20MB File Size Limits on Photo Sharing Sites are Stupid

20MB File Size Limits on Photo Sharing Sites are Stupid

I noticed today for the first time that Flickr has been resizing all of my photos that I upload to the site over 20MB. I’ve known that Flickr has had a 20MB size limit for a while and in the back of my mind always sort of wondered why my photos over 20MB were still uploading to Flickr. I never really investigated it until today though.

Earlier this morning I uploaded this photo to Flickr. My original image is 5415×3610 pixels and is 23.5 MB. In Flickr’s bulk uploader (that I use to upload all of my photos to flickr) I’ve selected the option “don’t resize my photos.” Out of my 25 uploads this morning, flickr did in fact upload the actual originals of 24 of the 25 photos. The one that was over 20MB though was automatically resized to 2048 x 1365 pixels and now is a miserly 627KB.

While I can understand where Flickr might not want to notify me that my image was over the 20MB limit, reducing it down to a sub 1M file seems like overkill. I’ve always assumed that my photos on flickr could be perfect backup copies for me in the event that I lost my original photos (which are already backed up on multiple drobos and elsewhere in the cloud). It’s disappointing to know that even though I told the bulk uploader not to resize my photos that Flickr has been resizing some of my photos anyways. I suggest that if they are going to keep doing this that they put a disclaimer on the bulk uploader that photos over 20MB will be resized.

But lets talk about the stupid 20MB requirement in the first place. You can fit about 100,000 20MB files on a 2TB hard drive. You can buy a 2TB hard drive
retail now at Amazon.com for $80. (I guarantee you Yahoo pays less than retail).

99.99999% of Pro accounts on Flickr probably have less than 100,000 photos (and the same for 2TB). So Yahoo gets reoccurring fee revenue of $29 per year for each Pro account, but they have this stupid 20MB cap on photos that probably really costs them next to nothing.

Now maybe the 20MB cap limit made more sense a few years ago when storage was more expensive and DSLRs didn’t really produce 20MB+ sized images. But today’s Canon 5D Mark 2 (one of the most popular DSLRs with Flickr photographers) regularly produces a small number of files over 20MB. It seems stupid to me that to save pennies at best, Flickr would resize users’ photos (without really disclosing it to them). I think the time has come that Flickr at least consider raising this limit to 50MB. This would cover the bulk of the DSLR market out there today while likely costing Flickr very little.

Given that most people never view the original sized photos on Flickr I can’t imagine that bandwidth is a significant issue. And of course storage is only likely to get cheaper and cheaper in the months/years ahead.

So which innovative company is going to drop the stupid 20MB limit and let photographers actually upload their photos up to a more reasonable size without resizing (like say 50MB)?

By the way, Google’s Picasaweb Albums also has the stupid 20MB file size limit, which makes even less sense on Picasa because there you actually pay there by how much storage you use. What should they care if you upload 100 40MB files or 200 80MB files? You’re paying for the storage, why limit the file size?

Both of these of course are better than the Facebookery’s default of 2048 pixels.

Update: Rev Dan Catt, a former Flickr engineer offers a more detailed explanation about some of the reasons behind the 20MB file size limit in the comments below.

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17 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    I don’t think SmugMug has a size limit.

  2. Aaron says:

    SmugMug supports up to 24mb files for standard images, 600mb files if you have their SmugVault service.

  3. Chris Plante says:

    Well to be honest, Flickr is labelled at a “sharing” site. It’s not really meant to be a place to archive full res. images.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Chris, maybe, but this is how a lot of people see and use the service. And they do in fact advertise that you’ll have “access to your original files” in their advertising material. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/3399508355/

  5. Michal says:

    I second SmugMug. A far superior experience to Flickr. Honestly, you critique Flickr regularly and never have anything positive to say about them. Why not make the switch?

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Michal, I have ton of positive feelings about Flickr. Especially the community at Flickr. I have a SmugMug account as well and I’ve found the community at Flickr to be far more robust. For better or for worse, I just don’t see SmugMug replacing the Flickr experience.

    I’ve met the guys running SmugMug before though and am very impressed with what they have brought to market. I also am very impressed with SmugMug’s strong customer service. It’s just not the social behemoth that Flickr is.

  7. William Beem says:

    I’ve had a Smugmug account for a while and I’d like it to be a viable alternative to Flickr. Unfortunately, it really lacks in the social aspect of photo sharing. Without a decent community, I don’t know that it could ever replace Flickr.

