Great Digital Prints, Easy-To-Use Software, Ofoto Is Ofabulous!
Oct 15, 2003 (Updated May 3, 2005)
|Site Ease of Use:
Update: As of March 2005 Ofoto.com has become KodakGallery.com. Not quite as snappy a name, in my opinion, but it's still the same service I know and love.
End of Update
When I purchased my digital camera, I had visions of never going to a photo-processing place again... I should have known better. I had figured that I would print all of my images from my own personal printer, not realizing that I take far too many pictures, and don't want to spend all of my spare time cropping and printing the images. When a co-worker of mine brought in some beautiful digital prints taken at his wedding and told me about the wonderful online-printing site he used, including the cool upload software, gorgeous prints, and frequently offered discounts, I knew that I had to give them a visit. Thus began my relationship with Ofoto.
What is Ofoto.com?
Ofoto (www.ofoto.com) is an online photography service owned by Kodak. Their main goal is to provide top quality prints for both digital and film camera users. A secondary use (and one utilized by a lot of my friends) is as an online photo sharing site -- for people who want to share personal pictures online but who do not have the time, skills, or money to host/build their own website. Once your photos are online, they also provide facilities to edit, crop, and enhance (add borders, special effects, take out red-eye, etc) your images. Lastly, they are also a shopping site. You can purchase prints of your images, make photo cards, even purchase frames.
But How Do I Get My Photos To Ofoto?
To get your photographs onto the site you have 3 choices:
1) Mail your undeveloped 35mm film to Ofoto (via their free postage-paid photo-film mailers). They will develop your film, put your photos online, and send you back your negatives for $3.95 per roll.
2) Upload your photos online - Digital camera users can choose to upload your photographs one-at-a-time using either Internet Explorer or Netscape. If you are using Internet Explorer you can choose to download their "Easy Upload" plug-in that allows you to upload multiple files at once.
3) OfotoNow Upload Software - You can download their free desktop application, for use with the Windows operating systems (the Mac version was recently discontinued). It bundles all of the site's editing capabilities with a fast, efficient upload utility and direct tie-ins to the online ordering/checkout facilities. I go into more detail in the "software" section below...
The site itself is quite professional-looking and easy to use/navigate. Users are required to login to view their account information and photos. First time visitors can take a tour of the site, or can go to the Ofoto Store where they can purchase un-personalized frames, albums, etc.
Once you login, tabs at the top take you to the various portions of the site:
"View & Edit Albums" - takes you to your previously-loaded albums
"Share Photos" - allows you to select which albums you would like to share with your friends
"Buy Prints" - allows you to purchase prints of varying sizes from your albums
"Add Photos" - allows you to upload your digital images from your hard drive to the site
"Ofoto Store" - allows you to purchase picture-oriented items (including items utilizing photos from your various albums).
Other links at the top allow you to view your shopping cart, sign out, get help, or view/edit your account information. The help feature is very nice and extensive, and as such includes its own "search" utility so you can quickly find answers to your questions. The "My Account" section is also quite extensive, enabling you to view your order history, update your personal information, set your default shipping and billing information, edit and delete addresses in your friends & family address book, view credits and discounts, and lastly see who has accessed your albums as well as any messages that have been left in your guestbook.
Once inside a particular album, you can choose to buy prints, share the album, add more photos to that album, create a slideshow, edit the images and add borders, or edit the album itself (which includes deleting or re-arranging the uploaded photos, adding titles, etc).
The "edit & add borders" link takes you to a screen where you can manipulate your uploaded image in a variety of ways. You can crop it, remove red-eye, rotate it, flip it (producing a mirror-image), or "instant fix" it (which fixes the color and contrast of the image). "Effects" allow you to wash tints (sepia, grayscale, etc) over your image, as well as apply other artistic styles (sketch, watercolor, charcoal, etc). You can also add borders, which are nicely broken down into categories so you can find the look you are going for quickly (border-categories include Holiday, Studio, Baby, Greetings, Pets, Events, Love, Nature, Classic, and Fun). As always, when you are done playing with the effects you can choose to revert back to your original image, save it as a new image (so you can keep the original too), replace the original, or undo your last change.
The images printed by Ofoto are of EXCELLENT quality, with beautiful, crisp colors and fine details. In a direct comparison, Ofoto's photos do indeed look better than the same image printed on my HP DeskJet 5550 printer.
Ofoto prints your photos on high-quality Kodak (DuraLife) paper. They use a resin-coated, silver-halide color paper optimized for digital printers. Prints up to 8x10 are glossy finish, larger prints are matte finish. They are considered "archival quality".
