While working as the Head of Photography for one of Toronto’s major wedding studios over the past five years, I created dozens of Finao albums for clients. We had used quite a few album companies, but Finao ended up being our album company of choice. This is because of the choices that Finao offers photographers to create their own look, as well as the overall quality of their final product. Now, as I run my own photography company, I’ve adopted Finao albums for the very same reasons. I’ve received a Finao album that I created to demo some of my work to clients. Though I’m not new to using Finao, I figured now is a great time to write a quick review of Finao.
It should be noted first, that I won’t be revealing any prices specifically, and that any views are simply the personal opinion of this humble photographer, bla bla bla. Finao offers quite a few different products, however this review focuses on their flush mount albums, the Finao “One”. In my Asukabook review, I noted the differences between a book-bound style product, and a more substantial (and expensive!) flush mount style album. Basically, the flush mount album is designed to have the “mass” of an encyclopedia, while only actually containing roughly 20-40 pages. They are called flush mount, as the pages are basically large photo spreads, mounted to page boards, then folded along the center. When opened, the pages, or spreads are viewed right across from the left page to the right. In other words, there’s no part of the page that’s hidden by the binding. The book pictured throughout this article is a 10×14″, 40 page Finao ONE, with Ludicrous leather, and Erotika cover options.
Creation, Upload, & Ordering: 8 out of 10
There are a few things that can really make for a poor upload system. Sometimes a poor upload system is okay for someone who only orders a few albums per year. For anyone who orders frequently, the online upload and ordering system can actually be a deal-breaker. When we first started using Finao, their upload system was horrendous. It took forever and required us to basically monitor the process while praying that our browser didn’t crash, close, or refresh. We used to curse the screen saver for ruining everything! I’m happy to report that Finao has updated their upload system, and it is now great. An effective upload and ordering process is one that is easy to spot mistakes (such as wrong page order), very clear on exactly what options are selected, clear and instructive for newcomers, yet fast and reliable for experienced clients. Finao is tops in almost all of these areas. I would describe the order system as “simple, yet effective”. It’s pretty idiot-proof.
Customer Service & Delivery Times: 6 out of 10
Customer service may actually be the single most important aspect to dealing with any album company. The reason for this is simple; any issues that you may have with an album company, your clients have issue with you. Your album company’s customer service affects your clients experience with you. If an album takes forever to arrive only to show up with defects, who are your client’s going to have issue with? You. Poor customer service can put a photographer between a rock and a hard place. Although I did have issues with this particular order, I’m going to leave then out of this review. They’re not representative of what I’ve experienced from the company as a whole.
I wouldn’t call Finao’s customer service “poor”, though I wouldn’t label it as great either. I’ll start with something positive, and that’s the general up-beat attitude of the staff that you may deal with. They’re people. They talk like people. They joke like people. They have personalities like people. This is nice. How many times have you had to deal with someone in a company who sends out overly-professional emails, or acts so unnaturally directed that you get the sense that they’re indifferent to your issue? Let’s face it, when we were kids we called all of the adults in our life Mr. & Mrs Lastname. Our dads wore their shirts tucked-in at home and companies strived to be as formal as possible. Finao has successfully kept-up with the times and understands that their clients are modern artists. They know that we like to wear stubble, and funky watches. We have ringtones, and facebook walls. We have personalities, and unlike our forefathers, we bring them to work! Finao matches us on this level by doing the same. In fact, the entire company is marketed very much same. Have a look at their website (www.finaoonline.com) and see for yourself.
Finao’s customer service does have a couple of dark areas, where there is definite room for improvement. The biggest issue is the time it takes to receive your order. Finao is a bit coy with they’re delivery times, as they’re careful to avoid any specific promises in their “managing expectations” section of their web page. They basically say that it’ll take as long as it takes. Not too specific. From my dealings with the company, delivery times depend on the season, with the holidays being the longest. Delivery times have also been getting longer as, I assume, the company gains popularity and becomes busier. I’ve found that the average wait time from creation to delivery is about 5 weeks, with the absolute quickest being about 3 weeks, and the longest being just shy of 3 months. Ouch.
The issue that makes these wait times even more agonizing is that there’s not updates from Finao. If you want to know how much longer it will take, you have to call them. Even then you probably won’t get too far. I’m sure most photographers can attest that we’re not inquiring because we have nothing better to do on a Tuesday afternoon. Chances are that you have a client that’s been waiting with excitement, and used their powers of selective hearing when you explained that it would take over a month to receive their album. Your clients want to know what the “update” or “status” is on their album, and you’re left saying “uh…there is no update”. Now imagine you finally receive the album and there’s a defect in it, large enough that you can’t give it to your clients this way… uh oh. Let’s hope they’re understanding clients and don’t want too much free extra stuff from you!
