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AnthonyAllison

In Depth: Cloud Storage for Photographers and Filmers

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Living in an apartment (or, honestly: anywhere near other human beings or natural disasters), you quickly learn that you can't trust anyone to be responsible and not burn the whole place down. When my apartment flooded from the unit above's washing machine breaking and leaking for hours down through the roof, I realized it was time to ensure that my digital files were backed up safely and securely off-site. There are a lot of options available for cloud backup, and at this point in the technology timeline, I'm not going to bother explaining any further about why it's important. Either you want it, or you don't realize you need off site storage yet. 

For me, it was a big undertaking - nearly 2TB of existing raw files, footage, and more were going to have to be uploaded, and I wanted to be sure to choose the best service to scale up with me over time. I also wanted accessibility to my files so that I could grab what I needed, when I needed, from any device. These services are generally referred to as cloud sync/share services and involve folder-based storage, not a complete hard drive mirroring. The benefit is that files are fully accessible and shareable. Using the mobile apps, I'm able to grab a photo to post on Instagram anywhere, peruse old photos when I think about a project, show old skate clips/footage when I'm telling someone about a gnarly time we got kicked out, and share pictures with my family over text when they complain "you never send me the photos you take!" I no longer have to be tied to my computer to go through things. 

They are a bit more expensive than traditional mirroring options, but I enjoy having the features. With that said, here are the top UI based Cloud sync solutions 


Dropbox - they are one of the first names in cloud storage, but they've unquestionably shifted focus to enterprise accounts. Individual accounts are $100 per years, limited to 1TB of storage which isn't enough for anyone at this point.

You'll need their business plans, which are currently $12.50 per month for 2TB of storage and $20 a month for unlimited (both paid upfront for the year). The 2TB option is out of the question for most of us at this as well, and if you're not there, you'll eventually scale up. This means that Dropbox for working photographers is $240 per year - quite on the expensive side. 


Google Drive - 100 GB for $1.99 per month, 1 TB for $9.99 per month, and 10 TB for $99.99 per month. This is getting expensive quickly, and already puts 1 TB users at about $120 per year (Or $100 if paid for a year upfront). 

Their unique proposition for us photographers and filmers is "unlimited free storage for 16mp photos and 1080p videos." Google will compress and resize accordingly, and those wont count towards your data count. Cool! But I don’t want compression, I want my files backed up. I think it defeats the purpose of backups if they compress and resize, but for photographers who are okay with this, they can save a bunch of money. Additionally, the first 15GBs are free, so if you are willing to use their compression or already shoot below those rates, you could get free to cheap storage.


Microsoft OneDrive - I won't bother with their 50GB and under plans, but they are offering 1TB of storage for $69.99 per year AND it comes with Office 365 for one PC/mac. Not bad at all, but when you check out their top personal plan, you get 5TB of storage plus 5 instances of Office 365 for just $99.99 a year. This wasn't available last year when I was researching, but this is a very enticing offer if you keep below 5TBs. Where things fall apart is if you're above that 5TB cap, the business plans get ridiculous. Not going to bother there. The problem with this is though I'm not near 5TB yet, I'm shooting 4k, 42mp photos, and raw film scans as I shoot weddings, events, and more. If I need to scale up, I'm not going to be served well when their unlimited storage plan requires a minimum of 5 users. In other words, the 5TB deal might be great now, but I'm not willing to pay hundreds to go above it, nor am I willing to have to go back and reupload everything to a different service. 


Amazon Cloud Drive - This is what I use and will probably continue using. There's a couple different features at play here, though, so read on. If you are an Amazon Prime member (AKA - the Seattle Tax for us who live here and are Prime members), you already get access to Prime Photos. Prime Photos is free, unlimited photo storage that's not just for compressed JPEGs. Raw file formats, TIFFs, etc count as photos which is amazing. They leave the originals alone. With prime photos, you get 5 free GB for other stuff like video. 100GBs of additional storage for is just $11.99 per year, and again, photos don't count towards that limit. Since I, and most others, have lots more video footage than that, I'm in their 1TB plan, which is only $59.99 per year. It's $59.99 per additional TB per year, which is very manageable because my photos don't count towards the limit.

