|A screen capture of the Kodak upload page. I liked that you can easily track your progress via the handy tracking displays.|
|Shutterfly's nifty Simple Path program integrates with Facebook for photo album uploads|
Those who know me know that in addition to my loving photography and being a shutterbug (yes, that's me photographing my squash soup!), I also love photo books, particularly since they make great, affordable holiday gifts around this time of year. So over the weekend I decided to experiment with two popular programs, Kodak and Shutterfly, both companies I like and have ordered from before, for products ranging from t-shirts, to prints and calendars. I was also motivated by a recent promotion I'd received from Shutterfly for a free photobook ($16 value), as long as the customer paid the shipping, so I was off and running.
Here's a quick overview on each program and what I recommend:
- I loved the crop and edit tool that's available once you've downloaded your photos and are ready to find tune your photo book. I could not only easily crop images as needed, but could easily delete and/or rearrange photos using the cool drag and drop feature, so I could edit any page. including adding captions and customized text for the cover page. I also liked the backdrop template selections. There was a good variety, and design wise they were pleasant and didn't compete with the images.
- The autoflow layout feature worked nicely, and created a great variation of layouts. I liked that you could edit the entire layout at once, or individual pages to customize the layout. This came in handy, as for some pages I wanted a more traditional vertical or horizontal shot, while for other pages I liked the informal collage approach. (Note: I chose the autoflow and therefore can't speak to the manual photo layout feature.)
- Social media integration was clearly thought-out, with a menu asking for Facebook permission popping up almost immediately. A "Simple Path" program allows for this dual application. I did a little digging and found a good write up on this on Technorati, which states:
"Simple Path creates an instant photo book from selected albums, whether on Facebook, a home computer or on Shutterfly. The application automatically populates the photos onto pages and then allows for quick customization: including the ability to change styles, add captions and rearrange pictures and pages. The service allows users to not only pull from their Facebook photos, but also from friends’ Facebook albums, tagged photos, and mobile uploads.One of the more interesting aspects to the new service is that it takes into consideration for Facebook’s lower resolution images. As a result, Shutterfly will automatically detect image size and chooses the optimal layout for each photo in the book."
- Checkout was fast and easy and I got my e-mail confirmation right away.
- Pricing: Pricing was reasonable, at $12.99 for a 7x9 book, which can hold from 40 to 400 photos. Since I had my coupon, I just paid about $3.00 for shipping.
- Download Time:
Wow, it took me almost 3 hours to set up my photo book! Now, this is taking into consideration that I swapped out a few images, did some editing, and adjusted the layout a few times, but even so, a large part of this was the download issue. I have a slightly older Mac (2005) so maybe there was a compatibility issue, but since the program basically worked, and there was no specification listed regarding compatibility, I went with it, but still was rather shocked at the download time. I downloaded about 45 photos altogether, which caused some script issues on my computer and it froze up a few times. Also, there wasn't a tracking screen, so I was a bit in the dark about the processing time and any progress I was making. I had some similar "getting stuck" episodes when I went to download additional photos, which I only did because the original 20 I had downloaded didn't adequately fill the 20 pages, and there were awkward gaps.
- Saving Your Project:
I didn't like that the Save button connected only to the Project Gallery, so you would have to exit and return to the files again to confirm the project had been saved. I would have preferred a simple Save icon that confirmed the project had been saved then and there in the Window I was already in.
- Interactivity and Customer Connection:
I liked that right away as soon as I logged in and chose my project, the screens were highly interactive, include a screen that suggested the kinds of projects that lent themselves to photo books, or "Fun Ideas," such as holidays and trops, baby or family pix, and storytelling. There was a Live Chat pop up also right away, that made me feel like I had some company as I worked, although I didn't need to click on it, so I didn't. There was also more up front communication on what I was getting with my photo book: "1 photo per page side," and "photos organized by date taken" were welcome informational messages, as well as a suggestion on how many photos to start uploading for a 5.7 book - at least 40. Good to know!
- Photo Upload Tracking:
As shown in the screenshot above, Kodak showed you your upload progress, so I knew not to run off and start reading "War and Peace," while waiting for the uploads. I got up from my desk and came back a minute later, and the upload was complete. Yes! I also liked how easy it was to add new photos, with no delay.
- Creative Layouts and Customization Options:
Kodak's program not only allowed me to choose background styles, but also allowed me to select borders of varying widths, an option which I chose and experimented with for a bit. There was a wide variety of cover template selections, and also a choice of Views to select while you were working, such as Single Page or Thumbnail.
- Fast Photo Upload:
I was able to upload all my photos, add cover text, and customize my layout and color choices all in about an hour and a half, much faster than with Shutterfly, and encountered no system issues.
- Kodak logo:
The Kodak logo seemed to pop up on the outside of the back cover, with no apparent way to delete it. It's one thing when you are getting a free product, as in the case with Vistaprint, for example, and the logo appears on the back of the business card. But for a paid product, there is no reason why the customer doesn't have an opt-out. I like Kodak, but I don't work for them nor do I want to advertise on a personal project.
- Drag and Drop Slow:
It was great that you could rearrange the order of the photos, but the drag and drop feature was awkward and very slow. This might have been an issue with my Mac, but all other menu items seemed to work fine. So, I did not rearrange the layout as much as I would have like to.
- No Cropping Feature:
There was no cropping tool as part of the photo editor. If part of the photo image was blocked, you could change the layout feature and adjust it that way, but what if the user wanted to keep the layout and simply adjust a selected portion of the image? This didn't make too much sense to me, but I went ahead and used the "Change Layout" feature and it did fix the problem.
- Limited Social Media Integration:
Unlike Shutterfly, Kodak did not offer an interface with Facebook photo albums, although there was a prompt for Mobile uploads. When I clicked on this, I was told to go back to save my project, but there was no Save button so I got a bit confused there. Kodak does offer on its Facebook page a "Social Photo Album Creator," which looks like fun, but relies on connecting with the Kodak Kiosks at Target, and I don't hang out there. I'm curious why Kodak put all their social media eggs in one basket with Target? Also, I notice that Kodak is promoting a "SoKodak" social media sharing campaign, but it requires purchasing your new Kodak digital camera to partake. Hmmm....
Summary:I liked the speed of the Kodak program and the customization options for color choices, templates, and layouts, and I also liked the high degree of customer communication and interactivity. The lack of social media integration for photo uploads was a bit disappointing as was the lack of a cropping tool. Price was, a 5 x 7 book at under $10 was fair. Total points: 8.0 out of 10.00. If I had to choose one program for my next project, would have to go with Kodak based on the superior photo upload processing. Let's face it, speed is the name of the game when you're creating projects like this.
Now it's your turn, what say you? Have you used a photo book program you recommend? Share here!