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Who will I trust to sync my photos: Apple, Google or Adobe?

I used to organize my photos by hand: a terrible, horrible, laborious process! Now I’ve moved to The Cloud for my photos and this article is a short recap of my ’thinking process’. I hope this is useful for other people as well! Later I’ll add a review to let you know how I like my new solution.

My library contains over 87.000 photo- and video-files, spanning more than 20 years. I spent a lot of time maintaining my file-structure (details below), instead of actually looking at my photos and enjoying the memories.

For the new solution I just want a machine to do all the organizing.

My old process #

Before you can understand my choice, let’s first see how I used to do things. I take photos with my camera and with my phone. Organizing these photos was a 2-step process.

Camera-photos #

  • take them from the camera
  • run a script that organizes the photos in folders by date (20180812 for 12th of August, 2018)
  • import into Capture One to develop the Raw photos
  • delete all ‘bad’ photos
  • rename the folders so they make sense (20180812 - Going to the zoo)
  • move the photos to the ‘big structure’ of “year / location / event”: 2018 / Rotterdam / 20180812 - Going to the zoo

Phone-photos #

  • take photos from camera-folder and WhatsApp folders
  • run the same script to organize by date
  • import into Capture One and delete all ‘bad’ photos
  • move photos around so that all the folders make sense
  • rename the folders
  • move them to the ‘big structure’

AAARGH, I don’t want to do this anymore! #

The process described above took me forever and I was always running behind. Even worse was I never looked at my photos once they were in the ‘big structure’. Why was I even putting myself through this hell?

I hope in the future when somebody asked “did you have fun this weekend?”, I never have to tell anybody again: “oh, I organized the photos of the last three months”.

My wishes #

I wanted a new way of dealing with my photos. Where I let a machine do the sorting and I focus on doing fun stuff with my photos. I wanted easier ways of finding back old photos: tagging, adding stars, creating albums, face-recognition and preferably place-recognition (for all photos pre-2014, when I didn’t geo-tag them). I also wanted something that syncs the photos + their edits to my other devices. Lastly, I would prefer a solution where I can edit photos using external apps such as Affinity Photo.

My options #

Basically, I see three main players: Apple Photos, Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom CC. The other options are to keep my ‘old way’ or to move everything into Capture One (or Photoshop Elements) and sync using Dropbox. I don’t know of any other photo-syncing tools.

Apple Photos #

If you surrender to the Apple methodology, it probably all works out, but if you think differently: bad luck. I would have to recreate all my folder-organizing into albums by hand (in other words: I’d lose my existing structure), because by default Apple Photos is structured in a weird way using moments that cannot be renamed.

It does sync iPhone, iPad and computer nicely and it allows for external editing. Editing in Apple Photos is fast and very extensive and offers a lot of ‘pro’ options. You cannot combine photos or do local edits, but there are plugins for both. And if all these options are not enough, it’s also possible to ’edit in external app’.

Sharing with others is hard ~unless they use Apple Photos as well~ (update: you can share a link). No love for Android…

RAW support is excellent, but sadly not for my Sony NEX lens. It doesn’t do the lens-corrections.

You pay 10 euro per month for 2TB and you can share this with 4 other people.

Google Photos #

Google automatically uploads your photos and you can keep your folder-based organization in Google Photos. That’s a big plus. Its automatic organizing features are also great (it even automatically recognizes the location the photo was taken without GPS data).

There are three downsides to Google Photos: there is no desktop app (no offline mode), editing options are very basic and edits are not (really) synced across devices, and privacy. Google already knows too much about me and I would prefer keeping my photos out of their hands.

Although the editing features are very basic, the automatic improvements are extremely good.

Google Photos works with ‘Backup and Sync’ and is basically a mix between Apple Photos and Dropbox: you can do filtering and face recognition (but only in the web-interface) and you can do editing with an external app (but only in the ‘Dropbox’ part of the solution). It’s not integrated.

Sharing is easy and also works for Android. Really cool is the ‘partner-account’: where a person can see all your photos going from a certain date forward.

RAW support is spotty and undocumented.

For full resolution photos you pay 10 euro per month for 1TB.

Adobe Lightroom CC #

This is Adobe’s offering. It syncs photos from everywhere and adds machine learning for organizing - except face recognition. It’s not possible to edit photos with external apps (lame) and sharing is difficult (you can create web-albums, but not share with other CC-users). But you do get the impressive Adobe engine for RAW-development and lots of editing features. Also, all the mobile apps are included.

Lightroom CC is 12 euro per month for 1TB space.

Adobe was a direct ’no go’ for me, because of the lack of facial recognition and because it’s not possible to edit in Affinity Photos. A lame restriction.

Dropbox and Capture One #

I can be quick about using Dropbox and Capture One: a lot of manual work still and no syncing the photos database (tags, albums, etc.) with my other devices. So a no-go.

The final verdict #

I have to decide between Apple Photos and Google Photos. Both offer automatic filtering and face recognition, but only Google offers me the possibility of keeping the ‘old’ structure I invested a lot of time in. Both offer me the possibility of syncing photos between my phone, tablet and computer, but Apple has the upper hand because edits of photos are synced more logically. With both I can edit my photos, but clearly Apple offers more options: built-in possibilities, filters and plugins. Both offer ways to share photos, but Google is clearly superior (especially when the other person is not using Apple Photos). Lastly, while Apple supports geo-tagging, Google uses their immense AI-knowledge to automatically recognize where photos were taken.

In the end I decided to go with Apple Photos. It means being forced to stay with the Apple ecosystem and dropping all the hard work I put in organizing my photos*, but I get extensive editing capabilities and piece-of-mind privacy-wise.

* Note that this is not all bad: I don’t want to do the manual organizing anymore, so maybe it’s better new and old photos are all organized in the same way