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The best cloud storage for photos in 2021: online storage for photographers

best cloud storage for photos in 2021: online storage services for photographers
(Image credit: Future)

When you're deciding on the best cloud storage for photos, there are a few different aspects that you need to consider. Are you simply looking to store your holiday snaps in a central location that you'll always be able to find? Or are you a serious photographer that will need to be able to both store RAW files and quickly share images with clients? Depending on your needs, deciding on the best cloud storage for photos will be different for each person. 

Some users will be very happy with a free service that provides limited amounts of storage. However, upgrading to a paid cloud storage service will be a better option for many, as this will give you access to not only more storage, but more advanced features as well.

While the best portable hard drives are great, there's nothing that beats the peace-of-mind that the best cloud storage for photos gives you. After all, a service such as Dropbox or iCloud can't be dropped, knocked or destroyed in a fire! While the most foolproof system would be to combine cloud storage with a password manager service and place the same images on a product such as a portable SSD, you still get plenty of data security with cloud storage alone.

You'll want to look for a single, easily accessible online archive that can be viewed, uploaded-to and downloaded-from at any time, from camera phones, laptops and tablets. A service that enables you to effortlessly organize your images into albums is also worth looking out for as well. 

Of course, no one system is foolproof – which is why we would always recommend using a combination of physical drives and cloud storage. Being able to upload and download images is great, but you're massively dependent on how strong your internet connection is. Meanwhile, one of the biggest problems with online services is that there are no promises of permanency – if the service runs out of money tomorrow, they could disappear overnight. 

However, the risk of this happening is low – especially if you store your images on one of the more established platforms, such as iDrive or pCloud. Plus, some of the best cloud storage for photos have useful features, such as file management automation. This will use geotags and metadata to group your images together by location, the device it was taken with, when it was shot or even using facial recognition to group the photos by individual people. 

We've rounded up the best cloud storage for photos below. However, before you get into that, check out the three deals below to save your cash on some of the best cloud storage services around. 

Top 3 best cloud storage deals

Best cloud storage for photos in 2021

Paid online photo storage

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: Future)

Comprehensive cloud storage that’s very well priced, especially for the 5TB plan

Specifications
Capacity options: 5GB (free), 5TB, 10TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux
Reasons to buy
+Great value+Supports internal, external and NAS drives+Simple interface
Reasons to avoid
-Must pay for 12 months up front-No cheaper capacities under 2TB

IDrive is a fast, easy to use cloud storage solution which lets you easily sync files stored on your computer, as well as on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. There’s a free 5GB to start you off, while the $79.50 IDrive Personal plan buys you a year's worth of 5TB storage, and 10TB can be had for a very competitive $99.50 a year. Both capacity options are also regularly discounted to make them even more of a bargain.

The simple web interface allows you to easily share files by email or to social media sites, and you can sleep easy knowing up to 30 previous versions of all files are retained should you need to roll back to an older version of an image. What's more, while there is support for continuous file syncing, files on the cloud don't have to be automatically deleted should you delete the version on your local hard drive.

Like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, IDrive also offers a clever facial recognition feature to help you organise your image portfolio, and it's able to sync images across your mobile devices.

• Read full iDrive review

(Image credit: Future)

2. pCloud

There’s a lot to like here, especially if you value simplicity

Specifications
Capacity options: 10GB (free) 500GB, 2TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
Reasons to buy
+Very easy to use+Excellent PC, Mac and mobile device integration+Lifetime payment options
Reasons to avoid
-No monthly payment plans-2TB plan currently costs more than Google Drive when paid annually

pCloud is a relative newcomer to the cloud storage scene, but it's making waves, and it's easy to see why. This is one of a few cloud storage companies to offer a one-off, lifetime payment option. If you can stomach parting with £350, you get 2TB of storage for life, plus benefits like 2TB of download bandwidth for sharing images and videos (uploading is unlimited). Alternatively, £175/$175 will buy you a lifetime's 500GB of storage and the same again in linking/streaming bandwidth. pCloud also offers annual subscription plans, with the same 500GB/2TB storage options priced at £47.88/$47.88 and £95.88/$95.88 per year respectively, which works out at £3.99/$3.99 and £7.99/$7.99 a month.

It's not only the lifetime option that makes pCloud attractive. You can access your files from a PC, Mac, mobile devices or the web, with pCloud appearing as a local drive on a PC or Mac for ultimate ease of access and backup. What's more, for an extra $3.99 a month, you can upgrade to pCloud Crypto so each stored file can be encrypted and password protected.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Livedrive

All the capacity you could ever need, and for a very reasonable price

Specifications
Capacity options: Unlimited (Briefcase 2TB or 5TB)
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Unlimited backup+Good security+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Free trial requires payment details-No disk imaging option

Livedrive is unusual among cloud storage providers as it offers unlimited capacity, and if you only need to back up the contents of one PC or Mac, the monthly cost is very reasonable. Back-up is automatic and mirrors any changes you make to a file on your computer, and up to 30 previous versions of edited files are stored in case you need to roll back to a previous file version. 

