You might have seen the story on other websites: Dropbox is offering up to 5GB of free space to any account that updates to the latest version of their software. While this is true, it’s a bit more involved than some websites make it out to be (I’m looking at you, Neowin!)
Basically, you need to go here and download the latest version of the Dropbox software for Windows (although beta clients are also available for Mac and Linux, I can’t tell if the free space upgrade applies to those versions or not. The feature Dropbox is testing is the photo importer, and the FAQ at the linked site says “photo import feature is not available on Mac 10.4 and Linux”). So just use the Windows version if at all possible.
Anyway, after updating the software, connect a camera or cell phone to your computer. If you have Autoplay enabled (and you’ll need to for this), you will see this:
Click “Import pictures and videos using Dropbox”. The software will create a folder called “Camera Uploads” in your Dropbox folder, copy the pictures from your device to the new folder, then upload them to its servers. So you can disconnect your phone after the import is done, even if the upload to Dropbox will take a couple of hours. And here’s the crucial thing: you get 500MB of free space for the first picture you upload using this method, and 500 free megabytes for every 500MB of pictures you upload thereafter, for a total of 5GB. So it’s really 500MB + 4.5GB in 500MB batches, assuming you upload 4.5GB worth of pictures.
For the first few batches of imports, I was a good boy and copied pictures to my phone, disconnected the phone from my computer and then reconnected it to allow the import to start. I don’t know if this counts as “cheating” or not, but on my final round of imports I figured out that I could just copy some pictures to a flash drive and they’d import as long as they were in a DCIM folder (Dropbox won’t import images on a flash drive outside a DCIM folder). Also, know that once you’ve imported the pictures, you can delete them from the “Camera Uploads” folder; you don’t have to keep them there to earn your free space.
Be warned, however, that there is one giant pain in the ass with Dropbox’s import feature: it renames all the imported pictures based on the time and date in the EXIF data. This would be fine for importing pictures directly from a phone; after all, one could easily argue that “2012-02-06 12.35.30.jpg” is a more useful filename than “IMG_20120206_002.jpg”. But if you’ve carefully named your pictures, you’ll find this feature infuriating. And my phone’s camera has a bug where around 20% of the pictures I take are dated 12/8/2002 at 12:00, which makes the feature less than useful. I could also imagine someone going to swap out the battery in their digital camera and getting distracted for a few minutes, and the date resetting, thus screwing it up for Dropbox. This feature is not well liked by users posting in the Dropbox dev forums, so this feature may be altered or removed before going live.
In any event, I started my Saturday with 2.6GB of Dropbox space, and I now have 7.6GB of storage space for free, all for just shifting some pictures around. So I can’t complain!