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Review | Picture Keeper

Digital photography has been both a blessing and a curse to the scrapbooking community. It’s provided several advantages such as the ability to take a nearly unlimited number of photographs (you’re only constrained by your storage space) that are then easily stored, accessed, edited, and printed. The downside of digital photography is that all those precious images stored on your computer are only a single power surge, natural disaster, or hard drive crash away from being destroyed forever – unless you have them backed up.

Backup solutions exist in many forms ranging from a simple external hard drive to online backup services to elaborate structures of hard drives (known as RAID arrays) backed by software that ensures that no piece of data is contained on just one drive at any given time as a shield against drive failure. While a RAID array may not be practical for most hobby photographers, simpler backup solutions such as the Picture Keeper – a USB drive containing automated photo backup software – exist to help anyone back up their data. Today we’ll be taking a in-depth look at the Picture Keeper and how it works.

Before I get started on the review, I want to give our readers a little insight into my professional background. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and have worked as a software engineer for the last nine years.I have extensive experience in designing user interfaces and programs that handle file transfers and manipulations, and it’s my job on a daily basis to both write software and to test it in an attempt to find its breaking points. To that end, I have attempted to review the PictureKeeper from the end user’s perspective while keeping in mind all of the software engineering principles that go into what’s “under the hood” of the program.

The Picture Keeper is available in a variety of sizes and configurations and is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers. USB flash drive versions of the device are available in 4GB (MSRP $29.99), 8 GB (MSRP $59.99), and 16 GB (MSRP $99.99) sizes, and an external USB hard drive based solution with a 250 GB capacity (MSRP $149.99) is also available for those who require more space for their photos. Users also have the option of supplying their own drives (either USB or external hard drives are supported) and purchasing a standalone version of the Picture Keeper software (MSRP $29.99) for use on their device. According to the company’s web site, iPhone and iPad versions of the software will also be available soon.

The Picture Keeper unit I received for review was a 16GB USB flash drive, which I tested in depth on my iMac. Upon inserting the Picture Keeper into one of my computer’s USB slots, a drive icon with the name “untitled” appeared on my computer’s desktop. The device actually contains configuration files that direct a Windows computer to start the Picture Keeper software automatically when the drive is inserted, but Mac users will need to double-click on the drive icon (or in some way navigate to the contents of the drive) in order to launch the backup software (all of this is explained on the instruction card included with the Picture Keeper drive).

The contents of the drive are displayed in the screen capture below, and the software is started by double-clicking on the “PictureKeeper” entry. After the software has been started, the user experience is the same on both Windows and Mac computers.

The Picture Keeper software has a very simple and easy-to-use interface. The opening screen presents the user with three options: scheduling a backup reminder, viewing pictures that have already been backed up to the drive, and (of course) the option to start a backup.

I jumped right in and chose the option to start the backup, and the Picture Keeper software immediately began to scan my computer in search of image files. The screen capture below shows the partial completed scan process.

The scan completed very quickly (in just a few minutes), and then the backup process kicked in.

I happen to have a rather massive photo library on my computer (I’ve been shooting completely digitally with a DSLR since 2004), so I knew that the Picture Keeper drive would fill up long before all of my photos had been backed up. Sure enough, about 45 minutes into the process I received an alert that the USB drive was full and that I should purchase a larger Picture Keeper drive.

After clicking the “OK” button on the alert, I clicked the “View Pictures” button on the user interface to browse through the files that the Picture Keeper had backed up. What I found was that it had not, in fact, backed up any of my photos at all! Instead, it had backed up a directory full of images that I’ve downloaded from various blogs and web sites over the years and saved to my “Ideas” files. While these directories did contain image files, they were not in fact photographs, and I also found that the Picture Keeper software had not even detected my photo storage directory (which is located in an external hard drive that’s attached to my iMac at all times).

Picture Keeper has an excellent FAQ section on their web site, so I was quickly able to find out that the device’s software is pre-programmed to look for image files in the most common places that they are stored on Windows and Mac computers (you can find a list of those locations here), but that it can also be reconfigured to scan alternate locations for photographs. The configuration menu can be accessed by navigating to “Options -> Advanced” in the Picture Keeper menu structure.