To back up multiple computers (up to 5), the Pro Suite is the package to go for. This also lets you back up your mobile device, as well as giving you 5GB of Briefcase storage. Briefcase is Livedrive's file syncing service which functions much like Dropbox, giving you an online drive where you can store you're most-used images, videos and documents for easy access while you're on the go from any computer or mobile device. Briefcase also makes it easy to share files and folders securely, with the option to password protect a shared file. Livedrive can be accessed via its website, or a dedicated app for Windows, macOS, iOS and Android. Stored files are protected by AES-256 bit encryption, along with two-factor authentication when you access your account.

(Image credit: Future)

4. Smugmug

Unlimited image storage and comprehensive website hosting in one

Specifications
Capacity options: Unlimited
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Unlimited image storage+Loads of web customization+eCommerce options
Reasons to avoid
-Limited image formats allowed-Only suitable for photos and videos-Not designed for backing up

Smugmug isn't really cloud storage in the conventional backup sense - it's a website builder designed to host image and/or video content. Think Flickr (no coincidence - Smugmug acquired Flickr in 2018) but with a major overhaul and many more features. The main draw here is you can uploaded unlimited numbers of images and videos, albeit with a few limitations. Images must be less than 150MB each, and videos need to be under 3GB, and with a max res of 1080p and duration of 20 minutes. The other catch is that, being a platform designed for displaying photos online, not just storing them, image file types are restricted to web-friendly JPEG, GIF, PNG and HEIF formats - no Raw or TIFF support here. You do however get a mobile app that enables image editing and archiving on the move, while the display options for uploaded images and videos are extensive, as are the media sharing features. 

Four pricing options are available: the $8.40/month Basic plan gives you a simple but modern website design, but with restricted customization and a .smugmug.com website URL. Upgrading to the Power plan adds much more customization, including 21 web templates, right-click image protection and a proper domain name for $13.20/month. The Portfolio plan adds web store options so you can make some cash from your snaps - it costs $32.40 a month. The topmost Pro plan is even more eCommerce focused, with extensive marketing, checkout and stock inventory options - it's targeted at professional photographers, hence the $50.39 monthly fee. 

All four plans can be discounted by around 30% if you buy annually rather than monthly. Smugmug is so advanced it really needs to be tried, and thankfully you can sign up for a no-commitment 14-day free trial to see everything it has to offer.

(Image credit: Future)

5. Google Drive

Cloud storage that covers every base, and great value for 2TB or less

Specifications
Capacity options: 15GB (free), 100GB, 200GB, 2TB, 10TB, 20TB, 30TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Reasons to buy
+Lots of capacity options+Competitive payment plans+Bristling with extra features 
Reasons to avoid
-Better for Android than iOS-2TB currently costs more than IDrive equivalent 

Google Drive is a service that enables you to store any file type and has a sliding pay scale depending on the services and the amount of capacity you want. You get a generous 15GB for free, but there’s also a wide selection of paid upgrades. 100 GB currently costs £1.59/$1.99 per month, 200GB £2.49/$2.99 per month, and 2TB £7.99/$9.99 per month. There are even 10, 20 and 30TB options, but they’re hugely expensive. An added bonus is, like Apple and Microsoft, Drive isn’t just about storage, as it’s also integrated with Google’s cloud-based productivity apps that rival Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Dropbox

An ultra-versatile cloud option for PC and Mac, if not the most photo-friendly

Specifications
Capacity options: 2GB (free), 2TB, 3TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
Reasons to buy
+Extensive file and folder organisation+Lots of extra collaboration features 
Reasons to avoid
-2TB plan costs more than equivalent IDrive and iCloud plans-Many extras aren’t vital for photographers 

Dropbox has been the go-to cloud storage choice for years. You get a rather paltry 2GB for free, so really you’ll need to step up to the 2TB ‘Plus’ plan at £7.99/$9.99 a month, albeit charged annually, at an up-front cost of £95.88/$119.88. This also gets you extras like easy file sending and 30-day account and file recovery. A 3TB ‘Professional’ plan is also available, but it’s geared towards small businesses, and isn’t great value for most photographers.

Dropbox’s simple interface enables you to drag and drop the files you want to store online into a Dropbox folder on your machine and then these are automatically stored in the cloud, mirroring what is on your device. If you delete a photo from your computer, it can be set to delete from the cloud. Using the mobile app for iOS and Android is equally easy.

Although Dropbox doesn’t offer a dedicated imaging application like iCloud Photos, the simple folder structure design will appeal to those who like to have full control over the way their files are stored and organised.

