Why you shouldn’t back up photos on Instagram

The Piazza Gae Aulenti in Milan, Italy. A photo like this could lose some detail when uploaded to Instagram, even though it’s already compressed.
Image: Damon Beres/mashable

Instagram is great for a lot of things but storing high-quality photographs isn’t one of them.

No matter how gorgeous a filtered image looks in your feed, you’ll notice a lot of flaws if you zoom in. That’s because the popular social network heavily compresses posts to make everything load faster in your app.

That’s good news for most, since it makes Instagram boot up quicker and means less waiting around for new content as you scroll deeper into your feed. Most users who just want to look at pretty pictures on their phone probably don’t care that they can’t see every little high-def wrinkle on their friend’s grandpa or Shar-Pei.

But you shouldn’t rely on Instagram to preserve your memories if, say, you want to clear space on your device. Store your photos elsewhere using a service like Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud, where they can be re-downloaded in all their high-res glory. Once they’re uploaded to a service that will maintain their full size and resolution, delete them from your phone.

What’s the difference, really?

Let’s quickly look at a photograph I took wth my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 during a trip to Milan, Italy. To see how much Instagram compressed my shot, I visited the web version of my post.

Look at this cool thing

A photo posted by Damon B (@dlberes) on

Note that I edited the shot before I uploaded using Instagram’s built-in tools, though I didn’t apply a filter. You can probably already tell that something’s up with the image quality: The wooden slats on the side of the building look wobbly or pixelated. It looked fine on my smartphone screen, though.

Digging in a bit deeper, I viewed the page source of the Instagram page, tracked down the relevant, compressed JPG image and saved it to my local hard drive a fussy way of saying I downloaded the Insta to my computer.

I zoomed in just a bit on it, and things weren’t pretty:

Image: Damon Beres/mashable

As you might expect, the file size of this image was also much smaller than the original photograph suggesting lower quality.

Meanwhile, the detail is a lot crisper in the full-resolution photograph:

You might say: “Jeez dude, is it really worth stressing over something you really only notice when you zoom in?” I’d say don’t stress life is short! but definitely think about it. We don’t know what kind of awesome screens we’ll be working with in a few years, and tiny differences in photo quality could stand out.

Even now, you might appreciate having access to the highest quality version of your photos for projecting your vacation albums, setting a ridiculously beautiful desktop background, wallpapering your baby’s room with printouts of your safari, or whatever.

The lesson: Share your photos on Instagram. Just don’t back them up there.