A couple of weeks ago downloaded the beta version of Lightroom 4.0. While many of the features of the beta version are very similar to those in Lightroom 3.6 a new option allows users to create and order a photo book from within Lightroom. This differs from other photo book software in that no special downloads are required. My impressions of photo books from Blurb are based on a book created from within Lightroom. If you use Blurb's book creation software without Lightroom you may see different results. Similarly, you may see different results from other software discussed here.
My impressions are also based on a comparison with two other photo book publishers that I have used in the past, Shutterfly and My Publisher. There are a number of different photo book publishers available and several of them are discussed in the March 2012 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. Others can be found by doing a simple web search.
For my evaluation, I elected to use a series of 83 bird photographs. This included a wide variety of birds, dark and light; small and large; some in trees, some flying, some on water, some on other perches; and a variety of lighting conditions. All photos were .jpg format, 8" X 8", 300 dpi.
Some features from Blurb that are included in the Lightroom 4 book feature:
1) Multiple sizes and formats (square, landscape, portrait) for photo books. I elected to use Standard Landscape for my book which creates a book with pages that are approximately 8" H X 9" W. This compares with standard pages from both Shutterfly and My Publisher which are about 8.5" X 10.75". The size difference may seem minimal but it does affect the final appearance of the book.
2) Multiple page layouts (single image per page and up). This compares favorably with the other two publishers although the layouts seem less flexible. I elected to show one image per page. The layouts also allow you to select a frame for your photos (choices are limited) and a background image which is shown as a largely opaque background. I chose a frame that is similar to a film border and did not use a background image. You are also given the choice of printing single or double sided. I elected to print on both front and back of each page. Again, the choices are similar to those offered by other publishers.
3) Multiple cover options including a book with a slip cover and a book with images on the front and back. I elected to use the cover with an image on both the front and back (different images). With both Shutterfly and My Publisher I have only used cloth covers, some with an embedded photos, some without. As a result it is difficult to make a direct comparison of cover options.
These observations are based on both first impressions (right out of the box) and review of the book a few days later. I also asked a coworker to look at books from the three publishers and offer comments.
Pricing -- Blurb pricing is somewhat lower than other publishers.
Delivery Time -- Turnaround time for publishing my book was fairly quick. In addition, Blurb delivered the book faster than their estimated turnaround time when the order was placed.
Convenience -- If you are a Lightroom user, then using the Lightroom Book feature and Blurb is more convenient than using separate software.
Photo Quality -- This was a major disappointment for me. The printed images in my photo book varied from excellent to poor. Many of the photos appeared to be extremely soft, almost out of focus while others were crisp and clear. There did not appear to be any consistent reason for the differences so I have to assume that this is from a lack of quality control. While some of the softness may be attributed to the original photos, I have displayed the photos on the web in a larger size at a smaller resolution (72 dpi) without a similar loss of quality.
Photo Size -- Printed images are approximately 6.5" X 6.5". Some resizing was expected and since the printed images were smaller than the original files I would have expected quality to be improved which, in most cases, it was not.
Cover -- Another area of disappointment for me but this may be a design error on my part. If you do not select a specific set of cover images (one front and one back) then the software uses the first and last images in your book for the cover photos. Since my originals for these two images were square, some adjustments had to be made for them to fit a rectangular cover. My overall impression of the appearance of the book is that it does not look like something I would want to use to give a "professional impression" of my work.
Overall -- Even with the convenience, lower pricing, and the quick turnaround I'm not sure I will use Blurb again in the future. While I might consider it for something like a book of vacation photos or something similar, when I print a photo book, I have an expectation that it will offer a professional appearance with photo quality equal to or better than I can print on my home computer/printer. Based on the book of bird photos that I created, it appears that Blurb could meet these expectations (using a different cover style) but did not do so on a consistent basis.
Each photographer must make his or her choices based on personal preference and recommendations of others. For now, I will probably continue to use one of my two previous publishers or possibly evaluate other publishing alternatives.