(Image credit: Future)

7. Apple iCloud

A beautifully seamless storage solution, but only for MacBook/iPhone

Specifications
Capacity options: 5GB (free), 50GB, 200GB, 2TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS
Reasons to buy
+Top choice for Apple fans+Competitive pricing+Useful cloud-based office apps
Reasons to avoid
-OneDrive still better for Windows PCs-No Android device support-Capacities top out at 2TB

iCloud is the most logical cloud storage choice if you’re already an iPhone or Mac user, such is the seamless device integration of Apple’s ecosystem. As with Microsoft Windows and OneDrive, iCloud is neatly integrated into the Mac Finder app, making for super-easy file backup and sharing across devices. The connection is so slick that selected folders on your Mac’s internal hard drive will automatically upload to iCloud, and if you delete a file from your machine, it’ll also be deleted from the cloud.

Apple also includes access to web versions of apps like Pages and Numbers for easier on-the-go productivity. The Photos app is available across Apple devices, as well as directly through a browser. It enables you to quickly access, organise, download and share your images in one of the most streamlined interfaces available.

iCloud starts at just £0.79/$0.99 a month for 50GB of storage, while 200GB is £2.49/$2.99, and 2TB £6.99/$9.99. You can also get 5GB for free when you sign up.

(Image credit: Future)

8. Microsoft OneDrive

Capable and feature-rich cloud storage, but pricing and capacity isn’t the best

Specifications
Capacity options: 5GB (free), 100GB, 1TB
Supported devices: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile
Reasons to buy
+Good integration for Windows 10 PCs+Useful Microsoft Office web apps+Accessible monthly pricing
Reasons to avoid
-No competition for iCloud on Apple devices-Look elsewhere for storage over 1TB

Being a Microsoft product, OneDrive cloud storage is deeply integrated into Windows 10 so it can be accessed from the operating system much like a physical hard drive or SSD, making for an effortless cloud backup solution. There’s also a Mac OS app to enable a similar experience when using a Mac, though perhaps inevitably it’s not as slick as the iCloud ecosystem. OneDrive can also be used on iOS and Android mobile devices.

The photos section is just one part of OneDrive and it boasts clever features. There’s extensive raw file support, as well as the ability to automatically recognise the content of your images and tag them, making it easy to search for images by content or theme.

One Drive offers 5GB of storage for free, while 100GB will set you back a fairly accessible £1.99/$1.99 a month. £59.99/$69.99 will buy you a year’s subscription to the Microsoft 365 Personal plan, which gives you 1TB of storage, along with a useful file recovery service and access to online versions of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Free online photo storage

Free services usually come with strings attached, mostly obviously a severely restricted storage capacity. Only if you pay a monthly or annual subscription do you get to sample the best features and access to more useful capacities.

1. Google Photos

Unlimited storage but a handful of restrictions too

Reasons to buy
+Unlimited storage+Wi-Fi auto-uploader for phones
Reasons to avoid
-16MP limit for stills-Basic built-in editing

This is the big one. As long as you agree with its restrictions on image quality, Google Photos will automatically upload and backup every photo you ever take on a smartphone (when it's on Wi-Fi), and extract every image it finds on your computers. What's more, it does it all for free. 

However, there are a couple of catches; as it uploads your photos, it will downscale them to 16MP versions, and reduce any 4K videos it finds to Full HD 1080p quality. If that doesn't appeal, and you'd rather upload in maximum quality, that's OK with Google, but it will then restrict you to storing 15GB. That's quite a downgrade from 'unlimited', but it's relatively generous. Still, even if Google Photos isn't perfect for professional photographers, it's still a pain-free way of backing-up a phone and keeping a usable copy in the cloud of every photo you've ever taken.

Once everything has been uploaded – something that takes a while, obviously –Google Photos has all kinds of algorithms on board. Auto-enhancing, automatic tagging, image recognition to find your face and group together anything with you in. There's also an animation creator that will create occasional GIFs from burst sequences, and slideshow video options too. Despite these playful features, Google Photos is genuinely impressive software. Plus, a mind-boggling 1.2billion photos are uploaded to Google Photos each day, so algorithms will likely keep improving.

The only trouble is Google tends to have some great products, but then cease support for them at relatively short notice. That's what happened to its last foray into photos, Picasa. Click here

2. Dropbox Basic

Great if you want to sync across multiple devices

Reasons to buy
+Selective sync+Syncs files across devices
Reasons to avoid
-Free limit is only 2GB-No editing tools

Though Dropbox is a rather simple cloud-based file storage service, it's particularly good for photos. Unfortunately, the free Basic version isn't much use since new users get a paltry 2GB of online storage – that's not going to stretch very far. 

However, it's worth experimenting with if you're the type of photographer who likes to store all of their photos in folders on a computer, and wants to keep it that way. Although it's a cloud storage solution, the Dropbox software installed on a desktop or laptop PC or Mac can be used to selectively sync folders. Once it's set up, it's simply a case of dragging and dropping photos into a folder that will then automatically sync. It's great for syncing files and folders across several computers. The Dropbox app can then be used to view your photos on phones and tablets, though it's also got a camera upload option that auto-uploads all photos taken on devices.

If you want only the safety of a backup without ceding manual control of your photos, Dropbox is a pretty hassle-free solution for laptop/desktop PC/Mac users. Click here

Read more:

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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.