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The Photobook Wars

By Eemusings @eemusings
The photobook wars

Much as I try, I am not a naturally organised person. Over the years my photo storage system - or lack thereof - has gotten OUT OF CONTROL. I've got pics in Dropbox, on the laptop, on Facebook, on an SD card, on a USB stick ... all over the place, really.

So when I finally decided it was time to do something about our wedding photos (2 years on...) I figured might as well tackle the whole shebang. Particularly those pesky travel pics, which I really wanted some tangible copies of.

As a result, I've been on a bit of a photobooking spree, and tried a few different companies in the process. Here are my thoughts...

I spent ages researching photobook makers renowned for their quality and that would ship to NZ. I was willing to fork out a bit for our wedding album, and MyPublisher seemed to fit the bill.

I actually quite liked the software, from the layouts to the ability to organise your photos in a particular order (though that particular drag and drop function was finicky and frustrating).

But the dealbreaker was that it's not web-based and, uh, didn't actually work for me. I downloaded the programme, spent ages creating my album, and then when I went to place my order - crickets. It just wouldn't connect to the site (or something). I checked the FAQs and Googled, but couldn't find a fix that worked. So I gave up.

Then it was back to the drawing board. This time around I signed up to try Mixbook. I went for a lay-flat photobook, with thick cardstock pages.

Mixbook's software is web-based, with a fairly clean design and is simple enough to use. Definitely a fan.

The downside was that when my book arrived, there were 2 small ink dots on one of the pages. I would have let it go, except this was my wedding album! I wanted perfection! So I emailed and asked nicely if anything could be done about it. Lo and behold, they made another and sent me a perfect copy. Yay for American-style customer service. Five stars for Mixbook (and their cute software that let me rate their response by clicking on a smiley face in the CSR's email signature).

Then it was time to make some travel photo books, which I wasn't willing to spend as much on. Shutterfly is US-based, so shipping is ouchies. But I got a free book courtesy of Revanche, so gave them a go (free book but paid shipping wound up costing about the same as a local Snapfish book - more on that later).

Shutterfly's got a pretty clean interface, and I liked that you could simply hover over a photo for an enlarged view.

That said, I found it unintuitively difficult to resize photo boxes (I had to google this) and the popup menu for editing an already-placed photo did not fit my screen. (Scrolling within lightboxes is a PITA.)

The physical quality of the books is pretty impressive; they feel well made and include a lovely waffle-textured page as the first and last.

Snapfish has a local operation, so it wins out in terms of cost and shipping time.

That said, it's probably my least favourite site to use for actually making photobooks.

I found the interface cluttered and overwhelming. It's nearly impossible to find a nice plain theme if you just want your photos to shine and be the focus. I couldn't seem to nudge using arrow keys and their guidelines/snap rules are pretty basic. And the settings didn't seem to save across different login sessions (eg, I like the side frame to hide photos that I've already used or removed).

Quality wise, the first book that arrived had the inside cover bubbling up a bit as if it was damp or not glued together properly. That felt cheap and looked sloppy. (My flatmate who also has a Snapfish book had the same issue.) The next 2 books were fine, though.

Photo prints

Both Snapfish and Shutterfly offer 50 free prints when you sign up, so I took the opportunity to get some wedding prints and compare quality.

Shutterfly's prints came out a little light, and lower contrast. Probably more natural is fair to say. Snapfish's prints were high contrast, with very dark blacks. I wasn't blown away by either.

To be honest, I prefer the prints I got done at Warehouse Stationery, of all places. I liked these the best - strong clear colours, natural looking skin tones, not too dark or too light.

Honestly, while I think photobooks are pretty cool, I feel like the quality just doesn't match up to normal prints. From a design perspective they're nifty, but there's definitely something still to old school albums. All said and done, though, the convenience of photobooking is a huge factor.

What have your forays into photobooking been like?

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