iOS 11 introduced support for modern HEIF and HEVC codecs developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (not Apple’s proprietary formats) that keep high-resolution photos and videos taken with iPhone and iPad from eating up all your available storage.

Here’s what the acronyms stand for:

  • HEIF— High Efficiency Image File Format
  • HEVC—High Efficiency Video Coding

HEIF and HEVC offer better compression than JPEG and H.264 (AVC) so your photos, videos, Live Photos, panoramas, depth of filed images and pretty much anything you can take in the stock Camera app will take up half the space without sacrificing image quality.

Being able to take more photos and shoot longer 4K videos before your iPhone or iPad fills up is going to make owners of lower-capacity devices very happy.

And, you don’t have to think about compatibility when you open HEIF/HEVC media in other apps or send these files to non-Apple devices through the Share sheet because in that case, iOS will automatically transcode them into a more compatible JPEG/H.264 format.

To the user, everything works just like before though, of course, you’ll still need to upgrade to iOS 11 or macOS High Sierra to view, edit or duplicate HEIF/HEVC media captured with an iOS device.

HEIF/HEVC file formats

HEVC, also know as H.265, is a codec for both images and videos. HEIF is a file format for images encoded with HEVC.

  • HEIF images—Saved with the .heic extension.
  • HEVC videos—Saved with the .mov extension, like regular iPhone videos, but compressed using the much more efficient H.265 codec.

HEVC videos use .MOV files as the container, just like H.264, MP4 and MKV videos.

Now let’s get to the meat of the matter.

HEIV/HEVC requirements

Support for HEIF/HEVC is built into iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra, letting you work with this media in a variety of apps, like Photos, Preview, QuickLook and QuickTime Player. All iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra devices can display HEIF images without issues.

Although baseline iOS 11 devices can play back standard 1080p HEVC clips, watching 4K HEVC clips without stuttering and in a battery-friendly manner requires hardware acceleration provided by Apple’s A9 chip or newer (iPhone 6s and up, all iPad Pros and 2017 9.7-inch iPad) or Intel chips in 2017 Macs and up.

As an example, using Photos on my iPod touch to play a 4K HEVC video led nowhere. All I could do was stare at the spinning wheel as its A8 chip struggled to decode the file.

On older devices without hardware acceleration, support for HEVC is affected by the resolution and frame rate of the video:

  • iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air 2 work with HEVC video that was captured at no greater than 1080p at 240 fps.
  • iPhone 5s, iPad Air and Retina iPad mini models work with HEVC video that was captured at no greater than 1080p at 60 fps or 720p at 240 fps.
  • Mac models from mid 2015 or earlier work with HEVC video that was captured at no greater than 1080p at 240 fps.

What if you use iCloud Photo Library, but your iPhone, iPad or Mac can’t fully view, edit or duplicate HEIF/HEVC media because it lacks hardware support?

In that case, iCloud Photo Library will send your HEIF/HEVC media at a lower resolution to ensure the files can be displayed on those device and you might see a warning message in Photos.

iCloud Photo Library, of course, always preserves your HEIF/HEVC files and other media in their original format, resolution and frame rate.

To take HEIF images and HEVC videos, you’ll need at least Apple’s A10 Fusion chip. When using iOS 11, the following devices can capture media in HEIF or HEVC format:

  • iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus or later
  • 10.5-inch iPad Pro
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2nd generation)

On supported hardware, iOS 11’s Camera app defaults to HEIF/HEVC capture.

Selecting camera capture format in iOS 11

You can toggle between HEIF/HEVC and good ol’ JPG/H.264 in Settings → Camera.

Hit a new Formats subsection, then choose your preferred camera capture format:

  • High Efficiency—Encode photos/videos you take using the HEIF/HEVC codec.
  • Most Compatible—Always use JPG for images and H.264 for videos.

NOTE: If you don’t see this section, your device doesn’t support capturing in HEIF/HEVC.

If you tap “High Efficiency”, all new photos and videos you take on this device will be encoded in the space-saving HEIF and HEVC media formats.

Going with “High Efficiency” gets you half smaller videos/photos without losing quality.

Though capturing in HEIF/HEVC format is recommended, it’s good that iOS gives you the option to capture media using the older JPG/H.264 formats that are more broadly compatible with other operating systems and devices.

Here’s a little experiment that illustrates the storage savings provided by these codecs.

File size shootout: HEIF/HEVC vs JPG/H.264

Having set the iOS capture format to HEIF/HEVC, I took eight images with my iPhone 7 Plus and a one-minute 4K video at 60FPS. I exported everything to my Mac via a USB cable and macOS’s Image Capture app.

Then I told iOS to convert the originals into JPG/H.264 files during export. Comparing the “before” and “after” file sizes in Image Capture revealed a startling difference.

Photos/videos taken with my iPhone 7 Plus in standard H.264/JPG formats.

The same captures made using HEVC/HEIF. Note the significant difference in file size!