The following screen capture shows the directories that the Picture Keeper came pre-configured to search on my iMac. Unfortunately, I don’t keep photos in any of these directories, so I selected each one and clicked the “Delete Selected” button to remove it from the list, then clicked the “Add New” button.

Clicking “Add New” brought up a window in which I could browse to a folder I wanted to add to the list, so I navigated to the photo storage folder on my external hard drive and selected it.

I noted one other problem with the factory Picture Keeper configuration while I was in this menu – note the highlighted section of the screen showing the file types (extensions) that Picture Keeper is searching for. Almost all of the standard formats are listed including JPEG, but there are no entries for RAW settings for any model of digital camera!

I happen to shoot in RAW format on my Nikon, and all of my photo files have a .NEF extension which was not one of the original selections in the Picture Keeper software. I would have expected that the software would have shipped with RAW formats for at least the major camera manufacturers already loaded into the default settings.

Adding a file format (such as my Nikon’s .NEF files) to the list is easy – simply type in the name of the file extension(s) you want to add, separating each entry with a comma. Users can also add extensions to allow video and audio (or really any) file to be backed up, as well.

After reconfiguring the software to scan the appropriate directories for the correct file extensions, I decided to delete the previously backed up contents of the device (while leaving the base software intact) and attempt the backup again. The FAQ states that there should be a menu selection under “Options->Reset Picture Keeper” to remove any backup files on the drive, but this option was not present in my software.

According to the FAQ, the lack of this menu option meant that my Picture Keeper device was loaded with a slightly older version of the backup software. Luckily the FAQ included instructions on how to perform this step manually, specifying which files and folders could be safely deleted without harming the Picture Keeper software. I selected and deleted the specified folders, then emptied the Trash on my iMac to free up the space on the Picture Keeper drive.

At this point I launched the backup process again. The scan completed, this time on the correct directory, and the backup process began.

The backup stopped before all my photos had been backed up (again, I expected this due to the size of my ), and I found that fewer than 1,800 of my photos had been stored on the Picture Keeper.

While 1,800 photographs may seem like a lot, I want to give you a peek into my Adobe Lightroom catalog to show you why this is an issue. As you can see in the screen capture below, I have more than 52,000 photographs in my library.

Yes, 52,000! And the Picture Keeper only backed up a little over 1,700 of those. I would literally need a whole army of Picture Keeper flash drives to back up all of my photos, and my library (which is over 400 GB in size and lives on a 2 TB external hard drive) would easily overrun the capacity of one of the 250 GB hard drive based Picture Keepers, as well. I realize that most people don’t have the sheer volume of photos on their computers that I do, but think about how fast your 2, 4, or 16 GB memory card fills up on your camera and compare that to the available space on a Picture Keeper flash drive. The storage capacity is simply insufficient to handle the volume of photos that most scrapbookers take.

The packaging of my 16 GB Picture Keeper also claims to “Keep 16,000* pictures safe.” That little ‘*’ though, points out that this claim is based on an average image file size of just 1MB per photo, which is a very unrealistic expectation from almost any image format in any modern digital camera. The screen capture below shows a sampling of the image sizes that my Nikon D3 outputs when shooting in RAW format – my photos are anywhere from 10 MB to over 14 MB in size – more than 10 times what Picture Keeper seems to think is average! Even when shooting in JPEG mode, my files are around 8 MB in size. I honestly cannot recall any recent or even semi-recent digital camera with an image file size of under 1 MB. Even my iPhone, an older 3GS model, creates images that are larger than that!

I also want to point out one more nasty little “surprise” that the Picture Keeper software had in store for me. After I completed my second backup and shut the software down, I needed to go back in to take an additional screen capture for this review. When I did so, I was shocked to find that all those settings I had changed for directories to be scanned and file sizes had reverted back to the Picture Keeper’s factory settings! I would have expected the software to save these settings between runs instead of forcing the user to change them each time the software is run. For a device that claims the user can simply “Plug and Save,” it seems to be a very un-user-friendly way for the software to behave.

