Photos vs iPhoto and Photo Stream vs iCloud Photo Library

While iPhoto has been the go-to app for Mac users to manage their photos for several years, the application didn’t evolve much and has become quite complex for the requirements of most users nowadays. Apple noticed this and released Photos for Mac not too long ago in an effort to streamline the photo management process. However, there are a few aspects of the new Photos app that are still not very clear.

Mac Photos App Main
The new Photos app. (via Apple)

Let’s take a look at how Photos compares to its predecessor and how the new (optional) photo storage options differ from what we have today.

Let’s get started.

Photos vs iPhoto


The first thing that stands out about Photos is how fast it is when compared to iPhoto, which at least on my 2011 Macbook Air, tends to struggle quite a bit. On the other hand, browsing my content on the Photos app is certainly faster and smoother.

Photos App Navigating


One of the aspects that I felt was sorely missing from iPhoto was a better organization system for its content. Photos in Yosemite solves this issue in one sweep by adopting the look of iOS, which not only is very familiar for most Apple users, but is also better organized, with separate sections for Photos and Videos, Photo Stream, Projects, and Shared Albums.

Photos App Organization


This is another big area in which the adoption of the iOS criteria has positively influenced Photos.

When viewing groups of photos, you can zoom out and see them grouped by date and location, just as on your iOS devices. Additionally, you can also mark photos as favorites with one click, which in my opinion is an improvement over the rating system used by iPhoto.

Photos App Navigation

Then we have the contextual buttons that show up at the top of each group. These include:

Photos Buttons
  • Play: You can use this button to start a slideshow of selected photos.
  • The + sign: This button can send the current selection to an album, book project, calendar, and more.
  • Sharing: Use this button to share your selected photos via Mail, Messages, iCloud Photo Sharing, and social networks.

Photo Stream vs iCloud Photo Library

These two terms are perhaps among the most confusing for those who have just upgraded to the new Photos app in Yosemite. So let’s take a closer look at what each of them means.

Photo Stream

Photo Stream on Photos is exactly like the one on iOS devices, and is also the same as the iCloud section we used to have in iPhoto.

I Cloud I Photo

Here is where all your most recent photos are stored regardless of which device you use to shoot them. On your Mac, you can access them via Albums > My Photo Stream. Although all photos you shoot now also show up on the main Photos section.

Photos Photo Stream

And don’t forget you need to be connected to a wireless network in order for Photo Stream to be updated.

iCloud Photo Library

This is the new feature widely available since the release of Photos. In short, what iCloud Photo Library does is allow users to have all of their photos on the cloud via their iCloud account.

This means that once all your photos have been uploaded, you can effectively delete your originals from your devices, saving you space on your devices’ hard drives.

I Cloud Photo Library Option

In practice, this feature works really well. However, you are limited by the storage on your iCloud account, and if you have a pretty large photo library (as most users do), then you will be forced to upgrade. Fortunately, the different iCloud storage plans have gotten pretty cheap, but once you upgrade, you have to keep paying every month.

I Cloud Storage Plans

And there you have it. It is pretty clear that while iPhoto has served us well throughout the years, Photos is the future, as it’s packed with features that make it easier to use. Just remember to back up all your photos before getting rid of iPhoto entirely or before upgrading to iCloud Photo Library.

Last updated on 03 February, 2022

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