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Head to head: Stock.Xchng vs. morgueFile, what's the best free photo site?

morgueFile vs SXC

When writing posts, creating websites, or designing other promotional material, there's often a need for some stock images. You know, sometimes you need a shot of an old lady holding a parasol or something like that.

There are plenty of websites offering commercial stock photos. However, there are also two major players in the "free stock photo" market, which is what I want to cover here. One site is my usual source -- Stock.Xchng -- which I will refer to as SXC. The other one is a large, established site that is new to me: morgueFile.

After the fold, I'll compare them on several categories.


SXC currently has 392,039 photos available.

morgueFile does not offer a simple count, but its archive page lists the number of images in each category. Tallying these up, we come to 225,853 images -- about 167,000 images less than SXC.

Winner: SXC has a greater selection, hands down.


morgueFile starts you off with a simple keyword search. Once you perform a search, though, you get an incredibly detailed filter pane on the left side of the site.

You can filter images by keyword, category, size, date, rating, color, geotag, or "creative" (I assume this is a CC-license provision, but I'm not sure).

Each filter has its own interface. For example, the "Date" filter has a neat slider that lets you zoom in on a period of time. You can search any period from Jan 31, 2003 to the present.

SXC features a simple keyword search, and ... that's it. The keyword search is SXC's only option. You can sort the results by date, size, login (photographer's username - I have no idea why that is useful), downloads, comments, and title. You can also choose the number of images displayed (from 20 to 60) at any one time.

Winner: morgueFile definitely takes the lead on this one. SXC doesn't even come close in terms of flexibility and filtering.


Sometimes you don't have an exact keyword in mind, but you just want to browse around and get some ideas.

SXC has a "Browse" page that shows "random popular photos" by default. You can click "View Popular" and get the 500 most downloaded images on the site. There's also a list of subjects, alphabetically sorted from "Abstract" to "World," with subcategories in each. When you hover over an image you get a nice zoomed-in view of it. The same is also true for search results.

morgueFile also lets you browse by category, using its filter interface. There are fewer categories, and the interface is much slower. I couldn't figure out how to add a whole category (i.e. all of "art" and not just "abstract art"). In fact, I couldn't really get the category interface to work at all. I was unable to view two categories at the same time. Maybe I'm challenged, but it just didn't work for me. Also, the "hover tooltip" presents a smaller image file as compared to SXC.

Winner: SXC. The interface is simpler to navigate, and is far snappier.

Look and Feel

That's a bit of a subjective metric; I don't claim objectivity here.

SXC Is very white and small; the fonts used are small (it feels like 8-point fonts over many parts of the site), and the look, in general, is very minimalistic. There are tiny touches of JavaScript, like the auto-expand on the list of categories. However, nothing about it is fancy.

morgueFile takes a far bolder stand; the logo is freaking huge, and it really shows in the "VS" image that I created for this post. Look at how much more visible the morgueFile site is. Also, there are slick touches of JavaScript all over the site; stuff slides around, and the filter interface is quite slick (apart from the category problem).

Winner: morgueFile wins in the "looks" department, at least for me.


I tested this in a very "scientific" way. I went to the search results page of each of the sites and clicked a random result.

morgueFile took around 8-10 seconds to display the image page on my computer.

SXC took around 4 seconds.

Note that I mean the image page, not the actual image. Of course, displaying the full-size image would take a different amount of time due to differences in file size. This is the image page on each site, or the page from which you can download the full-size image.

Winner: SXC, at least for me.

Bottom line

SXC wins in selection, browsing, and speed, while morgueFile wins in search and overall look and feel.

The overall winner is SXC.

Do you feel differently? Maybe you've got another free stock photo site which you think is better? Let me know in the comments, but don't forget to mention why!

Tags: comparison, features, headtohead, photography, review, stock, stockphotos