Instagram for Android is still killing the quality of your uploads, but not the iOS version


Instagram test og ios android

(Click for full size image)

Yesterday, we watched as yet another update for the Facebook-owned Instagram app rolled out onto the Google Play Store. We already gave you guys the full spiel in yesterday’s post, with Instagram 6.0 introducing a new bag of tricks to help make your photos look even more awesome. There’s just one big problem: if you’re using the Android version of the app, your photos will look just as crappy as ever.

This is because of a well documented and ongoing issue we’ve seen practically since Instagram first debuted on Android. Instagram’s upload quality — unique to the Android version of the app — compresses images to high hell before uploading and posting to the social network. What’s even more frustrating is that the iOS version doesn’t suffer from the same quality issues. We know, it’s not bad enough to that it would be blatantly obvious to the casual user, but it’s enough that people will notice photos taken with the iPhone (and uploaded to Instagram) just look better.

Original vs Android

Original (left), and the quality after uploading to Instagram on Android (right)

Don’t believe us? Just take a look at our sample image (above) to see the differences between the iOS and Android versions of the exact same image. While a loss of some image quality is to be expected — even in an age of 1080p smartphones, Instagram still insists on resizing images to a shockingly small 640×640 — the fact that the most recent version of the Android app pales in comparison to its iOS counterpart is in no other words, simply unacceptable.

What we’d really like to know is if this is somehow intentional, or merely an oversight. It’s clear the problem — which affects millions of Android IGers around the world — has been going on long enough that we know it’s not a priority. Funny too, given Instagram is one of the world’s biggest photo sharing services with millions of dollars in backing. You’d think they’d be on top of this.

As an Android user who spent X amount of dollars on a fancy new smartphone with a cutting edge camera, what can you do? Not much. But if you’re looking to show off your photos to the world — and don’t want them to look like they’ve been shot with a potato — we’d suggest checking out rival services like Flickr (who also recently overhauled their Android app) for the time being. It’s a shame given Instagram was, at one time, one of our favorite social networks.

Editors note: Instagram has an option to enable “high quality image processing” in the Android version of their app. I tested both with HQ enabled and disabled in the lines comparison and found absolutely no discernible differences in quality (I’ve noticed this across multiple Android devices). The first image in this post was taken with HQ enabled. Here’s the original image if you’d like to test it for yourself.

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. Who ever said Instagram ever improved the quality of a photo?

    1. Resolution — no. But tweaking the brightness, contrasts, and adding filters can improve the quality. If only the Android version didn’t upload a pixely mess. :/

    2. I don’t think anyone is expecting the photo quality to improve, but it would be nice if it wasn’t destroyed.

    3. Probably the same people who think the HTC One M8 takes good photos.

        1. Yeah, I love the way it overexposes images, especially light sources and makes images look dull and lifeless due to the lack of dynamic range.

          1. It’s a smartphone camera, a lack of dynamic range is to be expected. The only problem is in cropping, something I haven’t done to a smartphone pic in ages.

            Also, the lowlight shooting is phenomenal for a smartphone camera. Like a tiny low-res full frame camera.

          2. No Chris, the M8 noticeably lacks dynamic range compared to other Android devices, not stand alone cameras.

            It’s overexposing light sources so much low light shots look horrible.

            As for low light performance, look at this night comparison done by phonearena, a site you linked too recently

            HTC One M8 came last, the M8 camera has enough problems without taking resolution into account.

          3. Not to discount anyone else opinion, those scores don’t mean much to me. I’ve seen people dismiss One photos that were clearly better than other phones (like the Galaxy S5) because of bias or something else. I even have some amazing shots with the Nexus 5 (which is supposed to be one of the worst shooters on the market) which clearly outshined pics from the Galaxy S5 and iPhone. I think maybe I’ll do a blind comparison soon and let people vote on the results. Could be interesting.

