When providing high resolution images to our clients, or uploading images to this website, I often extract JPEG images between 70%-85% quality. Although some photographers often do extract their images at 100% quality, I rarely feel the need to do it, since file sizes get outrageously big, while the differences in quality are too small (and often impossible) to notice. I recently came across an interesting product by JPEGmini called “JPEGmini Pro“, which is specifically targeted at photographers like me that are looking for a good way to save space without losing image quality. By design, JPEG is a compressed image format that was designed for the web in mind. It applies lossy compression algorithms to reduce massive images from other formats like TIFF and offers the ability to use different compression levels. So when I first looked at JPEGmini Pro, I wondered how different it was compared to the JPEG engine used in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, the two programs I use the most to extract images. In this review, I will be exploring the Lightroom version of the JPEGmini Pro, which seamlessly integrates into my workflow without adding any complexity or unnecessary overhead.
What’s different between the regular version of JPEGmini and the Pro version, is that the latter allows processing of images up to 50 MP in resolution while utilizing all available processor cores, delivering up to 8x faster performance. In addition, the Pro version is a must-have if you want to integrate the JPEG compression engine right into Lightroom.
1) Installing JPEGmini Pro
Installing the regular version of JPEGmini Pro is a breeze. You purchase the product, download the small installer package, which then downloads and installs the bigger package from JPEGmini’s website. JPEGmini works both on Macs and PCs, but the below instructions are for PCs specifically. Please note that you might receive a security warning asking about whether you want to install the software or not, so after you click “Install”, the download process then starts. After the installer launches, you will be presented with a license agreement and once you agree to it, the software will ask for the activation code. Type in the activation code, click “Next” and you will be good to go. After the registration windows are closed, you will be presented with a clean app interface that looks like this:
The software is ready to be used.
2) Installing JPEGmini Pro Lightroom Plugin
Unfortunately, the installation process for Lightroom is not as simple and involves some manual steps after the installation is complete. At the end of the process, you will be presented with a README text file, which outlines the process of manually installing the plugin for Lightroom. To be honest, I was rather surprised to see the following in the README file that gives the these installation instructions:
- Copy the file jpegmini.lrplugin to your hard drive
- Open Lightroom and select File > Plug-in Manager
- Click the “Add” button below the plug-in list
- Locate the jpegmini.lrplugin on your hard drive, and click “Add Plug-in”
Pretty bad instructions if you ask me, especially for someone who is not computer savvy. First of all, the first line states “copy the file jpegmini.lrplugin to your hard drive”, which is nonsense. The installer does not indicate where that “file” is physically located and after the installation is complete, it is already in the computer. Second, although I was able to locate the correct folder under “C:\Program Files (x86)\ICVT\JPEGminiLightroomPlugin”, the mentioned “jpegmini.lrplugin” turns out to be a folder, not a file. Third, it beats me why the company provides an installer, if all it does is copy files to a folder on your computer. It would have been much better if there was a simple ZIP file with the folder contents, along with proper instructions on how to install the plugin.
Here is what you need to do to get the Lightroom Plugin to work:
- After installation is complete, fire up Lightroom
- Once Lightroom opens up, go to File->Plug-in Manager
- Click the “Add” button on the left bottom corner of the Plug-in Manager window
- On a 64-bit version of Windows operating system, browse to C:\Program Files (x86)\ICVT\JPEGminiLightroomPlugin
- Left-click on the “jpegmini.lrplugin” folder once, then click the “Select Folder” button
- You will be presented with the following window:
- Type in your activation code and click “Activate”
- Wait until the software is activated. When the process is complete, the text will change to “Activated”
- Click “Done” to close the Plug-in Manager window
The plugin is now up and running, and ready to be used.
