When the topic of discussion is the cloud, quite often the more avid photographers among us are left out of the conversation. From Google Drive to Dropbox, there's no shortage of quality cloud infrastructures, but one of the biggest constraints is the amount of storage the services offer for your dollar, as well the file-types which are capable of being viewed on-the-go.
I've come across a service though, which can solve at least some of our problems regarding storing full-sized RAW images on the go, with the capability of accessing them and downloading them wherever we have internet access. The service is called Stream Nation, and although it's not meant only for photographers – videographers and movie-hoarders seem to be within the target market as well – their website and service seems to cater to the liking of photographers much more so than the other options out there.
What is it?
Stream Nation strives to "unify your personal media in one beautiful cloud solution." With both video and photographs being capable of uploading, where it defines it's niche in the plethora of cloud solutions out there is the file-types and compatibility it offers.
As far as formats go, photographs can be uploaded in the standard JPG and PNG format, but also as our endeared lossless formats such as TIFFs, DNGs, and proprietary RAW formats C2R, NEF, and "many more."
Videos accept the usual suspects as well as the more rich formats such as DIVX, MKV, and "many more" once again. And, although video may not be of interest to some of you, I know there are plenty of readers out there who enjoy dabbling in both creative fields. More so now as the lines between DSLRs and full-fledged cinema cameras is getting blurred.
If there's one thing which is important to making sure any cloud infrastructure takes off as is needed for success, the key is ubiquity in terms of software and the operating systems on which it's capable of working on. Stream Nation covers their bases extremely well in this regard, which is one of the reasons I can see it potentially becoming an industry standard down the road.
They offer options for both Mac OSX and Windows, both of which are comparable with the most used workflow solutions for photographers: iPhoto, Lightroom, Aperture, and Picasa.
If you're on-the-go as the scenario where the cloud truly shines, you can log onto Stream Nation from any computer with internet access, and using any of the major browsers, you can view your original images in their native format, be them RAW or otherwise. Chrome even has it's own extension allowing for even more intuitive uploads and organization.
As icing on the cake, Stream Nation also offers an iPad and iPhone app making it simple to look for an archived image a client requested at an inconvenient time or upload your mobile photography so it's safe and sound in the cloud.
I would assume apps for Android and potentially Windows Phone are around the corner, but I haven't heard back from their support team yet in regards to this so I will neither confirm nor deny this.
How does it work?
As Cj Chilvers of A Lesser Photographer briefly mentioned some time ago, a big part of the future of photography is the automated workflow of organization in post-production. Our mobile devices use a combination of timing and location to separate photographs into their respective albums and with GPS being built into more cameras with every passing day, as well as more intelligent operating systems being integrated into the camera hardware, it's only a matter of time before messing with file directories is a thing of the past. Whether a thin facade of visuals such as how iPhoto is laid out, or otherwise, dealing with Finder or Windows Explorer to organize images is a dying necessity.
Stream Nation doesn't take a total nose-dive into organization autonomy, but it's definitely one of the better options available for simplifying your archival and storage workflow.
Uploading and Sources
Once you've signed up and the Stream Nation desktop application has been installed, you're able to choose the folders which Stream Nation will "monitor" for images as well as what post-production applications you want to add the ability to upload with.
Once you've selected or created the folder(s) you would like to monitor, you're already on your way to making life much more simple.
If you prefer to upload only specific folders or images, you can drag and drop said folders or images onto the desktop application and it will upload them to your Stream Nation account.
Photo Stream is just as it sounds and is visually akin to Flickr's Photo Stream. Once your images are uploaded, be it manually or autonomously, they're brought into your Photo Stream in chronological order, as is to be expected.
Your Photo Stream is split into two parts though, as if you decide to turn Stream Nation social (as is explained below) you have the option to show your "friends" photos inline with yours, or you can opt to see only your photos by selecting (wait for it) "My photos."