I also would like to take a moment to talk about the expense of the Picture Keeper. At its core, the device is nothing more than a standard USB flash drive. A 16 GB USB flash drive (the same storage size at the review unit I received) currently retails for around $20 to $25 on Amazon, leaving a $75 price differential between it and the 16 GB Picture Keeper device. In my opinion, $75 is a steep premium to pay for software that can’t even remember my custom storage location settings between runs!

As much as I applaud Picture Keeper for trying to make photo backups easy for non-technical users, I really cannot recommend the device as a viable storage option based on capacity, expense, and the issues I encountered when using custom settings in the device’s software. Users would be better served to either buy a large external hard drive with pre-loaded backup software to protect all their files (not just photographs) or invest in an online backup service such as Mozy.com that offers both a larger storage capacity plus the double dose of insurance that comes with having your backed up files stored in a different physical location than the originals.

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35 Responses to Review | Picture Keeper

  1. Duckienz September 6, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    BRILLIANT! I love this unbiased review taking into account your ‘computer godess’ status as well as being an everyday scrapper.

    We, (my computer god fiancee and I) use Amazon Jungle Disk and love it. I take a lot of photos (although mine are not from a DSLR so are smaller in file size) and I get charged approx $3-4 a month. Because I haven’t got my photo system fully set up yet, it is backing up ALL of my images and a few important folders.

    Please keep on doing these reviews, they are brilliant for people that have NO CLUE, like me lol.
    Allie

    • Gretchen May 8, 2012 at 12:09 am #

      Allie, those are my sentiments exactly! Melissa’s review is the first and only unbiased that I’ve come across for the past 10 minutes, the others being as results of winning the Picture Keeper for review. Also, thanks for the Amazon Jungle Disk info. I’m going to go check it out now. I may be back, however, for I have NO CLUE, either, friend!
      Gretchen

  2. Ruth September 6, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Melissa, this is a wonderfully clear and unbiased review, so accessible to newbies, but looking at the more advanced options that most of us need, since no-one seems to use the basic options they assume. I have my photos stored on our home server so that I can upload or work with them from more than one computer and have been thinking about our extra backup options for a few months now. I think that, given the size of backup, it sounds like an online generic backup plan might be the way to go? Thanks again for the insight!

  3. Gab September 6, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Thank you for the honest review.

  4. KathyinMN September 6, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Thank you for your honest review AND for reviewing it on a Mac. As someone who has gigabytes of pictures and shoots in the highest (largest) file size I knew this software wouldn’t work for me. But being a Mac owner with a TB of space, I already back up using time machine and other Mac options. Thanks again for your review….why it wouldn’t save those settings….that alone would make me insane!

  5. Beth Sutton September 6, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    Thanks, I’ve been curious about this product… I plan to share the review with the friend who told me about picture keeper!

  6. Anne Lemay September 6, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    An excellent review! You’ve captured my experience with Picture Keeper exactly. I have an 8 GB Picture Keeper filled with icon images from my computer. :(

    I appreciate the extra information you included about changing the settings and the typical size of digital photos. Mine are also 10 MB on average

  7. Debbie in S. Florida September 6, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Thanks so much for the informative, yet easy-to-understand review of this product. I truthfully had not heard of this before, mainly because I am able to automatically back up all of my photos with the software that came with my external harddrive (I invested in a 2TB drive, since I have nearly the same amount of photos you have, though, like the other commenter, I don’t shoot in RAW, so my files are smaller). It works for me, since it backs up every time I use my laptop and I don’t have to remember to do it myself. I was really interested to read your review, though, thinking maybe it was something I could use as a second backup, but thanks to you, I see now it would never work for the amount of photos I have saved. I’ll definitely be checking out the Jundle Disk that was mentioned in the comments, though. I’ve read too many horrifying accounts of people losing their whole photo collection in one fell swoop and I’ll feel much better to have them saved in multiple places!

  8. Traci September 6, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Thank you for your unbiased and very clear review! I have the Picture Keeper Software, which was available on a stand alone basis at the site. I am taking your points, both pro and con, to run my own tests on the stand alone version. But I go into it with dramatically decreased expectations.

