Whether you are an avid photographer or just a casual shutterbug, chances are you have a large trove of digital photos that are unorganized and likely not backed up. A new startup called Mylio, based in Bellevue, Wash., is promising to solve this problem with a novel photo management application that syncs your entire photo library across devices — making it easy to find long-forgotten photos and ensuring that you’re protecting those important memories from disaster.
Mylio is the brainchild of David Vaskevitch, the former Microsoft chief technology officer. In his Microsoft days, Vaskevitch was known for leading photo expeditions and exhibiting his digital photography. That passion, combined with the frustration of organizing a large photo library, led him to found Mylio, which launched late last year.
The subscription-based app is available across Windows, Mac, and iOS, with an Android version in the works. I’ve been using Mylio for about a month, and I’ve found it to be a valuable tool for organizing and backing up photos across my devices. Here’s a summary of my experience.
My disorganized photo library
I’m a somewhat avid photographer with a library of 50,000+ images from the past 40 years. I’ve got tons of images from my DSLR and smartphone, but also scanned film from my childhood and pre-digital days, totaling 250GB+ and growing rapidly. Photos from some time periods are well-organized, while others are a mess. I try to be careful with backing up photos, but my collection is poorly protected against disaster.
- Home PC – This is my main photo-editing and storage device with both a large monitor and plenty of disk space.
- Laptop – This is my primary work and remote machine. If I’m taking photos and not at home, I’ll import and edit photos on the laptop.
- iPhone/iPad – I’ve got 1000+ photos on my iPhone that replicate between the two devices, plus a smattering (100 or so) of images that I’ve transferred to the devices from my photo library.
- Flickr/Facebook – I have Flickr/Facebook galleries that may or may not still exist on my PCs.
Would I survive a device failure? – My home PC has a large mirrored RAID drive array, so I wouldn’t lose anything on a single drive failure. A lighting strike or big electrical surge would be a different story, as I would lose a bunch of photos on my home PC. My laptop would fare better, with 80% of those photos on OneDrive and Dropbox, but it would still mean data loss. My iPhone/iPad replicate their camera roll to one another and are backed up in iCloud, so those photos are protected.
Would I survive a house fire or burglary? – Given my best intentions, I haven’t taken a backup offsite in years. There is actually a backup drive sitting in my closet that hasn’t been updated in almost a year. Only 10% of my photo library is on OneDrive/Dropbox/Flickr/SmugMug. This would be catastrophic for me.
Can I access images from all of my devices? – The photo libraries on my home PC and laptop are two different collections. 75% of my photos are on the home PC and another 20% on my laptop. I create a remote desktop connection if I need to access photos from the other device, but I often don’t remember which is the correct PC for a particular set of photos. There is also some duplication when I’ve imported in both places, and my laptop drive is too small to house anything but a fraction of my photo library.
Photos taken with my iPhone are easily accessible across all devices, though none of those images are labeled or categorized. Access to my huge photo library from my phone or tablet is another story. Virtually none of my photos are local on the devices, and less than 10% live on a cloud service.
In other words, I’m a case study in the problem Mylio is seeking to solve.
Getting photos in to Mylio
Importing photos in to Mylio is easy and fast. You can either move folders into a Mylio folder, or simply tell Mylio to watch certain folders if you want to leave them in place. Upon import, Mylio reads metadata like keywords, location and copyright info, then builds the thumbnail and preview sizes that it needs to speed up display and sync to other devices.
Mylio also allows you to ingest photos from your Facebook albums or Flickr stream, bringing with it people and location tags. If you use Lightroom, there is a special option to watch a Lightroom folder without moving it so that you don’t end up with a bunch of missing files in Lightroom.
Syncing photos across devices
The best part of Mylio is its ability to automatically sync photos across all of the devices in a Mylio network. Load up the iPhone or iPad app and it makes quick work of syncing copies of the photos on your laptop or PC when it is on the same network. When one device sees another on the same network, the two Mylio apps ask one another “do you have any photos to sync with me.” The strength of this system is that it is not reliant on the cloud, and file transfer can be very fast as a result. If I take my laptop home, it syncs up with my home PC when they see one another on the network.
