Adoramapix Photo Books: A Review
Regular readers know that I’m interested in Publish On Demand (POD) photo books. I’ve tried and reviewed on this site both Viovio and Blurb and I’m always on the lookout for interesting new services, especially if the quality of the photo reproduction can be improved.
Recently I was contacted by one of the reps at Adorama, offering a chance to review their new photo book service, run under their Adoramapix photo printing division. With Solo Photo Book Month (aka “SoFoBoMo”) 2010 coming up soon, it seemed like an ideal time to take them up on their offer and find out the particulars of this POD service. So with the up front disclosure that I received a free photo book, here is my review.
Putting the Book Together
Since I wanted to compare the Adoramapix book with a Blurb book that I had made last year, I decided to reuse the same photographs and text for this review book rather than making a completely new book. Browsing the Adorampix web site, I quickly discovered that there was no way to upload a PDF, so I steeled myself to the fact that I was going to have to use some kind of publisher-specific software to put the book together, and lay out the whole book all over again.
Adorama’s book software is flash-based program that runs out of your web browser. A lot of people might groan at this, but to me this was a real plus, as it meant I didn’t have to install some invasive, bloated and buggy software locally on my own computer. The other bonus was that I was able to work on Linux, my preferred platform, which is totally ignored by most commercial web outfits when they make desktop software that you must download and install to use their “web-based” service (!!). Often you are lucky if you can get it for your Mac, much less for Linux, and it will likely be big and bloated because it is written in Java or C#. You’ll also be forced to upgrade it frequently as they add new “features” or capabilities to their book offerings that cannot be used with the old software. Notice to POD publishers: this is 2010! We don’t want 1980s-style pc software, bloated to late 90’s era sizes, on our computers! [Sorry, for the digression, rant off.]
I had decided to do a 10×8 hardcover book, as this would be similar in size to what I had done with Blurb. After choosing from the available dimensions the first thing I discovered running the layout program was that I would have to have either 26 or 50 pages in the book. A rather odd limitation, it seemed to me. My Blurb book had run to around 45 pages, and that was with a couple of blank pages and some front and back matter. Not wanting to add more text or blank pages to what was essentially a photo book, I opted for the 50 page option and decided that I would upload a few more photos to complete the coverage (Adorama has since added 14 page, 38 page and 76 page options).
Once you have chosen the number of pages you are dropped into the theme chooser. I’m the sort of person that likes to do a lot of the design myself, but given that I would be using a new program to lay out the book I was prepared to just use one of their templates to simplify things and then just drop in my photos and text. I didn’t see too many themes that I thought would be particularly appropriate, but there were a handful that looked promising. For each one that I tried, however, it supplied a photo layout that was vastly different from what I had in mind. I ended up choosing the blank template, and deciding to build it up from scratch.
The next step is to acquire your photographs to their web site. There was a choice to upload directly, so I tried that initially, but found that it was taking way too long with the uploading. After seeing the rather pathetic upload progress of the files I canceled the upload and explored the other option they offer, which was to acquire the photos via Flickr or Picasa. I’m a regular Flickr user, and upload stuff there all the time. I uploaded the photos to a Flickr set (which went much faster than Adorama’s site) then dropped back into the book builder at Adorama and chose the option to import from Flickr. An authorization click or two later and the photos were streamed in quickly and available for populating the book. This is a great feature if you are already using one of these services to host your photos.
So far the little setbacks hadn’t really beaten me down, but it was at this point that I began to really feel some significant friction using their layout program. The drag and drop interface with precise placement and manual resizing of frames was just a little too painfully slow in Flash. Since I am adverse to doing this sort of thing even using a locally installed desktop software (check out my automated method for laying out photo books) this sort of slow and painful GUI layout work has become a bit of an anathema to me. Others may find it acceptable. Playing with the text boxes and fonts I realized that I would be at this for a very long time if I continued on that course. It was at this point that I discovered that I could drop a photo on a page and then click a button to expand it to fill the page. I decided to simply lay out the entire book as a sort of portfolio of the images, and just add a bit of the text at the front and back. Although the book would look different from the Blurb book in format, this would at least let me evaluate the image quality as well as seeing some rendering of text. If I had to do this over again I think I would simply render my existing PDF pages as images, and then upload them to the site and drop them in as full page images.
Let me say that I give Adorama high marks for trying this pure web-based approach to building a book. Unfortunately, it’s not easy making good web-based software (just ask Google) and I’m afraid I have to give the first edition of the software a “C” grade. Being a real web based service they can easily update the software from their side (I notice that they have already), and I hope that they will continue to improve the user experience. I do believe it is the right way to go. Once I had finally cleared the hurdle of creating the book in their web tool, the final steps of completing the ordering was nice and streamlined. They offer the ability to pay with Paypal, which I appreciate (I had to pay for shipping), and with a few more clicks my book was into their order queue and I was awaiting the result in the mail.
Receiving the Book, Impressions
The turnaround time for the book was fairly speedy and I received it in a little over a week. I expect the time is less for those that don’t live out in the provinces like I do. The book was shipped in reasonably sturdy cardboard and shrink-wrap packaging, and arrived unscathed.
My first impression after unwrapping the package was that this is a hefty book. The hardcover is something like 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick, made by gluing a wrap-around cover over some sturdy board material. The cover has a protective, waxy/metallic sheen, which I found slightly off-putting. Inside, the text block is done in what appears to be a thermal “perfect” binding, with the text block attached to the cover by the first and last signatures of the block being glued rather simply to the inside front and back cover, directly (and visibly) over the wrapped around cover edge. On my brand-new copy the paper was already pulling up a bit from the edges, as can be seen here. Although a perfect binding is standard in the industry, in this book it almost seems a liability due to the thickness and heaviness of the text block. From the outside this book looks like it could take some abuse, but I don’t think it would take very much before the text block comes apart or separates from the cover. This isn’t as much of a problem for the press-based Blurb or Viovio books since the text block is much lighter. On the plus side, the Adorampix binding allows a lay-flat book stance, and this combined with the lack of a gutter allows two page spreads to really be used effectively.
