Digital Picture Frame Vs. Photo Album

Pros and Cons of Digital Photo Frames

Because it uses electronics to display images instead of paper, the digital picture frame can show off your photos in a variety of ways. But it can be expensive and uses electricity, so it is not particularly environmentally sensitive.

Most frames today feature an 8- or 10-inch screen that typically with 800 by 600 or 1,024 by 768 resolution. Frames are available at a wide range of prices, with the median at about $100. The highest-end frames store the images locally on flash memory chips, include a slot for a flash card, and have the option of connecting to a wireless network to pull images from web sites and services.

Most frames can do things that the static album can’t, such as show video clips and play music from an Internet radio station. In other words, digital frames, such as HP’s Smart WiFi Display (link to review) have evolved into multimedia viewers that can display a variety of media.

This extraordinary amount of flexibility leaves a physical album in the dust. On top of running photos in a particular order or shuffling the images at random, frames can show transitions between shots and can display several images at once.

But digital frames are second best when it comes to making sure that all images are correctly oriented. Be prepared to send some time rotating images with photo editing software, so that photos are right-side up.

Digital imaging is improving every day but even the best images are still second best in terms of detail, color balance and subtlety compared to a professionally printed shot (especially one captured on film). The gap becomes even wider when the images are shown on a small, low resolution picture frame display.

Then, there’s the power issue. While a paper photo album doesn’t use any power after it’s been created, a digital frame consumes a small amount of electricity every second that it’s plugged in. An 8-inch frame consumes 7 watts or 61.3 kilowatt hours of power over a year, according to our Kill-A-Watt testing over a short period of time. The cost to the consumer would be less than $7 a year, but the environmental cost would be the the equivalent of spewing 97.1 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if the frame was powered on for a year.

Less expensive than a professionally printed album but more expensive than an album that you print yourself, a digital picture frame is a nice alternative because it can show thousands of images rather than several hundred. But, it uses much more energy than a paper album.

Pros of picture frame:

A good picture frame can show images in different ways, transitions and music, video, all in an attractive design that can fit into your décor.

Cons of picture frame:

Picture frames can be expensive, have a small screen and use power even when nobody’s looking.

Brian Nadel

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.

  • cadder
    Are any of these frames battery powered? I would like to have one to carry to family events to pass around.
  • bri-guy
    I've seen the Philips 7ff1cmi, which has a rechargeable battery but I don't think that it lasts for than a few hours.

  • JohnnyLucky
    Girlfriend received a digital photo frame from her daughter last year. It was pre-loaded with photos of the grandchildren. First few days there was an initial wow factor. After that it just sat there turned off. I don't think my girlfriend has turned it on for an entire year.
  • bri-guy
    I can see that happening. I've had a frame running behind my desk for about a month, cycling through my photos and I kind of like glancing over to it every once in a while. I've been startled by some of the pictures that I haven't seen in decades. It's a nice time machine.
  • tomate2
    since you mentioned about not taking into account all the environmental impacts of making a photo album i guess who should talk about the environmental impacts of making a digital frame?? like the part of it being made by cheap labor outside of the us... the man work to keep digging up all those materials to START making a digital frame... or the bit extra electricity your using on the digital frame which comes from burning fossil fuels or flooding huge regions to build a dam... i guess you get the idea.. :D
  • bri-guy
    Not justt that, but all the oil and natural gas that goes into the plastics, glass and silicon. Then, there's what to do with it after its ten (hopefully more) year life span is over and it's time to chuck it. There are times I wish I were an economist to untangle these questions. While researching the story I asked several experts in photography, including those who specialize in green photography, and none could even start to answer the question.

  • wtlloyd
    Just in terms of volume of materials used, it's clear, to me at least, that if every household had an 8x10 digital photo frame, vrs every household owning a dedicated photo printer along with attendant ink cartridges, boxes of inkjet paper...the waste stream is continuous with a photo printer.
    The digital photo frame is clearly the way photo display is moving. Excitement over the IPad in Fine Art photography circles is over it's use as a portfolio. Recent industry pundit articles (Thomas Hogan) discussing "whither cameras" argue that the next development required to restart sales (the market is reaching saturation, and digicams are about to be made obsolete with improved camera phones) will be the communication (digital) between the photo making device and the storage and display devices.
    Finally, referring to professionally printed photos vrs digital photo frames is a false argument...Fine art printing, with color balancing, tonal corrections, localized adjustments, and color managed output, is hardly typical of what you get when you send your snapshots off to Costco or wherever...Better pictures result from becoming a better photographer, not whether output is displayed on paper or screen.
  • DianeJones
    I prefer a scapbook. A traditional photo album just doesn't have the same "wow" factor as flipping through pages of photos and memorabilia attractively displayed in a scapbook. I find that sitting a watching a digital photo frame for 15-30 minutes is very tedious.

    I am currently making a scrapbook for my son's graduation and have decided that when I finish that I will move on to doing other family albums so that I may enjoy the pictures instead of just packing them away in boxes. I do like the idea of a digital photo frame for a desk at work: I may check into that.

    You can get 4x6 prints of digital photos from CVS for 19 cents each. I upload them from my computer and pick them up in the store.
  • Another option is to put your photos in a photo book, a service offered online by many companies. They produce a hardback coffee table book with up to 84 pages holding up to 4 photos per page on photo paper.

    This uses no electricity and can be passed around for viewing unlike a digital frame. A portable DVD plater which is battery powered will usually display jpeg photos form a card or CD.
  • joneb
    Erm theres somethig wrong in this article. if a digital photoframe was used like a photoalbum it wouldnt be on all the time but only when used. If the proper comparison was made what then would be the difference. I agree for photos displayed constantly prints seem definitely more environmentally friendly. But then if you have a laptop or a netbook you dont need the photoframe do you?