As of this month - August 2012 - the NextGEN Gallery plugin appears to be the best gallery plugin for WordPress. It has an astonishing 5.5 million downloads and over 2,000 positive ratings. But I wanted to discover if there were drawbacks to this impressive plugin and in what situations would other plugins suit users better. So along with NextGEN Gallery I'll be looking at DM Albums and WP J Query Lightbox plugins.
The other two plugins aren't slackers and boast pretty fine download figures too, with over 90,000 and 180,000 respectively. With a wealth of choice on WordPress for gallery plugin options, this blog post and accompanying video will help you get a clearer idea what's important to you as a WordPress user and so what suits your situation.
With lots of plugins available, it makes it hard to choose. Hopefully this will help!
Click to View the Video, click bottom right button to view full screen, or to the left of that to view on Youtube with Chaptering
Clarification: In this post and video we're going to concentrate on gallery plugins that showcase photographs and images. There are a wealth of other plugins which have some overlap, but do slightly or very different functions. For example Thumbnails for Excerpts displays thumbnails of your actual posts to entice people to click on them, similar to WordPress Content Slide which creates fading image slide shows, again of your content. Or Awesome Flickr Gallery which displays your photos on flickr in gallery form on your WordPress site. But for this review we'll exclude those and keep the brief tight, and concentrate on plugins that simply display galleries of images on your website.
In researching this video and blog post review, I found dozens of plugins mentioned on various other blogs and reviews that were out of date. WordPress warned that they hadn't been updated in over two years and there might be compatibility issues. So I made sure to leave those out also since the potential problems might outweigh their benefits.
NextGen Gallery: Pros and Cons
It's a very powerful piece of software and with that power comes complexity. I've heard from friends who've been using it for years so that it can sometimes break down when you have to update it or when you update WordPress to a newer version.
So that can be a drawback for many. If you can't tolerate much downtime or frustration and fixing it and your needs are fairly simple anyway, it might be a good idea to get a more straight forward gallery plugin. Also your gallery will look pretty much like everybody else's. If that's a problem and you're really want the gallery display itself to stand out then there are other options to consider.
But that's not being fair to this marvel of WordPress. There's just oceans of choice for the user, with an easy and intuitive interface to boot. In each section they've really excelled at offering more and more options. As an example, the watermark section was one of the most impressive to me as it's missing from the vast majority of rivals. You can use text or an image and alter it's opacity, size, intent and just with a few clicks.
By the sheer scale of the number of users, NextGEN offers unrivaled support and advice on their dedicated website, and update users with regular blog posts. There's a vast amount of instructions and tips for those who want it and this is something the other plugins just can't compete with.
Nice display, simple enough to use with some good functionality options.
A word of caution though, they mention they have some bugs they're trying to fix with the gallery displaying problems in Internet Explorer 8, so if you reckon a lot of your viewers are IE8 people, you might want to err on the safe side and choose another plugin.
That said, it looks very well. If you want an option to be able to display the light box viewer and show a list of thumbnails at the same time, this compromise could be the one for you. Personally it looks a little more distinct than NextGen, with the gallery function more appealing. That function does however, reduce the display size of the image a little and the text or title overlay can obscure the lower fifth your photo.
Also where NextGEN had multiple options in nearly every category, mostly with DM Albums it's a binary yes or no, on or off choice. So if your needs are moderate it might suit you very well.
WP JQuery Lightbox
Simplicity itself. If you're happy playing with a little code that is. This plugin is perfect for those who already have a ton of plugins causing hassle on their WordPress sites and are making an effort to simplify everything down to as little function and code as is necessary.
You don't have the wealth of options you have with NextGen and a good bit less than DM Albums but if you're comfortable with code you can quite quickly and easily put images anywhere on your site. They're also very proud of how well their plugin displays images to mobile viewers (see right). As mentioned above, that's one of the beauties of the J Query format.
NextGEN Gallery echoes WordPress itself. It's so popular and powerful for very good reasons, because it's excellent and gives the user a huge amount of choice and control. 5.5million people who downloaded it can't be wrong. With that scale and appreciation of its users comes all the extras, there are dozens of great plugins that are add ons and improvements to NextGEN. Also with so many users there's a well developed FAQs, support and help information available for it and this is something very few plugins have.
The main reason someone might not want to choose NextGEN gallery is that with great power comes great complexity. When WordPress needs updating or NextGen itself, there can be problems a few times a year and you have to un-install and re-install. If you want to avoid that mess, and you like the more distinct and different look of the other simpler gallery plugins maybe choose one of those.
DM Albums has some good functionality and looks well in how it displays your images. That display is also less common than its big rival so that could be a factor to some. It's less complex so in theory shouldn't break as much as NextGEN. But if you're really going for the least complexity and you're happy playing with code, then WP J Query Lightbox is pretty perfect for you.
There are hundreds if not thousands of decent quality gallery plugins for WordPress, so these above are just a small selection. What gallery plugin you use and prefer and why? Are you happy with it?