Amazon Prime Photos Review

Now that it’s March, and all the “I’m going to start eating healthy and running 5 miles every day” New Year’s resolutions have been conquered (or fallen by the wayside), perhaps it’s time to put some effort into your photographic resolutions for 2015. One goal that I know many of us could stand to work harder toward is creating and maintaining a redundant storage and backup system for our digital images. Many of us have made do for years with multiple external hard drives, RAIDs, and offsite backups. However, the time may be right to switch to (or incorporate) cloud storage.

Last fall, Amazon announced that a new feature was going to be added to its Prime membership—Prime Photos, which is unlimited photo storage in Amazon Cloud Drive. While Amazon Prime started as a basic “free two-day shipping” upgrade for a flat yearly fee, it has evolved to include many more features, such as an e-book lending library, instant videos, streaming music, and now Cloud Drive storage specifically for photos. Prior to Prime Photos, Amazon was already offering Prime members 5GB of storage on the Cloud Drive. Most serious photographers require at least 1TB storage capacity for a backup system, and perhaps realistically need closer to 3-5TB, so Amazon offering unlimited photo storage is a big jump. (Note that Amazon Prime membership still includes 5GB of space on the Amazon Cloud Drive for non-photo files.) Should Amazon Prime Photos be your new backup system for your photo archives? Can it really be that simple and inexpensive? As always, the answer is both yes… and no.

What exactly do you get with Amazon Prime Photos?

It’s fairly simple actually. For a $99 yearly Amazon Prime membership, you get unlimited cloud storage space on Amazon’s Cloud Drive for image files. You can upload from a browser interface, a Windows or Mac desktop app, or an iOS or Android mobile app. JPEG, BMP, PNG, and most TIFF files are supported, as are RAW files from Canon, Nikon, and Sony.

Video files can also be uploaded (MP4, QuickTime, AVI, MTS, MPG, ASF, WMV, Flash, and OGG), but are not included in the unlimited photo storage capacity. They must be smaller than 2GB and shorter than 20 minutes in length, and they count toward your 5GB of Cloud Drive space. Once full, you can purchase additional space.

Prime Photos User Experience

The uploading interface for Prime Photos is a fairly basic affair. You can either choose files or folders manually or drag and drop them into the window. Uploading takes, as with any cloud service, a pretty long time. Actual upload speeds will depend on your Internet connection, but even with a fast connection it will take some time. I tend to start the upload before I go to bed and just let it run all night. If you do this, note that you do need to leave the page open while uploading.


Uploading from the web browser interface.



Select a location to upload your photos to.



Upload complete.



Another option is to upload from the Windows or Mac desktop app. This is the Mac desktop app.

An error message will pop up to alert you if a file fails to upload. Aside from a file name that had an odd punctuation character in it, the only upload failures I encountered were due to random glitches in my Internet connection. A second try uploaded all the missed files easily.


The error message will tell you which files failed to upload.

Unfortunately, there is no syncing option. So, you can’t, for example, tell Prime Photos to watch a specific hard drive or folder on your computer and upload any new images it detects. If you want something uploaded to your cloud storage, you have to put it there yourself.

I found organization to be a little frustrating. Expecting to drag and drop your files and folders to move them around? Think again. You’ll need to check a box to select the file or folder, click the move icon, and then choose the destination from a list. It’s not the quickest way to go about it, but then again, this won’t be an interface most people will be trying to do a lot of work in. Most organization will be done on your computer or other drives first, and then that organization structure will be passed along when you upload to Prime Photos. Still, this is an area that could use some improvement.


This is the file structure I have set up in my Prime Photos.

The image viewer is clean and simple with a muted dark gray background. The typical next/previous buttons are there, along with a “three dot” icon that shows you basic metadata.


The image viewer shows thumbnails of your photos.



You can view images one at a time as well. Note the small buttons just below the image for sharing, downloading, and deleting.