Photo Stream seems to be a nice addition for taking a quick browse through your latest imagery, regardless of device it was shot on.
Honestly, this is the part which throws me off a bit about the service as a whole. And it may just be because I'm looking at it through the perspective of using it only as an archival tool for photographers, rather than a means of sharing as well. I'll let you draw your own conclusions though.
Stream Nation allows you to find and invite friends to view your images, if you would like. Upon uploading, all of your images are private, so no need for concerns there, but individual collections of images, or your Photo Stream as a whole can be shared with friends, who also need to have an account on Stream Nation.
Collections of images are just that, a collection of photographs you've grouped together for some reason or another. Did you take a trip and use multiple cameras while away, but want everything to be together? Create your "Grand Canyon Trip 2013" collection after the images are uploaded and drag and drop your way to a more organized archive.
If you so desire, the individual collections can be organized by name and date. Each collection also allows for the editing of privacy control.
As I spoke to earlier, this organization scheme eliminates the file directory type system we're quite inept at using and turns it more visual. A quality I think every photographer can appreciate.
Tagging and Search
Yet another precursor to getting rid of our archaic ways – although it is already present in most post-production applications – is the ability to tag and search for specific photographs.
It happens quite often that I'm looking for an image of mine taken with a particular film or camera and in a world of metadata and hashtags, the solution is quite clear. Tag your images upon uploading, or after if you're a procrastinator, and years down the road your entire archive will be searchable.
Taking a page out of Facebook's notebook, Stream Nation also allows you to tag photographs with people, and events, allowing for even more fine-tuning, regardless of your organization scheme.
Viewing and Downloading
As mentioned above, your images are capable of being organized, viewed, and even downloaded on the four main browsers. The images display full-screen and even if they're a RAW file, they're optimized for the screen size they're being viewed on, making sure whatever device you're using your images look as nice as possible.
The pricing is what seems like the deal-maker in my book, even if I feel there's a bit too much to the service than needed. Rather than spelling out, I'll allow their graphic explain their five pricing tiers.
Thoughts cloud archival and using Stream Nation
I will continue using Steam Nation in my workflow for a bit to see if it's something which I would prefer using longterm. They've certainly done one hell of a job though and with a few relatively minor complaints on my behalf, the only thing limiting the acceptance of using the cloud as an archival tool for more avid photographers is out of their control. Bandwidth.
The cloud infrastructure is a wonderful solution for almost every type of file, but when it comes to using it for large media files – RAW being the file-type which most pertains to us – the cloud is seriously inhibited. But it's not necessarily the storage that's a problem, as Stream Nation's unlimited plan goes to show. It's that quite often our internet connection isn't fast enough to browse through three hundred 25MB RAW files.
Stream Nation may have the solution needed to fix this problem though, as each image is optimized for the display it's being viewed on, meaning server-side caching is being used.
If I had to summarize Stream Nation into one sentence, without prolonged usage, it would be as follows. Unnecessarily overqualified.
I enjoy simplicity. And while Stream Nation certainly makes archival in the cloud a bit less of a pain at a better price point than other options available, I feel they've put too much into it in an attempt to appeal to the largest audience possible. From a market standpoint, it makes sense, because they don't seem to be focusing purely on content creators – note they allow full-res video uploads without file size limits; a great way to cheaply store all those pirated movies for on the go.
If you're up for trying something new and stepping out of your comfort zone, I would highly suggest heading over and at least signing up for the service. Stream Nation will give you 10GB to play around with after doing a few tasks, such as following and sharing them on Twitter and Facebook, also known as referring.
Everyone's needs are different and I'm curious as to whether or not the masses – of photographers – find Stream Nation as a viable option. If you have feedback, reach out to us via email, Twitter, Facebook, or even shoot us something in our Ask box on Tumblr. Discussion is key to getting the ball – and further more the industry as a whole – rolling towards moving to the future of the photographic workflow.