Photosharing service comparison and review: Zenfolio vs. ImageStation

Zenfolio is a new photo sharing website that aims to position itself one step above the first gen sites and looks to attract a more serious photographer. I was recommended this website by a friend and this is my review.

I think I fall right smack in the middle of the target audience. I would classify myself as an aspiring amateur. My first camera was an SLR, my current camera is a DSLR and is a third digital camera I’ve owned. I have a handful of lenses, a dedicated flash, and probably know how to make use of about 25% of the features of this setup. I shoot strictly in RAW, use PhaseOne C1Pro to convert from RAW to JPEG (I’ve never been able to get Photoshop to give me comparable results), and manage the collection with Photoshop Elements. It’s a hassle and my wife hates me for it, but I am of the opinion that by the time our kids grow up and look at these pictures, 6MP resolution is going to be ridiculously coarse and I want to squeeze the best quality I can out of current technology.

For reference, up till now I have primarily been using the Sony ImageStation website. The account is free, storage is unlimited, and I used to be able to get to the original high-res images. They’ve recently made that a $5/year option. I haven’t paid into it, but I know its there for me if I ever need it. They cap individual file size at 5Mb. I think next time I upgrade my camera I’ll start hitting against that limit, but for now I’ve been OK. My reasons for use of an online service are to share photos with family (almost 100% of my albums are password protected) and also as an emergency backup should I ever need it (thus the desire to have access to original high resolution files).

Here’s my quick list of things I like and dislike about ImageStation and some wishes:


  • I can upload multiple files at once and do it through the website (ActiveX + JavaScript, pretty slick)
  • They manage an address book (emails) that I can send albums to. Recipients are not required to have an account (that is a big gripe I have with other services).
  • They keep track of whom I shared the album with, who has viewed it, and who commented.
  • I get an email whenever someone comments.


  • They are not scaling well – I now have dozens of albums (maybe a hundred? Maybe more. No way to easily tell) and the interface is no longer snappy
  • For that reason I’ve bookmarked the “new album” page and that’s the only one I ever use
  • Whatever technology they use to transfer photos sucks up ALL the bandwidth out of my broadband connection and not even a QoS-capable router is able to cope well with it. We have VOIP phone service, so I am forced to upload late at night.
  • They do have a desktop client application that is supposed to help manage albums, but I’ve never been able to install it on my home machine


  • I wish they accepted my RAW files and I wish they had a way to manage the upload intelligently so it would just trickle up at off-peak hours
  • I also wish they could sort pictures based on EXIF date rather then file name / caption

Now, getting back to Zenfolio. I set up an account and uploaded a bunch of pictures into an album. The signup process was straightforward and well executed. The upload ActiveX control installed quickly (nearly instant, in fact!), but then I hit some snags. Two pictures into my upload, another app (Photoshop Elements) hijacked my browser window. The dev team should try to handle that event and prompt the user before the upload progress page is navigated away from. Luckily, I was only two pictures in and it was easy to restart. After upload, I was disappointed to see that the site does not offer a way to manage a list of emails to share albums with. Rather, they offer a link that pops a pre-populated email message using your system’s default email client. That is a pretty major omission as far as I am concerned and it also means that I won’t be able to share pictures easily when I am on the road using a hotel or internet café machine. I also really miss being able to see who of the people I’ve invited looked at the pictures, and the ability for the guests to enter comments.

From the viewer standpoint, there is a fair degree of customization possible for the albums and the interface is clean, efficient, and functional. Everyone I shared the album with and asked to comment replied with complements.

Some of those comments:

“… and i like zenfolio. i used the slideshow option and it was pretty nice.”

“I like the service. I really like seeing just the pictures and the background. No white stuff and other stuff to look at, it just looks nicer. One complaint is that the slideshow button needs to be closer to the pictures. If the browser is not open at max, you don’t really know where to click to see the slideshow.”

Finally, there is one other major feature that Zenfolio is currently missing and that is the ability to print. The good news is that I spoke with company management and both printing support and email list management are on the short list of improvements they are working on.

So, overall, it looks like the visitor experience, with the exception of lack of printing (a big one!), is a big improvement over ImageStation. On the other hand the photographer experience is a mixed bag. The UI is prettier but ultimately the service is less functional (for example, EXIF data is neat, but not a must have online – I already have it in PhaseOne and Elements; on the other hand lack of address book and comments is a step back for me).

There is also the issue of cost. Zenfolio charges $25/year for a basic subscription and $40/year for the unlimited account. It’s a tossup whether or not the improved interface is worth the switch and a decision that you will have to make for yourself. While they do offer a free trial, at only 14 days I think its too short.

If you do give them a try and want to save $5 off the subscription cost, use this $5 coupon code: EMY-8VU-9MT. You will save $5 and I will get $5 credit.

posted @ Tuesday, June 6, 2006 9:03 PM

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