  9. SWJenn September 6, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Great review. Hopefully the companies who make these things will pay attention. I am NOT a professional or near pro photographer, do not shoot in RAW, but still have over 300G of pics to backup. Not to mention Flash memory isn’t all that stable – I have a drawer full of dead flash drives that thank goodness didn’t have anything important on them. I back up to a 1T EHD and to an online service. Getting my files out of the house is important to me, given 500 of my neighbors lost their houses (and computers, external drives and flash drives) to tornadoes this fall!

  10. Nina September 6, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Thanks for the great review. Trust SU to give us unbiased reviews.

    Myself I back up on 2 separate devices. I have a portable 80GB that is dedicated to just photos and we have another external HD that is for the standard backup that we do weekly and that is just me, the hubby has a MAC which is the 3rd backup system that also accommodates my laptop we do it monthly. It is bit of overkill, altho having experienced a complete melt down a couple times, we are cautious, especially with the photos. That being said, I think we are going to look at an off site backup too.

    Again, thanks for the great review!

  11. Steph H. September 6, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Wonderful review. I saw this device at CHA and had a hard time buying into it being “plug and play.” My suspicions were confirmed here.

    I love the concept, but I agree that most people have a lot of photos and they take up a lot of space. The cost of these devices when compared to an external hard drive of say 3TB makes the back-up decision quite easy.

    I do recommend redundant back-ups – whatever you all do, don’t rely just on one drive or just on offsite back-up. Employ both! Yes, this is the voice of experience talking, someone who backs up to an external drive, a drive that is backed up to a server, and also backs up off-site. There are at least three copies of my data available in the event my laptop drive fails.

    As they say in the computer biz, it’s not a matter of if (a drive will fail), but when!

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and knowledge,

    Steph

  12. Reneecrops September 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I appreciate your indepth review. I’m starting to look into ways to save my photos outside of my laptop, because I’ve heard so many horror stories of people who have lost all their digital photos. I currently have a small external drive. I was wondering how many photos could actually fit on this type of flashdrive, and 1,700 doesn’t even dimple the surface since just one of my photo sticks has 5,800+ photos. I’ll just scratch this off my items to research, and look at a larger external drive and Mozy! Thanks for your help. because had I purchased picture keeper it would have been a total waste of my money!

  13. May September 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    While it’s a lovely idea… sounds like reality is that it’s just not worth it. I print images i want, then save to external harddrive as a “back up” copy. it’s simple drag & drop, and sounds like this fancy program would be more aggrivation than help!!

    Thanks for another great review.

  14. Vicki J September 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you so much for providing a real review! I am so tired of reviews that gloss over the negatives of a product.
    I have an external hard-drive that I back up with disks and then send my favorite photos off into the cloud for additional back up. (A girl can never be too cautious!)
    Thanks again for the review!

  15. SueO September 6, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Thank you for this review. I had looked into these online and decided they were a glorified usb thumb drive. But still I wondered if perhaps what they had on them were worth the extra price and I can see that it is not. When I customize settings on something I expect those settings to be there the next time as well.

  16. Matt Stanchie September 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    Melissa,

    Thank you for the review. I am the developer of Picture Keeper. I apologize that your experience with our PK16 was not positive.

    I would like to point out that you reviewed a 1.5+ year old version of our software. This is the main cause of the confusion with adding the additional files types, saving changed settings and direction from our FAQ. I would be interested to hear when/where you received your sample. Also, was a Users Guide included with your sample with a number to call our support team?

    In the past year and a half, there have been many updates from Apple to the MacOS (and from Microsoft to Windows) and correlated updates to Picture Keeper. I would be happy to provide you with the latest software. I am confident your experience with Picture Keeper will be much more positive and the issues you face would not be present Note: All updates to our products are Free of Charge to our customers.

    Lastly, we are not the perfect fit for every computer user. There are many options out there for users with a higher computer skill set. We offer a full refund if for ANY reason someone is dissatisfied. I stand by my product and will assist anyone who has any issue.

    Please let me know if I can provide you with the most recent version of Picture Keeper.