The file sync is also robust. Whether you make edits in another app, the file system or directly in Mylio, it will pick up those changes and send them around to the other devices on the network. You can monitor the sync progress, as well, to see which files need to be sent where. The one flaw here is that Mylio can’t be run as a service or background process in the OS. As it stands today, you need the app open for syncing to occur. For example, if I open Mylio on my iPad at home and Mylio isn’t open on my home PC, the iPad won’t sync any new files from that device.
Normally with large photo sizes, you cannot easily store your entire photo library on a mobile device. But when you setup device syncing in Mylio, you specify which size photo is synced to each device. Thumbnails (smallest), Previews (medium size, editable) or Originals. On my iPhone, I sync Previews and my 209GB of photos becomes only 2GB on the phone.
When I suddenly had 100% of my photos on my phone in an easily browseable and searchable interface, I was hooked. I’m not sure that any photo management software has ever achieved this. Not only can you show off your photos wherever you are, you can also rate, label or organize files on your mobile devices. Your changes will sync back to your original photos.
My laptop only has a 256GB SSD drive, so once again it is impractical to sync originals. 209GB of original photos become 40GB when I sync to my laptop using the Preview size.
3-3-2 photo backup and the Mylio Cloud
Mylio recommends a “3-3-2 backup scheme.” 3-3-2 means storing three copies of each photo on three hard drives in two locations. Storing on more than one drive protects against drive failure. Storing in more than one location protects against fires and theft. Is each one of your important photos backed up this way? I’m guessing that most people would answer no.
Mylio’s sync system presents three shields that are either green or yellow to indicate the protection status of your photos. The first shield tells your originals are synced to more than one device. The second shield tells you if all of your files are synced to another local device. The third shield tells you if your originals are synced to a remote device.
Given the size constraints of my iPhone, iPad and laptop SSD drive, here is the setup I came up with to make sure everything is protected.
- Home PC (2TB drive) – sync Originals
- External 3TB drive attached – 2nd copy of Originals
- Laptop (256GB drive) – sync Previews
- External 4TB drive attached – remote copy of Originals
- iPhone/iPad – sync Thumbnails
You can add PCs, external drives or even NAS devices to Mylio to participate in the sync network. You can also add the Mylio Cloud, which is cloud-based storage provided by Mylio. Syncing to Mylio Cloud is not turned on by default, but is easy to enable and you can choose whether Thumbnails, Previews or Originals are stored in the Mylio Cloud.
At first glance, it would appear that the cloud storage option is a great one for ensuring that you have an offsite copy of your photos. In practice, though, using the cloud storage option depends on the size of your photo library. If you’ve got a relatively small collection of photos, say 50-75GB, using the Mylio Cloud could be a good option as an offsite backup, though the initial upload is going to be slow. If the size of your photo library is measured in terabytes, the time required to either upload or download from the cloud is simply impractical and the storage will be cost-prohibitive. For large photo libraries, syncing between your own drives is the way to go.
Shuttling files between remote locations
If you subscribe to the Advanced version of Mylio, it enables a feature called “Shuttle” that can be used to sync files back and forth between devices that are not in the same location. The easiest example here would be syncing between a work and home computer.
I tried two different options to shuttle files between my work laptop/external drive and my home PC/external drive. The first option was using the Mylio Cloud, where photos are temporarily uploaded to the cloud, then downloaded to the remote location. While this works as advertised, I ran into a few snags. Since original photos aren’t being stored on my laptop, rather an external drive connected to the laptop, I confusingly had to enable both the Mylio Cloud and my laptop as “shuttle” devices. A new photo on my home PC was first uploaded to the cloud, then downloaded to my laptop, the moved from the laptop to the external drive. To get this to work, you need to proactively open Mylio on both devices.
If using the Mylio Cloud as your shuttle, be aware that the file upload and download process can be very slow. My internet connection is 50Mbps download/10Mbps upload, so I expected the upload of files to be slow. However, downloading files from the Mylio Cloud was also very slow, despite a reasonably fast internet connection. I’ve been in contact with the Mylio support team who says that they are working on some speed improvements here, as Mylio is pausing after each photo is downloaded to re-sync its catalog and re-authenticate with the cloud.
Mylio also needs to do a better job of managing upload bandwidth when sending photos to the cloud. After a day of shooting, it is not unusual to come home and import more than 1GB of photos from my DSLR. When syncing those files to the cloud, Mylio is saturating my internet connection and negatively affecting web browsing until the upload is complete. Given some of these internet speed limitations, the better option for me has turned out to be to use my laptop as the shuttle between both locations. When the laptop comes home, it can sync up with my home PC over the local network, which is fast. I could also use my iPhone as a shuttle to temporarily store original photos until a sync has occurred.