Now, it's important to account that Prime is $99 per year, so unlimited photo storage and 1TB of video totals $160 - unless you're a student and get prime for $49 per year which I do. However, I already pay for prime because I want it.

 

GETTING THE FILES UP 

Each of these has their own manual syncing app, which works ok. If you've identified a provider you like, check out their app. Chances are it works well, but you'll need to manually select folders and files.

What I opted to do, however, since I had so many files to upload, was use a program called odrive. This is a program that you install, select your parent folders, and let it upload automatically. It will sync any changes and updates as it runs in the background. This meant that I could leave my computer on 24/7 during the upload process and be fully hands-off with not having to deal with potentially buggy apps and drag and drop web interfaces that are guaranteed to be a headache with large uploads. Odrive is free for 7 days, and if you have fast internet, you might be able to get everything uploaded in that time. Odrive will work with any of the services listed. I opted to pay for the full year which WAS $60 but is now $99, because my internet wasn't as fast as the 7 day trial and I liked the service. I will likely repurchase because I do like that I don't have to manage anything - any time I import new photos, it starts uploading. 

 

COMPREHENSIVE BACKUP SOLUTIONS

There are also backup solutions that don't have interface and mobile app accessibility. If you simply want a complete mirror of your data, and don't need the sharing advantages that Cloud sync platforms offer, check these out.


Backblaze - Unlimited storage for $50 per year with an automatic backup tool built in, for all your hard drives. That means you don't need oDrive, and can save major cash over a Cloud Sync service - the only caveat being the accessibility to files. This is more designed for a full clone of your hard drive and every piece of OS and app data. They can even mail you a USB or External Hard Drive of your files if you ever need to restore your data.

Carbonite and iDrive are competitors, but they honestly don't come close to what Backblaze offers for the price so I won't go into detail there.

 

GETTING ARCHIVAL

Amazon S3 is an archiving service where you're truly hands-off with your files, but the storage is extremely cheap in large quantities and offers "99.999999999% durability" through their worldwide data centers. You choose what data center region you want to store (pricing varies slightly), upload your files, and leave them heck alone. Storage is billed at $0.023 per month per GB for frequent access, and cheapens if you don't access, going down to $0.004 per GB per month on Glacier (very infrequent access). This means that storage needs of 1.75 TB can be $7 per month for fully durable archiving. They do, however, charge for accessing the files based on necessary time for request (expedited 1-5 min to standard 3-5 hours), and data amount (which is still about $0.01 per GB), but the idea is that once your data is there, it's archived in basically perpetuity. It gets a bit complicated since it's designed for enterprises, but it's certainly a very cheap option if you have shitloads of data across a network or something. For us with a computer and a few drives, the other solutions are much better and user friendly.


FINAL THOUGHTS

For me, I love the Cloud Sync services. I have my music, documents, saved project files, photos, videos and other important stuff on the cloud and can access whenever, wherever. If my house and external drives were to burn, I would be stuck redownloading all those files, however – so a comprehensive cloud backup that will not only mirror your drive's programs and OS, but send you an external disk is a great thing to have in tandem. 

Whatever you do, back your data up. If not in the cloud, at least have an external HDD stored somewhere off site that you update at least every couple weeks. A friend lost half an entire skate video because he didn't back anything up, and that's just sad.

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If you are gonna pay a lot for something like this I feel paying for a host (Hostgator offers unlimited storage and bandwidth on a lot of plans) might be just as worth while.

Personally I don't bother with this cause I have shit home internet, and I don't have any of my drives stored offsite yet, but it's definitely something I think about doing once or twice a year (offsite storage of backup drives).

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2 hours ago, TuneBomb said:

If you are gonna pay a lot for something like this I feel paying for a host (Hostgator offers unlimited storage and bandwidth on a lot of plans) might be just as worth while.

Be very careful with that offering from web hosts. I’ve tried to simply host a single video there and they took down my account for exceeding unlimited storage/bandwidth.

