Facebook is making its first steps towards taking photography seriously with the launch of its Lightbox display interface. The change, which is being rolled-out to users in the coming weeks, darkens the rest of the screen when a photo is selected and shows images in greater detail than before (up to 960 pixels in each dimension). How does this presentation compare to the more obviously photo-friendly Google+ service?

Despite it having more photos uploaded each day than any other site - claiming over 100m per day - Facebook has traditionally had fairly poor photo capabilities. The move to offering larger images began in November 2011 but the 960px maximum is relatively small by the standards of most modern monitors.

 Facebook's 'Lightbox' photo display improves the presentation of your images to other users


Google+ also has a similar background-darkening view mode but also has an attractive way to show your friend's recent uploads and your galleries. It also has functions that mimic many of the photo sharing and discussion features that made Flickr popular. It also offers photo editing tools that came from the acquisition of online editing service Picnik.

Google+ will resize all images to a longest edge of 2048 pixels (and these images do not count towards your 1Gb Picasa Web Album limit if you have one). Facebook gives an option to upload at 'High Quality' (also 2048px) but these larger versions are currently only available if you choose the download option - they're still displayed in the same manner as the default 960px versions.

Google+ has had a blacked-out presentation screen for some time. There's an icon at the bottom right of the image to remove the side panel (which you can't do in Facebook)

How well do Facebook and Google+ show your images?

We thought we'd conduct a simple test - uploading the same two images to both sites and seeing how they then tried to present them:

Image 1 - Downscaling

The first image we used is much larger than our monitors can display - a 4000 x 2667 pixel images on a 2560 x 1440 display. Below are demonstrations of how the two services present the image:

 Google+ presents the image as 1600 x 1067px  100% crop from Google+
 Facebook presents the image as 960 x 940px  100% crop from Facebook
 Original image (4000 x 2667px)  100% crop from original image

As you can see, Google+ makes better use of the screen - darkening the background more than Facebook does and showing the image larger.

Image 2 - Upscaling?

Our second image is considerably smaller (350 x 400px) than the interfaces can show, so acts as a test of whether they will attempt to upscale the images.

Google+ upscales to 683 x 1024px 100% crop from Google+
Facebook displays at native 350 x 400px resolution 100% crop from Facebook
Original image (350 x 400px) 100% crop of original image

With small images, Facebook displays them at their native resolution, while Google+ tries to upscale them. Side-by-side comparison shows that Facebook has re-compressed the image but the effects are only visible on excessive examination.

Based on this simple test we'd be inclined to say that Google+ makes a better job of presenting images, if you want to show your photos off across social networking sites. Facebook treats small files more sensibly but Google+ does a better job of making larger images look impressive. Assuming, of course, you feel comfortable publishing large-res images on such sites.

All grabs taken from Chrome v.17 for Mac.