Photostream is cute, but what I really want is Aperture/iPhoto in the cloud

So “I don’t really get iCloud storage yet”:http://theludwigs.com/2011/10/im-struggling-to-understand-why-i-would-ever-use-icloud-storage/, and “Photostream doesn’t really accomodate all my DSLR pictures well”:http://theludwigs.com/2011/10/icloud-photostream-and-dslrs-dont-seem-to-be-a-great-fit/. So rather than just whine about what I don’t have, what do I really want?

First — I have a 203G (gigabyte) Aperture library today, that is where my primary photo storage is. Digging into this a little:

* 54G is thumbnails, previews, cache of various sorts. 27G of thumbnails alone! Impressive use of disk space, Aperture. Clearly the team has embraced the idea that disk space is cheap and is getting cheaper. There are probably some settings I could tweak to trim the size of all this at the cost of performance, but whatever, disk space IS cheap, 30% overhead is probably not a ridiculous design objective. This is all derived data tho and could be trimmed, dropped, whatever, as I think about cloud storage.
* My masters are 149G. A mix of RAW and JPG depending on which camera/scanner I used and how long ago I took — tending towards more RAW over time.
** 19G from this year
** 34G from 2010
** 25G from 2009
** 71G from earlier years.

Lets assume I continue to take pictures at the last 3 year average rate for some time, that is about 25gig of new photos every year, not accounting for inflation in photo size due to better quality capture chips, “light field cameras”:http://www.lytro.com/cameras, etc. OK so you probably have to assume some growth in that 25gig of new storage a year.

Cloud storage of photos — is it important? Hugely so, if my house is burning down, I do not want to be running back in to save a hard disk, photos are emotionally very important. And I do NOT want to have to pick and choose which photos I store in the cloud — too many photos, not enough time, I just want the entire set up in the cloud. I really just want my entire Aperture (and iPhoto) collection replicated to the cloud automagically. And then I need some modest access control features on the folders in the cloud so that I can share selected photo sets with family members, etc.

So I want a cloud storage solution that gives me ~200gig of storage today at a reasonable price, and if I think about the next couple years, a clear path to 300-400gig. And with good web access with some security. What are my choices today?

* iCloud doesn’t begin to work. Aperture doesn’t really talk to it except for Photostream. The max storage I can buy is 55gig. There are no access controls. Doesn’t work along almost every dimension.
* Dropbox. I can get 100G for $240 a year with a nice web interface and some sharing controls. I could even get the team license, store up to 350G, but for $795 a year. If I had this, I could just move my Aperture library into my dropbox folder and voila, it would be in the cloud, on my other machines, etc. However — the Aperture library folder is not really meant to be browsed by humans, the masters are chopped up into some funky balanced tree of directories. Seems like Aperture needs to learn how to work with shared storage. But I could get everything in dropbox, with a very easy UI for me, but at a high price, and probably the ability to share folders with family members would be hard to realize.
* Box.net. Well I get 50G free with their iPad offer, so they pretty much trump iCloud. I could get up to 500G in a business plan for $180/year per user. Similar pros and cons as with Dropbox, but pricing seems better.
* “Smugmug”:http://www.smugmug.com. This is what I use today. There is an Aperture plugin, I can save from Aperture. The bad part about this is that it is not automagic — I have to intentionally move folders up there, not happy about that. But — unlimited storage, at $40-150 per year for jpg, some extra cost but still cheap if you want RAW. A great interface for sharing, completely customizable, printing integration, etc.

For now …. Smugmug is the way to go, but as storage costs drop, I can see flipping to box.net or dropbox at some point. I’d give up some of smugmug’s great interface for admin control but that is overkill for me anyway. If Apple made this all work natively in Aperture at a competitive cost, that would be fine too. For people with a more modest set of photos, the Box.net 50G free offer for iPad/iPhone users seems like an awesome option.

iCloud Photostream and DSLRs don’t seem to be a great fit

OK so I am diving into photostream. I’ve enabled on my iPhone 4 (don’t yet have a 4s), iPad 2, my MacBook Pro, my Win7 PC. So the dream was — some set of my photos would be magically replicated across all these machines. Magically.

