Using Amazon Prime (Premium) “unlimited” for photo backup and archiving

Earlier this year Amazon announced “unlimited storage of images” for subscribers to their Amazon Prime service. (Prime is called “Premium” in some countries.)

Amazon Prime is a subscription service that currently costs 49 euros 50 euros per month in France. The price is similar in other countries, e.g. USD 50 in the USA. Prime gives you a number of premium services from Amazon. Exactly which services that are included depends on the Amazon site you subscribe to (or perhaps the country where you are), mainly:

  • One day delivery at no cost, for some products
  • Access to some Kindle books (but you must have an Amazon Kindle)
  • Access to some movies and TV shows (this is not available in France though)
  • Unlimited music streaming

And, most important for this article and for you (and me) as a photographer:

  • Unlimited photo storage. This is included in the Amazon Cloud Drive service.

Is online backup a viable option?

As a professional photographer (or serious amateur) you must have a backup strategy for your photos. Your backup strategy should have several “levels”, i.e. include several different copies of your images.

At least one of the copies of your images must be stored in a different location. You should not have all backups in the office or at home. What if it burns down? Or…?

Currently I have one copy of my backups stored in a bank safety deposit box. I swap it out with an updated copy every so often (not often enough though).

As online storage is becoming more easily available, is it a viable option?

There have been two main hurdles for online storage:

Cost

Even if prices have gone down it is still expensive if you have a substantial photo archive. My archive currently includes this:

  • More than 140,000 original RAW files
  • Over 40,000 “developed” (processed) tiff files
  • Around 5 terabyte (TB) of data

Even with a “cheap” service like Dropbox this would cost something like more than $700 per year, it seems. That can instead buy me another brand new file server, every year.

If however, I get “unlimited” space for a reasonable cost then the price is no longer an issue.

Wine storage at competition Les Citadelles du Vin, Bordeaux

Wine storage at competition Les Citadelles du Vin, Bordeaux, copyright BKWine Photography

Speed

With this kind of volumes it can take some time to upload things over the internet. With a traditional ADSL connection it would hardly be feasible. It would simply take too long.

But if you have access to a fibre internet connection, which is becoming more and more frequent, speed has improved very much. Exactly how much can sometimes be difficult to know exactly. This was one of the things that I decided to test with Amazon.

If the upload speed is sufficient online storage can be viable.

A speed-boat in high speed across the water on the south coast of the Peljesac peninsula. Orebic town. Peljesac peninsula

A speed-boat in high speed across the water on the south coast of the Peljesac peninsula, copyright BKWine Photography

Does “unlimited” really mean “unlimited”?

But does “unlimited” really mean “unlimited”? If, for example, the online storage is simply defined as a mirror of a folder on your computer (as e.g. a Google Drive folder on your computer or Box) then unlimited is not really unlimited, then it is limited by the size of that folder on your local hard disk.

An online storage for photo archiving purposes must be independent of any single physical drive that you have locally. I have my photos on two file servers attached to our local network. You might also have photo storage that are detached, e.g. drives that are not permanently on the network.

Therefore some of the “unlimited” storage services are not really unlimited.

But in this respect Amazon Prime really does offer you unlimited photo storage. You can upload whatever you want to Amazon Cloud Drive and it is not a mirror of anything that you have stored locally. (This, however, leads to another problem that I’ll come back to below.)

One point to Amazon!

A long straight road, Alentejo, Portugal

A long straight road, Alentejo, Portugal, copyright BKWine Photography

What is a “photo” on Amazon Cloud Drive?

Another important question for a photographer is if you can store all image file types on the Amazon Cloud Drive, or more correctly, if all relevant image file formats are included in the “unlimited” calculation? For example: jpeg, tiff, raw files of different camera formats, Photoshop PSD etc. Or is it limited only to “consumer type” files like jpegs?

The answer is yes, all of these file types are included.

On the Amazon help pages they have the full list of file extensions that qualify as image files.

One point to Amazon!

For other file types, for example video (that is not considered as images!), you have 5 GB of storage.

Amazon Ts & Cs

In the Amazon Terms and Conditions it says that the Cloud Drive storage can only be used for personal use and not for business. Does this mean that if you are a photographer you cannot use it as an archive? After all, photography is your business…

This is clearly a very important point. You don’t want to be breaking the terms of the agreement.