At the bottom of the page you will find sharing, download, and delete buttons. The share feature, however, is rather outdated, only supporting sharing by email or link. There is no way to share via Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks. In addition, you can’t share a whole folder or even multiple images at once. This may not matter to many photographers who are just looking for cloud storage, but for others it will be an annoying omission.

The iPhone and Android apps are interesting in their own way. Remember when I said, “If you want something in Prime Photos, you have to put it there yourself”? Well the mobile apps are the exception to that rule. You can tell the app to automatically backup the photos on your mobile device to Prime Photos. Given the number of phones that are stolen, broken, or lost every day, this really is no small functionality. You can also upload and download manually and browse your uploaded photos on the apps, but I found this to be tedious and would be unlikely to use the app for this unless I had no other option.


Two views of the iPhone app in use.

Drawbacks to Prime Photos

Overall, the drawbacks are fairly few: The browser interface is basic. I wish navigation and organization was clearer, but it is usable once you’ve gotten used to it. There’s no automated backup or sync aside from the iOS and Android options for your mobile photos. Sharing is rudimentary. RAW photo viewing is limited to the embedded JPEG. However, these are all fairly minor gripes that can mostly be worked around.

There are two major drawbacks, and a third that may or may not apply to you, that I would like to point out.

First off, the fact that Prime Photos does not include space for videos is frustrating. As HD video has become commonplace on nearly every imaging device out there, we are all shooting more and more video along with our photos. Now, yes, storing that video would take up more space on Amazon’s servers, but the fact that you cannot tell the Prime Photos interface not to upload video files means that there is no easy way to upload images in bulk without also uploading videos. So, you are either going to have to be very careful about how you upload, or you’ll need to purchase storage space specifically for your videos. When I asked about the possibility of Prime Photos including video storage space, Lyn Hart from Amazon replied, “We are starting with photos but will continue to listen to customers and based on feedback, it may be something we consider.” We could see this policy change at some point in the future.

Secondly, there is no possibility for Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) to provide an extra layer of protection between your photos and anyone who would want to access them. Don’t forget that photos were the target of a fairly high-level iCloud breech in 2014 that released hundreds of private, “sensitive” photos of celebrities. When I inquired about data security using Prime Photos, Amazon’s Hart said, “We work very hard to establish customer trust and are committed to making our products secure. Amazon Cloud Drive is built on the proven Amazon Web Service platform that provides highly secure and reliable technology infrastructure in the cloud for hundreds of thousands of customers in more than 190 countries. Data sent to and from Cloud Drive uses secure, encrypted connections to protect data sent to and from our servers. Files cannot be accessed without a signed URL provided by Cloud Drive unless shared by a user.” Now, perhaps most of us don’t see this as a big issue. After all, our photos are far more likely to be of our kid’s 5th birthday than a scantily clad celebrity, but I would urge you to give data security more thought than that. Hackers can and will steal any data that they can find these days, and giving users an MFA option would significantly increase the security of your photos.

Finally, Amazon is very clear that Prime Photos is not for use by professional photographers. They say, “Prime Photos is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You may not use it in connection with a professional photography business or other commercial service.” This may be just for liability reasons, or perhaps they assume that professional photographers will simply use too much of the unlimited storage space. The former makes sense—they don’t want to get sued for a crash that deletes someone’s future earnings. If it’s the latter, however, I think Amazon may be significantly underestimating the amount of data storage that the average photography enthusiast can fill. In any case, if you are a professional photographer, Amazon doesn’t want you using Prime Photos.

The Competition

Ignoring the value of the other Amazon Prime benefits, Prime Photos costs $99 per year, which works out to be $8.25 per month. What else is out there for cloud storage in that price range and how does it compare?