The text block is heavy due to the paper being used. This is no ordinary paper, but Fuji Crystal Archive paper, widely used for consumer-based photo printing products. The paper feels like a large FCA photo enlargement (such as you might get from a drugstore with Fuji machine), except that it’s double-sided (or somehow glued back to back), yielding an even thicker, sturdier paper. The surface on my copy was lustre, which I found so-so (gloss might have actually looked better; I suspect the “matte” finish option would also possibly be available, but would be far from an inkjet art matte paper type). The thickness of this paper is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, it is very durable and can be thumbed through by quite a few people without getting the pages wrinkled (my Blurb book is quite wrinkled by now after quite a few page turns). On the downside, its tactile quality distinctly detracts from the book experience: the book feels more like a children’s book with shiny, thick, heavy cardboard-y pages rather than creamy, white supple pages. If you imagine creating a book by binding together a bunch of 8×10 double-sided glossy/lustre inkjet prints you can kind of get an idea for the feel. This is photo paper glued together into a book, not photographs printed on book type paper. If you want to produce a photo book as an “objet de art”, I don’t think this is going to satisy. For my book, which features children and chickens, and will receive quite a bit of browsing through over the years it’s not a bad choice. Time will tell whether the cheap binding will hold up, but I’m confident the pages will.
Now to the heart of the matter: image quality. Being a true photo paper, the quality of the photographs are quite good. This is a real photographic reproduction process on photographic paper. Despite my misgivings about the paper as “book paper”, there is no comparison between the photographs in this book and the books I did with Blurb and Viovio; the Adorama photo reproduction is much better to the naked eye. This is quite understandable considering that the others are printed on regular paper using a halftoning process. Although I’m not a big pixel peeping fan, occasionally it can be useful in figuring out something that you can see, but not quite understand with the unaided eye. Here you can see an example of the halftoning pattern seen in the Blurb book vs. the basically continuous tone process used in the Adorama book. And how do the photos compare to inkjet prints (as I compared in the VioVio vivisection)? Well, I still prefer inkjet prints to these, but you have to start looking very carefully to really see differences. I think the detail and color is better controlled in the in-home prints, and of course you have many choices of papers with better tactile feel than FCA.
Although the photos were better in this book, the text quality suffered a bit. I didn’t include a lot of text due to the hassles in laying out the book that I explained earlier, but I did have one full page of text. It looks ok, but better in the Blurb book, where they can work from a real font embedded in a real PDF to a more normal piece of paper. Again, if you are not too picky about such things it won’t matter much. It all depends on how much of the “fine art book experience” you are trying to achieve.
The Adoramapix book service is a true web-based publish on demand service that produces photo books in a number of sizes. The photographs are reproduced on Fuji Crystal Archive photo paper, not regular book paper. Although one can quibble about the binding a bit, there is no doubt that for preserving and displaying your family’s photographs and memories the service does a very good job at a slightly premium price. The service is aimed squarely at amateur photo books and is not really suitable for books with a significant amount of text, or a fine art reproduction feel. The web-based layout software is a bit limited, so I recommend that you stick to the templates offered, or go with full page spreads as I did. Another option would be to do your own layout and then digitize the individual pages of your PDF as images. Their upload service is a bit slow (this may all depend on your internet connection), but if you are already uploading your photos to Flickr or Picasa they can pull your images from there fairly quickly, saving you the hassle of uploading them yet again to another service. The only major drawback to their service, in my opinion, is the requirement that your book be limited to either 26 or 50 pages, which is not very flexible (as I mentioned, they have since added some additional sizes, but they are fixed). I believe some of the other sizes may have different limits of the number of pages.
All in all, I was pleased, but not blown away by the Adoramapix book. I could see ordering some more of these as memory albums to sit on the bookshelf or coffee table, especially considering the ease from which photos can be brought in via Flickr. They are the perfect replacement for the photo albums of the previous century (unless you count the new iPad?). Overall I’m still left searching for a POD publisher that can do high-quality photo reproduction on more standard types of book paper in a decent binding. It seems that this is still elusive at reasonable price points with current technology.
- Good quality photographic reproduction; real continuous-tone photographic process (using Fuji Crystal Archive paper)
- Fairly accurate color with ICC profiles available (but printing is in sRGB color space, a bit limiting)
- Real web-based software to create your book; no need to install invasive, bloated and buggy software on your computer
- Can import photos from Flickr or Picasa (actually works better than uploading directly to Adorama)
- Good service and turnaround time
- No PDF service, must use their software to lay out the book (but could digitize your PDF pages and upload them to the blank template).
- Glued perfect binding somewhat ugly and fragile (but allows lie-flat position and continuous two-page spreads).
- Paper (at least in hardcover editions) is thick and cardboard-y, doesn’t really give a great book “feel”; lustre surface is just ok
- Flash-based book layout software is pretty clunky, limited and slow, at least in the first incarnation; probably fine if you stick to the templates and don’t use a lot of text, but time-consuming and painful if you want a lot of your own design in it
- Limited to fixed sizes of number of pages: Want another size? Sorry!
Visit my Flickr set to see more review images and commentary, including a stunning pixel-peep comparison of the image rendering difference between the Blurb and Adoramapix books.