It has been nearly a month since my last blog post and during this time, I took a week vacation to New York and Philadelphia. I’ve recovered from this trip and nearly digested the 2,000 or so photographs that I have taken. I’ve already started to display some of these images on mostlyfotos, my one photo a day site. After my very disappointing result with the Snapfish photo book, that I wrote about in the previous post, I decided seriously to look for something better. While there are many competing photo book services, based on my research, only one company seem to offer photo books that are significantly different from the rest of the pack. AdoramaPix, which may not be as well-known as some others, is that company. AdormaPix is the printing arm of Adorama, which is a large and respected New York City camera store with a sizeable online presence. When I was in New York, I decided to go to the store specifically to look at the quality of their photo books. Their samples looked great and it convinced me to try the AdormaPix service. Well, it has been a few days since I received my AdoramaPix book and I decided to write a review.
The results from the two companies, AdoramaPix and Snapfish, could not be any more different. In contrast to the very negative impression I got with the Snapfish product, the AdoramaPix book has delighted me. It has completely change my impression of print-on-demand photo books. So what makes AdormaPix so different? Unlike other companies, AdormaPix uses real photo paper for exceptional print quality. Typical book publishers use some four-color printing process. Look closely and you can see tiny dots or a pattern of colors that create the image, similar to what you see in magazines. Real photo paper means, significantly better colors and higher resolution – no dots and no patterns. Beyond the photo paper, AdormaPix binds the book so that the pages lay absolutely flat with no gutter in between the sheets. This allows for different designs that are not possible with other books. Imagine a wide photograph that spans both pages of the book – it makes for a dramatic layout.
AdoramaPix uses a web-based album layout program like Snapfish so you don’t have to download any special software. The layout program worked well and I didn’t have any technical problems using the tool. Similar to Snapfish, there are pre-created templates that you can use with various themes that make album creation easy. The AdormaPix tool also allows for completely custom layouts so it is incredibly powerful. There seems to be very few limitations on what can be created using their layout tools. The online tool took a bit of experimentation to figure it out but it was reasonably easy once I got the hang of it. However, if you quickly want to create a book or have very little artistic or layout ability, I would use the preexisting templates. Those templates make it really easy to quickly layout a book and if you are not picky about picture placement, you can probably complete a book in under 10 minutes. I started with an existing template (Collage under the General category) but the tool allows so much flexibility that I effectively ended up with a custom layout. I was meticulous about my photo layout and placement so I probably spent several hours creating the book. Despite the time it took, creating the book didn’t seem like a chore, it was more a feeling of experimentation and creativity that allowed me to play with different concepts. Photograph uploads are flexible, allowing imports from popular online services such as Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug, Phanfare and Photobucket. I decided to upload directly through my computer. Since there was no Aperture 3 plugin, I exported my candidate photos to my desktop and then uploaded them to AdormaPix via their web-based file uploader. Ordering my book was easy but the quoted 2 week delivery time seemed a bit long. I’m happy to report that actual delivery time was 5 days less. I’m not sure if this is AdormaPix trying to under-promise and over-deliver but I was pleasantly surprised that the book came earlier than expected.
The book came packaged exceptionally well. While the Snapfish packaging seemed adequate, AdoramaPix had several layers of cardboard, foam padding and shrinkwrap. I opened the package and what struck me first was the thick and lustrous cover. There is a slippery, coated surface that gives a pleasant sheen to the cover’s surface. It’s shiny without being gaudy or cheesy. The thickness of the cover is substantial. While the Snapfish cover was about the thickness of a typical hard cover book, 2.5mm with my rough measurement, the AdoramaPix cover is about 3.5mm. Between the look and feel of the cover and the heft of the book, it has a feeling of quality and substance that is in a different class. Open the book and the high quality photo page pages continue to impress. The pages are extra thick since two photo paper sheets are fused, back to back to create a page. As mentioned above, the pages lay flat with no gutter in between the binding. The effect gives almost a panoramic feel when you flip though the book. My 8 x 10 inch book feels like I’m looking through a 8 x 20 inch layout. The paper has a feel very similar to luster that is available at photolabs. It’s not glossy or matt. The paper is a bit less slippery than the prints I get and the pages show little or no finger prints. Color accuracy looks great, on par with what I’ve gotten from Bay Photo, a premium photo service, and it is clearly above the Costco print quality. You can read the review I wrote that compares the print quality of Costco with Bay Photo. I opted to take the suggested color correction feature. AdoramaPix has trained technicians that custom adjust the colors, like Bay Photo, so it’s not auto-adjusted with a computer. While comparable with other good photo labs, the book images still don’t seem to have the brightness and pop that I get from my Epson inkjet printer. I believe the AdormaPix photos have more color accuracy and subtlety but the Epson’s consumer setting maybe giving it an advantage in brightness. I talk about this in Print Quality of the Epson Artisan 810 Printer, which compares the Epson’s output to those from various photo labs. Overall, I am extemely happy with AdoramaPix’s photo quality, it completely blows away the print quality of Snapfish. Viewed under normal lighting the book look great and it really shines under great lighting.
