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Full-size photos arrive for real on Google+

Trying to keep its photo fans happy, Google now lets people upload full-resolution images to Google+. But big photos count against Google's 5GB free limit.

People can enable full-size photo uploads through Google+ settings.
People can enable full-size photo uploads through Google+ settings. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google now lets Google+ users override a setting that limited photos they uploaded to a maximum width or height of 2,048 pixels, a move that photo enthusiasts will welcome but that will mean people will have to keep a closer eye on how much data they have stored at Google.

Previously, Google+ photos were limited unless they were uploaded automatically from an Android device using Google's software, or unless people embarked on a somewhat complicated workaround using Google's Picasa photo editing and cataloging software. Now, by changing Google+ settings, people can upload full-resolution photos through the usual Google interface.

A size of 2,048 pixels may sound like a lot, and in most cases, it is. But with high-resolution displays on the market, it's not enough for top quality. Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro has a resolution of 2,880x1,800, its 13-inch sibling is at 2,560x1,600, and the Chromebook Pixel is at 2,560x1,700.

There's a big catch with big photos: they count against the 5GB of storage space Google offers for free for this and Google Drive. You can buy more Google storage capacity at $2.49 a month for 25GB or $4.99 a month for 100GB. Or Chrome OS customers get 100GB for three years along with Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, except for Chromebook Pixel customers who get 1TB for three years.

Photography is increasingly important to social activities on the Net, in particular since smartphones married cameras and full-time network connections. Google is racing to build a photography hub that rivals old-time sites like Yahoo's Flickr, top destinations such as Facebook's ordinary photos and Instagram photo-sharing service, and newer services such as 500px

Google programmer Jon Emerson described the new Google+ option in a Google+ post last night:

To enable full-size desktop uploads, just visit your settings at www.google.com/settings/plus, and check "Upload my photos at full size." Afterwards, any files larger than 2048px will count towards your Google storage (up to 5GB free). Photo storage at 2048px or smaller remains free and unlimited.

The feature dovetails nicely with the Google+ pan-and-zoom ability that Google has added to Google+, which lets people explore high-resolution images better. If you want to try that out, here are some high-resolution 60- and 80-megapixel shots I took with Phase One medium-format cameras.