The best alternatives for Google Photos
With news that Google will stop unlimited uploads to Google Photos starting June 15, 2021, many photographers are thinking about alternatives. While ‘free’ and ‘unlimited’ options are all but non-existent with Google Photos gone, there are plenty of options if you’re looking to get away from the Google ecosystem and don’t mind paying for either subscriptions or one-time purchases.
We’ve rounded up a few of the best alternatives, ranging from simple to sophisticated, and have summarized their features and functionality. While some of these services do offer free storage, most are limited by data or the number of files uploaded, and some require a subscription or purchase before you can even use them.
If there are other options we’re missing, leave us a message in the comments below and we’ll consider adding them to our list.
Apple iCloud Photos
Let’s get this out of the way first — iCloud Photos is clearly meant for people invested in the Apple ecosystem. While it is possible to use iCloud Photos to back up your images on Android and Windows devices, it’s not suggested. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s continue.
Apple’s iCloud Photos service is effectively Apple’s version of Google Photos. It uses your iCloud storage space to automatically back up the Camera Roll on your iOS device to the cloud. Once uploaded, those images are accessible from all of your other iOS, iPadOS and macOS devices through the respective Photos apps, so long as you have iCloud Photos enabled.
Much like Google Photos, iCloud Photos will automatically recognize faces, intelligently tag your images for easy searching, show where images were captured on a map and even create ‘Moments’ that combine photos and videos together in easy-to-share collections. The best part is that it does all of this directly on-device, adding an additional privacy layer that Google Photos doesn’t offer.
|The option to turn on iCloud Photos is inside the Photos section of the iOS Settings app.|
As for determining how many photos and videos you can store, that will depend on how much iCloud storage you have. Every iCloud account is given 15GB, but beyond that is up to you, based on how much you’re willing to spend (and that 15GB is shared between all of your iCloud services). You can add an additional 50GB, 200GB or 2TB of storage for $0.99, $2.99 or $9.99 per month, respectively (Apple has a full support page dedicated to breaking iCloud storage prices down by region). Apple’s new all-encompassing Apple One subscription is another option for adding more storage to your iCloud account; and it even makes it possible to share storage across multiple iCloud accounts in the same family, which could help spread out the cost.
This isn’t the cheapest option by any means, but in terms of functionality, it’s about as close to Google Photos as you can get and if you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem it should be an easy transition.
Photos (iOS/macOS app)
If you’re an Apple user, but prefer to keep your content local, another option is to use Apple’s Photos app without iCloud Photos turned on. The macOS Photos app will effectively work the same as if you were using it with iCloud photos, but this option would require you to store images on a harddrive connected to your computer. It also means that you won’t have access to all of your images on your iOS or iPadOS device when your storage fills up.
The workflow would look something like this: Capture as many photos and videos as you can on your iOS or iPadOS device, manually connect the device to your macOS computer and import the images from your mobile device into the macOS Photo app library. You would then have to remove the images from your mobile device to make space for more and repeat the process once your storage is once again full.
This isn’t the most convenient solution, as it doesn’t do everything behind-the-scenes as Google Photos and iCloud Photos does, but it is the most privacy-focused, as everything is local. It does still feature all of the same great tagging, location and ‘Moments’ functions as iCloud Photos though, and even has built-in services for making photo prints and books. Thanks to Apple’s extension integration, you can also edit photos using third-party software, such as Affinity Photo, Pixelmator, Skylum’s Luminar and more. Apple-focused website iMore has a great collection of the best photo apps that have support for Photos extensions.
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Flickr has been around for 16 years and was arguably the go-to services for storing mobile images until Google spun off Google Photos from its Google+ social networking site in 2015. Flickr isn’t mobile-specific, but its mobile app — available for both Android and iOS — makes it easy to sync your photo library on-the-fly.
Flickr has seen plenty of ups and downs since Yahoo! purchased it back in 2005, but since being purchased by SmugMug in 2018, the photo-sharing site has seen a steady improvement in features and functionality. It lacks the automated tagging and fancy AI-powered collection features Google Photos and iCloud Photos offers, but it still has tools to manually create collections, add tags, share albums and more.
For a while, when it was owned by Yahoo!, Flickr offered an incredible 1TB of free storage to everyone who signed up for a free account. SmugMug reversed that decision, presumably to reduce costs, limiting it to 1,000 images in total.
While that’s enough to get most people started, you’re probably going to need more storage if you’re using it to replace Google Photos. For that, you can pick up Flickr Pro, a premium version of the Flickr experience which not only offers unlimited full-resolution photos, but also removes all ads, shows detailed analytics of images you’ve made public and offers discounts on other photo products and services, including Adobe subscriptions, Peak Design gear, Pixsy and more.
Flickr Pro has multiple subscription options, including monthly, every three months and annually. These plans cost $6.99 per month, $18.99 every three months and $60 per year, respectively.
