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Photo Books: Blurb vs. Adorama

I decided recently that it was high time I put together a physical portfolio of my work to use as a tool for approaching galleries about my fine art. I've made portfolios on the past, but it was always the traditional print in a plastic sleeve type. Although they look just fine, I was never crazy about the cheap plastic covering my beautiful photographs. So, with all the companies now offering reasonably priced custom photo books, I decided that would be a better way to go.

Adorama vs Blurb Photo Books

This post is a review of 2 different services I tried: Blurb and Adorama. There are tons more options out there for photo books, but Blurb is a big hitter and Adorama has a unique style. The review here is a realistic critique of the products themselves. I'll be looking at color accuracy and reproduction, quality of materials and general presentation. I won't be touching on all the different options these companies offer because that's all information you can find on their websites. I also won't really address each company's design software or available templates, because I created the pages and covers for my books with a simple design using Adobe Photoshop. The idea with these books was to showcase the images in a clean, simple, effective layout free of the typical clutter that comes with fancy borders and text. I'm also just not a big fan of templates because a template means someone else has a book that looks almost exactly like yours. I wanted mine to be unique.

Color Reproduction
Winner: Adorama 

Most important to me in a photo book is accurate color reproduction. After all, the book is all about showcasing your images, so if the images don't look perfect, then what's the point? And as far as color reproduction goes, Adorama is the clear winner.

Blurb and many other big photo book companies utilize a printing process called offset printing. The ins and outs of offset printing aren't necessary to know, but it is important to understand that it utilizes CMYK inks, or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black inks. This process is also common with printers of business cards, brochures, etc.

Adorama books, on the other hand, utilize the same printing process for printing digital photos, which utilizes an RGB color space, or Red, Green and Blue.

Why does that matter?

Well, your camera records in RGB, your computer monitor displays colors with RGB and your image editing program uses an RGB color space. Basically, your pictures revolve around the RGB color space. So if you then utilize a CMYK printing process to print your images, colors won't translate perfectly.

In my experience, printing my RGB photos with a CMYK printing process, results in colors that are just a little bit off. The shift seems to be most obvious with reds, greens and blues (how about that!). This inconsistency was no different with Blurb's CMYK process. To put it simply: the colors of my pictures looked spot-on with Adorama, and just a bit off with Blurb. Since Adorama uses RGB, colors were accurate to my RGB images.

Blurb Photo Book Review

It's difficult to reproduce here, but the Blurb book's colors (above) are just slightly off. The Adorama book (below) has excellent color reproduction.

Adorama Photo Book Review

Take Adorama's RGB printing and couple it with my perfectly color-calibrated monitor, and the result is pictures that perfectly match my monitor.

Print Quality
Winner: Adorama 

Second only to color reproduction is image sharpness and general print quality. Once again, Adorama wins out by a wide margin.

With the Blurb book, all the pictures looked grainy and lacking in sharpness. Areas of the images that were supposed to be smooth tones (like clear skies) had noticeable grain and "banding" - that's where you can see repeating little lines traversing the entire image. It wasn't a high-ISO graininess because most of the shots were taken at ISO 100. Also, the graininess was gone on the Adorama book. This graininess in the Blurb book is actually from all the little droplets of ink on the paper used in the printing process. It looks like a low-resolution image blown up too much.

The Adorama, book, though, had excellent gradients and edges with very good sharpness. As it says on the Adorama website, "All pages are printed on real photographic silver-halide paper with a lustre finish, bright saturated colors and excellent flash-tones. You just can’t get all this in press print books." This is no BS. The images in my Adorama book had much better saturation than Blurb. Contrast was far superior and blacks were deeper.

Blurb Photo Book Review

Close-up of Blurb book (above) and Adorama book (below). Notice the pattern of the ink droplets in the Blurb book.

Adorama Photo Book Review


Blurb Photo Book Review

Close-up of Blurb book (above) and Adorama book (below). Notice the difference in detail.

Adorama Photo Book Review

Paper and Binding
Winner: Adorama 

This is where it gets a little bit apples and oranges because I ordered 8x8 and 10x10 hard covers from Adorama and an 8x10 soft cover from Blurb. But let's start with the quality of the covers.

Blurb's soft cover is high gloss and looks horrible. Excuse my bluntness, but it's true. The Blurb book arrived with a bunch of a hairline scratches all over the cover. You know those little spider-web-looking scratches you see in black cars that haven't been waxed? That's what it looks like. Also, it's a big magnet for fingerprints. You handle this thing just a little bit and it looks beat to hell.

Blurb Photo Book ReviewThe Blurb cover gets beat up and scratched pretty quickly.

The Adorama book isn't perfect in the cover department, but it's leaps and bounds above Blurb. The lustre finish is much more resistant to scratches and finger prints. It's easily wiped clean, too, if you do get some finger prints on it. My only gripe with the Adorama cover is that the binding starts to crease after it has been opened a lot. No biggie and that's just the nature of using a book, but the cracking along the edge of the cover makes it look a little beat up.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewA crease will form on the cover along the binding of the Adorama book after you've opened it a few times.

