How to transfer photos and videos from your old to new iPhone

By , May 4, 2016

Apple Photos teaser 002

Your photos and videos are some of your most precious memories so transferring them to a brand new iOS device should be a top priority. There are a number of different ways to transfer media from one iOS device to another. As is the case with most things, smart planning goes a long way in ensuring that no photo or video gets left behind when making a switch to a brand spanking new iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

If you currently don’t have a backup strategy, you’ll definitely need to think of one. This tutorial will assist you in transferring the photos and videos from your old to new iPhone with step-by-step instructions for both built-in features and third-party solutions that will get the job done.

Folks who back up to iCloud or iTunes on a regular basis and plan on restoring their new iPhone from a backup needn’t do anything special: your Camera roll items are already included in the backup file and will transfer seamlessly to the new device when you restore it from backup, either in iTunes or as part of iOS’s setup process.

restore ios device from backup in itunes

Want to set up the new iPhone from scratch rather than restore it from a backup? You’ll need to manually transfer media from the old iPhone to a new one.

iCloud Photo Library is your best friend

If iCloud Photo Library has been enabled on the old iPhone and there’s enough free storage in iCloud to store full-resolution photos and videos, transferring them to the new iPhone will be easy as a pie. On the new iPhone, go to Settings → iCloud → Photos and slide the iCloud Photo Library toggle to the ON position.

Next, select either Optimize iPhone Storage to have your device keep downscaled versions of the original photos and videos (items are optimized for your device’s screen resolution). Or, choose Download and Keep Originals in order to keep photos and videos on the device in their full resolution, which will take up more on-device storage.

iCloud Photo Library iPhone screenshot 001

Don’t worry about loosing full-resolution media: the photos and videos on devices with iCloud Photo Library enabled are always stored in their full resolution on iCloud.

You must now leave the new iPhone connected to Wi-Fi and power in order for it to finish synchronizing your iCloud Photo Library. Depending on the speed of your broadband connection and the size of your iCloud Photo Library, this process can take anywhere from minutes to hours to days.

RELATED: Removing iCloud Photo Library content and recovering your iCloud storage

Each iCloud account gets five gigabytes of storage at no charge.

For most people, five gigabytes won’t cut it so you might need to upgrade to one of the paid iCloud storage plan. Apple currently offers three paid iCloud storage tiers: 50GB/200GB/1TB, respectively priced at $0.99/$2.99/$9.99.

Effortless media transfers with AirDrop

AirDrop is the best solution for folks who wish to effortlessly transfer media between their iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Mac. AirDrop establishes a secure peer-to-peer connection directly between devices, without needing to be connected to a Wi-Fi network.

iPhone-to-iPhone transfer

On the old iPhone, open Photos, hit Select and tap and hold on any item. Rather than lift, slide your finger to select multiple items in one quick swipe. After making the selection, tap the Share button and choose the new iPhone in the list of AirDrop destinations.

iOS 9 AirDrop Photos app iPhone screenshot 009

To avoid issues and optimize your experience, double check that AirDrop is actually enabled by selecting either Contacts Only or (preferably) Everyone from Control Center on iOS and from the AirDrop option in the Finder’s sidebar on the Mac. It’s also advisable that the device use the same iCloud account for better AirDrop experience.

Keep in mind that AirDrop is unavailable in Do Not Disturb mode.

iPhone-to-Mac transfer

If you’re planning on selling the old iPhone before purchasing a new device, you should first transfer your photos and videos to a computer with AirDrop. Start by selecting your computer in the list of AirDrop destinations on the old iPhone.

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The items will get sent wirelessly to the Downloads folder on your Mac.

Mac-to-iPhone transfer

After getting a new iPhone, use AirDrop to transfer to it the media files from the Mac: open the Downloads folder by selecting Finder → Go → Downloads or press the Option (⌥)-Command (⌘)-L combination on the keyboard.

AirDrop MacBook iPhone 6s teaser 001

Now select the media files you wish to send to the new iPhone (Edit → Select All to select everything in the folder), then choose it as an AirDrop destination from the Share menu.

You may need to tap Accept on the iPhone to confirm. The items will be automatically transferred via AirDrop right into your new iPhone’s Photos app.

RELATED: AirDrop troubleshooting tips

Transfer media to Mac with Image Capture

OS X’s built-in Image Capture application lets you import any photos or videos from the Photos app on an iOS device. As a bonus, you get to choose where the files are saved on the computer. As the first step, connect the old iPhone using its included USB cable to your Mac and launch Image Capture.

Next, select your iPhone from the list of connected devices in the lefthand column. At the bottom of the righthand area, click the drop down menu next to Import To and choose a folder on the computer where you wish to save your media.

To manually pick an arbitrary folder, select the option labeled Other.

transfer photos to Mac wit image capture

After selecting the media items you want to transfer to the Mac, click Import.

To transfer all the photos and videos on the old iPhone to this Mac in one fell swoop, click the Import All button. Image Capture isn’t your only choice when it comes to importing media from iOS devices: you can take advantage of a USB connection to import the media into Photos, iPhoto, Aperture or another photo app on the Mac.

RELATED: Transferring photos and videos from iPhone and iPad to your Mac

Use third-party storage services

In addition to iCloud Photo Library, third-party cloud services such as Dropbox, Flickr, Google Drive, OneDrive and others will do a fine job keeping the photos and videos in perfect sync across devices.

dropbox iPhone camera photo backup
Dropbox for iOS’s optional camera backup feature.

