Tag Archives: books

Photo Book Group Test (Part 4)

Since MyPublisher use the same interface as Apple they are really only able to differentiate themselves on two grounds: print quality and delivery times. How did they do?

Well, the dispatch notification came on the 29th June which is quick but not as fast as Apple. Unfortunately the book arrived on 8th July, which was five days behind Apple and a full week behind PhotoBox.

But what is the book like now that it has arrived?

It’s nice. In fact, if you go read my comments on the Apple book you’ll have a very good idea of what MyPublisher have done. The presentation is very similar, and, in terms of quality, it’s not easy to tell them apart. The main differences are that the MyPublisher has a vellum-like page before the photo pages, while Apple has a patterned sheet of paper. It’s a nice touch. And secondly the branding is slightly less obvious. No logo, just a bar code on the penultimate page and the website URL on the last page, no “Made on a Mac” text or logo.

So, given that the quality is broadly comparable and the delivery is slower, what reason is there to use MyPublisher rather than Apple? I’m still wondering. There’s nothing really wrong with the final product but currently they appear not to have any compelling advantage over Apple.

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Photo Book Group Test (Part 3)

Apple were the first off the block. At 9am on the 27th June I receieved an email noting that my photo book had been dispatched. For some reason they are printed and mailed from “abroad” (with a Dutch customs declaration, the value in US Dollars and a German postmark) which explains why it took until 3rd July to arrive. Unfortunately I was out when it first came, so I didn’t actually pick it up until the 5th.

So how does it compare with the PhotoBox book that arrived last Saturday? It arrived in typical Apple fashion. Inside an ordinary card box is a white card box with the normal Apple branding. Inside, wrapped in clear plastic, is the book.

The book itself is black and nicely bound. Rather than having a hole in the cover showing a print on the first page, Apple chose to have a photo (and some text) bound to the cover. Since this is a book of our wedding, it’s nice to have a description of what it is on the front. Similarly, the first page is a text page of credits, an option that wasn’t available with PhotoBox.

The photo’s are pretty much as good as those in the PhotoBox book, and possibly higher quality than the Vietnam photo-book from last year (but since they’re different bindings — hard cover as opposed to soft — it’s difficult to give a direct comparison). The problem with the varying colours seen in the PhotoBox book is still present in the Apple version but not as pronounced. The Apple branding in the book is more pronounced than with PhotoBox but it still fairly subtle: the very last page has an Apple logo and says “Made on a Mac.”

Overall this is the best of the two books seen so far. The quality is at least as good, if not better because the colour balance, and the presentation is better. MyPublisher will have to be very impressive to beat Apple’s efforts.

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Photo Book Group Test (Part 2)

PhotoBox in many ways have the advantage. Not only were they working with the full resolution images, but they are also a completely UK-based organisation. Their offices are only on the other side of London which has to help delivery times!

Nevertheless, at the risk of giving away some of the results from the other two vendors, they were the last to send a “dispatch notice” email, on the 30th June.

The next morning we were woken by the post-man ringing the door bell. It was sent by first class recorded post. Since we took advantage of the “Two for One” offer there were two books. They arrived separated by a card insert and surrounded in a durable card sleeve and, therefore, in immaculate condition.

First impressions of the books themselves are good. Hard-back and nicely bound, they look more expensive than they actually are. Opening them up is no less impressive.. The text on the opening page looks much better than the website preview (although possibly not the typeface that I would have chosen) and there is little Photobox branding (just a “printed by” line on the very last page). The lack of captions on the other pages — something we were slightly worried about — turns out not to be a problem. Sure, there are gaps but it doesn’t look like there should have been something there.

It’s quite difficult to objectively judge the quality. The images are all from different cameras with varying settings so my only benchmarks are the book of Vietnam I made last year, my eyes and my expectations having seen prints of some of them. With those caveats in mind, I have to say that I am impressed. The photos are generally of a higher quality than the Vietnam (iPhoto 5) photobook but, arguably, not quite up to that of a normal print.

The colours are a good rendition of those in the original images. This means that a lesson for next time is to try to balance the colours over the whole set of pictures. The Vietnam book looks more consistent because all of the pictures were taken on the same camera, with the same colour saturation settings. As a “photographer” this detracts from the book as a whole, but this is not something that PhotoBox should have done anything about, and nor does it make is any less of a good memory and record of the event.

