’s.

Picasa Web Albums (PWA)

Picasa Web Albums (PWA)

SmugMug

SmugMug is the lesser known and arguably least popular service of these three, likely due to the fact that it isn’t an addon service offered by a company running a large network of apps and services such as Google and Yahoo!. Don’t let that discredit SmugMug though, as it’s an incredibly powerful service aimed at those a little more serious about photography. SmugMug doesn’t focus on community as much as Picasa or Flickr, but instead concentrates their resources to provide top level features you simply won’t find with free services.

SmugMug

SmugMug

Pricing

I’ll go through each service’s pricing options but will only mention a quick overview of the basic features involved in each level. More in-depth features will be reviewed later in the comparison.

Flickr Pricing

Flickr is free. Free is hard to beat and this Yahoo! owned service attracts many of its users using that price point. Yahoo!, being such a large company, gives Flickr the resources necessary to reach the free price point with the app design quality to make this service a top choice for those unwilling to pay for photo storage and sharing.

Flickr Advertisements

Flickr Advertisements

There are drawbacks to free services though, namely advertisements. As you can see in the screenshot above, Flickr does sport advertisements. Of course, this is something we’re all used to and Flickr doesn’t go overboard here. Advertisements are also included within your account, although they’re not too annoying.

The free level account also restricts users to 2 videos and 100 MB of photos per calendar month. You’ll also only have 100 MB of bandwidth available for photos, with “a little leeway for video“. We’ll get into more specific features like photo size limits a little later.

Want to go ad-free? Flickr offers a Pro account, for $24.95 per year. That’s pretty dang cheap and gives you unlimited uploads, storage, sets and collections. You’ll get access to your original files, stats on your account and the ability to upload HD video.

Flickr Pro

Flickr Pro

Picasa Pricing

As with Flickr, Picasa is free. This is no surprise as nearly all of Google’s services are free, a large reason why Google is so incredibly popular today. You might think Picasa’s free price point has held back the app’s design and feature set, but that’s simply not the case. Picasa is uses a simplistic interface by choice and offers many great features, although a little more hidden.

Picasa makes it’s money by selling storage instead of features or advertising. For free you’ll get all the same features as someone paying a premium, except a lower storage limit of 1 GB. Recently Google reduced Picasa’s storage pricing and increased the number of plans. Remember, purchasing storage for Picasa is shared among your other Google apps because you’re purchasing Google Storage. This is a great approach and a feature I’ve greatly appreciated as a heavy Google apps user.

Google Storage

Google Storage

At a similar price to Flickr’s Pro, $20 per year gets you 80 GB of storage space. Most users won’t reach that limit and likely won’t even need it for quite some time. Starting at a $5 per year gives you 20 GB of storage space, which can be upgraded (or downgraded) at any time. So upgrade as you need and save money over Flickr!

If you’ll be using more than 80 GB of space, it might be more cost effective to go with Flickr. If you’re sticking with a free plan, you’ll be able to use your 1 GB available space right away, unlike Flickr. However, over a greater period of time, Flickr would allow for more photo storage.

SmugMug Pricing

SmugMug offers no free plan. This is a large reason why it’s much less popular than Flickr or Picasa. With plans starting at $39.95 per year it’s like being forced into an expensive Flickr Pro account with some advantages and some disadvantages.

SmugMug Pricing

SmugMug Pricing

You get a free 14 day trial, enabling you to try any plan you would like for the duration of your trial. Okay, so no free plan but you get to try the best SmugMug plan for two weeks to determine if it’s worth your money. At their base plan, $39.95 per year, you get unlimited storage and traffic with absolutely no ads (or spam). You don’t get video upload capabilities though and you’re limited to 12 MB file size per photo, unlike Flickr and Picasa sporting a 20 MB limit (Flickr Pro) and at least basic video upload options.

At $59.95 you get DVD quality video uploads, limited to 10 minutes. At $149.95 you’ll get a raised file size limit (24 MB) and HD video uploads. SmugMug’s advantages lie with its customizability, giving you greater photo gallery and album theme customization options. Clearly SmugMug isn’t the best choice for those on a budget or looking for something basic to get the job done. For more serious photographers? SmugMug is a prime choice.

Interface Comparison

Comparing interfaces is difficult and will ultimately come down to your choice of design style and interface features. Flickr is clearly designed with community in mind and sports a relatively clean and minimalistic overall design. It’s somewhat text heavy (aside from photos) but easy to navigate.

Flickr Interface

Flickr Interface

Your account page includes recent photos from your photo stream, contacts, community photos and other general information in the sidebar. It feels a little cluttered a busy to me but going with the Pro account would remove the advertisements and alleviate some of that.

Flickr Account Interface

Flickr Account Interface

Exploring community photos is definitely one of the best features of these three photo services if that’s what you’re looking for.