The Ofoto site will alert you if you try to order a print in a size inappropriate for the image (by that I mean if you took a digital print that wasn't set at the highest quality, Ofoto can tell that your image would be very grainy if printed at an 8x10 resolution, and will warn you as such). You can still order the print, however it will have a red "Not Recommended" mark next to the size on your order screen. The following minimum sizes are recommended:
4x6 print - 640x480 pixels minimum
5x7 print - 1024 x 768 pixels
8x10 print - 1536 x 1024 pixels
16x20 or 20x30 print - 1600 x 1200 pixels
Wallet size - 320x240 pixels
If you are at all familiar with printing digital images, you know that a digital image is not captured in a 4x6 ratio (or a 5x7, etc). This is because digital images are sized to fill up a video screen, which is not in the correct aspect ratio for your average photograph. Thus, some of the image must be cropped when it is printed. If you plan on ordering prints, you can leave this cropping up to Ofoto, you can choose to not crop the picture at all (which will result in your photograph having a white border on 2 sides), or you can crop the image yourself (using the edit tools). What makes cropping in Ofoto nice (compared to cropping in most graphics tools) is that it sets your "crop-box" to the appropriate ratio (4x6, 8x10, etc) so you cannot mess it up and crop too much or too little.
A very nice feature of the Ofoto site is the ability to securely share your pictures with friends and family online. After your images are loaded, you can select which photo albums you would like to share with friends and family (which is nice when you don't want to share every picture with them).
You can choose whether or not to require your friends to sign in when they view your photographs. Signing in provides some definite advantages -- if they sign in they can easily order prints themselves, leave comments in your guestbook, and the site will keep a link to your album on their personalized page. There are advantages for you too -- you will be able to see who has viewed your pictures and when. Most of all, it keeps people you don't know from viewing your family pictures. The main disadvantage is that the first time your friends/family members visit the site they will need to create an account (but accounts are free, so it isn't that big a deal).
When you share an album with a friend, that friend will receive a nice e-mail from Ofoto containing the first picture in your album, a count of the photographs in that album, and a link to the site where they can view your album in its entirety.
You can also remove other people's access to your albums by going to your "My Account" page and removing them from your "Address Book".
How to Order/Shipping:
The nice thing about Ofoto is that a lot of the functionality is totally free. You can create an account, upload photos, edit & add effects, and share photographs at absolutely no cost whatsoever. The only things you pay for are merchandise (frames, etc) and prints.
You MUST have a credit or debit card to order at Ofoto.com. Accepted credit cards are Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express.
The print prices vary by image size as well as quantity ordered (I love bulk discounts - the more you buy, the less you pay). I'm sure the prices change from time to time, so I would recommend visiting the Ofoto site to see the current pricing model - you can follow this handy-dandy link:
As it stands today, the normal price of a 4x6 print is 43¢ if you order 1-30 prints (however they are currently offering a discounted price of 29¢ per 4x6, regardless of how many you order).
Print sizes available for purchase are 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, 16x20, and 20x30. They also offer wallet sizes (priced on a per-sheet bases, with 4 images per sheet).
When ordering your photos, you can set your order preference in bulk (for example, you can choose to purchase 2 4x6 prints of every selected photograph) or you can set each quantity/size attribute on a per-photograph basis. This is a nice feature, as people who want 1 copy of everything can get through very quickly, whereas those of us who want multiple copies of a single image and different sizes of another can also be accomodated.
Shipping charges are also based on how many photographs you've ordered. Regular shipping should take 2 - 14 days once the order is completed, and is charged as follows:
1 - 10 prints - $1.49
11 - 19 prints - $1.79
20 - 49 prints - $2.49
50 - 75 prints - $3.99
76 - 99 prints - $4.99
100 - 149 prints - $7.49
150 - 199 prints - $9.99
200 - 249 prints - $12.49
250 - 299 prints - $14.99
300+ = $14.99 + $1.50 for each additional 50 prints
Other printing options include FedEx 2 Day ($10.99 for 1-99 prints) and FedEx Priority Overnight ($15.99 for 1-99 prints). They also ship to Canada and overseas.
It should also be noted that the shipping times are based off of when your order is completed (i.e. when your photographs are done printing). So far, my order has always been completed mere hours after I placed it, so the processing has never caused a delay.
You will receive a confirmation e-mail when your order is received, as well as an e-mail when your prints have been processed/printed and your order is complete.
Free Image-Upload Software (not required):
Because I tend to do my picture uploading in bulk, I opted to download the OfotoNow software (which is NOT needed to upload pictures). I have been VERY impressed with it so far.
The software allows you to view images on your hard-drive, edit them, select which ones you want to upload to the Ofoto site, upload in bulk, and even stores your purchasing preferences (credit card information, preferred print size and quantity, etc) to make checkout easier. It offers all of the editing features that are available on the website (but tends to run faster, as it is an application running on your desktop rather than something that must load from a webpage).