3) Using JPEGmini Pro
If you are using the regular version of JPEGmini Pro to optimize existing files in your file system, all you have to do is find the JPEG images on your computer and drag and drop them right into the area of the screen that says “Drop Photos Here”, as shown in the first screenshot above. When you do this, JPEGmini Pro will warn if you want to overwrite the original photos. If you click “Continue”, the program will go through each file, recompress it and delete the original. If you want to save the originals just in case, then before you start this process, click the little gear icon on the top left side of the screen, go to Preferences and select “Export to Folder”. Once you pick a different location for the saved files, they will be saved there instead and nothing will be overwritten.
The Preferences window also allows you to resize photos to different resolution, in case you need to export them to your website or some other medium. There are some resolution presets like 960×720 (Small), 1600×1200 (Medium) and 2592×1944 (Large), but you can also select “Max Width” or “Max Height” and indicate the exact pixel resolution.
After the software crunched through 45 files from my Landscapes Gallery, weighing a total of 56 megabytes, the software indicated that it reduced everything by a total of 11.79 megabyes, which is equivalent to 1.3x ratio, as shown below:
I was a bit skeptical about such savings, because they are pretty significant if you factor in the fact that the images were already compressed at 77% quality out of Lightroom (which is the third quality tier from 100%). Usually, whenever I really need to reduce the image size of a file, I usually utilize Phil Harvey’s excellent ExifTool software. As explained in my EXIF article, I use this tool to get rid of the junk data from JPEG images (such as XMP data and built-in thumbnails), while preserving the essential EXIF data for our readers to reference. I could not remember if I did this with my files before the compression took place, so I re-ran the original files with ExifTool. It turns out that I already did, so the space savings seen above were on top of what I had already saved. Now that’s remarkable! Going from 56 megabytes to 43 might not sound like a big deal to you, but almost 25% in space savings for highly optimized files is huge for me. This means that the files you see on this website would be loading 25% faster and if I were to pick images with even higher compression levels, the space savings opportunities would be tremendous.
Once I saw the above, I began to explore how JPEGmini actually works. Since JPEG is a widely accepted and supported format, I knew that JPEGmini engineers did not rewrite the JPEG standard. As stated on the “About Us” page of their website, “JPEGmini is a patent-pending photo recompression technology”. So, in essence, it is a recompression algorithm, which looks at the existing JPEG file, then tries to compress it even more without introducing more artifacts that would be visible to our eyes. The result is smaller file sizes, which is what JPEGmini software is all about.
The next experiment was to see what kind of space savings one could see when working with full size JPEG images extracted at the highest quality. I used a sample JPEG image of a butterfly that I captured using the Tamron 150-600mm lens. At full size, the file was 27.939 MB in size. After a couple of seconds of recompressing the image, here is what I was presented with:
Whoa, that’s a total of 15.644 MB for that single file, which got drastically reduced to only 11.535 MB – almost a 60% reduction in file size. I found it hard to believe that the software would result in that much space savings, so I opened up the JPEG image on my computer and analyzed the file pixel by pixel. Going back and forth a number of times, I could not see ANY differences in quality. No artifacts, no forced noise reduction, no posterization of any kind.
After I ran through the file, I went back to it and viewed it in an ASCII editor to see if the XMP and other metadata were still in the file. Everything was intact. The software did not do anything to that data, which meant that I could actually run ExifTool on top of the compression to yield an even smaller image. After I did that, the file size got reduced to 11.511 MB, which is another 24 KB of space savings. A small change for a large file, but still additional savings.
When JPEG files are run through JPEGmini, the software tags each file to avoid additional compression and potential image degradation. So when I ran through the same file twice, here is what I was presented with:
That’s a pretty smart method of making sure that no additional data is lost.
The only thing I could not find how to do is to reset the “Total Space Saved” on the top of the application. The number just gets incremented every time you process JPEG images and shutting down and reopening the software still keeps the counter at the same figure. It would be great if folks at JPEGmini added a “reset” button right next to it, so that one could see total savings each time a batch of images is processed.