          4. Phonearena have done two blind comparisons and the Galaxy S5 won them both comfortably.

          5. Hell yeah. Throw a Note 3 in the mix, and im down with that.

          6. Google Camera on my S4 is doing an amazing job till now. Uninstalled all the other cam apps i had after testing Google’s app.

          7. It’s very limited feature wise, the Samsung camera app does a lot more.

    4. lol if i put a filter on my nexus 4 pictures, i can pretend i took it with a better camera and blame the filter for the poor quality.

  2. I have never considering instagram a photo quality boon. You’re adding a crappy filter on a great camera anyway.

    1. You don’t have to add a filter to anything. It’s always been an option and with 6.0, you have the option of adjusting the filter’s intensity to boot.

      1. i know you don’t have to. but i don’t see too many photos without a filter on them with instagram. It’s always been a bad place to go if you want the best quality photos.

        1. It could be so easily changed, that’s what kills me.

  3. Profile tab — > settings –> camera –> untick “use high-quality image processing”

    VOILA! Problem solved.

    1. It’s on by default and the image posted above had “HQ” enabled. But thanks for reminding me. I’ll note that in my post.

      1. No, you actually want to turn it off. I know it’s confusing but when it’s on it actually uses their compression to make the image smaller. The iPhone version doesn’t even have this option and it should be turned OFF. It’s on by default so untick it and then try uploading a photo. You’ll see the difference.

        1. Yeah, experimented with it on and off before the writing of the post and the same compression problem remained. Instagram notes that on some devices it would help, but in my experience (I’ve been a long time IGer across multiple Android devices) it never seemed to help. Which Android device are you using?

          1. It’s definitely worked for me on the HTC One M7, Nexus 5, and the M8 GPE.

          2. I’ve updated the post to included images of the lines pic with HQ enabled and disabled. Didn’t do anything to improve quality. :/

  4. Just use VSCO Cam – less visible compression, achieves the same things as Instagram.

    1. Yeah, but all my friends/family are on Instagram. I face a similar problem with making the jump over to Google+.

      1. Valid point, but you can share your VSCO posts to other social networks and coax some users there. I know it’s not the easiest option, but VSCO really is better.

        1. I love VSCO and will give it (and Flickr) the ‘ol college try. Thanks :D

          1. I can say that the quality from VSCO when posted to IG is just as horrible. I can take a picture with my HTC One stock camera, edit in VSCO, and it will come out nice. But when I go to post it on IG, the quality is pretty crappy. But VSCO is indeed a great app. Google+ has been awesome as well since picking up SnapSeed

  5. I dont know Chris, I’m just not feeling you on this one. I have over 10,000 images on Instagram, most taken with a Nikon D4. Are they perfect? No, but the color, contrast and clarity are exactly as seen on my cell prior to uploading. Currently using an S5 and the amazing LG G Pro 2 (Korean version used as a tablet only).

    1. Weird. For me (and others) it saves a nice higher res quality to your phone, but the one uploaded gets compressed to high hell. See the comparison pic with the lines. I’ve always noticed it, this is the first time I’ve actually posted something about it.

      1. I definitely see the difference i your example. Are you taking it with the phone cam, saving it to the phone and then uploading? or taking it with the instagram cam and directly uploading?

        1. Uploading from gallery. Same on iOS.

  6. I uninstalled and cancelled my instagram account long ago due to their privacy policies and now it looks like it was a good idea to scrap them. all Android users should cancel their accounts and move to a competing service. We shouldn’t reward being lazy or a blatent a hole.

  7. Eh, I don’t share my best photos on Instagram. I’ll directly upload them to my Twitter & Facebook accounts.

    Also, when I do upload to Instagram, I take the photo with the stock camera app and upload it separately.

  8. Google+ is your friend

    1. If only I had friends on Google+. Lol

      1. I tried Instagram seemed very lame and clunky . Love how clean google+ is .my pics from S4 and NikonD610 (lightroom touch up) looks great. Yes its vibrant with lot of people with wlf there. So come on over Chris to the real place where you can edit and upload high res pics.

      2. Aww!

  9. whats instagram?

