Which is the best VPN service out there? And do you really need one as a photographer? The short answer is yes.
Whether you’re working on a public Wi-Fi network and need to protect your personal data, or you've travelled to a country like China where certain websites and apps are blocked, a VPN is a handy service that all photographers can benefit from.
But even if you are working at home in self isolation, there are good reasons why it makes sense to protect your info – or remain anonymous as you surface the web. Let us explain...
What is a VPN and why do I need one?
You wouldn’t cycle down a busy road without a helmet. You wouldn’t drive without a seatbelt. So why use the internet without a VPN?
The web is a magical place, but without protection you make yourself easy prey for criminals looking to hack your email, steal your identity and take over your bank accounts – particularly if you’re using a public Wi-Fi hotspot.
The safest way to protect yourself is to use a VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network. This encrypts all your data via its own server, before returning it to the internet. This ‘virtual tunnel’ means no one can view your data except you and those you choose to share it with.
VPNs offer other benefits, too. If you’re abroad, for example, you can access the version of a website shown in your home country rather than the confusing foreign version. Or you can watch the BBC iPlayer, say, without having to be in the UK.
You can be assured of being anonymous, as your IP address will automatically be hidden. Plus a VPN is the only easy way to get around government censorship in countries like China, which blocks sites like Facebook, YouTube and Google completely.
The best VPNs for photographers
As a photographer, you’ll often want to share or upload large amounts of data, in the form of images and video; and that presents a problem. Because there’s no getting around it: VPNs can slow things a little. And no one wants to sit around all day uploading JPEGs when you could be out shooting.
In this post, then, we’ve brought together seven services that offer a high level of data security with the smallest possible effect on internet speeds. In fact, you may not even notice the difference.
Each has its own particular pros and cons, though, so read on to find out which is going to be the best fit for your needs.
VPN performance is a tricky thing to measure accurately because there are so many variables: where you are in the world, what you’re doing, what equipment you’re using and what time of day it is. But bearing all that in mind, in our experience ExpressVPN offers the best all-round performance in terms of speed, privacy and access.
Based in the British Virgin Islands, the service offers access to more than 2,000 servers in 148 locations across 94 countries; an impressive level of infrastructure that’s unlikely to ever leave you hanging. It provides a great range of apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and even some models of BlackBerry, plus support for Amazon Fire TV and Android TV.
It’s not the simplest VPN to use; we’d recommend TunnelBear, number 4 on our list, if you’re a nervous newbie. But if you're struggling, there are a good selection of tutorials to get you started. And most impressively, it’s the only service here to offer live chat support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Note, however, that ExpressVPN only offers three connections at any one time, so if you have a lot of devices that need to be connected simultaneously, you’ll need to go elsewhere (or purchase extra subscriptions).
Unlike most of the services here, there’s no free trial option. However, ExpressVPN does offer 30-day money back guarantee, which is kind of the same thing but with a little more admin, and the possibility of getting charged if you don’t remember to cancel in time.
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Based in Switzerland, a country historically associated with privacy protection, VyprVPN calls itself the “world’s most powerful VPN” and while this is difficult to measure definitively, we certainly found it pretty speedy in practice.
The service also makes a big play for its proprietary Chameleon™ VPN technology. This is squarely aimed at defeating VPN-blocking, which is used by dictatorial regimes around the world to beat VPNs and enforce censorship. So if you’re collaborating with someone in an authoritarian country, or working in one yourself, that could make all the difference to your communications remaining stable and secure.
You can connect up to five devices simultaneously, and there are also a good range of apps and setup instructions that will allow you to run the service on anywhere you like, including Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux, smart TVs and a variety of router types. Finally, VyprVPN offers a three-day trial, so you can give it a try without making any financial commitment.
Based in Panama, NordVPN has the most infrastructure on our selection, with an incredible 4,550 servers in more than 60 countries around the world. It’s also one of the most feature-rich, giving you fine control over how the service operates, and you can even customise the interface itself. If that sounds a bit overwhelming, though, don’t fret; there’s also a Connection Wizard to help beginners started with the minimum of fuss,
NordVPN comes with apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, as well as extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers and Android TV. You can protect up to six devices simultaneously, all-round performance is good, and there’s a three-day free trial so you can try before you buy.
If all this choice and tech-speak is freaking you out, and you just want a simple service that will protect your privacy and keep your data secure, then Tunnel Bear is for you. Based in Canada, and recently acquired by security giants McAfee, this is by far the easiest VPN to get started with and to use on a day-to-day basis.
With a cartoon bear guiding you through, instructions are jargon-free, written in plain English, and fully designed with beginners in mind. The flipside is that this is a service that experienced users might find too basic.
TunnelBear offers up to five simultaneous connections, and there are apps for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, as well as a browser extension. There’s no free trial option, but there is a free version you can use without commitment for as long as you wish, although you’ll be limited to 500MB of data per month.
In today’s world, it’s amazing quite how many internet-connected devices there are in the average household, especially if you have a big family. And that’s where Windscribe comes in, because uniquely, it promises to support an unlimited number of simultaneous connections.
Beyond that killer benefit, the Canada-based service also provides a decent all-round service, with impressive speeds, a wide range of setup options, apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS and Amazon Fire, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It’s also recently introduced a helper bot called Garry, to guide to you through any problems.
There’s no free trial, but there is a free version which you can use for as long as you like, with some restrictions. These include being limited to 10GB of monthly data if you register your email address (2GB if you don’t), only being able to use one device, and only getting access to eight countries (rather than the normal 47).
KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, which is based in New York, puts a high priority on security. And that doesn’t mean just protecting you from malware, blocking ads and preventing tracking. It also offers an additional service called KeepSolid Wise, which offers an extra layer of encryption and data privacy that makes your VPN connection about as safe as it can possibly be. This is probably overkill for everyday use, but if you’re super-concerned about security (for example if you’re involved in highly confidential business dealings) it could help you sleep better at night.
In general, the service offers an impressive level of performance when it comes to download speeds, and offers apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Windows 10 Mobile, plus browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome. It’s also recently added a cool feature called Trusted Networks; this allows you to add a network to the list, and the VPN connection will be automatically disabled when you’re using it.
You get up to five simultaneous connections and the option to pay for more, which is a nice touch. You can take out a seven-day trial to see how well it works for you, and if you decide to buy there’s a seven-day money-back guarantee after that.
Based in Romania and Germany, Cyber Ghost is most notable for offering a wide range of handy features, across its apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
There are too many to list here, and some can be oppressively techie-sounding, but we particularly loved, for example, how Cyber Ghost displays the last few server connections you've made. That way, if you only ever log on to a couple of countries, they'll appear on the list, and you can choose them with one click. Also, you can tell CyberGhost to auto-start when you run particular software, such as your banking app, or to always (or never) connect to a particular Wi-Fi network.
CyberGhost offers a seven-day free trial for iOS and Android, and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee after that into the bargain.