Buyer's Guide 2008: Web Services
Boost your digital darkroom with specialty printing and image storage online
One of the most exciting advantages of digital photography is the ability to transmit images electronically without any degradation of picture quality. This feature spawned new business opportunities and shook up the long-established operating procedures of the photo-processing industry. It immediately became important for photofinishers to be able to handle inbound and outbound digital image files. The best of the breed flourished and developed new expanded services for their customers.
Although online processors differ as to the specific services they provide, considered as a group they excel chiefly in two areas: delivering perfect physical prints of any size or shape—fast—and storing digital image files forever. But if you've already invested in a great six-ink printer for output and a high-capacity external hard drive for backups, why do you need an online service?
From the Pacific Islands comes the story of the furniture maker who sold a single chair for $10 and a set of six for $500. When asked why he had such pricing, he replied: "Making one unique chair is fun. Making six that look alike is work."
That's how many of us feel about making prints. It's fun to spend time coaxing an inkjet printer to deliver one stunning enlargement, but it can be drudgery to print two dozen 4x6 snapshots. Or, if you have to make several copies of the same print—for example, after attending the neighbor kid's birthday party—that's work.
Online services are the place to turn for oversized prints, too. If you need a couple of perfect 16x20-inch prints, you can have them delivered to your door within a day or two. And when you're traveling on vacation or assignment, you can beam your images to the online service and your finished prints will be home before you are.
When it comes to permanent, archival storage, online services are hard to beat. Because of the colossal volume of data they store, they enjoy an enormous economy of scale. This allows them to deploy multiple redundancies that reduce the likelihood of failure to virtually zero.
One real advantage of keeping all or part of your image library online comes into play when you want to share images with friends and family. With most services, it's possible to create password-protected albums and grant access on an individual basis. When Aunt Ethel asks for a copy of every shot you took at the family reunion, you can give her the link to an album instead. Some online services even will print the selection for her—on her dime—and handle all of the details directly with her.