    1. Damn kids and thier INTERGAMMIN’…

  10. Chris, I’m really glad you posted about this. I noticed the same issue ~1-2 years ago and it would drive me crazy because I couldn’t find anyone else talking about it.

    It was clear to me that my photos (after being meticulously edited in Snapseed or similar) ended up looking blurry/muddy after going on IG, seemingly due to the handling of compression. I tested the issue by emailing one of my images to a friend who uploaded it using his iPad. I then uploaded the same image from my Android phone and when we compared both uploads (using the same screen), there was a HUGE difference. The iOS upload looked much more crisp/sharp/detailed and more in line with my original edit whereas the upload from my HTC One S looked like crap.

    I stopped posting for a while because of this, but I felt like it got better at some point….? The fact that you’re still noticing it makes me want to re-test, but I feel like there was an update that resolved the issue (or at least improved it to the extent that I no longer noticed a huge degradation in image quality).

    Again, I’m glad you posted about this. If I re-tested today, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still noticed a difference. It’s bad enough that most of the popular mobile photographers shoot with iPhones – this makes people think the iPhone camera is far superior (maybe it is, maybe it’s not) – but photography is really all about skill/vision, so it’s a little unfair that Android mobile photographers don’t stand a chance to highlight their work properly if IG is destroying their images.

    On a related note: It seems to me that you’re really into photography. If I could get your opinion on the Moto X camera? I’m considering the current 2-day deal, but I don’t want to step down from the quality of my current HTC One S (2012). The Moto X camera has a lot of bad press, but how much of that is user-error (i.e., the auto-HDR generation who wants a “work of art” with every mindless point/tap of the screen regardless of lighting conditions) and how much of that is pure lackluster hardware? Can a photographer make the Moto X camera work?

    1. Recently went back and tried using the Moto X for a weekend and was almost taken back by how poor the camera was. It really is probably the worst smartphone camera on the market. Hands down.

      1. Hmm, good to know. What camera phone are you shooting with?

  11. Disable the HQ-Image Processing… Snap photo from stock camera… Open Insty > browse your gallery > select pic > apply filters etc… > upload = No PROBLEMS. (LG G2 user here)

  12. Wow that looks like crap. Haha

  13. All images hosted by Instagram are 612×612 in resolution. This is a restriction of their API, regardless of the device. The copy that gets saved to your device is another matter. This is controlled by quality settings within the app, as others have noted.

  14. Ugh, when will we stop getting the inferior version of apps?

    1. When developers stop thinking Android is an inferior OS because Apple told them so.

      1. They don’t call it inferior anymore, they call it a “toxic hell stew” instead. It’s imaginative, I’ll give them that!

  15. I know many who switched from Instagram to EyeEm for this reason – not only Android users. It’s a shame that Instagram still uses such a low resolution in a time where we have high resolution displays on Android, iOS and other platforms.
    It’s not just the point that images look much worse than they could be, it’s also destroying many opportunities for them in the future. EyeEm is just starting with their market were people can pick some of their photos to sell them on EyeEm or Getty (if they get approved) – Instagram could never do that because nobody would pay for 640pixel images.

  16. @Gamercore:disqus whats your IG link?

  17. If you upload your images through a third party app to get those white borders to make your image look shrunken or whatever, then I notice it didn’t distort the quality. If you upload the image straight up it will. I’ve looked at my images through an iOS device that were uploaded through my Note 3 and the quality is still there vs being uploaded through my iPhone.

    Uploading it straight forward though, I do notice the difference. And this is the problem with any device excluding an iOS one. I know users who upload pictures that were taken with professional cameras and uploaded through their iPhone or iPad and it comes out lovely. For the most part Instagram favors iOS obviously, but there are rare exceptions where Instagram just doesn’t support high res cameras either. It’s a little weird. Because I’ve seen high res photos that were taken with professional or expensive cameras and it came out bad as well when uploaded. I’m not sure if that user uploaded it through an Android phone or not.

  18. On iOS, filters are GPU-computed.

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