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Gear & Apps

Google’s Free Encoder Drops JPEG Size By 35%, But Maybe There’s Something Better Already…

By Kishore Sawh on March 17th 2017

As the title would suggest, Google has released a new open source JPEG encoder called Guetzli that uses a new open source algorithm to create JPEG files that are “35% smaller than currently available methods” (though if you dig a bit you’ll find they actually say it’s more typically 20-30%). That’s according to Google’s own literature from their Research Blog, and that’s a significant claim if for no other reason than there exits JPEGmini.

The desire to have higher quality JPEG files without the added pounds of large file sizes is a fairly obvious one, especially for photographers; smaller files make for more space and particularly it means faster loading times for images on webpages. In a world where attention spans are as fleeting as a lightning bolt, this matters, and is one of the reasons I run JPEGmini for all my image exports for web images.

For those who are not familiar with JPEGmini, it is, at its heart, a program that compresses your JPEG files to the utmost point before losing any perceivable quality. The critical word there being “perceivable”. That’s all it does, and it does it without much fanfare. Like a worker ant, it just falls into line with your workflow and gets on with the job with a manner of efficiency not typically found outside a Japanese car factory. If it were a Japanese worker, it would surely be prone to Karōshi (death by overwork).

[REVIEW: JPEGmini Reduces File Size By Up To 5x With No Perceivable Reduction In Quality]

Now, this isn’t meant to be an advert for JPEGmini, but before photographers get too excited by this new Google offering I think it’s only prudent to mention this because it would seem for our purposes JPEGmini is Google’s real competition here, and it’s hard to imagine how much better, if at all, Guetzli is than JPEGmini – which is also using quality measure algorithm guides and drives the standard compression to the point that eliminates all the redundancies beyond human vision. That’s essentially what Google is saying Guetzli does:

The visual quality of JPEG images is directly correlated to its multi-stage compression process: color space transform, discrete cosine transform, and quantization. Guetzli specifically targets the quantization stage in which the more visual quality loss is introduced, the smaller the resulting file. Guetzli strikes a balance between minimal loss and file size by employing a search algorithm that tries to overcome the difference between the psychovisual modeling of JPEG’s format, and Guetzli’s psychovisual model, which approximates color perception and visual masking in a more thorough and detailed way than what is achievable by simpler color transforms and the discrete cosine transform. However, while Guetzli creates smaller image file sizes, the tradeoff is that these search algorithms take significantly longer to create compressed images than currently available methods.

When I was learning about JPEG mini I spoke to Eli Lubitch, a previous VP at Kodak and R&D at Scitex, an image scientist, and now President of BEAMR which makes JPEGmini, and this is what he had to say about it,

We will stop short only just before there are any noticeable visual artifacts to humans, because that’s what the quality measure is aligned with. Other compression technologies in programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop will ask for a percentage or some quality parameter. With JPEGmini they don’t ask any questions, so sometimes they’ll save 90% and other times it’ll be 70% or 60%, because the algorithm commits only to the quality.

Committing only to quality seems to be just what we photographers want more than anything, and the fact JPEGmini makes it easy and fast is also a boon. Actually, the ease of use is quite a big deal when you’re time-pressed. JPEGmini has the option for an integrated Lightroom plug-in and one for Photoshop in tandem with the stand-alone application, and it processes all the images really quickly. Given that fact it’s worth noting that in order to get Guetzli it’s suggested you download and install Homebrew, and then you need to build the Guetzli binary.

And then in addition there’s a warning that “Guetzli uses a large amount of memory. You should provide 300MB of memory per 1MPix of the input image.”

But it’s free, and that’s great, and where it clearly has JPEGmini beat, but how much is your time worth?

My personal opinion is that it’s always great to push these boundaries and develop more, but right now I can’t imagine it being much better than JPEGmini for the average photographer.

You can check it out here, and the review of JPEGmini here if interested.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Adam Palmer

    You should post a side by side comparison.  Obviously the free version is the way to go unless it can be proven that JPEG mini is better.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      That’s partially fair, but I’d say also there’s more to it than that. Just because it’s free and the end result may be equal, or even slightly better doesn’t mean it’s the way to go. The reason I and many others use JPEGmini is because of its integration and speed. It’s just seamless in LR and the standalone is also drag and drop simple, and fast. Speed and ease of use can be critical if you’re doing volume. That said, I would like to see a side-by-side also. It’s just hard for me to imagine it would look better than JPEGmini whose files I can’t tell apart generally, and then given I know JPEG mini reduces file size about the same amount or even more (at times)….

      Just to clarify, we aren’t sponsored by JPEGmini. I just sing its praises and suggest it because I use it daily. 

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  2. Otakar Seycek

    integrates nicely into Lightroom and the plugin works very well. I
    use it on a regular basis and I’m happy with it. No temptation to try
    Guetzli. Thanks, beamr! Well done.

    However, the JPEGmini’s
    Photoshop extension kills the metadata in the resulting JPEG file.
    It’s botched! The reason for this told to me by the beamr-support 8 weeks ago: “We
    remove the metadata due to Photoshop’s tendency to add a lot of
    metadata (sometimes resulting in huge files).”
    seems flimsy
    to me. A few kBs added by metadata are not a game changer.

    comment is intended as a WARNING for potential JPEGmini buyers who edit their images in PS and want their JPEGs with EXIF. It
    isn’t a really cheap piece of software. I would expect that the user
    gets the possibility to make his own choice (with or w/o metadata).
    The more so as the LR-plugin retains all metadata. I’ve tried to discuss this with the beamr-support but they seem not to be online, I didn’t got any answer since 8 weeks.


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