Image Compression Shootout: Lightroom, Photoshop, JPEGmini, and Smush.it

Using the smallest images possible while preserving quality is important because small images load faster.  If your site visitors have to wait a long time for your site and images to load they are likely to just move on.  There are several methods of reducing the size of your images, here I compare four different methods, though there are certainly other methods (software).  I use Adobe Lightroom 4.2 for most of my image management and editing, with some work in Adobe Photoshop CS5 for some extra editing when needed.   To reduce the size of my images I most often used JPEGmini but then stumbled across a WordPress plugin called Smush.it, which is an easy way to tie in the web service from Yahoo.  Since there is a WordPress plugin that can automatically shrink your images as you upload them, it seemed like the ideal solution to my compression workflow as it was easy and integrated into the website.  I decided to do a quick and rather non-scientific test between Lightroom, Photoshop, JPEGmini, and Smush.it to see which would work the best for me.

I took one of my photos and exported it from Lightroom with jpeg quality at 85, color space sRGB, and width on the long edge 1600.  This might be a common way people export photos for posting online and it was my ‘control’.  The image size is 643 KB, which is certainly not small.  This is the image (click for full size).

Lightroom export jpeg quality 85
Running this image through Smush.it, it gets compressed down to 553 KB, which is a minor savings.  Note, the WordPress plugin and Smush.it website produce the same results, in case you were wondering.

Lightroom export jpeg quality 85 with smushit

However, running the same control image though the JPEG mini site results in an image that is only 234 KB, which is a substantial savings in size over the control and, as promised, no reduction in image quality.

Lightroom export jpeg 85 with jpegmini

Next, I tried the Photoshop “Save for Web & Devices” option using “JPEG Medium” which was the default.  It was also set to JPEG quality 30, optimized, resize to 1600, quality bicubic.  The result is a file size only 111 KB in size which still looks excellent despite the low JPEG quality setting.

Photoshop save to web jpeg medium
So it looks like Photoshop’s export option may be the best of the bunch so far, but I decided to do a bit more.  I exported a few more samples from Lightroom, at JPEG quality 50 which results in a file of 187 KB in size and a slight reduction in quality compared to the Photoshop export which is even smaller.  Note that the differences are relatively minor, but present.  Best if you can toggle between two images quickly as I was doing on my screen.

I also exported from Lightroom using JPEG quality 30, though I’m not sure if this is directly equivalent to the Photoshop JPEG quality setting.  If so, Photoshop’s export and resize algorithm must be better than the one in Lightroom.  This option yields a file size of 129 KB, which is still bigger than Photoshop’s and not as good in terms of quality.

Lightroom export jpeg quality 30

I also tried exporting from Lightroom using quality settings of 65, 60, and 55 and running all of those through JPEGmini to see if I can get smaller results than Photoshop but I couldn’t.  A Lightroom export at 60 processed via JPEG mini was still 172 KB which is a significant difference over the 111 KB file that Photoshop produced.  For Lightroom to match Photoshop in terms of file size, I had to export the file with JPEG quality set to 20.  At that point there is a noticeable drop in quality.

You may also be wondering, why not use the Photoshop export then ALSO run it through JPEGmini or Smush.it.  I did that and Smush.it could do no better so it left the file intact.  JPEGmini reduced the 111 KB file to 104 KB, which is not enough savings to make the effort worthwhile.

CONCLUSIONS

  • Smush.it is not worthwhile, it really doesn’t compress the images enough.  Also, the plugin timed out several times when I was trying to use it and the site is slow.  Also, the bulk compression for your Media library doesn’t work, it timed out on me several times after only compressing a few images.  I’m not planning to use it and have removed to plugin from my WordPress install.
  • JPEGmini does an impressive job of reducing the file sizes of images exported with a relatively high quality.  If you don’t have Photoshop or find the export dialog or workflow cumbersome JPEG mini is a viable option.  It certainly warrants use over no compression or optimization at all.  It also does a good job of batch processing images, so you can upload a pile of them and download a zip file of your optimized files.  Fast and efficient, and what I have done for many of the images on this site.
  • Lightroom can get decent file sizes, but simply via JPEG compression settings.  If image size is important, it won’t do a good job on it’s own.  I would export a JPG with a quality setting somewhere between 60 and 85, then run the resulting image through JPEGmini.  You will optimize the image enough that it makes the extra step worth it.
  • Photoshop does the best job, at least in this limited test.  I suppose the most expensive option in this test should be doing the best job.  It seems that Adobe have created a very capable and powerful image export option here, use it for the smallest sizes while preserving quality.  If you have Photoshop, use it.  My only potential issue may be the workflow, though I need to do more testing with it.  JPEGmini makes it easy to process large batches of images.  Photoshop does have an automation/batch system, I’ll have to give it a try to see if it will be as fast as the Lightroom/JPEGmini combo.

 

BEST: Photoshop Save for Web & Devices.  No other optimization needed.

GOOD: Lightroom export with JPEGmini optimization.

CRAP: Smush.it.  Not worthwhile for any images.

 

If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave a comment and I’ll follow up.