Online Photo Services Shootout

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Online photo services
Photograph: Marc Simon
Online photo services let you upload your digital images, share them with friends and family, and order everything from standard prints to mugs, calendars, and T-shirts. To determine which of them offer the best combination of high-quality prints, price, and handy online tools, we looked at five prominent services: Kodak EasyShare Gallery (formerly Ofoto), Shutterfly, Snapfish, Wal-Mart Photo Center, and Yahoo Photos, rating everything from image-editing features to delivery options to print sizes. Our PC World Test Center jury also took a long hard look at the prints from each source to decide which service delivered the best quality. To establish a baseline for comparison, we used Canon's $200 Pixma iP6600D, the top photo printer in our February chart to print the same set of images.

Our findings: The Kodak EasyShare Gallery earned our highest marks, thanks in large part to its prints, which earned an overall print rating of Very Good from our judges. At the other extreme, mediocre print quality caused Wal-Mart's Photo Center service to finish last in our group, despite the service's remarkably low prices.

Meanwhile, our judges concluded that prints from the Canon printer looked just as good, on average, as those from Kodak. Canon estimates the iP6600D's per-print pricing (including ink and Photo Pro paper) for a 4-by-6 at 65 cents, a 5-by-7 at $1.05, and an 8-by-10 at $1.12. PC World hasn't independently verified those per-print prices, but even if they're optimistic (as vendor estimates often are) you're likely to save some money with the printer if you tend to order lots of 8-by-10 prints. And let's not forget the immediate gratification of making prints when you want them, without having to wait days for them to arrive.

Picking the Pics

For our jury tests, we uploaded and ordered prints of three different sample photos. The resulting print quality scores made up 50 percent of each service's PCW Rating. Senior Associate Editor Melissa J. Perenson provided the images for our 4-by-6 print (a woman in a traditional Japanese wedding kimono) and our 5-by-7 print (the Roman Coliseum). Test Center Senior Data Analyst Tony K. Leung shot the image for our 8-by-10 print--the standard still-life shot that we use for all digital camera testing.

Of the services, Kodak's service did the best job on both the 4-by-6 print and the 5-by-7 print. Judges awarded the 4-by-6 Kodak print high marks for color accuracy, skin tone quality, exposure, and overall quality. The lower-rated Wal-Mart and Yahoo images had oversaturated blacks that caused details in dark clothing to vanish.

Kodak's 5-by-7 print showed good color balance, exposure, and overall quality, despite a minor amount of noise in the ultrablue sky. Noise was a major distraction in the last-place Wal-Mart print, which also poorly reproduced details in features such as the flag perched atop the Coliseum.

Yahoo Photos' reproduction of our still-life image scored the highest of all the 8-by-10 prints, thanks especially to skin-tone accuracy and overall quality. Once again, Wal-Mart Photo Center brought up the rear, with its large-sized print exhibiting overexposure and poor sharpness.

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