    Thank you again. Matt Stanchie

    • Tara November 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

      Hello, I am wondering if you can help me, Matt. I have about 20,000 photos, and just bought a Picture Keeper yesterday (only 4gb). I am trying to figure out if there is a way to put my photos into a specific folder and have the picture keeper ONLY copy those photos onto the picture keeper stick. Thanks for your help!
      Tara

      • Tara November 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

        p.s. I DID try your customer service number, but no one was available to take my call…. :(

  17. Felicia's Scrapbooks September 7, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    I bought one to test to see if it was something I wanted to sell in the store and you are right about all the issues. and since it wasn’t as user friendly as the box claims I was afraid a lot of customers would need my help figuring it out.

  18. Kathy Jo Camacho September 7, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    Thank you so much for your review. This was wonderful information.

  19. BARB T September 7, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Thank you so much for your review. I had been interested in the PK so this was valuable information. I also have an IMac and become quite frustrated when I need to do additional steps to complete what was supposed to be simple. I was also impressed that Matt, PK developer, left a reply along with the suggestion of testing a newer PK. I would be interested in reading a review if you do follow up on this.

  20. Michelle Nahom September 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    I have been using Picture Keeper and have had no problems. It looks to me like the software tested was an older version. There is a download available for the Picture Keeper software, which I believe is $29.99, and is easily installed on your own external hard drive. If someone has large picture files, or is shooting in RAW, and takes a lot of pictures, this is absolutely the way to go. I don’t shoot in RAW but I installed the software on an external hard drive with a terabyte and had plenty of room. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 photos backed up on it currently. I also have to say the software developer has been more than helpful in answering every question I have had. I use a PC and a Mac and on my Mac I am using Aperture rather than iPhoto. This is a great product that I recommend to many of my clients. Many people are not backing up their photos at all and this is a great option for a lot of those people!

  21. Renee T (italgal on BPC) September 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Thank you for the in-depth review. It is very frustrating when something is advertised as “plug-and-go,” but then requires the corrections you had to make. I did see that someone who designed the product responded, but if I buy something, I want it to work off the shelf, as advertised. I don’t want to have to download additional software fixes, etc. etc. etc.

  22. Terri Harmon September 9, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    I have to add my thanks to all the above for all the same reasons. For me is was simply the cost differential between PK and a basic flash drive. I have a 32 GB flash drive that was more than adequate for my 10 years of digital photos. I recently copied them all to my laptop as a second back-up and am glad, having just read SWJenn’s comments about dead flash drives. It is so easy to simply drag and drop that I couldn’t see any advantage to costly software. Never-the-less, I still need to remember to initiate the copying process on a regular basis. Please keep giving us updates!

  23. Theresa Grdina September 10, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    Thank you for the timely review. My husband and I were discussing buying one of these just yesterday. I am glad I saw this before I rushed out and got it. IT sounds like too much work and configuring for me. I think I will look into an online storage spot.

    Thanks again!

  24. Kelly Klapstein September 10, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Thanks for the awesome and detailed review….I also was thinking of buying this back up system. Not now.

  25. Frances Parish December 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Can i delete the pictures on my computer after i download to my picture keeper?
    How can i get the pictures that are on flopys and cd onto picture keeper?

  26. Monica Ricci October 31, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    What a great and objective review! SUPER helpful. Thanks Melissa!

  27. Susan Grodecki February 9, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    Awesome review!!!!!

  28. Christina Green December 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Thank you for this well written, unbiased review! I was very close to purchasing this for myself and a few as gifts, but questioned the true capacity of the USB’s. I’m very glad I didn’t purchase after reading your review…it was just as I suspected. I would have had to purchase a whole lot more than one to store all of my photos!!

  29. Jane Bentham March 8, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Great review!! You know your stuff and for the novice it has helped me understand I just need to buy and external storage device as I have 30 years to scan and store. Any suggestions on scanning large amounts of photos? Thank you.

  30. Terri March 14, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Great review! Clear and concise. Helps tremendously with my decision. Thanks!!

  31. type00790265Glen December 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks for the review! I was about to buy one as a Christmas gift for my wife but realized I would be doing all the work. Is there something else out there that is as close to plug and play as possible?

    • Nancy Nally December 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

      I recommend (and use) Crashplan for backing up not just your photo library but your entire computer. Once it is installed and set up, it just runs in the background and you can ignore it! It’s an online back-up program so your photos are safely archived outside of your home, preserved in case of disaster.

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