Flickr alternative: My experience with Google Drive/Photos and Canon Irista

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Tak K New Member • Posts: 16
Flickr alternative: My experience with Google Drive/Photos and Canon Irista

Hello everyone

Since Flickr announced to restrict its free account to 1,000 photos, I’ve been (a bit) at loss looking for an alternative photo sharing and backup site. I’m probably not alone so I wanted to share my experience looking at options, and in particular, trying out Google Drive/Photos and Canon Irista. I hope others might find it useful. I'd be interested if you've got other recommendations.

What I want:

  1. Free or low cost
  2. Share photos (at full resolution and good quality) privately with friends and family
  3. Back up JPEGs (at full resolution and good quality): Around 35GB
  4. Sync with Lightroom’s publish service.

Flickr, 500px and SmugMug offer unlimited storage but cost $50/year. Photobucket is $50/year but only 25GB. I can't justify that cost for myself. I’m an enthusiast, not a pro.

Google Drive is $30/year and Canon Irista is 24 EUR/year, both for 100GB. I took a look at these and the rest of this post is going to be my test with these two. To avoid boring you with the details, I’m first going to jump to...


Neither live up to the nice presentation of Flickr but I can live with that. The problem is with publishing from Lightroom (i.e. sync).

Google Drive is great for back-up but it doesn’t synchronise well with Google Photos and Google Photos doesn’t sync with Lightroom.

Canon Irista is almost there but it's a non-starter for me. Its Lightroom publishing app is a big problem for me: It publishes the JPEG at full resolution but at lower quality and you can’t control it. If you republish (e.g. after retouching), Irista will show it as another duplicate image rather than updating the old one. I also don’t know how long Canon will maintain its lower pricing compared to other services out there, which all seem to charge $50/year.

I still don't have a good solution...

Google Drive/Photos

This is a bit of a saga. Bear with me.

Google’s Back-up and Sync app uploads all photos on my computer and I can’t even select which folder. This is obviously a none starter. Jeffrey Friedl’s Lightroom plugin for Google Photos can export to Google Photos but Google’s API doesn’t allow deleting or updating photos. According to JF, Google doesn’t seem to have shown much interest in developing this API so it’s probably not going to change. Exporting to Google Photos using JF’s app counts against your storage allowance.

Incidentally, photos uploaded using Back-up and Sync is free if ‘high quality’ is selected. High quality, for Google, means 16 Mpix and compressed, in my case typically from a 5-6Mb 14Mpix image down to 1Mb. According Jeffrey Friedl’s tests, he reckons that a 75-% quality setting on Lightroom JPEG export seems to be good enough with significant saving in size (typically giving me 1-3Mb JPEGs or around x2-6 compression, still at full resolution).

If I can’t publish to Google Photos, my other route in is via Google Drive. Currently, photos in Google Photos show up as folders inside your Google Drive and then Google shows the pictures in Google Photos too. I can upload the photos to Google Drive in two ways: Export the JPEGs to a local drive and then use Backup and Sync to upload that folder. My preferred way was to use Jeffrey Friedl’s Google Drive Lightroom plugin to publish directly from Lightroom because I didn’t want duplicates of the photos on my local drive.

Sync between Lightroom (or my local drive) and Google Drive works very well. Sync between Google Drive and Google Photo doesn’t work as well. If you delete the photo on Google Drive, it will also be removed from Photos, unless it’s in an album, in which case it will remain on Google Photos. If the photo is updated on Google Drive (may be you’ve re-touched it in LR), it will not update on Google Photos. To update the image shown in Google Photo, you need to remove the photo from the JF’s collection Lightroom so that it deletes it in Google Drive. Then re-publish it. This might be tricky if the photo is in an album. It’s all a bit of a mess.

In the midst of all this, Google announced that they’re going to change how Google Drive works with Google Photos (and this Google blog). From July 2019, photos in Google Drive will not automatically sync to Google Photos. If you copy over pictures from Drive to Photos, it will count double towards your storage allowance for photos in Drive and Photos. Google had been trying to move Google Drive and Photos closer together. This probably created some confusion. Given that the vast majority of their users probably only took photos on their phones, they seem to be move in the other direction to separate Drive and Photos to simplify things.

So this kills my approach of backing up to Google Drive and viewing the pictures in Google Photos.

Other than that...

  • Not a good way to organise/sort photos: It’ll mix up my crappy phone photos and my selected photos from Lightroom
  • Not as nice presentation as Flickr but not a big deal. The presentation in Albums is nice, the main timeline page is less so.
  • I like it that it works out the locations based on my Android Phone.
  • I am a sucker for Google emailing me with a montage of “5 years ago today…”. It makes me smile to see photos of my kids when they were little.

Canon Irista

You can upload photos to Irista via its own uploader app or its own Lightroom plugin. The uploader app allows you to select the folders to upload but there’s no way to set the JPEG quality. It seems to upload JPEGs as is with no loss. It’s just an uploader and doesn’t delete or sync changes. A major let down for me is Irista’s Lightroom export plug-in. Firstly, doesn’t allow you to control the JPEG quality. The photo gets stored at Irista at full resolution but typically around 1Mb size for me (x5-7 compression). Probably a bit lower quality than I’d like to have it for backup purposes. Secondly, if you re-publish from Lightroom (e.g. after retouching), it will show up as a new image in Irista rather than updating the old one. That's a non-starter for me.

Other than that...

  • No centralised page to manage shared photos like you have in Flickr. You have to go into each album and go to share settings.
  • Visually, it doesn’t have a nice view of your photos like photo stream in Flickr.
  • When you view the photos individually, they are quite small. On top of that, they’ve put a horrible distracting ‘ambilight’ effect around the small image. Yuk.
  • The photo detail and LR ratings (in stars) show up in the right side panel, which is nice.

Hope this might help others in the same predicament...

 Tak K's gear list:Tak K's gear list
Ricoh GR Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Nikon D3100
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