While not quite equal to the dream yet, today's cloud-based services let you download apps to your computers and mobile devices, and automatically sync to download, share, and sometimes edit your images and other files wherever you are. Storage space is still limited: 100GB is the usual maximum, and this will generally cost you around $100 per year. Most services prefer one operating system or another; some play nicer with photographs than others; and some share more elegantly than others. But most of these services offer about 5GB of storage for free, so there's no reason that every photographer shouldn't use one (or a few) of these cloud services to make sure your best high-resolution images are backed up and available, no matter what.
Switch on iCloud for your iOS devices, and it works in the background to sync and back up your data. Photo Stream does iCloud’s photo backup: It keeps your last 1,000 photos on your mobile devices and saves full-res versions on all of your computers. What’s Hot:
•It’s auto-matic, and iPhone and iPad users never have to worry about backing up and syncing their stuff.
•Photo Stream doesn’t count against iCloud storage. What’s Not:
•Mac users must use Aperture or iPhoto to manage Photo Stream images (PC users just drag and drop in and out of a folder).
•Shared albums won’t come until iOS 6 releases in the fall. Specs:
•iOS device required; backs up to Mac or PC.
•5GB free; 50GB, $100 per year.
Install Dropbox on your computer, and it creates a special folder on your hard drive. Anything you copy to it will be available on any other machine with Dropbox installed, on any mobile device with its app installed, or via the Dropbox website. What’s Hot:
•Easy to use, with clear and brief online tutorials.
•Can auto-matically back up camera and mobile photos. What’s Not:
•Photos must be copied to one of two dedicated folders within the Dropbox folder to share using special photo features.
•Non-JPEG image previewing is spotty.
•Works with PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry, and web browsers.
•2GB free; 100GB, $199 per year
Files and folders are synced via the Google Drive folder on your computer. Documents, spreadsheets, and other files that you create using Google’s online apps are automatically downloaded to your machines. Anyone who uses Gmail already has a Drive account. What’s Hot:
•Sharing is robust, making it easy to collaborate, particularly on documents.
•Use your storage space for keeping photos on Picasa, Google’s photo-sharing service. What’s Not:
•Non-JPEG image previews are hit or miss.
•No iOS app (as of mid-June).
•No online slideshows. Specs:
•Works with PC, Mac, and Android, plus web and mobile browsers.
•5GB free; 100GB, $60 per year.
Much like Google Drive, SkyDrive syncs your files using a special folder on your computer. Also as with Google’s service, you can create and share documents, in this case using online versions of Microsoft’s Office apps. What’s Hot:
•Reliably displays previews of RAW files, high-res TIFFs, and JPEGs.
•Online- and app-based photo interface and slideshows are nicely designed. What’s Not:
•We hit a few bugs while attempting to share files by email.
•Doesn’t always sense when an image should be rotated vertically. Specs:
•Works with PC, Mac, iOS and Windows Phones, and using third-party apps for Android devices.
•7GB free; 100GB, $50 per year.
Sugarsync is a little bit more complicated than the others, but a little bit more powerful, too. Designate any folder on your computer to sync, without rearranging your files. What’s Hot:
•Web and mobile apps automatically create photo galleries of the images inside your synced folders.
•Photo slideshows are presentation-worthy.
•Works on nearly every platform.
•Shared stuff can be password-protected. What’s Not:
•Only JPEG image previews are reliable.
•Setting up syncing among devices takes some learning. Specs:
•Works with PC, Mac, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android, Symbian, Kindle Fire, and web browsers.
•5GB free; 100GB, $150 per year.
Built to be a true archive, Amazon’s new super-cheap solution, Glacier, lets you store your data in digital “vaults” up to 40 terabytes each — which is roughly 1.6 million RAW files from a Canon 7D. The data is also firmly-encrypted for security and comes with a very cheap per-GB cost. It’s made primarily for companies, but sounds great for final security on giant photo or video archives. What’s Hot: What’s not: Specs: Works with PC and Mac using Amazon’s AWS hosting platform (which supports some of the biggest sites on the web). $.01 per GB hosted, plus a small transfer cost when downloading large hunks of data.
Adobe Revel and Creative Cloud
Most of the other cloud storage and syncing services listed here are aimed at people who focus as much on documents and other files as they do on photos. Adobe has come out with two decidedly different image- and design-focused cloud services: Revel and Creative Cloud. However, neither hits the sweet spot for photo enthusiasts. Revel best suits consumers, and Creative Cloud is aimed at graphic designers and imaging pros who work in groups and use the whole Creative Suite set of applications. We’re still holding out for a service that tightly integrates with Photoshop and Lightroom, works with RAW, and shares and displays images beautifully. Revel
Use the Revel applications to import images and edit them on your Mac (there’s no PC support) or your iOS device (Android is still in the works). Your photo library and your edits sync across all supported devices. The service costs $6 per month. It’s beautifully designed, but without RAW support or true Lightroom integration, it is, if anything, a supplementary tool for serious shooters. Creative Cloud
The subscription fee ($50 per month if you subscribe for the year) for Creative Cloud allows you to download, install, and use any of the latest CS apps on your own machine. The service is built for collaboration and is tightly integrated with the Creative Cloud website. There you can manage and upload files to share, download them to edit, and give feedback on files uploaded by others.