Now if you are wondering how good this JPEG compression is in terms of preserving image quality, scroll down below to see a comparison.
Update: One of our readers pointed out that one could simply use higher compression to achieve the same result. That’s certainly true, but that would require quite a bit of back and forth to determine the optimal compression ratio for each image – something I personally do not have the time to do. For the sake of this experiment, I extracted an image at 85%, which is the second quality tier from the highest one in Lightroom, which produced file size of 16.855 MB. Since that’s much bigger than 11.535 MB, it meant that I had to go lower in quality. So I lowered the quality setting to 77% (third tier) and re-extracted the image. This time, the file size was 11.154 MB, which is just a bit smaller than what JPEGmini produced. When I compared what I got at 77% quality to what JPEGmini produced, I could not see any difference in images. Fair enough, but what happens if we throw in that 77% file from Lightroom into JPEGmini? The software compressed the file much more and reduced it down to 8.793 MB – another 22% of space savings. This time, when I compared the 77% quality image with JPEGmini compressed image, the differences were very minor (most people would not be able to see them), but they were there. This means that JPEGmini basically applied a lower quality compression to the image than I specified from Lightroom and decided that it “should be good enough”. And it certainly was.
What does this all mean? Basically, JPEGmini is not some new magic JPEG algorithm. All it is doing, is deciding what should be “good enough” in terms of quality when an image is extracted at a certain quality level. If it is extracted at the highest quality, JPEGmini decides if it is worth applying a lower compression ratio, as long as no artifacts are introduced. That’s what happened to the above images. At the same time, it is a pretty smart algorithm that will save a lot of time for people like me. When I extract images, if I want to preserve the highest quality setting, I can simply extract images at 100% quality and JPEGmini will decide what the lowest acceptable compression should be for me. If I extract at a lower quality setting, it does the same by reducing it to the lower “acceptable” tier. Some images compress better than others, so this automatic determination of quality is actually a huge time saver.
4) Using JPEGmini Pro Lightroom Plugin
Now that I knew the amazing benefits of this software package, it was time to test it out in Lightroom and make JPEGmini part of my workflow. Since I have already showed the process of getting the plugin installed and activated, all I had to do was go through a single step during the export process. Open up Lightroom, select photos you would like to extract, then bring up the Export window. You will now be presented with the Export window that looks like this:
From here, all you have to do is click “Insert” after you click the JPEGmini sub-menu on the left side of the page. After you do that, the export window will slightly change and the JPEGmini sub-menu will be added to the right side of the Export window:
As you can see, I am simultaneously processing exported JPEG files using ExifTool, as highlighted in this article, which gives me even more space savings!
5) Comparing Images
Now let’s compare two images – an original image extracted from Lightroom using 85% JPEG quality, and one that was processed with JPEGmini (343 KB vs 209 KB):
As you can see, there is no visual difference between the two, and yet the space savings are significant.
Despite the fact that my photography workflow has been pretty solid for the past few years, whether I publish images for this website or provide images to my clients, looks like it needs a slight modification to include JPEGmini, now that I have tested its amazing recompression technology. Thanks to its seamless integration directly into Lightroom, I do not have to worry about making any changes to my existing steps – the software takes care of it automatically. Although the software sounded like a gimmick initially, after thorough testing and comparisons, I am happy to say that it works as advertised, thanks to its intelligent engine that results in real space savings, with little impact on speed.
While it might not be a vital tool for someone that does not care about file sizes when working with JPEG files, anyone who publishes images on their website, or struggles with large files on their computers, tablets and other devices, should take a close look at what the software offers. The space savings could be significant as shown in the above article. And those who back up their images in the cloud will probably get the most benefit from JPEGmini, since smaller files will translate to faster upload times.
7) Where to Buy
JPEGmini is currently on a sale at B&H Photo Video with a $70 discount, until September 12, 2014. Grab it while it lasts for $79.00, since its usual price is $149!
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