Google and Dropbox both have storage plans starting at $9-10 per month for 1TB and going up from there. Both do not care what sort of files you put in that 1TB and both offer more MFA options than Prime Photos does. Flickr, on the other hand, gives you 1TB of space for free for images of up to 200MB each. You can upload videos, but they are limited to 1GB in size and 3 minutes in length. While there has been in the past, there is currently no option to purchase additional storage space from Flickr. Often thought of as an ecommerce solution for photographers, SmugMug is an interesting option for cloud storage, particularly for anyone doing professional photo work. Their terms of use are more geared toward working pros than those of Prime Photos. Starting at $5 per month for unlimited storage space (with a maximum image file size of 50MB), SmugMug also allows video uploads of up to 20 minutes in length and 3 GB in size. For anyone with a lot of video content, this alone may make SmugMug an option worth considering. While MFA is not currently an option, Smugmug has in the past said that they were working toward enabling it.

Conclusion

Should you use Amazon Prime Photos for your cloud storage needs? If you are not already a Prime member, you should take the time to check out your other options for cloud storage first. SmugMug, Dropbox, Google, Flickr, and others offer slightly different features and costs that may suit one photographer better than another. For example, if your video storage needs are high, you may find SmugMug to be a better option. If you are an average photography enthusiast (who probably already shops at Amazon), Prime Photos offers a pretty impressive value for $99 a year, and even more so when you consider the rest of the features that being an Amazon Prime member gets you.

If you are an existing Amazon Prime member, the answer is a resounding yes, with a few small caveats. As an existing Prime member, you’ve already spent the money, so if you can get more value out of that money, why wouldn’t you? You might use Prime Photos as your main backup or storage option or you might use it as a backup for your current system. Either way, it costs you nothing if you already have an Amazon Prime membership. There are some rough spots, and it may be lacking a few options, but the same can be said for most of the competitors’ offerings in the same price range. In my opinion, the only reasons for not taking advantage of Prime Photos as an existing Prime member, would be if you were concerned about the “non-commercial” clause in the terms of use or if you were concerned about the lack of an MFA option.

Personally, I will be using Amazon Prime Photos extensively. The small cost for the amount of cloud storage space is impressive. I’m slowly uploading my image library to Prime Photos and will be using it as a piece in my overall image backup system.

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    • I thought I had spotted a deal breaker as I read the article. It stated the allowed file types include RAW formats for Nikon, Canon and Sony. Since I convert all my camera files to DNG on import I thought this would preclude my use of Prime Photos. However, when I tried uploading one of my stored files, it worked perfectly.

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    • Many thanks for a well written article on amazon cloud drive .I have been a Amazon Prime member for several years and I had previously  used the amazon cloud drive on my mobile phone. However lately I noticed that the  file transfer was incomplete so I set out to explore the desktop version. I have since then manually  uploaded the images from hard drive using the process described by you.As we know cloud storage is never 100 % secure and  I hope ACD is secure enough. It is hard to beat the offer if one is a prime member. I think creating folders and uploading although a slow process will eventually allow for quick access to ones repository of images at one place. I am told that the images will stay intact if one were to cancel prime membership but one would not be able to access them unless the membership was activated.
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    • I tried Amazon Prime Photos last night after reading Josh's article.  A test backup of 3 GB of JPG and raw files, using the desktop version (rather than web), begun about 12 hours ago is still running.  My DSL is too slow to make cloud backup of raw files practical, and it's even slower over wifi.

       

      It's not ready for prime time, for the reasons Josh and other folks mentioned: no sync; unreliable re-do of rejected files or errors.  My Nikon NEFs, Ricoh DNGs and Fuji RAFs have uploaded okay, but a few showed errors.  Of those, some were eventually uploaded without additional user intervention, but some did not.  Manual re-uploads finished the rest.

       

      Overall the experience is akin to using Flickr for backups, although Amazon will accept raw files.  For now I wouldn't advise anyone to get Amazon Prime just for this feature.  But it's a potentially useful addition for existing Prime customers who are already satisfied with Amazon's customer service.  After this trial run I'll probably use it only for finished edited files in JPEG format and other JPEGs.

