From Zenfolio to SmugMug

Our history with the two image hosting platforms started in the end of 2010, when we won a one year SmugMug account at a photo competition. Back then, we had very few images that were worth being uploaded as part of a portfolio site; SmugMug plans were much more expensive than now, so the account was never renewed. Later on, in 2012, after a year of blogging and slight improvement of our images, we decided that we needed a website; therefore we considered  the two major players in the market : Zenfolio and SmugMug. Zenfolio looked good, was significantly cheaper than SmugMug so it was best chance at that moment.

5 years later, we made the step and migrated our website to SmugMug, closing the Zenfolio account. The decision was taken mainly because of the way Zenfolio ignored the need to improve their algorithm for compressing the images, especially when viewed on large resolution retina  screens.  On such screens our images looked so soft, almost embarrassing and no way of web sharpening helped .  The fact that MacPhun came with a nice offer, including a free SmugMug account for their brand new Luminar 2018 image processing software, was a good motivation to make the step to close Zenfolio account , getting a refund  (luckily it was still less then 30 days from the last renew) and transferring everything into SmugMug platform.

So how the two compares?

1. The easiness to build and customize a website.

Both offer a set of build in themes that can be customized and and fine tuned to some extent. Its not possible to do any kind of customization, you need to work within the boundaries of the framework. Both platforms look a bit confusing in the beginning,  but with a bit of trial and error, I managed to achieve similar looking website on both of them quite easily. My feeling is that SmugMug offer a tad bit more customization opportunities with their widget based approach; but  Zenfolio was absolutely fine to get the kind of website we wanted. So unless your wish is something completely different than what those two platforms can achieve, both can get the job done with not too much effort.

2. The way the image look.

Thats an absolute shame for Zenfolio. They keep downsizing the images to aprox. 1500 px on longer size , which is definitely not enough on high resolution display. The higher the display, the worse the images are looking. Even if I upload the very high resolution image (36 mp for example), they will downsize it to about 1.5mp. On top of this, their algorithm does not seem to work well on retina display devices. The images were looking awfully soft. I did a test by uploading same image in both platform and watch it side by side at best possible quality allowed by the platform. SmugMug was the clear winner hands down. I could still remember Carmen’s wow reaction seeing how sharp and full of details was SmugMug showing our images.

3. Built in blog and custom pages.

Here we have a clear winner in Zenfolio as SmugMug does not offer a built in blog. Fortunately this was a blessing in disguise for us, as it made us move our blog on Worpress platform, hosted on bluehost. We already had a blog on exactly same setup ( our  food photography blog); so it was a no brainier to migrate our general photography one on same technology. The advantage is a much better flexibility in achieving any type of posts and a full control on the SEO via the excellent plugins available. Another thing worth mentioning is that SmugMug allows only html and css in their custom pages; Zenfolio permits also javascript code.

4. Customer support.

Zenfolio support was great during the 5 years we worked with them. Very fast response time, clear understanding of the questions asked and spot on answers. Smugmug support was also very good in the short time of using them. The MacPhun offer was working only for the brand new accounts , so we had to sign up again and built everything from the scratch. They helped us to copy all the images from our initial trial account to the new paid one; however I would have liked an option to totally clone the website, including style and theme customization. So both platforms care about their customer and provide very good support, in a time when cheap Indian call centers are the norm.

5. Custom domain.

Both platforms are working very well when using a custom domain for the website. They both have well explained articles describing in details the setup.

6. Price.

We settled for a SmugMug Power plan, that do not offer the option of selling prints for the customers. The reason for this is that we haven’t sell that much on Zenfolio and we would prefer that, if someone order a print, it comes directly from us. The price for the Power plan at SmugMug is 72 $  while the cheapest plan offered by Zenfolio is 120$ (they slightly increased the prices recently).


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