I have two photo points of entry — the iPhone, and my DSLR (usually a Canon, sometimes an Olympus PEN). The DSLR photos enter through Aperture on the Mac where I manage my photo collection — filter out the good and bad, touch up, organization, etc. So the first challenge was getting Aperture to play with Photostream — needed to let software update patch Aperture, and then it was just a setting to turn on. Now a magic Photostream folder appears in my library, yay. And a test photo I took with the iPhone magically appeared in the folder, yay!

However…I shut the lid on the MacBook at this point and moved locations and thus wifi networks. Post move, I added a bunch of photos off the Canon into Aperture. Sadly the photos did not appear on the iPhone, Aperture showed a little broken connection icon next to Photostream and was unable to connect to iCloud even tho my net was fine. I brought the net up and down but didn’t help. Seems like maybe Aperture gets stuck in a broken iCloud mode. So i quit Aperture and immediately photos started propagating to my phone — apparently the Photostream replication works without needing Aperture to run, some background process is handling the sync. So sync is working fine.

But a couple oddities:

* First, I don’t really want every photo from my DSLR to immediately jump into my photostream. One of the great things about DSLRs are that you can quickly take 10-20 photos of a scene and then filter out the best later. But all of these show up in the photostream, and so my photostream gets polluted with many many variants of one photo. Not really what I want.
* Second, photos don’t seem to be removable from the photostream? This is strange. I can’t delete them on the iPhone. I can’t delete on the Mac. They are just stuck there forever? Until they age out (Photostream shows the last 30 days I believe)? This seems really unfortunate.

So I conclude using Photostream with DSLRs is not a great experience and not really the intent. Which is too bad, the automagic sync is nice. I can also use the old-style sync of a folder of photos but this is really suboptimal — I have to configure what folder to sync in iTunes, and then sync only happens when I plug in my phone to my Mac, or using the new wireless sync, when I plug the phone into power. Not nearly as nice.

I’d really like to be able to specify which folders to sync, Photostream-style, from within Aperture, and have that sync happen all the time. And I want to be able then to edit the folder contents so that I can add and remove photos from the stream.

My Current Digital Photography Workflow

Rich summarized his “current photography workflow”:http://www.tongfamily.com/archives/2010/05/panoramas/, lots of good stuff here. My flow is different, it is interesting how much divergence there is between our solutions. We have similar camera gear and take similar numbers of photos I suspect, but the way we process is radically different. I bet our workflow for other digital tasks is not nearly as divergent; the photo software and storage market is very diverse.

* I also shoot in RAW and JPEG but I don’t do much with the RAW. It has been hard to find consistent RAW support in tools and so I have tended to ignore the RAW. Tho that may change…
* Aperture is the core of my process. I import all photos off my storage cards into Aperture, I manage everything as Aperture libraries. I organize libraries in a Year/Month/Event hierarchy which seems to work well. Aperture exposes this structure in the file system and thru the common dialogs on the Mac so I tend to be able to get at photos easily from any app.
* My first line of backup defense is BackBlaze. It trickle backups constantly in the background transparently and so if I fail to do more explicit backup operations, I have this protection.
* I also dump photo albums to smugmug using the aperture plugin on an irregular basis. This gives me another level of backup and a way to share with family.
* Finally I copy the aperture libraries to a usb drive every once in a while for additional protection.
* Aperture is pretty fast at previewing photos and has fine basic editing tools for cropping, touchup, color and exposure correction, etc. Good enough that I never feel the need for Photoshop or other expensive tools. And there are a ton of plugins available if I really felt like more photo munging.
* Aperture 3.0 also has RAW support which I have yet to play with but need to try.
* I don’t do any HDR or panorama or other deep processing today. No time.

That is pretty much it. My solution is a little more expensive than Rich’s, I pay for Aperture, Smugmug, and Backblaze. But I find it all to be pretty fast. It does demand a reasonable MacBook, I just updated to the new i7 Macbooks with 8M ram and the biggest hard disk I could get.