My Gear Vault is an app designed to let you catalogue all of your photography equipment in one location. The idea is simple – you add data, images and serial numbers for all your cameras, lenses and other items via the app so in the event of a theft or loss you have all the insurance-relevant information you need in one place. I downloaded and spent some time with the app to see if it’s something worth investing time and effort in. It’s the brainchild of Jared Polin (he of “I shoot raw” fame on YouTube) and his team over at the “Fro Factory”.
I’m actually surprised that the “Fro-Factory” released an app like this – although the idea definitely has merit, I thought that Jared was good friends with the guys over at Lenstag (at least based on the numerous plugs for them on his podcast). Lenstag is the service I currently use to catalogue my kit. Evidently “the Fro” is so passionate about keeping our gear safe he borrowed the idea from his erstwhile friends! Before using the app I was actually curious what MyGearVault offers photographers that Lenstag does not; I’ll come onto this later but though the two are similar they aren't quite the same.
From the outset, it looks and feels polished. You need to register an email address before you can start using the app but once you’re in and free to start adding your kit. Before we go any further though we need to clear up some terminology. MyGearVault logs “gear” and “kits”, two terms that in general parlance are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. It might have made things clearer to use “gear” and “collections” or “sets” to make the difference clear. Once you get used to it’s fine but it’s a small part of the user experience that is at odds to the otherwise slick presentation.
The crux of the app is the ability to lookup kit and add it to your vault. For most this will be their cameras and lenses but it also covers strobes, filters, stands, tripods, video gear – sorry, “kit” – and more. It’s quite a comprehensive database of items and in most cases you can pick exactly what you own, add it and then all you need to provide are serial numbers and maybe the odd photograph. You can even add photographs of the boxes, something I personally have learned is essential when making a claim, and add custom notes to each item. If you have the information to hand you can also enter the value of each piece of gear.
With your gear added you can now create “kits”. Think of these as collections of gear, grouped together for a specific purpose with presets such as live-events, video, travel and so on. You can also create your own kits for whatever purpose you choose. Above and beyond having a list of what constitutes a “kit” on your phone I’m not sure what the point of this is. Personally I don’t pick and choose the kit I take on an assignment from a pre-defined gear list, I choose based on what I’ll need for that specific shoot. Nice idea, but not sure if I’d ever use it.
The final part of the application is their money-maker… insurance. Based on your gear list you can see just how big your photography investment is and then you can go direct to the MyGearVault insurance partners from within the app to get perfect cover for your needs. At least that’s the spiel! If you don’t live in the USA then this entire section of the app is unavailable to you, leaving you with the gear and kit lists only. This US-centricity ranges in inconvenience from not being able to price your gear in your local currency to not being able to take up an insurance product (the whole point of the app).
nto some of the negatives…
urrently it’s limited to iOS only, although at the time of writing Android support is 3-4 months away.
A big problem is that the app requires internet connectivity to function fully – all of the FAQ and help information is made available in the form of videos. If your camera is stolen overseas and you don’t have internet connectivity you will be at a loss over what to do until you get online. I’m sure this was spotted by the beta testers and it’s a conscious decision with the primary market being mainland USA but even US citizens travel this will hurt them too.
Actually the video side of things is a personal gripe for me. Putting this info in video format feels like an excuse to showcase the Fro team’s videography talents rather than being designed with usability first and foremost. The Fro is passionate about producing quality video and this definitely comes through but it feels unnecessary in this app. I don’t really want or need to watch videos of an FAQ – give me a list of bullet points. I’m not watching RawTalk, I want to know what to do when I lose my camera. If the videos were embedded in the app and easier to navigate I could forgive it, but as they are it’s an over-engineered solution to the problem.
The product database search algorithm feels poorly optimised and is also missing kit, like the Fuji X100S. For example, searching for “35mm f2 canon” for the lens brings back 14 cameras, including many that don’t even include 35mm or f2. Film cameras are poorly supported at present too. You can add missing kit but part of the appeal of the app is being able to add everything automatically and only add serial numbers yourself. I'm already lazy enough to not bother writing a list of my gear out from scratch and don't really fancy writing it out in an app. Flesh out the database and refine the search!
The interface is pretty, very much so, and generally well put together but it does have a couple of bugs/issues. For instance, if you use the + symbol on an app it universally means “add”. Not here... I clicked the + icon in the image a few times until I realised it didn't actually do anything.
The UI problems, video notwithstanding, are really just niggles though.
So the big question… Is it worth it? MyGearVault is definitely a solution that will appeal to US photographers, particularly those who feel they need insurance. It did get me wondering about the audience though, will amateurs have so much gear that insurance is a necessity? Will pros not already have adequate insurance cover? I don’t know the answer to that but in my own experience my photography kit that has broken or been stolen has been covered under other policies without needing dedicated cover. Maybe that’s a difference between the US and UK markets.
What about the competition? Lenstag currently offers something MyGearVault doesn’t – the ability to lookup serial numbers, see if gear has been stolen and do something about it and StolenCameraFinder.com lets you search online images for serial numbers for your kit too. They may not be as slick and they don’t do quite the same job but until the localisation of MyGearVault broadens to outside the US, they are probably more useful to more photographers. That said, if you are religious about keeping your vault up to date then the data within might genuinely be useful in the event of an emergency.
In conclusion, it’s a good first entry into apps for the Fro team although until the localisation issues are sorted out the final product has limited wider utility and value for photographers living outside the USA.
I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it just yet but I'll be keeping an eye on it.