It has been discussed in several places and some people have also contacted Amazon customer support and asked the question. The answer from Amazon is comforting: Amazon has responded that if you are simply using it to archive your photos then it is OK. Google it and you will find some discussion threads that deal with this.

One point to Amazon!

My guess is that if you instead use it for delivery of images to customers or other type of “front end” services in your business (sharing pictures with customers, perhaps), then it might be a violation of the terms. Worth keeping in mind.

So how does it work, using Amazon Prime and Cloud Drive for online photo storage?

I decided to go ahead to test it. I signed up for Amazon Prime with my French Amazon account (I’m based in France). Perhaps I should have used my Amazon.com account instead so I would have had access to the wider range of services that they have. On the other hand, that might have been a violation of terms perhaps.

It was very easy to sign up and you even have a 30 day free trial period.

And I started uploading.

Desktop and browser access

You can access Amazon Cloud Drive either through a browser or with a desktop app that you download from Amazon.

I quickly concluded that using the desktop app was useless. It only gives you the possiblilty to upload files to the root of the Cloud Drive. For anything else it simply redirects you to a browser window. Not very useful.

Instead I use the browser interface that looks like this:

Amazon Cloud Drive browser user interface

Amazon Cloud Drive browser user interface, copyright BKWine Photography

I decided to keep exactly the same folder structure (hierarchy) that I have on my file servers so that it would be easier to keep track of the images. This means I created three Amazon Cloud drive folders: 01-01, 01-02, and 01-02 that correspond to the three file server units where I store images. Under these top-level folders I have kept exactly the same organisation as on my file servers (in fact, to the extent you upload folder hierarchies, this is done automatically):

Amazon Cloud Drive folder view

Amazon Cloud Drive folder view, copyright BKwine Photography

Here you can see one first annoyance with Amazon Cloud Drive: it organises everything by default by “date added” in reverse order. Perhaps understandable for personal use where you want the most recent things first. Windows, however, organises everything alphabetically. Well, you just have to click on the heading on Cloud Drive every time. Easy but annoying.

Uploading is very easy:

  1. You position yourself in the folder where you want the files to be placed on Cloud Drive,
  2. Click on the plus icon on Cloud drive and
  3. Just drag and drop files from your computer folder to the Cloud Drive

After the upload is completed you get a confirmation message giving the number of files uploaded.

One IMPORTANT thing:

You can upload folders to Cloud Drive and all files and sub-folders will be uploaded with the same hierarchy. However, this folder upload seems not to work with Mozilla Firefox. But it works fine with Google Chrome. With Chrome you can upload folders and folder hierarchies in one go. Or perhaps it is some conflict with a Firefox extension? I much prefer Firefox, it’s my standard browser, but it is not a big issue to use Chrome for Amazon Cloud Drive.

File upload errors

Every once in a while I had an upload error. One file (or sometimes a handful) did not upload. Cloud Drive gives you an error message and you can then upload the failed file(s) separately.

This, however, mean another very important thing: after each upload you must check the result. You must verify that all files were uploaded OK. If your computer shuts down during or after the upload (night time backup with shut-down option, for example) then you will not know if all files were uploaded or not.

Overall this was very easy.

How much time did it take?

It took quite a while to upload all my images but it nevertheless went quite smoothly. I uploaded modest amounts of files (1000-5000) in each batch and let it run in the background. Either during the day when working on other things or overnight for bigger batches.

As an example it took around 4 hours to upload 1000 files in a batch of 24GB. I imagine the time will be different depending on the file size, upload speed and perhaps also on other traffic parameters. My files range from 18MB to well over 50MB.

After having done uploads over a few weeks, not continuously of course, but when I had the time, it is now all uploaded. It went smoother than I expected. And I have had no complaints from Amazon, nor any deterioration of service as far as I can see.

Issues, weakness and improvements

No syncing

The biggest weakness is that there is no way of knowing if a folder on Cloud Drive is properly replicating what is in the same folder on my file server. The only way to do that is to check manually each and every folder.