I'm a real Adobe PhotoShop aficionado for my image-manipulation needs, so when I learned that photo-editing software was built into OfotoNow I figured I would never use it -- boy was I wrong! PhotoShop is still the best, as far as I'm concerned, but when I have to sort through 100+ digital images, cropping them and removing red-eye, OfotoNow is so quick, simple, and easy to use that it wins when it comes to getting my images ready for printing. Much like the editing tools on the site, the cropping-box is set to crop based on the photo you want to print (4x6, 5x7, etc), so I can be assured that the image I'm sending is the exact right size for printing. You can zoom in to see all of a photo's detail (handy for determining which of 2 similar photographs I would rather print). The red-eye removal feature is quick and very handy. Sure, the software doesn't have all of the capabilities of PhotoShop, but when I'm preparing hundreds of pictures it gives me just what I need very quickly without tons of additional features to get in my way.
OfotoNow is certainly not necessary to get the most out of the Ofoto site, but it is definitely a very nice addition.
System Requirements for OfotoNow software: Pentium class machine running Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT, or 2000. Preferably equipped with at least 32Mb RAM (64Mb for NT and 2000) and a video card that supports 16 bit at 800x600 pixel resolution.
Ofoto frequently offers discounts and specials. Currently, they are offering free shipping on your first order, as well as a special 29¢-per-photo charge for 4x6 prints through November 5, 2003. My friend, who has been using Ofoto for quite a while now, receives coupon-codes from Ofoto for discounted prints frequently (in fact, he waits to place orders until he receives such an offer). When he signed up they were offering to print your first 50 prints for free, which was a VERY nice deal.
I have never had any issues with my Ofoto orders, so I have never needed to deal with customer service. The return policy states that you can return any item for any reason within 30 days for a full refund or credit. Customer service can be contacted via e-mail or a toll-free number (included in your confirmation e-mails). If you live near their offices in Emeryville, CA, driving directions are available on the Ofoto site.
One of the newer features, Ofoto Mobile, is a subscription service that allows you to upload, view, and transfer images on your mobile camera-phone. It costs $24.99 per year or $2.99 per month.
Photo tips and a newsletter (called OfotoFocus) are also available at the site.
Ofoto was named "Best Photo Service" and listed as one of the "Top 50 Sites" by Time Magazine (April 2002). They were also named as the "top choice" by the Wall Street Journal (July 2002).
Ofoto has really answered all of my digital-image printing prayers. The quality of the images is simply fantastic, the service excellent, and the software very easy-to-use. I really couldn't ask for much more!
As I mentioned above, because I wait and upload images in bulk, I opted to download the software to make uploading easier. The ease-of-use is fantastic! It allows me to access any images on my hard drive and mark them for upload. I love the crop-box functionality (which admittedly took me much longer to do when I was using PhotoShop for that purpose) and red-eye removal. The 3 times I have uploaded pictures so far, each time I was uploading 100-150 images, and it took roughly 30-45 minutes to upload (which will depend upon your internet connection speed, of course).
I figure I'm saving tons of money. I used to get double-prints of everything so I could share snapshots of my baby boy with family members. With my 35mm camera that meant getting doubles on tons of pictures that really weren't good enough to share, and only getting 2 prints on images that I really needed 3 or 4 copies of. Now, I can get 1 print of most pictures, and easily get 3-4 prints of the ones I really like and want to send to family members. It's great!
The printing and shipping is super fast too. Whenever I place an order, I get the e-mail stating that my order has been printed and is now being shipped just a few hours after my order was placed (and remember, I'm purchasing approximately 150 images each time). Of the 3 times I've used Ofoto, I've always placed my orders on a Wednesday -- twice my order has arrived on Friday (just 2 days later), and once it arrived on Saturday, and that's using standard shipping!
Because my husband and I are software developers and have web sites of our own, we really didn't plan on using the photo-sharing capabilities -- however those have come in handy as well. My husband's parents don't live close to us, so they don't get to see our son (the very first grand-baby) very often. Now, I still print multiple copies of some pictures and send them to my mother-in-law, but since all of our images are online anyway we just give her access to view our online albums and she can order as many additional prints as she wants! Ofoto has really come through for me in ways I wasn't even thinking of when I signed up!
I have an old e-mail account that was totally inundated with spam, so I am very careful about whom I give my e-mail account to, and I virtually never sign up to receive e-mails from retail companies. Because a friend of mine said he waits to order prints from Ofoto until they send him a discount code via e-mail, I did choose to receive special offers from Ofoto when I signed up. I am very pleased to report that they have not flooded me with unwanted e-mail at all! In fact, in the three months that I've used them, I've only received 1 e-mail that wasn't order-related, and I couldn't be happier about it.
I really cannot say enough great things about Ofoto. I held off on getting a digital camera for a long time because I was concerned that the image-quality would not be on-par with my 35mm camera -- Ofoto has helped me put those fears to rest. The photos are crisp and clear (but of course they are only as good as the original image itself). Not only do they provide great prints at excellent prices, but they also offer online image sharing (for free!) and very user-friendly upload and editing facilities. I highly recommend this service!!!
My beloved digital camera: Canon Powershot S45 Digital Camera
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