SmugMug vs ZenFolio: Why I left SmugMug for ZenFolio?
December 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment
After 2+ years of being on SmugMug, I chose to migrate to ZenFolio, this review being written in January 2013. Here is a summary of the reasons why I chose to do so and it may be helpful for someone choosing between the two services. More than a feature-functionality comparison, this review is more about my perception of the design philosophies behind the two services and which one I preferred.
Design and UI
The most important reason was the User Interface. ZenFolio has got the right idea in terms of making it easy for the photographer to quickly manipulate galleries, change visibility settings (private vs. public), tag images and move images from one gallery to another including virtual galleries.
As a CMS, it made it very easy to select from templates, add custom pages, embed HTML code where I want to and add commentary to photos in a much more intuitive fashion than SmugMug. The bottomline: more than individual features and functions, it is ZenFolio's "point-and-click" simple interface that wins.
Technology is not for Geeks
Zenfolio seems to understand that technology should not just benefit geeks. When I started customizing my SmugMug site, I spent hours going over HTML / CSS code and struggling with the concept of every page being a gallery. Just because I can work with code does not mean I should have to. Zenfolio's delightful point-and-click approach is where consumer technologies need to go. For starters, just try creating a Menu Bar at the top in ZenFolio and tell me if you are not impressed by how easily one can change the menu structure!
Mainly because of ZenFolio's superior UI, I was able to migrate my entire SmugMug site to ZenFolio -- in 1 night! Yes, from 9pm to 7am, I was able to get my website looking exactly the way I wanted. This contrasts with the few days I spent trying to piece together code snippets from SmugMug forums to accomplish basic UI fixes that should have been a no-brainer to start with.
I was reluctant to host my blog on ZenFolio as I believe in choosing the 'best-of-breed' platforms for that functionality. However, the ease of use and simplicity of the blog designer won me over and while I still have some reservations that I will outline in another post, the ease of use of just starting the blog within the same interface instead of having to embed / integrate with an external blogging system would be a plus for most people. Those interested in SEO optimization would appreciate this a lot as well.
SmugMug's Pricing Blunder
SmugMug hiked their pricing in a poorly executed move in Sep. 2012, changing their services so that subscribers at a lower level (myself included) could not offer ecommerce functionality and sell their photos online. They later reversed that move in November, but it was too late. I was already on my way out, redirecting my URL to the ZenFolio site. Paying Zenfolio HALF of what I would have to pay SmugMug for equivalent ecommerce features was a no-brainer!
Attitude goes a long way
More importantly, it is SmugMug's elitist attitude that 'pro' photographers would pay more that did not go very well with me. I agree with this blog that everyone is a pro photographer. I don't shoot weddings and corporate events but I still have a need to sell my artwork. Even though my photography is not a source of income for me (proceeds are donated to a non-profit), I still have a need for ecommerce features. SmugMug's attitude seems to be that if you are a "pro" (whatever that is), and a code-savvy geek, you would not complain. ZenFolio's approach seems to be that if you shoot photos and want to display your artwork, it should be very easy for you to do so in an elegant and stylish interface that is not just a photo dump of vacation photos like Flickr or Instagram.
You can choose which approach you prefer!
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As a tech consultant and photographer, asking 'WHY?' and 'WHY NOT?' helps me form a point of view on improving the bigger picture; simple improvements can often resolve bigger symptoms. Hence, the unabashedly opinionated point of view expressed in these musings.
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