No file and folder information

On Cloud Drive you get only two pieces of information:

  • How many images you have in total
  • How many items there is in the folder that you are currently in

(You also get the date added for files and folder, as well as date added and size for individual files.)

This means that it is very difficult to verify the contents on Cloud Drive.

For example: Amazon Cloud Drive tells me that I have 183,076 image files uploaded. If I check with Windows > Folder Properties or a tool like WinDirStat (a very useful tool!) I can see that on my file servers I have 183,079 files.

There are three files missing on Amazon Cloud Drive and the only way of checking which files that is is to go through every single folder manually and check the number of files.

Hopefully Amazon will open an API for Cloud Drive and some clever programmer will develop a syncing or simply a file comparison tool to compare folder. Beyond Compare is one such tool that is very handy on Windows but it obviously does not work on Amazon Cloud Drive.

No log file for uploads

It would be a great improvement if after each upload Amazon sent the user a log file (or gave it as an option).

Sort order not sticky

I would like the sort order to be sticky. I always want my files and folder to be sorted alphabetically but Amazon Cloud Drive always does it in reverse chronological order. Each time I open a new folder I have to change that setting. I wish it was sticky.

Some more statistics and search tools needed

It would be useful to get some more statistics on what is stored on the drive, eg. number of files of different file types. And perhaps to be able to display folder hierarchies, not just one folder at the time.

It would also be useful with some more clever search tools, eg. to be able to search on file extension only.

What more?

Do you have any more suggestions? Write a comment!

Conclusion: yes, it IS a viable option!

After these initial tests I think Amazon Prime’s Cloud Drive is a decent alternative for an online backup archive. It is far from perfect but quite good.

You will have to do a lot of things manually, eg remember to upload new files to Amazon Cloud Drive.

And more importantly: you also have to remember to upload files if you change them in your local archive! If, for example you add metadata to existing files in your archive then you will have to upload those changed files to Amazon Cloud Drive. That will be a tricky and time consuming task I fear. Would be made simpler with some kind of syncing or file/folder comparison tool.

Should you go “all in the cloud” now?

So Amazon Prime unlimited photo storage is great news for photographers. But I would never ever use it as the primary or the only archive. You must have your own local archive in your office/home that should be your primary archive. That should contain all your files and also all your metadata. (This means that you should not keyword and add descriptions only on an online service, like eg. Photoshelter.) Google “Digital Railroad” if you wonder why.

What are the alternatives?

There are a few alternatives to Amazon Cloud Drive.

The most interesting one is Photoshelter’s recently announced unlimited storage for their Pro account. The price tag is much bigger but for a photography business the other services that they offer – having a photography site, online customer-facing archive, display, sales features etc, etc – can easily motivate the extra cost.

Or perhaps you are, like me, already a Photoshelter customer and then the cost is effectively zero.

I will be sure to test that in the coming weeks, so come back later and read more about it.

There is also Google Drive for work, part of Google Apps. For an organisation of at least 5 users and for a price of $10 per month, i.e. $600 per year, in case you are not yet a customer at that level, you get “unlimited” storage.

Any other services you would recommend?

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28 Responses to Using Amazon Prime (Premium) “unlimited” for photo backup and archiving

  1. Tom Fiorina July 12, 2015 at 16:07 #

    Hi Per,
    Thanks for having posted this useful review of Amazon’s Prime Unlimited Photo Storage in France. I’ve signed up for Prime to take advantage of the July 15th sales that they’re promoting, and, based on your review, I think that I’ll take advantage of the photo storage feature. Just one comment about your review: the cost, in France, is €49/month (not per year).
    I use Aperture for Mac, so I hope that there are no glitches in unloading my photos. I’m still not sure about what the recent Apple decision to drop Aperture means to me. Any thoughts that you might have about Mac photo organisation programs would be appreciated.
    Regards,
    Tom

    • Per Karlsson July 12, 2015 at 17:12 #

      Tom,

      Thanks for your comment. Glad it’s of some use.

      But I think you are mistaken regarding pricing:

      “Après la période d’essai gratuite, Amazon Premium coûte EUR 49,00 par an. Vous pouvez annuler votre inscription à tout moment.”
      (https://www.amazon.fr/gp/prime/)

      Good new then! 🙂

      Regarding photo organisation, I am not a Mac user so have no Mac-specific recommendations.

