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First impression of the new SmugMug

I was excited to learn that, this week, there is a major new version of SmugMug. SmugMug is one of the leading photo hosting services, widely used by professional photographers who sell prints. I used SmugMug many years ago but gave up on it after a while because SmugMug's canned themes were, well, pretty lame, and customizing your site required the use use of a slew of CSS (web formatting code) hacks. Headache city. I switched to Zenfolio, which had a (slightly) more intuitive theme editor with a graphical user-interface.

Anyway, this week SmugMug got a significant facelift and I am pretty excited about it. Or I was until I started working with my 14-day trial account. A couple quick first impressions.

1. SmugMug's new themes are quite attractive, certainly moreso than Zenfolio's old themes, although not more attractive than the themes available from many other services, like 4ormat or Squarespace. 4ormat and Squarespace are really just portfolio sites, that is, they don't interface with full-service back-end print labs the way that SmugMug and Zenfolio do. Plus, SmugMug's sites all now use HTML5 and display well on mobile devices.  So that's all good.

2. Not so good is SmugMug's price. At the top tier, Zenfolio and SmugMug are comparable: $250 vs $300, respectively. But not everybody needs the top tier. Zenfolio has a lower-priced account ($120 a year) that has features SmugMug's $150 a year middle-tier account lacks, including the ability to create multiple custom price lists and the option to have print fulfillment delayed so, when a customer places an order, you can upload high-res, fully-edited images. True, $120 account from Zenfolio uses the consumer printing service Mpix, and you have to pay $250 to get access to Mpix Pro, but Mpix's consumer printing is very good — good enough for a lot of photographers and clients. So for part-timers just getting started on tight budgets, Zenfolio's features-to-price ratio is . For pros, the $300 is not a real problem, but for not much more there are higher-end sites like Pictage, Big Folio and Photoshelter. (Note about Photoshelter: I just discovered that one of its partner pro labs is BWC Imaging, one of the best pro labs in the country that just happens to be right here in Dallas!)

3. Unless I'm missing something major, SmugMug's new back-end still requires CSS for customization. Color me disappointed. I spent almost an hour trying to figure out how to do the most basic thing I can think of: upload my logo. One source of confusion is that SmugMug distinguishes between "banner" and "logo". In either case, replacing the text logo for your site ("William Porter Photography") with a graphical logo still seems to require CSS. This is easy to do in Blogger, Wordpress, Zenfolio, Fotomerchant, Fluid Galleries, Squarespace, Weebly, and just about every other web-building and/or photo-sharing service I've worked with, and that's a long list. I can only guess that SmugMug's need to support legacy systems was a factor here.

Which brings me to Fotomerchant, formerly known as Photomerchant. They seem to have done it right: They rebuilt everything from the ground up. That means that the new version is a bit light in the features, but gosh, it works well.

I'm going to keep playing with the new SmugMug a little. I'd like it to be a big improvement. But at first glace, it's a heckuva lot more difficult to figure out than Fotomerchant, and I don't think it's just because Fotomerchant's customization options are more limited.

Well, I'll get back to you when I know more.

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