The main criticism I can level is that there was no option to enter a page of text. As these are books of our wedding, it would have been nice to list the people who were there, the location and the date. Of course we could have added some of this information as captions but I didn’t think that was a reasonable substitute.

But overall these are just nit-picks. The books are beautifully presented, well printed and, especially given the special offer, very reasonably priced. If the other two books are anything like these I’ll be a very happy man.

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Photo Book Group Test (Part 1)

Regular readers will know about my experience ordering a photo book from Apple using iPhoto 5 and cards using iPhoto 6. For my wedding I decided to get another book using the same pictures and, as far as possible, the same layout but order from three different suppliers: Apple, PhotoBox and MyPublisher. This is, therefore, going to be a four part article. This one is about the initial ordering process, then the next three will be posted when the books actually arrive.

All three orders were placed on the evening of Sunday 25th June. This is how it went.

First I looked at iPhoto as I (vaguely) knew what I was doing with it. This was a newer version of iPhoto (6 rather than 5) but pretty much all the comments I made last time are appropriate. That is: it’s incredibly easy to use, just drag and drop. If a picture is not of sufficient resolution a little yellow triangle appears to warn you. There are a number of decent themes. The only difficulty is that it seems to assume that I want a black cover on my hard-back book. As it happens I do, but I was sure there used to be a choice. It turns out there is, but only once you have clicked the “Buy Now” button. The order process is uneventful, picking up my details from my previous orders and allowing me to change them if required (I don’t). The book is just shy of 14Mb and it uploads as quickly as one might expect given the size. An email confirmation arrives shortly afterwards.

Next I decide to look at MyPublisher. MyPublisher works with both Windows and the Macintosh. For the former they provide a complete application, for the latter you can download an iPhoto plugin. I used the latter. The advantage of this is that all the lovely user interface elements are also present. Almost. One neat thing about iPhoto is that it only uploads the book once you have confirmed that everything is okay (including the price and delivery options). It, therefore, comes as a surprise when clicking the “Buy Now” button after downloading and installing the plug-in (very easy, which is why I didn’t mention it) and it immediately starts uploading it.

Once it has finished uploading it shifts focus to Safari where it asks for an email address and a password, then my address and credit-card details. And then it says that there had been a problem uploading the photo book (there were zero pages apparently). I’m not happy that they took all my personal details before announcing that there had been a technical problem.

The second time I upload things seem to go better. Upon completion it shows a screen where you can select various details of the book. MyPublisher has a better selection of covers both in terms of colours and finish (they have a leather bound book too). Thankfully they remembered my credit card details from last time. They do, however, have one last surprise for me: despite my address being in the UK (and them appearing to have a UK office), they charge me in US Dollars and charge me Fed-Ex shipping from the States.

Lastly I try PhotoBox. This is a two step process. Firstly: upload the pictures. There are a number of methods, but I choose the default which is a Java applet. You drag and drop image files into the window (I dragged them from iPhoto) and then click the “Upload” button. This takes a while as, unlike, iPhoto and MyPublisher, the full resolution images are being transferred. The pictures range from three to eight mega-pixels. In theory this should give PhotoBox the advantage when it comes to printing. We’ll see.

Stage two — building the book — is a web application. As a browser experience it is good and responsive. I try to keep the layout as similar to the iPhoto book as possible but some concessions are needed. I need to change the cover image, for example, and the first inside page, which is entirely text in iPhoto, had to be removed entirely. Page layouts are less flexible and selecting the right one is more of a manual exercise. While iPhoto dynamically changes the layout to cope with portrait versus landscape pictures, PhotoBox tends to crop the pictures and requires you to switch layouts yourself. All the formats leave space to enter captions for the photos. In trying to mirror the iPhoto layout we did not enter any, however there is still the niggling question of whether there are any “holes” in the design because of that. It’s not as WYSIWYG — you don’t see that acronym very much any more — as iPhoto.

The experience is not as good as that in iPhoto. It is, however, still very good.

I’ve not mentioned the prices of any of the books so far, and that’s because they’re all pretty much in the same ball-park: between £20 and £25 including delivery. That was including a discount from MyPublisher (seemingly “one time only” but I’ve been getting emailed the vouchers on a fairly regular basis since I first heard about the company). And for this month only PhotoBox had a special two-for-one offer, so I should be getting two identical books for the same price.

So that’s myexperience with buying process of three online photo-book merchants. Stay tuned for the results.