       

      Even with only JPEGs, accessing photos via mobile devices like the Kindle Fire HD is a so-so experience.  Amazon's cloud lacks adequate hierarchy and organizational tools to select only the photos we want, which makes the tablet less useful for quickly showing photos to family and friends, or prospective clients.

       

      But if Amazon can work out syncing and better tools for organizing and displaying photos from the Fire HD tablets (and, presumably, Fire phone), they might have a winner.

       

      Regarding security, the major risk is from family members or others sharing the same Amazon Prime account accidentally (or deliberately) deleting photos.  By default all members of a single Prime account have full access to everything (with the exception of parental control, which I haven't tried yet).  So it's about as secure as a shoebox full of photos in an unlocked closet at home.

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    • Until there is support for Olympus RAW files, this service has little value for me.
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    • Just wanted to add a couple of relatively minor points.  One is regarding price.  If you have no interest in the rest of the Amazon Prime features, you can get just the Amazon Cloud Drive for $11.99 per year with exactly the same unlimited photo storage.  Therefore $11.99 per year is more of an apple to apple comparison with the other photo storage sites.

      While Canon raw files (.CR2) will store and download correctly, neither the web-based viewer nor the iPad app interprets the date taken correctly.  All the Canon raw files I tested with showed up as having no date.  However, if you download the same file, you can see that the original date taken EXIF tag is still in the file.  While this does not make the Amazon Cloud any less useful as a backup location, it does make the "Photos and Videos" view, which arranges photos chronologically, useless for these files.  The folder view still works correctly if you upload the photos folders.  Hopefully, this is just a bug that will be fixed.

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    • Just wanted to add a couple of relatively minor points.  One is regarding price.  If you have no interest in the rest of the Amazon Prime features, you can get just the Amazon Cloud Drive for $11.99 per year with exactly the same unlimited photo storage.  Therefore $11.99 per year is more of an apple to apple comparison with the other photo storage sites.

      That is a good point. Amazon now has a $11.99/yr unlimited photo storage as a standalone and a $59.00/yr unlimited files option as well (which includes non-photo files like video).

       

      Both were launched the week after I published the article. Go figure.

       

      I will work to get the article updated however as it is important info.

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    • I was pretty excited when I got the news about the "Prime Photos" plan in Amazon Cloud Drive for just US$ 11.99/year. It´s a very low cheap price, especially when most common RAW files are considered as "photos" for storage purposes, and then doesn´t count to the quota storage.

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201649930


      But I was pretty disappointed when several .CR2 files I left uploading at night were refused with a "Unable to upload, over quota" error message...

       

       

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    • Another option not mentioned is OneDrive, which is similar to Google Drive and DropBox, but cheaper, and/or included with a subscription for MS Office: http://onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/plans/ .

      My main "problem" with all these services is that their SLAs are for 'casual' use, not SLAs targetted as secure backups - for which Carbonite, Crashplan, Mozy, Norton Online Backup etc. are better consumer-alternatives, but also more expensive generally. Though they're getting more competitive too, for example see http://www.carbonite.com/backup/pricing-plans/personal-plans .

      A second problem is the initial batch - a chicken and egg problem. Keeping things up to date once the first backup is made is doable on a normal DSL connection, but creating that first backup is a massive hurdle. My connection is a bog-standard 1Mbit upload. Uploading my current collection, assuming to always have the full bandwidth available, I'd be uploading for over 40 days, 24/7...It keeps me waiting for a solution, while the problem continues to grow bigger and bigger... However, that's another plus for the more dedicated backup services mentioned before, they often allow drop-shipping external hard disks to transfer more massive amounts of data.

      The cloud options are attractive because of their pricing, and the accessibility from multiple devices. But I'd recommend reading the fine print well for the service agreement in case your data gets lost.

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