Amazon’s Prime Photos is included with an Amazon Prime membership. The service is similar to Google Photos in that you can upload unlimited full-resolution photos to the cloud, organize your content, search by tags/locations/people, share your albums and even create custom photo products, including prints, books, mugs and more. Prime Photos has apps for Android, iOS, macOS and Windows computers, making it easy to upload photos from essentially any device you own.
One of the limits of Prime Photos is that you’re capped at 5GB for video uploads. With more and more phones shooting 4K video at increasing data rates nowadays, that 5GB of storage could be used up pretty quickly, so if you want all of your videos backed up to the cloud as well, Prime Photos might not be the way to go.
Still, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, it’s a benefit that’s there for you when you need it. Amazon Prime memberships cost either $12.99 per month or $119 per year. There is a free 30-day trial and multiple discounts, including a student discount that offers six months of Amazon Prime for free and an annual subscription cost of $59 per year.
Note: DPReview is a wholly-owned but editorially-independant subsidiary of Amazon
Plex is a multimedia server that makes it possible to self-host music, videos, TV shows and photos that can be viewed and played back anywhere in the world so long as the computer or network-attached storage (NAS) device you’re using to store your content is connected to the internet.
Plex itself is free to download and use. The process might sound complicated, but it’s as simple as downloading the Plex server app to your computer or NAS and pointing it to the specific folders with your media in it. It’s a fantastic tool for those with large movie and music libraries, but it also works great for managing personal photos and videos on-the-go.
Once the Plex Media Server app (available for both macOS and Windows computers) is installed, you can create various libraries using individual folders on a harddrive connected to your computer or the NAS you have the Plex Media Server app installed on. Once the Plex Media Server has a new library of images to work with, it will put them into a timeline and even organize your subfolders into albums if you choose to do so. Plex also offers an option to automatically add tags to images by letting it upload a small thumbnail of the image for analysis; if you don’t mind the privacy implications of this, the functionality is quite impressive and makes searching for images much easier.
The Android and iOS Plex Mobile app even have a built-in camera upload feature that will automatically take images and video from your mobile device and upload it to your home server, similar to Google Photos, iCloud Photos, Flickr and others. This can be done manually or behind-the-scenes and can be limited to just upload when you’re on Wi-Fi or also on LTE/5G if you don’t mind hitting your bandwidth cap.
Setting up Plex isn’t for novice users looking for a hands-off approach with minimal interaction. But if privacy is a concern and you want full control over every facet of your content, it’s hard to argue with the benefits Plex offers.
While all of the features mentioned above are free, Plex does offer a Plex Pass, which adds a handful of premium features for viewing, downloading and syncing your other media, as well as improved access to analytics for when other people — whom you’ve shared certain media libraries with — are accessing your data. Plex Pass costs either $4.99 per month or $39.99 per year. There’s also a Lifetime Plex Pass for $119.99, which will give you all of these features in perpetuity, even if the price increases down the road (spoiler alert: they usually drop the Lifetime option a good bit during Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales).
If you have a network-attached storage (NAS) device, there’s a good chance you can install your own, self-hosted photo storage solution. Support varies from company to company, but QNAP, Synology and Western Digital all have dedicated photo management programs that can be installed onto their respective NAS units.
These self-hosted solutions tend to be less fleshed out than their more commercial-oriented counterparts and oftentimes require a more hands-on approach, but if you want to ensure privacy and like the granularity of managing everything yourself and have the compatible hardware, these are available options.
Below are the photo management solutions offered by the various manufacturers. If you notice we’re missing one, leave a note in the comments and we’ll be sure to add it to the list.
Moments — Aside from a similar logo to Google Photos, Moments offers similar features as well. It not only supports live photos, 360-degree photos and more, it also automatically tags and groups images based on subject matter, date and location.
Photo Station — Unlike Moments, which seems to be more focused on mobile photographer, Photo Station appears to be more of a professional-oriented storage solution, with an emphasis on metadata, watermarking features and even galleries which can be shared with friends, family or clients.
Synology has a great overview of the two programs and how they compare with one another.
|A look at the Synology QuMagie photo app.|
QuMagie — Defined as an ‘AI photo manager,’ QuMagie works similarly to Google Photos in that you can automatically offload photos and video from your smartphone using an accompanying app and have the content automatically analyzed for facial and subject recognition. It offers a timeline view, smart album features and has multiple sharing options for sharing one-off images or full galleries with friends and family.
Photo Station — It’s the same app that’s available on Synology NAS units, although there might be a slight difference in version numbers based on how often either NAS manufacturer updates the app.
Camera Backups — Western Digital doesn’t go into detail about its Camera Backups NAS app, aside from saying it ‘[backs up] photos and videos from your camera to the My Cloud system.’