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iPhoto 6 Cards

As you may have seen, I was generally quite impressed with the photo books that the previous version of iPhoto was able to generate. I was therefore quite keen to try the new cards that you can buy using iPhoto 6, the version included with the recently released iLife ’06. (Am I the only person that thinks that “iLife” is a really naff name? First that, then “MacBook Pro” rather than “Powerbook.” What next?!)

The first real opportunity was Valentines Day. I picked a picture of the two of us and poked around trying some of the various options. There are about twenty themes, ranging from very plain to unusably gushy (to my eyes). You can then customise the theme, modifying the way the picture is displayed (full page, drop-shadow, etc.) and adding text to the front and inside. It’s a nice, polished interface. Easy to use and just like the photo book process.

When ordering a single card, as I did, postage is more than the actual card! On the expensive side, I’d say, but well within the bounds of acceptability.

So what’s the verdict? What’s it like?

The short answer is that I still don’t know. I clicked the order button a full week before the 14th and now, a week after Valentines Day, it has still not arrived.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in expecting a card to take less than two weeks to print and be delivered. I realise that a card is more complicated than a few prints, but I have had my snaps delivered the next day a number of times after ordering through PhotoBox (no affiliation, I am just a satisfied customer!). Apple really need to improve their service in this area if they are to avoid alienating their customer base.

iPhoto 5 Books

As many of you will already know, I recently came back from a trip to Vietnam. Some will even have seen the pictures. Others, however, do not like looking at pictures on a computer screen and always insist that I get prints. This time I decided to go one better and get a book.

Those still wallowing in the PC world may not be aware of a Macintosh application called iPhoto. It’s a bit like Adobe Photoshop Album if you’re familiar with that. It allows you to catalogue photos, categorise and label them and perform some minor edits such as red-eye removal, cropping and simple colour adjustment, although I normally use Photoshop for this kind of thing. I mention it here as one extra feature that I’ve never used before was its ability to make custom books. I normally use Photobox for my prints but this seemed like a much easier option.

I’m pleased to report that it was simple to do. I selected the book size and template and iPhoto automatically distributed the images in the book. I picked the “Travel” theme which is on the good side of slightly tacky. Then I added and subtracted a few, changed the order and altered the layouts, putting my favourite pictures on their own page and sequences of shots on a spread. I also wrote an introductory text for the first page. They allow the pictures in a variety of formats: a single shot taking the whole page, with borders and a number of different pictures per page. I think I used all of the various formats in the book at some point and they all work well.

It was all drag and drop (except for the typing!), just working as you’d expect with no need for a manual or even the on-line help. The first surprise was when I tried to order it. Firstly there were more pages than the default. It must have automatically created enough pages to show all the pictures, which is fair enough but I was a little shocked when I saw a higher price than I was expecting. And secondly I found that I had to enable One-Click ordering. I don’t like to have that switched on normally ? I like to be inconvenienced a little when there’s impulse buying ? to be done!

It took about a week to be delivered. First impressions are good, it is well packaged, appears to be nicely bound, and the cover has a hole in it revealing the title page. In my case this is a slightly Photoshopped sign I took (“Welcome to Vietnam”) and a small picture of myself. Opening up the book I find the introduction text. It’s clear and sharp, unlike my writing, but I note that they’ve not changed the quotes into “smart quotes,” which is a little un-Apple-like in the sense that it’s a small addition that would make it look that little bit more professional.

I confess that my most serious criticism is one that most people slowly nod their head and agree to in a patronising and not entirely convincing manner. Despite the gorgeous presentation, I feel that the image quality is not especially good. It’s not shockingly bad ? as we can see from the response of other people to my comment ? but it lacks adequate resolution and looks to be dithered. The colours also appear to be aiming for saturation at the expense of realism although this may, to some extent, be affected by the resolution.

In Apple’s defence I would say that they have a difficult balance to strike. Even at the resolution they used the book, which included just over forty images, was in excess of a 20Mb upload which takes some time even on my ADSL link. By contrast prints I get individually are normally between two and four megabytes each. Plus this is their consumer application. Maybe Aperture or iPhoto6 performs better in this regard?

But overall I am impressed. The book was quick and easy to create, the order was processed and delivered reasonably quickly and the quality is more than adequate for its intended audience. A definite thumbs up and I am very likely to do the same thing again next time I return from a holiday.