For photographers who like to travel to exotic locations, Mylio has a couple of neat features to temporarily protect your photos. The Mylio Device Network creates a temporary Wi-Fi network when you don’t have a Wi-Fi network to work with. This temporary network allows the devices with you to stay in sync (laptop, phone, tablet).
You can also turn on Travel Mode, a temporary setting that will protect original photos when your normal protection devices (probably large external drives) are not present. While in travel mode, your Mylio device will retain originals until it has a chance to sync them when you get back home.
When you take lots of photos, you need a quick way to rate or pick photos. You can use a star-rating, color-coding or flags to pick your best photos, along with setting keywords to make image searching easier. Conveniently Mylio can read ratings and keywords that were set in programs like Lightroom or Aperture.
Many photographers may pick or rate photos already in Lightroom as part of their editing workflow. There are pros and cons of each program. Lightroom’s side-by-side Compare mode and Survey mode are more powerful to sift through a stream of similar photos, but Mylio’s rendering is significantly faster, at least on large RAW files. Since both programs are aware of ratings and flags from the other program, you can use whichever suits your purpose.
Searching and sharing photos
Searching for photos in Mylio is easy, useful and intuitive. You can easily scan your library by folder, locations, keywords or people tagged in your photos, no matter which device you are on. The calendar view is a particularly fun way to view your photo history. You can also group your photos into Albums, maybe to show off the best photos from your trip, for example.
While Mylio reads and displays EXIF data about each photo, there is no way to search photos based on a camera model or specific lens, for example.
Mylio is a photo management service, not a photo sharing service, but it does offer a variety of ways to share your photos. You can share downsized photos via email, upload to Facebook or Flickr, or simply export your files at a particular size to share on other services. You can also print or create a video slideshow from within Mylio.
Taming your smartphone camera roll
Most of my friends and family members have thousands of photos on their smartphone. You snap a photo, share it somewhere, and then it goes it a massive unlabeled and unorganized camera roll. Finding a past photo in my iPhone camera roll is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
One neat feature of the Mylio iPhone is is to tell it to watch the camera roll for new photos. A photo snapped on my iPhone syncs to all of my Mylio devices, and I can now use Mylio to search or organize them. Sometimes I’ll just drop them in the correct folder to match up with DSLR photos from the same event. Other times I’ll create a folder or quickly label them. Or maybe you just want to delete them. It does offer a new way to unlock, organize and protect thousands of camera roll photos.
Currently Mylio only supports iOS devices, but Android development is underway with a call for Android beta testers.
Mylio comes with basic photo editing support, which can be accomplished on any device. You can change settings like exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks and clarity. In addition, the editor supports sharpness, vibrance, saturation, red-eye removal and cropping. You can also tap around on your smartphone to quickly make edits, even though you are not working with the original file. Your edits will sync with the originals via XMP sidecar files.
Photo editing is supported for common photo file types, though if you want to apply edits to RAW files, you’ll need either their Standard or Advanced plan. Photo edits are non-destructive like they are in Lightroom, with edits stored in an XMP sidecar file.
While Mylio can make basic adjustments to the entire photo, it currently lacks the ability to make more advanced or spot edits like you can in Lightroom. If you find yourself doing spot removal, adjusting tone curves or using an adjustment brush, you’ll probably stick with Lightroom edits. Another notable advantage to editing in Lightroom is being able to make lens-specific distortion corrections or applying camera calibration profiles to RAW files.
If your rarely or lightly edit your photos, Mylio’s photo editor has the basics covered.
If you are a more advanced photo editor, Mylio accomplishes maybe 70% of what you’ll need. Lightroom covers another 20% and Photoshop covers the last 10% for really advanced edits.
Mylio with Lightroom
For many photographers, Adobe’s Lightroom has become the photo editor of choice, especially after the demise of Apple’s Aperture. Lightroom’s catalog organization features also bear some resemblance to similar features in Mylio. If you are a Lightroom user, there may be some obvious questions about how Mylio and Lightroom work together.
First, Mylio and Lightroom are designed to work well together. Both use non-destructive XMP sidecar files to store edits and metadata, so things like ratings, crops and global adjustments seamlessly move back and forth between the two programs. You do need to enable XMP files in Lightroom to make this work.