So with this glowing review, are there any quibbles or suggestions that I have for AdoramaPix? Well yes. I really like the power of the book creation tool which gives me the ultimate flexibility to create what I want. While there are a bunch of templates, there are none that I felt compelled to use. The designs were just OK but I don’t think they had the design sophistication that I was craving. I don’t need anything fancy, just clean and elegant. I don’t think the AdoramaPix templates match the caliber of design, for example, that Apple has in their iPhoto book creation tool. I would love it if AdoramaPix adds more simple and elegant themes from which to choose. I look through iPhoto and see a bunch of designs I really like, not so with AdoramaPix. This, of course, could be personal preference but, I believe, it is also hard to argue with Apple’s design sense.
In terms of the book itself, a few minor quibbles. I noticed in a couple of places, there was a tiny bit of glue on the pages. I was able to successfully remove these with a damp microfiber cloth. I also notice the fold in the middle of the page is not exactly centered between the photos on either side of the page. The entire book looks like it was shifted over a little under 1mm since the margin on the left side of the book is about 9.5mm while the margin on the right side is about 8mm. This printing shift is consistent for all pages so I don’t know if this is how all the books are or just my particular copy. I also see a 9.5mm margin on the bottom and a 8mm margin on top. I don’t know if this due to the template but I did use a preexisting template as a basis of my design. Overall, this small shift does not ruin the look of the book. Just something picky that I noticed. Hey, I’m a photographer so seeing the details is part of the craft, right? If these items are unique to my particular book, then a little bit more QA would make an already excellent product that much better.
The biggest thing I didn’t like about the book is the front and back inside pages. The first page of the book starts at the inside cover and ends on the back cover. There are no blank cover pages that are used in typical books unless I specifically decide to keep these pages blank. The cover image wraps around the outside of the book and folds over into the inside cover about 20mm. The first and last photo pages are then glued on top of the inside folds. The problem is, you can see the 20mm fold-over underneath the photographs. Look at the photograph below as an example. This is what it’s like on the last page. If AdoramaPix can somehow insert an extra sheet between the folds so that the first and last pages can be completely smooth, that would be awesome. No fold-over ridges to adversely affect the photos on the inner covers. To be honest, this raised effect with the fold over only is visible from certain angles. When the book is viewed straight on it is hardly visible. I’m probably being extra picky, only because the product is so good that there is not much else to fault.
I don’t want to end on a negative note since the AdoramaPix books are so wonderful. I am thrilled with these books and plan to make more in the future. So how does the price of an AdoramaPix book come to Snapfish? Certainly with the higher quality materials, the price will be more expensive. The regular price for a 26 page 8×10 inch book is $48.95. Shipping is $5.95 with no sales tax (in Texas) for a grand total of $54.90. The basic 8×11 inch Snapfish book with the standard cover costs $24.99. Add 6 more pages at $1.99 to equal the same number of pages as AdoramaPix and the price is at $30.96. Shipping and tax adds another $9.49 for a total of $40.45. If you upgrade Snapfish with a custom cover to match the AdoramaPix cover you add another $5 plus 40 cents in tax. Add this all up and you get a final price of $45.85. So the AdoramaPix book is a little less than $10 more than Snapfish. You do get a slightly larger book with Snapfish but this is the closest comparison I can make between the two companies. Now, I don’t know about you but I think a $9.05 difference is a small price to pay for such a large quality difference. Especially if you are making books for special occasions such as weddings or a birth of a child. The money saved by going with an inferior service would not make sense, at least to me. Consider that vacations these days are very expensive, spending possibly thousands of dollars. After spending that much money, the $9 saving with Snapfish would again, for me, not make too much sense. There is one downside with AdoramaPix in terms of page count flexibility. Because of their special binding process, you can not add a few extra pages to a book like you can with Snapfish. Books come in certain set page sizes. Currently, they offer 14, 26, 38, 50 and 76 page books.
I basically redid my Snapfish book and put the same photographs into my AdoramaPix book. The Snapfish book is something that I hide on a bookshelf, something that I’m ashamed of displaying. The AdoramaPix book, however, will proudly be on display for everyone to see. It is beautiful and seems to be tough enough that it will not fall apart from constant viewings. Beyond family photographs, I’m also considering using AdormaPix books to showcase my “serious” photographs to create a hard copy portfolio. The book is certainly of a high enough caliber where I would be proud to display my favorite photographs. In the mean time, I am just happy that I have a great keepsake from a wonderful family vacation. And ultimately, isn’t that what photography is all about, to remember important events in your life? Thank you, AdoramaPix.
Note: Please click on the image above to see a larger version.