Many people jumped on the Google Photos bandwagon when the search giant announced free, unlimited photo uploads three years ago. Starting June 1, 2021, that deal is dead.
Whenever a tech company uses the term “unlimited” for any of its services, take it with a grain of salt, especially where cloud storage is concerned. You might take this change as a cue to upload a ton of photos and videos before the cut-off date; but the company has changed the rules once, so you can’t be completely sure they won’t change them again. Nothing is set in stone forever.
Thankfully, if you’ve uploaded all your images and videos to Google Photos, you won’t lose the media you’ve already uploaded, and those files won’t count toward your free 15GB of storage or any other paid Google storage plan. Any photos uploaded after June 1, 2021—in any format—do count toward your limit.
Further help in this matter came recently when Google announced a new storage management feature in Google Photos to help you select photos ripe for deletion—blurry photos, screenshots, and large videos. In the same announcement, the company renamed High Quality to Storage Saver. Though that makes it sound like maybe that image format wasn’t so high-quality after all, Google states that Storage Saver photos are still of “the same great quality.”
There’s good news for owners of Google’s own Pixel smartphones, from the first to the latest Pixel 5. Photos from those devices are not subject to the limit that will be imposed on the rest of us. The catch is that unlimited storage only applies to photos uploaded in High Quality (aka Storage Saver quality), which is 16MP. Full-resolution photos use your storage quota as before.
As noted, you still get 15GB of Google storage free. A Google storage link can show you an estimate of how long your storage will last, based on your upload history. Smartphone photos from my iPhone X and Google Pixel 4 XL average around 700KB each, so 15GB would mean 21,000 photos shot with those devices.
If your photos are from a full-frame D-SLR, the image files will be quite a bit larger, usually in the range of 15MB to 50MB each, so the number of shots that will contribute to 15GB is more like 600—and serious photographers will have far more images than that. All of the alternatives included here offer generous cloud storage and can auto-upload photos from your mobile’s camera roll. Here are your best options if you’re using Google Photos.
Switch to Flickr’s Unlimited Paid Plan
For $30 less per year than Google’s 2-terabyte plan, you can get true unlimited online photo storage with a Flickr account. Remember, Google Photos’ ill-fated unlimited plan only stored photos of up to 16 megapixels, while Flickr stores everything at full resolution. You pay $59.99 per year or $6.99 monthly. You also get nifty public and private galleries, groups, commenting, sharing, and discounts on photo software and goods, including two free months of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan, a $35 credit towards a Blurb photo book, and Pixsy image-theft monitoring.
If You’re a Microsoft Office User, Use OneDrive
You get six 1TB allotments for a Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) subscription for $99 per year. A single 1TB account costs $69.99 per year, and with both options you also get to download the full Office productivity suite and use the web and mobile versions of the included applications. And OneDrive does a surprisingly good job at photo presentation. You can search using AI object recognition, and your mobile and geotagged photos show a map of the image’s location in a sidebar. The hosting also includes good private sharing options and auto-creates galleries for you.
If You’re an Apple User, Use iCloud
As an iPhone user, I find that iCloud does the most reliable job of making sure all my camera phone shots are reliably shunted up to the cloud. Using iCloud for storing photos also offers the advantage of reducing the storage required on your device, since full-resolution images are in the cloud, while those stored locally are only high-res enough to satisfy the device’s screen. The web interface, however, is far less competent than Flickr, Google, or Microsoft: There are no search or photo-editing tools.
If You’re a Prime Member, Use Amazon Photos
Amazon offers unlimited photo storage for Prime members with its $119-per-year Prime membership. Of course, you get lots of other perks like Amazon Prime Video, product discounts, and free 2-day shipping on many Amazon items. Note that with this plan, you get unlimited photo storage, but you only get 5GB for videos.
If You’re a Serious Photographer, Use Lightroom
At $9.99 per month, it’s more expensive than the other options here, but an Adobe Lightroom subscription brings you state-of-the-art photo-editing tools in addition to a terabyte of cloud storage. It also offers best-in-class photo-collection management tools: You can search for subjects using AI object identification or people with its automatic face recognition.
Lightroom provides one of the deepest sets of image-adjustment tools, like lens profile correction, tone curves, color grading, and perspective editing, all in a slick, modern interface. Lightroom has apps for all major platforms, and you can use them as camera apps on mobile platforms. If you have professional requirements, you can step up to the $19.99-per-month Photography plan, which adds Photoshop and Lightroom Classic.
For Added Benefits, Consider Online Backup
If you’re more interested in photo backup than fancy AI photo tools, choose an online backup service. Both of our Editors’ Choice picks, Acronis True Image and IDrive, let you view your photos in their mobile apps and websites, and they can both automatically upload pictures and videos from your phone. They can also protect your PC by safeguarding a complete copy of your system’s disk image. IDrive gives you more storage than Google for a lower price—3TB for $69.50 per year. Acronis True Image starts at $89.99 per year for 500GB, but it’s cheaper than Google One when you buy in bulk; 5TB is $284.99 per year. Google storage maxes out at 2TB.
If You Don’t Want to Rely on the Cloud, Get a NAS
Some would consider any pure cloud service temporary—it only lasts as long as you pay the subscription fee and as long as the service is offered, and we’ve seen many come and go over the years. A permanent option is to purchase your own hardware storage. You can buy a high-performance, high-capacity NAS drive that connects to the internet to let you access photos online, giving you the same convenience as a pure cloud service.
Our Editors’ Choice winner for personal cloud NAS is the $169.99 Synology DiskStation DS220j, which lets you share videos, photos, music, and more. With that, you still need to purchase and install the actual storage drives (up to 32TB). If you just want something with integrated drives, the Western Digital My Cloud Home, starts at $149.99 for 300GB. For extra security, get a NAS that supports RAID functionality so if one of your drives fails, you don’t lose your photos.
…Or Just Stay With Google and Pay for Storage
The company has said it won’t remove photos and videos you’ve uploaded before the cut-off date, and you get 15GB free. That’s still a lot of storage, especially if you’re not storing videos or very high-resolution images. About 20,000 smartphone photos will fit into 15GB. If that’s not enough, you can upgrade to a Google One paid storage plan. Plans start at $1.99 per month/$19.99 per year for 100GB, $2.99/$29.99 for 200GB, and $9.99/$99.99 for 2TB. The Google One plans also include support and some third-party store discounts.