Mylio’s file management, photo syncing and photo backup features are vastly better than what you can accomplish in Lightroom. A Lightroom catalog is great on one computer, but add a second computer to the mix and suddenly you’ve got two different photo libraries that are totally unaware of each other. Publishing to Lightroom Mobile to share photos with your mobile device is both slow and cumbersome, and in my experience so slow with large photo collections that it was unusable. Mylio’s local sync of your devices makes quick work of this and enables you to carry your entire photo library with you. It also gives you piece of mind that you’ve always got multiple copies of your important photos protected on multiple devices.
Mylio also does a much better job dealing with edits made in the file system itself. You can add, delete or rename files in the operating system and Mylio will pick up all of the changes. Lightroom is easily confused if you start making file changes outside of Lightroom, throwing up the “question marks” for files that it cannot locate.
Rating, culling and sorting can actually be done in either program. While Mylio seems to move faster from picture-to-picture on RAW photos, I prefer Lightroom which offers more robust ways to apply GPS location data via their Map interface and also automatically uses facial recognition to speed up tagging of people in photos. (Apparently facial recognition is a new feature coming in Mylio.) I also like Lightroom’s Survey and Compare modes for sifting through a stream of very similar photos.
Lightroom’s photo editor is clearly superior if you want to do things like spot edits or applying lens correction profiles. Mylio recognizes this and allows you to select a photo and “Edit in Lightroom.” I currently have my Lightroom folder monitored in Mylio, so when I add photos to Lightroom, they automatically appear and sync on all of my devices. However, when I try to edit a photo in Lightroom from within Mylio, it awkwardly kicks off the “import” dialog for my Lightroom catalog for files that are already in Lightroom, rather than taking me directly to the photo that I want to edit. If you do make changes in Lightroom like local edits or lens profile corrections, you have to take another awkward step of re-publishing these photos back to your Mylio Publication Stream. Essentially you create a new version of the edited images that Mylio can properly render.
Mylio also has trouble rendering HDR and Panoramas created in Lightroom. While Mylio display DNG files for certain camera models, the DNG files created directly by Lightroom HDR and Panorama are not yet supported, though the Mylio support team indicates that they are working on this.
Mylio currently offers four versions of their product. The Basic plan can sync up to 3 devices and 50,000 photos and costs $50/year. The Standard Plan supports 5 devices, 100,000 photos, Lightroom integration and RAW image editing for $100/year. The Advanced plan is $250/year and can sync 12 devices and 500,000 photos. It also adds the ability to shuttle files between remote locations. There is a free version as well for up to 1,000 photos from each import source and 10,000 from your iOS devices.
Mylio has created a useful, and in some ways groundbreaking, application to help organize and protect photo libraries. The ability to easily sync and display every photo that I have on my iPhone, iPad, laptop and home PC is a game-changer for how I use and enjoy my photos.
Mylio has also solved a backup problem that I have always had, but never actually solved. The upfront process of setting this up required a little bit of effort, and I had to buy another external drive, but I’ve now got a reliable system in place that keeps multiple copies of my original photos in a few different spots and actually doesn’t rely on cloud storage, unless I configure it that way.
Photo editing with Mylio is mixed. For the casual shooter or really basic edits, you’ll likely be quite happy with their tools for tweaking your photos. For folks accustomed to Lightroom or Photoshop, or if you have a post-processing workflow for your photo shoots, you’ll likely stick with editing in Lightroom. You can still take advantage of the file sync, organization and backup capabilities by having Mylio watch your Lightroom folders.
Mylio isn’t the cheapest option out there, particularly if you step up to the Advanced plan. It’s more expensive than free options like Flickr or Google Photos, but similar in price to other photo tools like Lightroom and Smugmug. In my mind, it is worth the expense to be able to carry your entire photo library with you and to have some peace of mind that you have things backed up.
The Mylio application is just over 6 months old, and as with any new software, it is likely to go through a period of rapid development and improvement over the coming months. While I’ve run in to a few confusing bits and bugs along the way, their support team has been helpful and have already seen some enhancements to the product in a new release.
Mylio offers a 30-day trial version that you can check out. Better yet, if you’re in Seattle and in the mood to buy some new camera gear, head on over to Glazer’s Camera in Seattle and you can get a code for a few free months of Mylio if you decide to buy.