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.
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.
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?
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.
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.