Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Smugmug vs. Zenfolio and Photoshelter

As you may have noticed in the past few months I have switched from a Zenfolio account for delivering my photos to a Smugmug account for my main web site. Let me explain the whole process, because it's actually been something of a journey.

It all started when I wanted to deliver photos to a client--I had an offer from Photoshelter in my inbox, and I appreciated their contributions to the photography community and I'd used their "Collection" for stock photography, so I thought I'd give it a try. Within 45 minutes of starting I realized it wouldn't work. There were few options for viewing size, the upload process was complicated and the galleries seemed to be designed for some purpose that was unknown to me, with a lot of data input information required and something about "lightboxes." In the end, though, the real clincher was the missing options for viewing the images big and beautiful.

So, I looked at the other hosting site advertising on the Strobist blog (yes, I'm a big fan). I was immediately much happier with Zenfolio than I had been with Photoshelter. In fact I would have remained a happy customer if it hadn't been for the fact that again I hit a wall when I wanted to deliver photos to my customers.

This time it had to do with selling digital files to customers-- something you might want to do in this new digital age. Zenfolio had no way to do that and when I asked they said that they were working on it but didn't have any definite idea when it would be available as a feature.

Now, earlier I had dabbled in Smugmug and had been impressed, but the price was almost twice as much as Zenfolio. I got an email response from someone at Smugmug about some question, I don't remember what, but clearly it was from a real person, so I shot an email back at them saying that in the mean time I had settled on Zenfolio, largely because of the better price (the meantime was probably all of a couple hours, or maybe a whole day, but it wasn't long). The Smugmug person shot back another personal email saying that competition was great, and that they actually had a coupon for those who were concerned about the price difference to make Smugmug cheaper than Zenfolio.

I was happy enough with Zenfolio at this point that I didn't switch, but when I heard that Zenfolio wouldn't allow me to sell digital files or even to control access to the digital files with my own payment solution, I decided to send Smugmug another email. Again the fast, personal response saying that they did in fact have a way to sell images with both personal and commercial licenses for use. This was perfect for me and the coupon was still in effect so I signed up right away to at least give it a try.

It worked well, comparably with Zenfolio, although the UI seemed a little less streamlined than Zenfolio. However, one of the big advantages of Smugmug was the ability to customize every aspect of your page including turning the first page into a nice flash slideshow. I didn't think I'd get to that very quickly, but following the online tutorials it was relatively easy for a guy who has only dabbled in web design to get a very decent looking site going. Pretty soon I was figuring out how to design the Smugmug site as my main business site. Meanwhile the file delivery system is really useful and helps me deliver images I would like to give away with a personal license by selling them for a $.01. The penny just makes file delivery system work, and is practically the same as giving it away, with the added benefit that the personal use license goes with the image making uses and copyright clear.

Zenfolio might eventually become a serious competitor to Smugmug, and I think that is clearly what they want to do, but for now, I'd say Smugmug is the clear winner. And with their large customer base and helpful online community, they'll be around for a while, with or without competition.


Jade Lady said...

Thank you for your thoughts - I am in the process of reviewing SmugMug and ZenFolio, and your comments on the two are great!

Peter said...

Thanks! Glad you found it helpful.

Miro Slav - Smooth photography said...

I would consider it again. I am smugmug customer and I have to say it is not a dream at the end. Smugmug is quiet invisible to google, and you will be unable to sell anything out of US. they also have no custom product section, and to customize it the way it looks really good you will have to spend not hours but days or even months and learn all about css and html.
Think again and contact me via if have some real man experiences to get.

lgonyea2001 said...

I'm glad I switched from Zenfolio to SmugMug. Even though my new site is currently a basic, non-customized site, while the old site was customized, my stats and website 'grade' are actually much better.

I am impressed with the larger community and the fact that visitors are posting comments on my site, making inbound links, and sending e-mail whereas this didn't happen on my old site.

Now, I'm not dissing my previous Zenfolio visitors or the staff, they are good folks, and they were very helpful. I just feel more 'welcome' in the SmugMug community.

Zenfolio's shopping cart had this one message which I do not think would give would-be customers a warm feeling of security: "Opening your shopping cart managed by a different fulfillment company." Who? Why even say that? Plus the first page that could confuse some visitors into thinking they had to register or login in order to purchase.

So what if I have to learn some code to get the site looking the way I want? You only get out of a site what you put into it, both in content and in marketing.

Unknown said...

Great article! I think a lot of people have a hard time trying to choose between the top 3 photo sharing services. They all have their unique benefits, but in the end, there is no one size fits all for everybody. There is another good review of SmugMug vs Zenfolio vs Photoshelter here:

Oh and if you want a great photoshelter coupon, you can use this one to save up to $55: 10PS1108M

Martin Tremblay said...

I like photoshelter a lot. They have fast server !!

I have a coupon code here :

sibastschn said...

zenfolio is almost invisible to google image results!! its a real problem wit zenfolio and the zf staff will always "blame" the customer for that.