Flickr Explore

Flickr Explore

Editing and organizing in Flickr very simple and enhanced with JavaScript to create a more seamless experience for users. Creating photo projects to be printed is incredibly easy (and affordable) with tons of great options.

Flickr Organize and Edit

Flickr Organize and Edit

Picasa, however, takes a much different approach with barebones simplicity focused more on your photo albums overview than community or other major features. Picasa feels more directly in touch with your photos and feels better than Flickr for photo storage.

Picasa Interface

Picasa Interface

Picasa’s interface is more “folder” oriented, viewing your albums overview, then album photos, then individual photos. With each view, related information is available in the sidebar, most of which can be changed inline. Ordering prints is simple but not nearly as intuitive as Flickr with much fewer options and capabilities. The same applies to photo editing and organizing.

Picasa Album View

Picasa Album View

Exploring the Picasa community photos is really quite limited and, although entertaining to a certain degree, it just doesn’t compare to Flickr.

Picasa Community Exploring

Picasa Community Exploring

I found SmugMug’s interface to be an entirely different beast than Flickr or Picasa. SmugMug’s account page was quite lacking in overall aesthetics. I was quite concerned that this would apply to the rest of SmugMug’s interface, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was absolutely not the case.

SmugMug Account

SmugMug Account

SmugMug Image Overlay

SmugMug Image Overlay

Viewing albums and photos may not be quite as sexy as Flickr but it does have its advantages. For example, instead of viewing a single photo, navigating through the album, you can view a grid of the photos to the left of the main image. Expand the browser window and the page expands to fill the available space, maximizing space utilization, creating a much better navigating and viewing experience.

In SmugMug, you’re able to quickly and easily view the largest size of the photo available that fits within your browser window. Click the image being viewed in an album and a sleek overlay smoothly pops into full browser view, loading the image.

SmugMug Image View

SmugMug Image View

The image below nearly filled a 1680×1050 resolution screen, making album viewing much more enjoyable and easy to skip around. Hover over the main image and you a sexy overlay slides into view with options such as photo rank, sizes, info. and downloading.

SmugMug Album View

SmugMug Album View

Albums can be individually themed, and there are quite a few to choose from. You can even completely customize themes, even to the point of providing your own custom HTML and CSS. This feature really allows users to customize nearly every detail of their albums, a huge advantage over Flickr and Picasa.

SmugMug is definitely focused on your photos, almost completely leaving out the social aspects aside from comments. You can, of course, easily share photos but exploring community photos is incredibly limited.

SmugMug Community

SmugMug Community

While some aspects of SmugMug’s overall interface could be further refined, the important aspects (your albums and photos) is very well designed. Not to mention that Picnik’s online photo editor is integrated for fast and easy photo editing, a feature Picasa lacks (Flickr also includes this). I have to say that I’m impressed with the interface features SmugMug provides, especially in its flexibility to customize it so greatly.

Photo Web Uploader

An important aspect of these services is the quality of web-based photo uploading. While all three services offer desktop tools for this task, I expect a quality web-based uploader that I can reliably access, anytime, anywhere, without issues.

Flickr’s uploader is straight forward, enhanced with JavaScript, showing each item’s progress with an overall progress bar below. The uploader handled small groups of 10+ photos with ease and uploaded photos at a relatively quick speed (not quite utilizing my full bandwidth though).

Flickr Uploader

Flickr Uploader

Picasa’s web-based uploader is… well, it’s crummy to put it nicely. Apparently you’re able to select and upload multiple photos at once using Internet Explorer. In other browsers, however, you’re limited to selecting each photo individually, up to five. This is simply unacceptable. Using their desktop software is an easy way to upload and manage your photos, although that’s not really what I want.

Picasa Uploader

Picasa Uploader

SmugMug’s web-based uploader is fantastic, featuring drag-and-drop capabilities, incredibly fast uploading speeds (utilizing my full upload bandwidth), individual image progress, time remaining and even actual upload speed. If you do need a plugin or desktop uploader, there are several to choose from.

SmugMug Uploader

SmugMug Uploader

Features and Specifications

If you’ve made it this far, you’re definitely interested in the lesser known capabilities of the three services. These will be the details that will likely be the deciding factor for those more serious photographers. I’ll do my best to include the pertinent information clearly compared.