      But I suggest you take a look at some of the posts I’ve written here about DAM, Digital Asset Management. It is quite a lot of text (especially if you read all the comments, which I certainly do recommend, they have lots of useful comments) but will give you a lot of info on photo organisation:

      http://www.bkwinephotography.com/tag/digital-asset-management/

      I suggest you start with “I am looking for a good DAM: Digital Asset Management software” and then go to the more recent posts.

  2. jacob June 28, 2016 at 01:46 #

    Have you come across any issues downloading RAW files from amazon drive? When I download them they come in as .tiff files. i.e. the original file is XYZ.NEF and after uploading it and then downloading it comes as XYZ.NEF.TIFF

    manually deleting the .tiff fixes it however it is concerning that the TIFF gets added.

    • Brian Muntz September 4, 2016 at 15:50 #

      This is easily solvable… What’s happening is that you previewed the raw file then clicked download. Instead, use the check box to select the file and then download. It’s an odd glitch for sure

  3. Per Karlsson June 28, 2016 at 08:44 #

    Jacob
    No i havent. On the other hand i have not had any reason to download them. I will do a test when im back from travel. If it’s the case it certainly would be a problem.

  4. Lins August 10, 2016 at 22:05 #

    Their unlimited photo storage is not for business or professional use.Read the terms. We found their service to be slow and horrible.We thought photos were being uploaded only to be disconnected from the service or after having everything nicely arranged in folders thousands of images ended up next day in the trash bin.
    Also,several images uploaded there that had not been circulated before and all setting were set to private found their way online and we can only figure that it must have been from Amazon. So,keep looking.Don’t think they are the be all or end all.Just my humble opinion.

    • Per Karlsson August 11, 2016 at 09:19 #

      Lins,

      They have on the other hand said, when asked, that using it as passive backup storage is OK also for an individual photographer. It was a question raised early on when they launched it.

      I have not found it slow. Their upload app is slow, yes, but it is quite fast uploading via the web interface on Chrome. At least for me. No speed issues.

      Sometimes a few (1-4) files fails in a batch of maybe 1000 or more files and you have to re-upload. Not a big issue for me.

      Never had anything deleted by the system or move to the trash bin.

      Never, as far as I know, had anything “leaked” and then found it online somewhere else.

      Certainly not the be-all end-all, no backup or storage service is (!), but you seem to have experienced problems that I have not seen at all (and some of which seem more likely to have other causes).

      For me it works fine.

  5. Lins August 11, 2016 at 09:22 #

    Problems were mentioned on their own forum on Amazon as well as several private pro photog groups and Facebook awhile back. I left Amazon months ago and canceled the service so I no longer monitor posts but landed on this site when reading something else here.

    • Per Karlsson August 11, 2016 at 09:24 #

      OK, maybe I’ve been lucky.

      Are you using any other (better) online solution now instead?

  6. Lins August 11, 2016 at 09:28 #

    Nothing like ‘all you can eat’ like Amazon at this point. Just a few of the photo services and box.net for certain files but nothing sensitive.
    I’m sure new services will start as the demand is definitely there. I may reconsider Photoshelter seeing they are now unlimited.Though much pricier than Amazon.

    If you have luck with Amazon,stay.Just pay attention to what you’re uploading so you don’t lose your data and read their forum too.

    • Per Karlsson August 11, 2016 at 09:35 #

      What I wanted was the “unlimited storage”. I need no other facilities (sharing etc).

      I’m using Photoshelter too. I already use it for other things so the marginal cost was zero for me to get the unlimited.

      It’s a great service and has many advantaged over Amazon.

      But it has a *huge* disadvantage. (Apart from the price.) You can’t map Photoshelter as a drive onto a drive letter. You can do that with Amazon.

      This means that you cannot verify what you have uploaded against your “master” on your own hard drive.

      You can easily verify an upload on Amazon with a simple file compare utility (like Beyond Compare) but there is no way of doing that with Photoshelter, other than manual. As far as I know.

      I actively use both though.

      • Lins August 11, 2016 at 09:38 #

        Goos to know.I was with Photoshelter many years ago.