    I don’t see a service on the horizon to challenge Flickr.

  8. Dan says:

    Just to correct a slight mis-representation there, yes you can buy a 2TB drive for $80 USD but that is not enterprise grade storage.

    Enterprise grade storage includes the ability to connect multiple servers, backup to online and nearline storage or arrays of tape drives, and have multiple arrays of disks for resilience etc etc. The unit cost for a decent SAN is much, much higher than $40/TB USD.

    Not that it excuses not making the warning that your images will be resized _much_ clearer than it is, nor does it excuse resizing them to such a rediculously low level 😉

  9. Thomas Hawk says:

    Dan, good point. I still bet we are talking about a very tiny amount of money here. First of all the vast majority of photos uploaded to flickr are already under 20MB, so we are only talking about a relatively small number of photos. The cost of the storage differential here (even using enterprise grade storage) I’d assume would pale in comparison to the $29 per year Pro account fee that Pro users pay.

  10. Dan – so true! I don’t work for flickr, nor EMC, nor any related companies, and I agree, flickr should spend the money (that they don’t have), to allow for what, max 30MB files, but anyway, to put some numbers to it:

    1TB of EMC VMAX based storage is around $36,000 + maintenance, and that is without the cabinet to put it that storage in. They currently max out at 4PB’s
    And you’d need something like a pair of Emulex Host Bus Adapters per server, which are another $900 each or so. Then you need the bandwidth and all that goes with that (routers, firewalls, etc) between them for disaster recovery. Never mind any staff to look after all these toys.

  11. Rosalyn says:

    I was totally under the impression that a filesize limit was only for free accounts. This is ridiculous/bad news, but I’m glad to know about it. Resizing a file that much without any notification is insulting.

    This is so stupid on so many levels.

  12. anonymous coward says:

    hey thomas, i hear what you’re saying about file size; however, i don’t think anyone should ever consider flickr even an “emergency” backup solution. flickr has deleted accounts with little to no warning with little to no explanation.

    i love flickr, but it is not to be trusted. just my two cents.

  13. Spike says:

    >>Chris, maybe, but this is how a lot of people see and use the service.

    Lots of people use the federal highway system for driving while intoxicated.

    In other words, terrible justification.

  14. Rev Dan Catt says:

    Hey Thomas,

    It’s not about the storage. As everyone and you point out storage is cheap and only a tiny % of people have files at > 20Mb.

    But, at some point each file that gets uploaded needs to be resized on the backend, I *think* (my memory is a little hazy now) that Flickr used ImageMagick to do this. If the file is too big then ImageMagick basically falls over when it tries to open it, it takes up far too much memory resources and can’t handle the file. You possibly saw this a while ago when large photos turned into a single giant black image.

    When you open a 20Mb file in Photoshop you can see that it can often taken 100Mb+ of “scratch” memory to deal with and allow you to processes.

    At the time it was possible to rebuild ImageMagick allowing it to have greater resources, but at around the 20-24Mb mark is the point it stopped working. Now and then the backend team grab the latest update and test it, etc. to see if it can handle larger images. When it can the limit gets raised (as has happened before).

    The limit isn’t (as far as I’m aware) philosophical, or storage, but technical. Sometimes the actual reasons probably aren’t the most obvious reasons 🙂

    As for the uploader, then yeah, the behaviour is odd and could be improved to let you know what’s going on a bit better.

  15. Drobo Fan says:

    Thomas,

    What is your hardware setup going into 2011? It might be time for one of those posts summing it up.

    I personally have a drobo but have not experienced a HD failure yet. have you experienced a HD failure with your drobos yet? I use crashplan for my cloud storage.

    Drobo is currently using almost 2TB. I backup about 900GB of “critical” data to the crashplan cloud from drobo.

  16. AC says:

    Always love it when people point out the prices of hdd from CompUSA or whatever when talking about storage. It’s painfully and immediately obvious to anyone who’s had to be even close to enterprise storage. You shell out money for enterprise storage (used by all the big dogs, not talking about your grandma’s closet server), and then you’ll never utter “storage is cheap” except to make fun of someone.

  17. […] Rev Dan Catt, a former Flickr engineer offers a more detailed explanation about some of the reasons behind the 20MB file size limit in the comments […]