Print Quality: 10 out of 10 – with one condition…
I should note that I always use Finao’s option to have a print partner do the actual printing. I’ve found it very worth the extra price to have ProDPI selected to do this. In past, we had found that some albums came back with somewhat “soft” printing, or slightly unpredictable results when using Finao’s in-house printing. ProDPI printing is about the best, most accurate, and sharpest printing around. Our issues went away when we began using ProDPI. I can’t comment on wether Finao’s in-house option has improved over the last year or so, as I simply haven’t given them the chance. ProDPI won me over for life. The printing is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. This is one area where flush mount albums have a significant advantage over bound photo books, such as Asukabook. Mind you Asukabook is absolutely leagues better than any other company in it’s class. However Finao flush mount books are in a totally different class. ProDPI is a lab used by photographers around the world, and is known for it’s quality. Quality can be defined by sharpness, colour, accuracy, longevity, and of course the overall “feel” of the print. Many pros will use ProDPI as the lab of choice for their large prints. When you slect ProDPI as your print partner, Finao basically takes your files to ProDPI, then mounts the prints in the album.
The center fold line in Finao flush mount albums is about as fine as it can possibly be. There’s very little discoloration when compared to some other album companies. So far I’ve seen very little weathering on the fold lines of any Finao albums.
The Erotika Cover is one of the more expensive upgrades available from Finao. The printing on the cover itself is decent. It’s designed to reveal a metallic layer beneath the photo in the highlight areas of the image. It’s hard to comment on the print quality of the Erotika cover, as there’s nothing else like it from any other company to compare it to. I have to give points to Finao for even offering this unique option. The overall effect is brilliant.
Overall Fit & Finish: 9 out of 10
Let me get this out of the way first: Finao albums themselves are 10 out of 10. They are the absolute best of the best available in wedding albums. Nothing can compete with a Finao album, totally customized to you and your clients style. No other company offers anything anywhere near the quality of Finao, while maintaining such a vast array of customization options. The quality of the materials Finao uses is their absolute biggest asset, and the one reason photographers keep coming back. It’s almost like a drug! Strangely, this is real. Finao is, without a doubt, quality. Even if your clients have had to wait a couple of months for their album, chances are that it will all be forgiven when they hold they’re album for the first time! Just like a new born baby.
Imagine going into a jewelry store and buying a nice watch. The salesman takes your money, then simply dumps the watch in a plastic bag with a receipt, as if it were bulk food. That would kind of kill the experience, wouldn’t it? The box may be functionally useless, but it really helps the presentation. Imagine that the watch were a gift for someone else. You wouldn’t want to hand it over as just a watch in a bag! One thing that would really add to the fit & finish of these high-end albums is some sort or casing. Many album companies actually include something, wether it be a slip case, a carry bag, a display box… Not Finao. All you get is a bit of tissue, some recycled paper, a red leaf, and a corrugated cardboard box – none of it worth keeping. It would really go a long way to be able to hand the album over to my clients in something more…I don’t know…”watch box-like”, if that makes any sense. It’s actually temping to find some form of third-party packaging for this exact purpose.
Overall: 8 out of 10
Finao albums are pretty much the best available. No other company offers the same level of quality and customization. If you can dream it, you can create it, and when you finally receive it you’ll salivate. You’ll want to do it all over again, just to create something totally different. It’s actually insane how high the quality of the product is, especially when one considers the seemingly infinite number of materials and options offered. If you want to offer the absolute best in these areas (quality & options) to your clients, look no further.
Finao is great, but it’s not for everyone. They’re pricing is certainly not going to be an incentive. There are photographers who simply can’t afford to offer Finao profitably. As I mentioned earlier, I won’t reveal any specifics with regards to Finao’s prices. I will say this though, I offer Finao albums starting at $1850, and I’ve been told that I’m offering them for cheap! Many of the photographers offering Finao albums are considered high-end photographers. This is fitting, as Finao is considered a high-end album. Not the highest-end. Not to the point where there’s an imbalance between price and value. Finao albums are worth every penny to those who want more the cheapest thing out there.
There is an invisible line with Finao albums and those who offer them. This line is the “willing to match” line that all photographers are familiar with. This is when a client has taken up much of your time, and is in limbo between a couple of studios. They ask if your willing to match the other studio. You look at the quote, which reads: “30 page digital leather album”…That’s the line. If it’s not a Finao, then you’re not comparing the same thing. This is the line that separates photographers who offer Finao from photographers who don’t. There’s a strange sense of pride in these albums. If you offer Finao, chances are you’re familiar with it…
Strangely, I’m proud to offer Finao!