  7. David Hurwitz September 14, 2016 at 18:05 #

    I live in the US and am a Prime member. That gives me unlimited photo storage but doesn’t include .psd files which are not recognized as photo files by Amazon Drive. To upload .psd files, I have to pay an extra $60 a year for truly unlimited storage.

  8. Matt Krems October 26, 2016 at 23:57 #

    For those who are familiar with python and are comfortable from the command line, I would highly recommend using the acd_cli tool. It makes it really easy to sync and backup large folders containing thousands of files. Have a look at the documentation here:
    https://acd-cli.readthedocs.io/en/latest/

  9. Joseph November 17, 2016 at 04:20 #

    Jottacloud is another Unlimited one.

  10. Brian Muntz November 17, 2016 at 09:56 #

    I’ve found the best possible solution, guys/gals check out arqbackup.com!! Freak’n amazing. It’s allowed me to store over 19TB on Amazon Cloud with zero issues! It breaks the data down into extremely small packets of data, encrypts it, and uploads it due to the process of breaking it down faster than anything else I’ve ever used.

    Plus, it’s encrypted data, Amazon could never suggest you were using it as a pro solution for a photo biz.

    Check it out, love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

    • Per Karlsson November 17, 2016 at 10:25 #

      Brian

      If I understand that right, Arqbackup is a utility (software) that encrypts and lets you back up to the destination of your choice, for example Amazon Drive. So it’s a backup utility and not a storage solution.

      That makes it more comparable to, for instance, Genie Backup Manager or similar.

      Here in Europe I’m not sure we have the unlimited Amazon Drive option. As far as I know Premium (which is what it is called in France at least, they don’t use “Prime”) is unlimited only for photos.

      Looks very interesting as a backup tool though, not least for security.

      I wonder if it works with attached storage too? For example, can it backup files stored on a file server that is on the network that my computer is attached to? That would make it really interesting.

      • Brian Muntz November 17, 2016 at 11:05 #

        Sorry, should have been more clear. The software works with literally everything and is built on open source code, you could potentially build a custom backup solution based off it, if what I read was correct. It can also multitask, backing up to multiple locations at once!

  11. Paul December 29, 2016 at 03:31 #

    I know I’m coming late to this party, but here are a few observations from a professional videographer/non-professional still photographer:

    1. The inability to sort alphabetically is INCREDIBLY annoying. And it should be easily fixed by Amazon.

    2. Speed – Amazon does not throttle. I have no problem with the desktop app on my Mac. It’s all dependent on your ISP. When I’m at home, sure it’s slow (relatively speaking). But when I’m at work – a 30MB NEF file is uploaded in about 10 seconds. And it uploads (for me, anyway) 4 files at a time.

    3. Previewing NEF files on the web interface is annoying – it just gives a thumbnail. But downloading that file is just as fast as uploading. I can only assume that Canon RAW files have the same behavior.

    Another thing to note (if it hasn’t been mentioned) – a Lightroom Catalog file does not fall under the “unlimited photo” plan. Makes sense, since it’s not a photo (and they can get rather large). I use Dropbox to back up my lrdata files. Seems to do the job.

    Amazon isn’t my primary backup… but with unlimited uploads, it easily fits as my off-site backup.

    • Per Karlsson December 29, 2016 at 08:42 #

      Paul, perhaps late, but never too late. Thanks for your comments.

      1. I seem to remember that this was the case originally (not sure). But now I can sort alphabetically by clicking on the column headings.

      Maybe it depends on what browser you use. I normally use Firefox but found that there were some issues with AP. So for Amazon P I now use Chrome.

      2. I find speed OK. I found the uploader very slow but using the web interface it was good (only use that now. Maybe they have improved the uploader. The big drawback is that it only gives you limited on-screen feedback on if uploads fail.

      3. I do get a full-size view of Canon CR2 raws in the browser. It is slow but it eventually shows

      Absolutely agree, it is not good enough for primary backup but good enough as an off-site one.