The pages on the Adorama book are thick and don't crease easily, which is nice. They feel as though you took two digital prints and glued them together back-to-back. That's about the thickness you get. Gives it a nice, professional feel.

The Blurb pages are thinner more like a traditional book. Some may prefer the flexibility of these thinner pages, but not me.

Winner: Adorama 

One huge gripe I have with Blurb is that unless you want to pay an extra fee, the Blurb logo will be stamped on the title page and last page of your book. You'll have to shell out a few extra nickels if you don't want your book to look like an advertisement for Blurb.

Blurb Photo Book Review Want these Blurb logos off your book? It'll cost ya...
Blurb Photo Book Review

A great feature on the Adorama books is the lay-flat pages. Facing pages are essentially seamless and don't have a deep crease in it for the binding. This means you can lay a book out flat without the need to hold it open, like with the Blurb book. Plus, you can do 2-page spreads with no interruption in the image. This is great for panoramas. Try doing this on a Blurb book and you'll lose the center of the image in the deep crease of the binding.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewThe lay-flat pages of Adorama's photo books requires no holding it open.

Blurb Photo Book ReviewThe traditional binding of Blurb's photo books don't lay flat.

Adorama Photo Book ReviewLay-flat pages are great for 2-page spreads.

I'm not going to comment much on price for these books because they aren't far off and the superior quality of the Adorama books kind of makes it a moot point. Adorama seems to run a lot of sales, though, which is cool. Check out Blurb's prices here and Adorama's prices here.

Customer Service
Winner: Tie 

I didn't have any customer service issues with Adorama, so I can only comment on the fact that the order came through without a hitch. It was relatively quick, they sent me a tracking number and it's pretty much as you'd expect from Adorama. I did have to ask them one technical question on the print DPI before I ordered (which is 300, by the way), and they were very quick to respond with a clear answer.

I do have to say that Blurb has excellent customer service. I actually ordered 2 identical 8x10 books from Blurb. On the first one, the print quality was horrible, which turned out to be an error on my files. But when I contacted Blurb to figure out what happened, the woman who helped me was very knowledgeable and very quick to remedy the situation. I didn't have to wait a long time for an answer, I didn't have to talk to someone overseas and she readily gave me a full credit so I could order a replacement with the proper files. It was my fault, but they still sent me a free replacement. Can't beat that kind of customer service.


The Adorama book trumped the Blurb book in nearly every aspect, but especially in the most important aspects: color reproduction and print quality. When you really boil it down, Blurb is using a printing process more suitable for large-volume posters, brochures, business cards, letterhead, etc. etc. But Adorama is creating actual photographic prints that they have ingeniously compiled into a hand-crafted free-standing book. With Adorama, you get photos. With Blurb, you get a brochure.

Adorama vs Blurb Photo Books

So head on over to Adorama and get your first book ordered! Oh, and feel free to drop my name as your referral 😉

(By the way, I'm in no way affiliated with Adorama and they did not solicit this review - this was all me)


Aperture 2, You Win

Alright, I caved and bought the Aperture 2 upgrade. Was I wrong about the things I said in my previous post? No (for the most part). True, proportional spacing in grid view shouldn't have been dropped in this upgrade and, yes, the jumpy scrolling is annoying as all hell, but there are some pretty awesome changes that actually do outweigh my quibbles.

I will admit that I can understand the advantage of unchecking proportional spacing in grid view in Aperture 2. It's hard to explain without a firsthand demo, but having it unchecked makes things more orderly when organizing pictures, splitting up stacks, creating stacks and all that jazz. It should still be an OPTION, though, not a requirement!

And it seems the "ignore stack groupings" option on smart albums has been replaced by the (surprisingly) more useful "include stack picks only." The way smart albums work in Aperture is a little different than in previous Aperture versions. It's almost like it automatically ignores stack groupings, but still lets you know when an image is part of a stack. It indicates, for example, that both of these images are 5-star, but they are 2 of 5 total images in the stack. It just doesn't show those other 3 images.

As for the jumpy scrolling: That's just straight up stupid. I can't for the life of me figure out why they swapped out the intuitive, logical smooth scrolling of Aperture 1.5 for this jerky ridiculousness. I really hope my dozens of complaints get through for the next update.

Now for the reasons TO upgrade:

- Vignette tool: Incredibly handy
- Smoother straightening: This was a major frustration point for me in 1.5
- Metadata and Projects panels in the HUD: Full-screen mode just got useful
- Retouch tool: Surprisingly effective
- Flip tool: FINALLY
- Interface: I can customize this thing until it's unrecognizable and it makes better use of my screen real estate
- Tether: So easy to do
- Customizable hot keys: I love hot keys even more now
- RAW Processing: WAY better results than in 1.5
- Background export: I can keep working? WHILE images are exporting?! Sweet!
- Faster: Don't ask me how, it just is

Here are some images from my first batch using Aperture 2 - an engagement photo shoot for my awesome friends, Bubba and Lisa. The new adjustment tools made my job much quicker and easier. Thanks Aperture! (cue cheesy 80's high five)

Band Shot Style

Cute Couple

Dusk at the Beach


What'd I do?

