Google Photos - Can I get out?

Google Photos

Google Photos came out a couple of days ago and well, it looks great.

But it begs the question: what happens with my photos once I hand them over? Should I want to move elsewhere, what are my options?

Question 1: Does it take good care of my photos?

Good news: if you choose to backup originals (the non-free version), everything you put in will come back out unmodified. I tested this with a couple different file types: plain JPEGs, RAW files and movies.

Once uploaded, you can download each file one-by-one through the action buttons on the top-right of your screen:

Photo actions

Downloaded photos have matching checksums, so that’s positive. It does what it promises.

Update: not quite, see below

Question 2: Can I get my photos out?

As mentioned before there’s the download button. This gives you one photo at a time, which isn’t much of an option if you have a rather large library.

You can make a selection and download them as a zip file:

Bulk download

Only downside is that it doesn’t work. Once the selection is large enough, it silently fails.

There is another option, slightly more hidden:

Show in Google Drive

You can enable a magic “Google Photos” folder in the settings menu, which will then show up in Google Drive.

Combined with the desktop app, it allows you to sync back your collection to your machine.

I once again did my comparison test. See if you can spot the problem.

Original file:

$ ls -al _MG_1379.CR2 
-rwxr-xr-x@ 1 ruben  staff  16800206 Oct 10  2012 _MG_1379.CR2*
$ shasum -a 256 _MG_1379.CR2 
fbfb86dac6d24c6b25d931628d24b779f1bb95f9f93c99c5f8c95a8cd100e458  _MG_1379.CR2

File synced from Google Drive:

$ ls -al _MG_1379.CR2 
-rw-------  1 ruben  staff  1989894 May 30 18:38 _MG_1379.CR2
$ shasum -a 256 _MG_1379.CR2 
0769b7e68a092421c5b8176a9c098d4aa326dfae939518ad23d3d62d78d8979a  _MG_1379.CR2

My 16Mb RAW file has been compressed into something under 2Mb. That’s… bad.

Question 3: What about metadata?

Despite all the machine learning and computer vision technology, you’ll still want to label your events manually. There’s no way Google will know that “Trip to Thailand” should actually be labeled “Honeymoon”.

But once you do all that work, can you export the metadata?

As it stands, there doesn’t seem to be any way to do so. No API in sight (for now?).

Update: It’s supported in Google Takeout. But that’s still a manual (and painful) task. I’d love to be able to do continuous backups through an API.


The apps, the syncing, the sharing, it works really really well. But for now it seems to be a one-way story. If you use Google Photos, I highly recommend you keep a copy of your photos elsewhere. You might want them back one day.

What I’d really like to see:

  • A good API that allows access to all metadata. After all, it is my own data.
  • An explanation on why my RAW files were compressed. That’s exactly not what you want with RAW files.

Keeping an eye on it.

Posted: May 30, 2015 19:18