      On backup I have this:
      0) “Live” files on a NAS
      1) NAS disks on Raid
      2) Nas disks daily backup to attached USB disks
      3) USB disks swapped to another set in an off-line bank vault (not often enough)
      4) Nas disks also manually copied to off-line USB disks once in a while
      5) Amazon
      6) Photoshelter

      Comments:
      – I will stop with 4) since I now have better off-line backup.
      – I use Photoshelter for other things too, so I have unlimited storage there “for free”. It has both advantages and drawbacks compared to Amazon. If you would use it only for backup then the annual $500 is a bit steep.

      Question for you Paul: Does Amazon allow for unlimited video too? Or how do you deal with video?

      • Paul December 29, 2016 at 08:54 #

        I don’t believe they allow unlimited video. I’ve never tried. That’s usually just on a network NAS for active projects and external drives for archival footage.

        One clarification on the sorting – when I go to the web interface, I can resort as you mentioned. But today I was uploading some files using the desktop app – and they were all out of order with no way to re-arrange. Actually the first time I’ve seen that behavior, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I did notice that they updated the app – it now can also act like a sync’ed folder a la Dropbox (which I absolutely do NOT want for my photos. That might be why the sorting is out of order now.

        I completely agree about not getting much info on uploads on the app – for me, when it’s come up with a “failed” file, it has always automatically retried until it succeeded.

        My backups are many…

        1. G-Tech external mechanical drive.
        2. Apple Time Machine.
        3. Amazon.

        I plan on getting a large SSD, as one of my mechanicals dropped about a foot onto a tile floor and died. I sent it off to one of the data recovery places (forget the name, but they are in Northern California) and they could not recover ANYTHING. SSDs eventually will fail, but a drop onto a floor shouldn’t kill the data.

        I’ve also thought about hooking up with friends and using Crashplan Free, but that would require my friend to always have his computer on (or have to put up with me calling him in the middle of the night and asking him to turn it on).

        • Paul December 29, 2016 at 08:57 #

          heh… couple of typos there…

          Network NAS – yes, I like being redundant.

          My backups are *not* many.

  12. K.Magnusson January 3, 2017 at 12:55 #

    I’ve had Amazon Drive now for two years, using it to back up my whole library.
    Yesterday they implemented a service where they pushed Prime Photos on to me.
    This for some reason put my library in the trash bin.. removing my whole folder structure..
    Called them, they told me there is no way to get my folders back.. ridiculous..
    Basically told me sorry wont happen again.. Wont trust them with my files and most importantly my time.

  13. Andrew Ostrom May 16, 2017 at 00:48 #

    Another site that provides unlimited storage for photos, and IS designed for sharing and sale of photos and videos is SmugMug.com. You can easily build a custom site using your own domain name, too… SmugMug is built by photographers, for photographers (primarily pros), but they have different levels of subscription and cost with different e-commerce capabilities, but the storage is unlimited for them all (I’m pretty sure). They also have upload apps for all the major OSes, and plugins for Adobe Lightroom and other editing/workflow tools.

    (I have not affiliation, other than as a user)

    • Per Karlsson May 16, 2017 at 09:57 #

      Good to see one more solution for online storage. This is similar to the Photoshelter service, that also allows you to create a web site (in fact, the whole purpose is that) and has unlimited storage.

      The Photoshelter version has one big disadvantage in that it does not allow for any syncing or directory tree comparison with your own copy. (Amazon does, with an add-on utility.)

      I wonder if Smugmug’s solution makes syncing possible?

  14. David Hurwitz May 16, 2017 at 18:24 #

    I use SmugMug to display photos for friends and family; and it’s well-suited for that, though learning its menu system takes some work. I don’t think it’s the best site for storing large quantities of old photos, raw files, etc along with photos you want to display as you will eventually have an unwieldy amount of information to keep track of. I prefer spending a little extra and dumping stuff I’m not displaying, raw and PSD files as well as documents to Amazon Drive, then putting my best photos for others to see on SmugMug. SmugMug is also a good commercial site if you want to sell photos.

  15. Maximilian June 15, 2017 at 15:27 #

    A less known alternative in English-speaking countries for storing and sharing photos and data is Uploaded.net

    I highly recommend to checking them out. They are based in Switzerland!

    • Per Karlsson June 16, 2017 at 09:02 #

      Well, this seems to be obvious self-promotion, but perhaps it can be of interest to someone. I am not familiar with them and don’t know to which extent they are legitimate or good.

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