Google Photos will soon be unavailable – or at least the useful free service we’ve used to store photos for years is finally facing a storage limit. If you go beyond that, you’ll have to pay to save your photos. That’s not great, but what is almost as annoying is the fear tactic that Google uses to convince free users to switch to a paid subscription.
As Forbes’ Paul Monckton wrote last week::
“In a recent subscriber email, the Google Photos team announced new premium editing features that are only available to Google One paying customers. However, the email also has a somewhat surprising section asking users to use more of their storage quota by switching from high quality uploads to original quality uploads
The email stated, “Original quality photos retain most of the details and allow photos to be enlarged, cropped and printed with less pixelation.” While this statement is objectively correct, it contradicts what Google has told us in the past about its high quality option. “
Google also added a photo to show the obvious, noticeable difference between the Original and High settings. Your example is somewhat suspicious, however – it’s a shot of a bird that looks perfect on the “original quality” side and is pixelated or blurry on the “high quality” side. (I didn’t get the email from Google myself, or I would stop by here for you to review.)
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However, it doesn’t matter as Google is alarming. I think the company is actually trying to say that high quality photos are saved with a maximum of 16MP or 4920 x 3264 pixels, while original quality images are (obviously) with no limit on file size, number of pixels, or dimensions. In theory, you can crop to a smaller portion of a high quality image and still retain enough detail to print a copy, for example – more than you would otherwise if you had cropped the same section of a lower resolution image.
For sure. But is the difference really as staggering as Google makes it? If you’re taking selfies, chances are your picture won’t even hit the 16-megapixel limit for Google Photos “high quality” images. For example, here is the same picture in a row. The first is the original image, the second is a download of the “High Quality” image from Google Photos:
I realize that looking at a small version of the photo on a website can be difficult to tell the differences. Feel free to download them to your computer if you want; I’ve done it, and when I toggle between the two in Windows 10’s Photos app, I don’t see any alarming differences. (Also, the files are exactly the same resolution.)
I then switched it up and took a normal picture with my Samsung Note 20 Ultra – 12 MP or 4000 x 3000 pixels. That’s lower than Google’s 16MP limit, so I expected little, if any, differences. The original file I captured was the same resolution as the Google Photos version I downloaded (of course). Compressing Google cut the file size in half, but didn’t noticeably affect quality.
Next, a 108-megapixel image, or 12000 x 9000, which Google will reduce to 4618 x 3464 (16 MP) when uploading with the high quality settings. When I look at both images in a row on my 1440p display, the only difference I see is that the Google version actually looks a bit sharper – probably a by-product of the compression technique.
If you were to crop on part of this image, you would likely get an overall higher quality shot of an image with more pixel data than an image with much less. No question about it – especially if you want to print an image at a larger size than would be best possible with the smaller, cropped photo. Inflating an image and approaching details that aren’t there is riskier than reversing in terms of quality: a gigantic image scaled down to a certain print size. In other words, more pixels per inch is generally a good thing – everything else is the same – as you allow Print larger pictures without any perceived loss of quality.
I’ll leave these two cultures here for discussion, but the quality difference is something you’ll notice if or when you play around with image sizes. This crop of my huge image still gave me a pretty bold image to play with – 6056 by 3406 pixels, or 20.63 megapixels (a 20.2 by 11.4 inch image at 300 ppi). However, the smaller image was 2326 x 1308, or roughly 3 MP (a 7.8 by 4.4 inch image at 300 ppi).
If you blow up the smaller image to fit the larger image and print it, you will undoubtedly get a blurrier image. The difference is a little less noticeable on a typical monitor, since at least in this case even the cropped file is almost as large as the standard resolution of my monitor. (If I had a 4K display, if only I could notice more of the difference).
So Google is right when they find that storing the largest possible image in Google Photos results in a less blurry image when you need to crop part of it and print it out in a larger format. For sure. The same goes for cropping part of a huge image to turn it into a desktop wallpaper. You will get more bang for your buck when the original image is huge.
But is this something that will play a huge role outside of these rare use cases? If you’re shooting at less than 16 MP, no. In this case, you’re not even maximizing Google Photos “high quality”. And if so, you can always crop your picture to whatever size you want and then upload it to Google Photos. That’s a much better scenario than uploading it to Google Photos, which will shrink it down to a 16-megapixel image and crop it from there.
I generally find Google’s fear tactic to be a little more than helpful advice as they know that people will see a blurry “high quality” photo, panic, and start scooping money on Google’s path to a storage subscription, with which you can upload original uploads. Quality images to Google Photos. We’ll all be there someday (unless you switch to another service), but don’t jump until you have to take the plunge. For most people, your picture quality is perfectly adequate, whether it is paid for or not.