P.S. You may notice the large majority of my recent work is all portraiture stuff. Don't fret, nature is still my main game. It's just that summers in Southern California for the nature photographer, shall we say, leave something to be desired. The weather is boring, the heat is relentless, the crowds are ridiculous and the vegetation is...crispy. I'm not a sell-out and I'm not money-motivated (but I do need to, you know, eat). I wouldn't be doing this portraiture work if I wasn't loving it.

Radiopopper Review

Alright, so I got to use my brand new Radiopoppers on a shoot yesterday. This was the first true test of these bad boys because I needed to count on them for several hours at a beach that was 224 steep stairs and one hell of a walk away from my car. If they failed on me, I was boned.

I am happy to report that my Radiopoppers performed with flying colors! Yes, I will elaborate. But before I get in to the nitty gritty of how they did, let me just describe my setup for you. I am shooting with a Canon EOS 5D with a 550ex and Radiopopper transmitter as my master flash. This is controlling 2 Canon 430ex slaves each with a Radiopopper receiver attached. I shoot with the master emitting no flash and I control the output of each slave manually. If I'm controlling my slaves manually anyway, why didn't I just get pocket wizards instead of radiopoppers you say? Well, aside from the ability to switch to TTL in the rare event that I need to and aside from the sweet perk of being able to use ANY shutter speed, these radiopoppers allow me to control the output of each slave from the convenience of my camera-mounted 550ex. That's right, no more walking over to each slave to change the output while I chimp my screen. "Oh what's that? A little too much light coming from slave A. BAM! Handled." Don't even have to change my position.

The Radiopopper website is the best place to learn what these units are and what they can do, but I will sum up the general concept for you here. Basically, they take your Canon or Nikon TTL wireless flash system and change it from infrared-triggered slaves to radio-triggered slaves. This means you can do EVERYTHING you can normally do with your wireless flash system but at a much greater range and without the colossal drawback of your flashes needing to be in line of sight. And yes, Radiopoppers really are as magical as they sound. Not only in their design and functionality, but in what they do for your photography. They give you the freedom to shoot TTL or manual, below sync speed or above, with your slaves in line of sight or not. Radiopoppers spit in the face of compromise. You don't have to sacrifice FP flash and TTL to get radio-triggering wireless. They truly allow you to have your cake and eat it too. I can't even imagine what possibilities this will open for wedding photographers. Kevin King, you are a god among photographers.

I found my radiopoppers to be incredibly reliable. In my shoot of a little over 300 photos, I experienced misfires 10-15 frames. That's a 97% success rate! And that 3% is most likely from flaws in the E-TTL system itself, not the radiopoppers. One unusual thing I noticed while shooting is one of my slaves would randomly fire while I wasn't shooting. I assume this is just from some sort of radio interference momentarily affecting it. But truthfully, I dunno. I should probably ask the guys at radiopopper (who are incredibly helpful by the way), but it's not enough of a problem for me to write an email. I'd say this only happened 3-5 times in the entire shoot. Never caused any problems, either.

The radiopopper units themselves are delightfully simple in design. The transmitter has 2 buttons, the receiver has 1. Press a button to power them up, the green light turns on, they link automatically, the amber light turns on, you're good to go. The transmitter mounts with velcro on top of your master unit and that's that. The receiver mounts with velcro somewhere on the slave (I recommend the side) and then you secure the fiber optic nylon bead over the slave's IR receiver and you're ready. The units are very small and feel real solid. The single AA battery goes inside the unit by removing 2 screws from the back. I've heard some quibbles about there not being an easily removable battery door, but that would be a poor design. These things sip power so it's unlikely you're going to need to quickly change out a bunch of batteries in the field and having a removable battery door would really sacrifice the solidity of these units. I love how solid they are and that's partly because the casing only has 2 parts-the top half and the bottom half. I'll go through the "hassle" of removing just 2 screws to change the battery every blue moon in exchange for such solid construction. The antennas are sturdy and unobtrusive. But even if you damage the antenna somehow, it is easily removed and replaced (you can also get a longer antenna for the receivers from Radiopopper if you want greater range). Overall, Radiopoppers are professionally built and I'm sure will withstand the abuses of a photographer.

The staff at Radiopopper are great. Even though they really have their hands full with backorders, they are incredibly helpful, friendly and speedy. I've found emails are the best way to get support. They are always answered as quickly as possible with a friendly response. The company is a pleasure to work with and I am happy to support them with my purchases.

Can't think of any. Sorry. Besides, even if there were something I feel should be improved, this is a brand new product. I'm sure these things will evolve like all products do over the years. But really, I haven't found anything that absolutely needs to be changed. These things are awesome. I did, however, come up with a different way of attaching the nylon fiber optic bead to my flash's IR sensor. Check it out here.


So in summary, these things are badass. They will make you happy. Go buy them.