I said: “but this is an unlimited plan!” and their rep got back saying there is a clause stating unlimited within reasonable use. This same clause takes place in other hosts, like iPage, Netfirms, Dreamhost, and other hosts. In order to get a truly unlimited package, they require you to get a VPC or something which is often very expensive and has neither the ingrained backup features of something like Backblaze, nor the easy to use interface of the cloud sync platforms. 

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Excellent post, clearly you researched these in extreme detail.

I had no idea Google Drive compressed photos... I'm only using my 1tb account for a backup repository for my archive of skate videos (the list is getting pretty solid)

Also had no idea that Prime had cloud storage, it's painfully apparent that there's not much that Amazon doesn't do.

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Through school I have a good amount of google drive storage that I have been backing up finished videos and photos on. Though I also had no idea drive compresses photos which now kind of turns me off from keeping hi-res scans stored there.

What are your thoughts on personal cloud drive devices? My roommate and I have looked a bit into personal clouds from western digital or apple's time capsule but have yet to buy anything. They can get pricey but depending on which service and how long you plan on paying monthly for they could potentially be cheaper. 

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On 1/31/2018 at 3:22 PM, mikeronzitti said:

Through school I have a good amount of google drive storage that I have been backing up finished videos and photos on. Though I also had no idea drive compresses photos which now kind of turns me off from keeping hi-res scans stored there.

What are your thoughts on personal cloud drive devices? My roommate and I have looked a bit into personal clouds from western digital or apple's time capsule but have yet to buy anything. They can get pricey but depending on which service and how long you plan on paying monthly for they could potentially be cheaper. 

I would double check your Google settings, I believe you can turn compression on or off - but that might effect how much you pay and can store. 

 

As for personal cloud, this was the first solution I looked at. However, because it’s an on-prem solution (you’re basically running a home server), it didn’t satisfy the need for an off-site backup. If some major act were to happen to your place, you would still be out of luck in the same way.  

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This post is great.  I keep telling myself that this is the year to finally get smart about my photo backups cause it seems to be getting easier and cheaper with each passing year.  Not that any of my photos contain anything crazy but I'm still on that old school mentality of having full ownership of my files.

I''ve always followed the "3-2-1-" rule.  The 3-2-1- backup rule is simple: keep at least 3 copies of your files, each in a different location. I'll have 1 main backup of all the files, then 2 separate backups of the OG file on 2 other backup drives.  In a way it's like a RAID setup, minus the raid system (I use 3 total backup drives).  Since SSD's are still expensive, I've usually kept 2 backups on traditional external HD's and then 1 SSD copy (to access the files faster, if need be).

This year I want to replace one of the 2nd backups with a cloud storage solution, so that the 3-2-1 rule will be 2 external HD copies and then 1 cloud backup of everything else.  All this file management is no joke and not going to lie, it stressed me out.  Ugh.

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I shoot JPEG+RAW and have all JPEGs synced to Google Drive (it syncs to your Google Photos feed), which is synced to the work computer as well and external drive, and keep all RAW files on a external drive with RAID 1. If I could afford, I would have and additional copy, but this is a good basic setup.

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On 1/30/2018 at 10:53 AM, SteveLaClair said:

Excellent post, clearly you researched these in extreme detail.

I had no idea Google Drive compressed photos... I'm only using my 1tb account for a backup repository for my archive of skate videos (the list is getting pretty solid)

Also had no idea that Prime had cloud storage, it's painfully apparent that there's not much that Amazon doesn't do.

Amazon offers cloud computing services too. They have a lot of stuff.

I have microsoft one drive through school and my desktop has windows 10 but I haven't bothered figuring out how to get it to sync correctly. I'm sure it's inanely complicated like everything micorsoft related. Plus I typically need unix based stuff for science stuff so I don't think that will sync with one drive from linux or osx. I think I'm going to get a big external and keep it in my lab, that way both buildings would have to burn down in order for me to lose everything. Heard only one horror story of a PhD student losing all his work due to data issues. Plus one drive just runs constantly and shits up my computer in general so I deleted it.

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