We cannot possibly detail them all in this tutorial so check out our roundup to decided which one suits your needs best. As a rule of thumb, you’d launch an app for your storage service on the old iPhone and enable the automatic camera upload functionality, if available. You’d also comb through in-app settings to elect to have full-resolution media uploaded to the cloud, not their downscaled counterparts.

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Enabling the Camera Upload feature on Microsoft’s OneDrive app.

Next, you’d connect the iPhone to power and Wi-Fi, disable Auto-Lock in Settings and leave the app open overnight. After contents of your Photos library have been uploaded to the cloud-storage service in question, you’d install the app on the new iPhone and download synced media to the device.

Using Dropbox to transfer media

Dropbox is arguably the most popular cloud storage solution out there.

Their mobile and desktop apps are pretty nice and include the cool ability to automatically transfer the media files from an iOS device to your Dropbox. Start by connecting the old iPhone to a Mac running the Dropbox client.

Now turn on the camera upload feature by checking the box next to “Enable Camera Uploads” in Dropbox → Settings → Preferences → Import. Next, connect the old iPhone to the Mac via USB and the Dropbox client will automatically download the photos and videos and store them in your Dropbox.

Dropbox enable camera backup photo upload

Lastly, install the Dropbox app on the new iPhone in order to gain access to your synced photos and videos and save them to the Photos app. One word of caution: Dropbox gives you two gigabytes of free storage, but you can upgrade to paid tiers or get up to 21GB of free space just by performing some tasks such as referring your friends, tweeting about Dropbox, following them on Twitter and so forth.

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The Camera upload function in Google Photos for iOS.

Other notable alternatives

If you don’t want to pay for any additional Dropbox storage, why not use Yahoo’s Flickr?

Flickr has an awesome iOS app and gives you a whopping one terabyte of free storage for your photos and videos. You should also consider Google Photos, a very nicely done service that gives everyone a run for their money with unlimited storage for any number of videos in up to 1080p resolution and photos in up to sixteen megapixels.

Granted, Google Photos does let you optionally store your original photos and videos in their full resolution, but such uploads count against your Google storage so you may need to upgrade to one of the paid tiers.

RELATED: Top services to store your photos and videos in the cloud

Use Lightning to USB Camera Adapter

With Apple’s $29 Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, you have the ability to directly import photos and videos to your new iPhone (running iOS 9.2 or later) from a USB source such as a digital camera or a USB thumb drive. Transfers occur at up to USB 2.0 speeds on all iPhone models while USB 3.0 speeds are only supported on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro using the newer $39 Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter.

After transferring the photos and videos from the old iPhone to your Mac with AirDrop, Image Capture or another method, use the Finder to copy the media files to a USB thumb drive or an SD memory card. When finished, eject the volume and insert the memory card or mass flash storage device into the adapter.

Lightning to USB Camera Adapter image 002

After connect the adapter to the new iPhone’s Lightning port, Photos will automatically launch, letting you choose the photos and videos you wish to import and organize into albums. To import everything, simply tap the Import All button.

Lightning to USB Camera Adapter image 001
For USB thumb drives, use the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

If you get an error message saying that the connected USB flash memory stick requires too much power, simply plug your iPhone’s Lightning to USB cable into the adapter’s Lightning port. Don’t have a spare USB thumb drive lying around somewhere and don’t want to use an SD memory card?

Well, you’ll then need Apple’s $29 Lightning to SD Card Reader.

Lightning to SD Card Reader image 001
For SD memory cards, use the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader.

For more information about these adapters, check out our video reviews of the Lightning to SD Card Reader and the new Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter.

Did you back up your photos and videos?

Regardless of the media-transfer method of your choice, you’re wholeheartedly recommended to back up your photos and videos as a precaution.

I couldn’t recommend more transferring your personal photos and videos to a computer before selling your old iPhone. That way, you’ll be able to import them into another application, back them up with Time Machine or transfer them to your new iPhone with AirDrop or using other methods.

If you like this how-to, check out our complete tutorials archive.

Need help? Ask iDB!

Got stuck? Not sure how to do certain things on your Apple device? Let us know at help@iDownloadBlog.com and a future tutorial might provide a solution. You can also submit your how-to suggestions at tips@iDownloadBlog.com.

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  • MS

    Okay, quick question. With iCloud Photo Library, If I delete something off of the library, it will also be removed everywhere else right?

    • Anonymous

      Yes it will.

      • Bill

        Thank you, m’lady.

  • chlach

    i think the best solution for transferring photos and videos is using rollit or picback photo transferring apps ,, found on app store

  • Neia Teia An Da Ka

    airdrop on my MacBook doesn’t seem to work with my iPhone. It used to work anyway. Any solution?

    • JonathanTang

      I think AirDrop is the perfect way to transfer, because it’s build-in and transfer wirelessly. If it doesn’t work, some photos apps also can be used to get photos, videos off your device. Besides these methods, I used AnyTrans to extract iPhone photos and music.

  • Bill

    Just take a picture of the computer screen with your new phone, duh! I mean look at all those steps in the article…psh…no thanks. Click, done.

  • Noohar

    Jeff’s hands!

  • bairday

    And I know a simple way to transfer files from iPhone to iPhone. I used the FonePaw iOS Transfer which is nice to use, the same as Android phones. Windows or Mac is supported.