Flickr vs Picasa – A Quality Comparison

Last year I took a look at Flickr and Picasa (see Photo faceoff: Flickr vs. Picasa) with a view to determine which service was better suited to my future needs for online photo storage and sharing. At the time I concluded Picasa was better than Flickr’s free offering.

Yesterday, a visitor posted a comment on that original entry suggesting that Flickr displays higher quality photos. Initially I was skeptical and thought it might have been something to do with the way the photos were uploaded, or dimension constraints, so decided to check it out myself.

My conclusion? There is NO difference in quality between the two – but there are caveats with that statement.

Click through for comparison shots and further commentary…

Photos and resizing
Firstly, I chose a couple photos that I’ve taken with my digital camera – a Canon IXUS 400. The original photos were of Luna Park in Melbourne (1600×1200) and the Weta Tripod in Wellington (2272×1704). I resized both photos to 500×375 (a nice size I use frequently for sharing photos on the web) with Macromedia Fireworks 8 using constrained proportions and a bicubic resampling at 72dpi. This also reduced the filesizes from around 1-2MB to 120KB, with the JPEG quality setting left untouched at 95%.

Uploading
Next I uploaded them to both Picasa and Flickr. In the case of Picasa, I uploaded the Luna Park photo twice – once via the desktop app using the upload setting of “slowest upload, largest size” and once via the website upload option. The resulting images on the website were identical. For Flickr, I used the website upload option.

Results
Here’s where it gets interesting and a little tricky if you’re not careful with what you compare. Firstly, the pics served directly from Picasa and Flickr, (click the images to visit the respective websites),

Picasa,

😦

(edit: it turns out I can’t hotlink directly to the source image after all. It was working, but only because Firefox was serving the image from a cached copy. You’ll have to click through to Picasa and maximise your browser on a large screen to see the full quality photo – more on that below…)

Flickr,

Spot any differences? You shouldn’t be able to as they are IDENTICAL. Download both and you’ll find the filesizes are exactly the same and both have the same MD5 checksum (9da7e3955a244172661ce282a0b38982) which proves beyond doubt they are identical.

Now for the caveats. If you click through to Picasa from the top photo, you’ll need a large screen to maximise your browser to see that exact photo – I run my desktop at 1280×1024 on a 19″ monitor. If you make the browser window smaller, Picasa dynamically shrinks the image to 300×400, which is super cool, but obviously degrades the quality a little.

I was careful to embed the above photo from the full size one in the gallery, and not via the link they provide under the “Link to this photo” option in the right hand column. Using that method to link to an image, you are given four options on size – thumbnail, small, medium and large. With the “Large 800px” option, the resulting image you are given to link to is the following,

Picasa, (via link to this photo – large 800px)

Now you might be able to spot some differences (look carefully around the words “Luna Park”). This image has had its quality reduced from 95% to 79% at a resolution of 96dpi, resulting in the filesize dropping from around 124KB to 54KB. Note that ~80% is the most common quality factor used by applications that optimise photos for sharing – it’s a nice tradeoff between quality and filesize.

If you think about this for a minute, it makes good sense for two reasons – 1. it lowers the bandwidth cost for Google when images are embedded on remote sites and 2. this makes those images on remote sites load faster than if the full quality image had been embedded. As you can see the quality reduction is minimal when you’re simply sharing snapshots with friends or family.

What I haven’t looked at here is how the two services handle large photos (say 1600×1200), and what their resized photos for sharing are like quality wise – another day perhaps… While both sites give you several sizes to share, I think Flickr does it better by making the different photo sizes easier to access and preview prior to linking/sharing.

Final words
For smaller sized images such as the above, you can get at the original full quality photo on both Flickr and Picasa, but only if you’re careful at Picasa. Both sites offer smaller resized photos for sharing and embedding remotely, with Flickr doing it better by providing previews and easier links to use. Despite this, I still favor Picasa for reasons outlined in my previous post – Photo faceoff: Flickr vs. Picasa.

UPDATE: As you might have noticed above, hotlinking the way I did from Picasa doesn’t work. The comparison is not moot however, as when visiting Flickr and Picasa directly you will see the identical high quality image at both, providing Picasa hasn’t resized it down of course. For remote embedding that works(!) Flickr does allow the  higher quality source to be embedded while Picasa reduces the quality to ~80%.

About Chris
A self confessed geek, meteorologist (aka weather forecaster), father & proud kiwi mainlander living, working & playing in Wellington, New Zealand.

7 Responses to Flickr vs Picasa – A Quality Comparison

  1. Brian says:

    Good analysis Chris. The images resizing always gets my attention with photo sharing sites. My latest find is Pixamo; original sized, full resolution images—free.

  2. Chris says:

    Cheers Brian. I hadn’t heard about Pixamo and will have to give it a look…

  3. Portia says:

    ok, had a read of what you put however i have no clue how to change things on photos, can you please offer me some advise cos you seem to have a good idea what your on about. I have a Cannon Ixus 75, I want to put them online to store them because im travelling for 2 years and love taking photos (of everything) I want to store them somewhere where i can get them back when I get home but not lose any of the quality. If you know a site that can do this please help, its costing me a fortune to put them on CD.

    Thank you

    Portia mayes

  4. Chris says:

    Portia,

    The issue you mention is not a trivial one, as the filesizes you are dealing with are probably a couple of MB for each photo – I’m guessing for a 7 megapixel camera you’re averaging 3MB (or more) per photo?

    By far the easiest way to keep your full quality photos while you’re travelling is to burn them out to a couple of dvd’s periodically at internet cafes. Post one disk home to family or friends, and when they confirm they’ve got it and backed it up to a computer, bin the 2nd disk you’re carrying (this protects against loss in the mail). Or, just invest in a small portable flash drive – like a Western Digital Passport drive,
    http://www.westerndigital.com/en/products/Products.asp?DriveID=391
    but you’d obviously need to be super careful not to lose it or get it stolen if that’s your single photo storage location.

    Online storage at photo sites is an option but isn’t ideal as most sites have upload limits and may resize your images. Both Flickr and Picasa are probably ok for filesize limits (Flickr = 10MB per photo for a free account and 20MB on a pro account, while Picasa = 20MB per photo) but in Flickr’s case you can only upload 100MB per month on a free account and you’ll probably need more than this. Also, a free account at Flickr results in all your photos being resized down to 1024 pixels until you pay for a pro account.

    A better online solution might be to use one of the many online storage sites designed for storing any sort of files. One example is mediamax.com (I’m not endorsing them however as I’ve never used them) but they seem to offer 25GB of storage for free! Other sites like box.net offer smaller storage, unless you pay to be a member. I’m sure a google search will give you many options – just be very careful to check out the terms and conditions for things like daily/monthly upload limits etc.

    If you do go with an online storage solution, also be aware that you’ll spend a long time uploading and downloading – especially if you’re a keen photographer with lots of photos. I know from my travels that it’s easy to snap 10’s or 100’s of photos very quickly with a digital camera, and you’ll easily hit 100MB every few days (or faster). Most internet cafes should have good broadband connections, but again they may limit your traffic.

    I hope that helps and enjoy the travels!

  5. Pingback: Picasa versus Flickr « Sam Edwards Family Website

  6. Pingback: Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook photo sharing | DrHorowitz.biz

  7. Good comparison. There are a lot of other options out there however. Many online storage providers are now including web album features as well as photo editing functionality – either directly or by linking to good web 2.0 services. If you would like to see a comparison of the best online storage providers and exactly what features each of them offer then visit http://www.savvyitsolutions.com/os/os-comp.html

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