For several days, I’ve been experimenting with using Amazon Cloud to store backups of my large collection of digital photos.
If you’re mainly dealing with pictures taken with your smartphone, you probably haven’t gotten to an unwieldy number of photos yet. But I’ve got quite a mountain of them.
I bought my first small digital camera in late 1998, and have gone through many generations of cameras since then. I’ve mostly relied on Canon digitals, but along the way used a couple of Nikons, and recently added a used Sony RX1, a small digital full frame camera. The result is tens of thousands of at-risk digital pictures.
Right now, I rely on a stack of portable hard drives containing photos back to around 2004. Initially, I had a primary storage drive and a backup drive for each year or two. For several recent years, I’ve used a RAID drive that automatically saves my photos onto two separate disks. And this year I added a third copy on a separate portable drive. Earlier pictures, starting at the end of 1998, were burned onto CDs.
But there’s always the fear. What if the house burns down, or a hurricane hits? What if something destroys the hard drives? Having another layer of backup copies stored online seems the way to go.
So on with the experiment. Amazon Prime Photos was my choice. Google offers a similar, highly rated service. But I’m already an Amazon Prime member, and their file storage is really a great deal. The price is now about $100 a year to join Prime, but you get free shipping on most items purchased through Amazon. If you shop online, shipping to Hawaii can often be exorbitant. Amazon Prime usually offers an easy way to avoid those issues. And Prime membership also includes Amazon streaming video, music, and a few other benefits.
Then, not long ago, Amazon added unlimited storage of digital photos in a variety of formats. If you aren’t a Prime member, you can buy unlimited photo storage for just $2 a month. Unlimited file storage of all kinds–photo, video, and document files–currently costs just $5 a month.
I should mention that Amazon’s terms of service limit their system to personal, noncommercial use. You can’t set up your Amazon backup to serve photos to a website, if I understand their conditions. And you can’t resell any of your own unlimited storage.
In any case, a few days ago I signed up for photo storage and started uploading pictures.
I pulled a one of my backup hard drives at random. It turned out to be photos from 2008-2009. You can upload via the web, or using an Amazon Cloud app that runs on my Mac (Windows versions also available).
So far, I’ve uploaded about 150 GB containing something like 15,000 photos, plus some video. It’s a slow slog.
Broadband speeds are not speedy when it comes to this many files. And, unfortunately, the Amazon photo storage isn’t automated.
You upload either through a desktop app, using a web browser, or photos can be uploaded directly from your phone. Amazon automatically organizes your photos by date, using the embedded descriptive data.
It’s relatively straightforward, but time consuming.
Here’s what I’ve done. First, I realized that wifi is too slow. So I ran an ethernet cable from the Hawaiian Tel broadband connection that’s up in one of our closets, and plugged it into my travel laptop. I’ve just been letting that run as an upload machine. Every couple of hours, if I remember, I stop by and set up another batch of pictures to be uploaded. I’m still trying to figure out the most efficient way to do these uploads. I’ve read about another app for automating the process, and I’ll probably go looking for a solution like that soon.
In the meantime, here’s the good side of things. The photos are stored in their original format at full size. I’ve read that files can’t exceed 2 GB in size, which isn’t a constraint for anything that I do. I’m not sure if that applies to video, at least if you’ve signed up for the unlimited photo AND video option.
Log onto your Amazon account, and you’ll see small versions of the most recent photos, with an option to jump to a particular year. Once there, yearly photos are arranged by month and, I presume, by date. I’ve discovered that some file formats, including the digital negative format, will only display an embedded thumbnail of the image. To see a full size rendering, you have to download that image. Yes, not perfect. But for redundant backup purposes, it doesn’t seem like a major limitation.
And all the photos become immediately available from my computer, phone, or tablet, or anyplace where I can access the internet. I’ve only used the Mac version, along with iPhone and iPad, but I understand they all run on other platforms as well.
You can also share individual photos via email
When I finish uploading all the files on the first drive covering 2008-2009, I’ll have to assess how long it will take to get all my photos into the cloud. Clearly it will take a while, may be months to get the whole backlog online, unless I can figure out how to get the process a bit more automated.
Using hard drive storage, there’s software to simply make a backup clone of a drive. It might take a while to physically make the copy, but it doesn’t take any more human intervention. Just come back when its done.
This process of uploading individual folders and files takes more work. I haven’t tried selecting all the files on a drive and moving them over to Amazon in one giant batch.
That’s all part of the experiment, I guess.
If you’ve got any experience using Amazon, Google Drive, or other ways of doing large scale photo backup, I would be most interested in your experience.