I wrote my initial observations in this post. In it, I mentioned that my test images were turning out smoother than before, and I thought this was a good thing.
Since then, however, I've seen waves and waves of complaints about how "horrible" the new image quality is. People keep saying their new uploads are "noisy", "grainy", "oversharpened", etc. So I had to investigate.
It turns out that Facebook's new compression method is insanely touchy about noise.
If I may quote the great Jerry Seinfeld, from a stand up routine:
I don't want to be in other people's showers. I don't know how to operate them. You can never get the ratios right on the dials. Sometimes a 16th of an inch is a thousand degrees.Well, Facebook's compression is to noise what that shower tap is to water temperature. As long as you upload a completely noise-free image to Facebook, the resultant quality is good - remarkably good, in fact. But if there's even a little bit of noise, it goes CRAZY! It gets exaggerated out of all proportion.
So, what does this mean? Well, firstly, it means you must remember to use your raw noise reduction sliders. This should already be second nature in your workflow, but it's easy to forget sometimes, I know. I've written about their use here, and there are more comprehensive instructions in my Raw Class.
Secondly, and more importantly, you must be careful with your sharpening. If you allow your sharpening to emphasise noise in your image, even a tiny bit, it'll bite you.
About a year ago, I explained my current web sharpening method. It is a method that has served me really well, and for other web purposes, I will continue to use it. But for Facebook, it's no longer appropriate.
My testing so far is pointing me to Unsharp Mask numbers of around 200/1.0/20. (Of course, that's just a starting point - I vary them on a photo-by-photo basis.) 20 is an outrageously high Threshold value, but that's what is needed to protect from "noise pollution", so to speak. (If you don't understand the role of Threshold, please read my explanation here.)
So, we need to change our mindset. The fact is, we can no longer sharpen our images as aggressively as we used to. Our tastes have evolved in the last few years, and we really seem to admire strongly-sharpened web images. But it's just not possible on Facebook any more. I'm here to tell you that it is perfectly possible to get lovely, clean, noise-free images on Facebook. But as a trade-off, you have to accept that you can't sharpen them as much as you once did.
I urge you to do your own testing. Try various sharpening settings, and see what works for you. If you invest an hour of testing time now, you'll be rewarded with much nicer Facebook images.
If you use an action for your web sharpening, you're a damn fool, and you deserve whatever crap quality you get. Sharpening is SUCH a delicate process, and it needs a careful touch on each individual photo. Do yourself a favour and take control.
One more thing, while I've got your attention - STOP BITCHING! I can't believe the vitriol that I see and hear every time Facebook changes something. For heaven's sake, it's a wonderful medium that has literally changed our lives, and it's free. It doesn't cost us a cent. I, for one, love this gift horse, and feel no compulsion to look it in the mouth. If Facebook need to change something, so be it. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have a legitimate reason for every change that they make.