Why 500px Plus Has Photographers Fired Up

Photos are one of the Web's most valuable emotional currencies. Photographers deserve a good home online to host, showcase and share their work. Thus far, Flickr has been that home, but it has left photographers wanting. The insurgent site 500px launched its Plus plan this week, and we asked digital photographers whether this is finally the home they've always wanted.

"A lot of people are wedded to Flickr since it's been around for ages," says Taylor Hatmaker, senior editor at Tecca and henofthewood on Flickr. "The problem is that the experience hasn't evolved. I find myself spending more time clicking through labyrinthine menus than engaging with the community - which is arguably still Flickr's greatest strength - or even uploading my photos."

"I reluctantly maintain a Flickr Pro account to keep my photography in the cloud," Hatmaker says, "but 500px's elegance caught my eye, and I've been wanting to haul everything over since."

So how do these two services compare? It's more than just a matter of user experience. There are differences in the paid plans, and 500px Plus seems targeted at Flickr's weaknesses.

500px Plus

  • $19.95/year
  • Unlimited uploads, storage and access
  • Unlimited number of collections
  • Market functionality, including digital downloads and canvas prints for purchase
  • Analytics on photo performance and follower engagement

Flickr Pro

  • $24.95/year
  • Unlimited uploads, storage and access
  • Unlimited number of collections
  • Basic account statistics

When comparing the overall services, Flickr does have some advantages. It's the older and more established network, so it has the network effects of already having friends there. Its forums are thriving and celebrated.

But 500px has a stylish interface and more attractive photo presentation, arguably the most important feature for a photo site. It has a great new uploader app for the Mac and a gorgeous new viewer on the iPad. Flickr's growth has slowed under Yahoo, and 500px is shipping worthy features for the 2012 Web at a prodigious rate.

And for the paid accounts, 500px Plus offers the same features and more for less money. But what about the less tangible parts of the experience?

What Photographers Want

"While Flickr increasingly seems like a disorganized virtual shoebox crammed full of photos, 500px feels sleek and elegant, with much more of a professional portfolio vibe," Hatmaker says. "It's hard to say if Flickr's resolute, still-thriving community will migrate any time soon, but 500px is poised to pick up the baton that Yahoo dropped years ago."

Alfred Maskeroni, design director and photographer at Adweek, thinks 500px is aiming slightly lower on the professional totem pole than Flickr, though it might just be messaging. "My mom would always tell me that she was afraid to get a 'Pro' Flickr account, because she wasn't worthy of such a title," he says.

"500px's 'Plus' and 'Awesome' plans target Flickr for sure, but aren't attempting to give users the presumption that it's to be taken too seriously," Maskeroni says. "But it may be setting its target demographic a little low. Pros may be a little put off by this, but it's looking like it's not stopping anyone from posting really great work."

"Frankly, [500px] display[s] photos better than Flickr ever has," says Jason Stoff, editor and photographer at Encor.es. Stoff signed up for 500px Plus as soon as it became available. "Flickr has been iterating their product this year (slowly), but 500px has far greater momentum - they've released a fantastic iPad app, for one. They greatly improved their site design recently. They've introduced a market feature that I'm excited to try."

But while photographers seem to agree that 500px offers a more appealing experience, they keep coming back to the strength of Flickr's forums and community, and it's enough to keep some of them from letting go of Flickr.

"I probably won't be canceling my Flickr membership anytime soon," Stoff says. "I've got years' worth of photos and goodwill built up there. But they should be worried that professional photographers [who are willing to pay for services they use] may flock to 500px sooner than later. There's a lot of space between 'probably won't cancel' and 'unconditionally love.' I used to love Flickr."

"Ultimately, Maskeroni says, "I really think the only thing getting in the way from 500px to truly be a 'Flickr-killer' (if that is the goal) is if they can pull off a legitimate forum structure. If there's one thing photographers like to do, it's TALK."