Max Image File Upload Size

  • [Flickr] Free: 10 MB, Pro: 20 MB
  • [Picasa] Free and Paid: 20 MB
  • [SmugMug] Standard and Power: 12 MB, Pro: 24 MB

Max Image Resolution

  • [Flickr] Not listed, approximately 30 Megapixels
  • [Picasa] 50 Megapixels
  • [SmugMug] 48 Megapixels

Accepted Image Formats

  • [Flickr] .jpg, .gif, .png, .tiff (all images converted to .jpg and compressed after upload)
  • [Picasa] .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp
  • [SmugMug] .jpg, .gif, .png

Max Video Upload Size

  • [Flickr] Free: 150 MB (Standard Definition, 90 second length), Pro: 500 MB (High Definition, 90 second length)
  • [Picasa] From Picasa software: 1 GB, from general uploader: 100 MB (Standard Definition)
  • [SmugMug] 600 MB (Power users: DVD quality, Pro users: High Definition), 10 minute length

Accepted Video Formats

  • [Flickr] .avi, .wmv, .mov, mpeg, .3gp
  • [Picasa] .3gp, .avi, .asf, .mov, .wmv, .mpg, .mp4, .m2t, .mmv, .m2ts
  • [SmugMug] Unlisted, they claim “99% of the time we can convert from whatever you upload to the ever-so-cool h.264 format”.

Flickr Pros and Cons

Due to Flickr being one of the most widely used photo storage and sharing services, there is a large variety of tools, plugins and addons for everything from uploading and downloading to viewing and integrating. Flickr provides their own desktop uploaders and many third-party upload tools are also available via Flickr’s tools page.

If you need custom integration of your photos in your website or somewhere else, Flickr will likely be the easiest way to accomplish that. Although, all three services offer an API.

Flickr converts your images to .jpg and compresses them once uploaded, not something I want done to my photos. You’re also unable to download your photos if you have a free account. You’ll need to upgrade to Pro in order to download your photos.

Flickr does provide a pretty decent selection of settings and options, although not at the level of SmugMug.

Picasa Pros and Cons

Picasa provides a high quality free desktop application for photo library management that even supports many RAW formats. Picasa offers a standalone uploader for OS X along with plugins for apps like iPhoto. Although images appear to be compressed after being uploaded, it’s only when viewing them. You’re able to download your images in their uncompressed format.

Picasa’s uploaders all seem to have issues at times uploading and downloading large sets of images. On more occasions than I can remember I’ve uploaded 50+ images, sometimes getting upload errors, and then later when I try to download the full albums it misses a few of the images. It’s quite frustrating and even happens in their dedicated software.

Unfortunately, images viewed at Picasa Web Albums look terrible. Most images, especially high resolution images, are blurry and oftentimes dull. If you have a huge number of photos, you should be aware that you’re limited to 1000 albums and 1000 photos per album.

SmugMug Pros and Cons

It’s expensive. Simply put, SmugMug is going to be a deal-breaker for many people due to the fact that it’s outright expensive. With that being said, if you’re really interested in photography and ensuring your library doesn’t suddenly vanish along with your computer one day, it’s hard to beat SmugMug.

While it is expensive, it’s also the most feature filled of the three services. Smart galleries, theming, enhanced and customizable security and privacy, and even customizable image sharpening are included in each album independently. You’re able to add custom water marks and even sell your own photos (Pro only). You can even setup your own custom domain for your albums.

Your images are displayed at top notch quality, looking simply fantastic. It’s a night and day difference in comparison to Picasa. With the optional and customizable image sharpening, photos that would be otherwise slightly blurry end up looking like they should.

They also offer what they call SmugVault, a backup service, along with their regular SmugMug photo service. These are tied together so you can upload large format images such as RAW, TIFF, PDF and PSD.

Final Thoughts

Considering there are so many features and aspects of these major services, I obviously couldn’t cover everything. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and will appeal to each person differently. With that being said, here’s my short evaluation of each.

Social, easy and with many integration options, Flickr is your Facebook of photo storage and sharing services. It’s super affordable, very well designed and, from what I’ve experienced of the web interface, functions very well. While it will do the job for professionals, there are other options available that would offer more power, control and features.

Barebones and minimalistic, Picasa might be best suited for those looking for something basic or an easy and affordable location for photo library storage. For Google users, it might just be an easy choice, especially for those who’ve already purchased additional Google Storage. Of the three services, Picasa would have to be placed in last place. The strength of Google has made it a contender but it has many weaknesses that will need to be addressed before it will be on par with Flickr or SmugMug.

Although it needs design refinements in several areas, SmugMug is a top choice for anyone serious about photography. It’s definitely not a service that outpaces Flickr for beginners or intermediates but it’s clear that SmugMug isn’t focused towards people looking for a free or really cheap solution. Lacking the impressive community integration of Flickr or even the mediocre community integration of Picasa, you’ll really only want to choose SmugMug if you’re more focused on your photos than sharing them with millions of strangers. Photo viewing and album customization are the areas SmugMug really shines.

Your Thoughts? Questions?

Over the last few weeks I’ve asked people what their choices were. The large majority said Flickr. Many people didn’t know Picasa had slightly better file size features. The more experienced photographers were split between Flickr and SmugMug.

So what about you? What do you use and why? Thanks for sharing!

There’s a lot of information here, and there’s a lot of information that wasn’t included. If you have any questions about one service vs another, please ask in the comments below. I’ll do my best to answer every one!

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