If that wasn’t enough to sell you on the storage-saving benefits afforded by these codecs, that’s because you’re probably thinking, “I’d rather turn the whole thing off because what about HEIF/HEVC sharing with Windows and folks with slower hardware?” right?

Don’t worry—Apple has thought of that, too.

Choosing media export format in iOS 11

You can set iOS to always export your HEIF/HEVC media to a computer in the original format or to convert the media, if necessary, to a more compatible JPG/H.264 format.

Go to Settings → Photos and make that choice below the Transfer to Mac or PC heading:

  • Automatic—Automatically transfer photos and videos in a compatible format.
  • Keep Originals—Prevent HEIF/HEVC media from being converted to JPG/H.264 when importing to a computer via USB.

If you choose “Automatic”, your HEIF/HEVC media might be converted to JPEG/H.264 when exported via USB from an attached iOS device to a PC and Photos or Image Capture on a Mac.

Because it “just works,” the Automatic setting should be always enabled.

But if you need to transfer your HEIF/HEVC items to a computer in their original format, select “Keep Originals” to prevent the media from being converted when importing.

Sharing HEIF/HEVC media

To save you from compatibility conflicts, both iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra automatically transcode HEIF/HEVC items to JPG/H.264 when using the Share sheet or other methods to send them to:

  • Devices running older iOS and macOS editions
  • Non-Apple devices
  • Social media services
  • Apps that don’t support HEIF/HEVC

You don’t have to do anything special, just share your media like before.

The HEIF/HEVC → JPG/H.264 conversion happens on the fly and without changing the originals in the Photos app. Any transcoded files get discarded upon sharing to save space.

TUTORIAL: How and where to share faster with AirDrop

For instance, picking a few HEIF images in Photos and sharing them to Mail will prompt iOS to attach JPGs. Similarly, if you send a 4K HEVC video to a friend’s iPhone 7 using AirDrop or iMessage, he’ll receive it in the widely compatible H.264 file.

Wrapping it all up

Summing up, Apple went all in with HEIF/HEVC in iOS 11, tvOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. These codecs will be with us for years to come and have a lot going for them, like non-destructive cropping and rotation, support for 4K/8K/3D videos and more.

Stay tuned to iDownloadBlog as we’ll be diving deeper into these media formats and discussing what they mean to you and how they help future-proof Apple’s platforms.

BOTTOM LINE: HEIF and HEVC keep file sizes low without degrading image quality.

Your HEIF images and HEVC videos sync with iCloud faster, support non-destructive manipulations in Photos and, ultimately, free up storage space so you can shoot even more photos and videos or fill your devices with more apps and content you care about.

Are you sold now?

Need help? Ask iDB!

If you like this how-to, pass it along to your support folks and leave a comment below.

Got stuck? Not sure how to do certain things on your Apple device? Let us know via help@iDownloadBlog.com and a future tutorial might provide a solution.

Submit your how-to suggestions via tips@iDownloadBlog.com.

  • halacoglu

    Great article!

  • David

    Will this convert all previous photos and videos to the new format or will just just be new photos and videos taken?

    • No, just the new ones you take after enabling HEIF/HEVC capture. Apple isn’t upgrading our existing library because it’s already compressed from the original RAW files, compressing it twice would degrade quality

      • Marko

        Hey Croat, which device doesn’t support capturing in HEIF/HEVC?

      • Anything that doesn’t have an A10, buddy

  • Ron

    Is there any software I can install on my PC that would let me view HEIC pictures on my desktop? The latest iTunes, perhaps?

    • So as of now, there are no Windows apps or programs that can support HEVC codecs and HEIF files

      • ly121688

        I don’t know about HEIF, but doesn’t several media players for Windows such as VLC, Potplayer etc support HEVC?

      • You’re right, on the video side VLC and other players will do, I meant just HEIF photos

      • GUY

        YOU did not mean that, you just didn’t know, it’s better to admit when you’re wrong even if you’re a tech bloger who shouldn’t get this kind of stuff out there without research, also MOV is a container like mp4 and mkv so please fix your article where it says HEVC vs MOV, it shoud be HEVC vs AVC or h.265 vs h.264 becaue these are the codecs to compare.
        I know you said hevc is saved in mov but as you go in the article it becomes confusing when you say hevc vs mov
        overall good article.

      • Made the changes, thanks

    • But keep an eye on this one https://www.zoner.com/en/heif-format

  • credulousgeek

    I liked the article tho it’s pretty well explained.

  • agahzamin

    I have iphone 6s and now the only regular way to receive those files is just from airdrop by iphones and ipad with A10 chips and higher. Is it true?

    • No it all just works like before as the conversion takes place in the background

  • ZMan82

    I have iOS 11 on my iPhone 7 Plus and macOS High Sierra Beta on my MacBook Pro.

    I have the following enabled:
    – settings > camera > format > high efficiency
    – settings > photos > transfer to mac or PC > keep originals

    But when I take a picture and transfer to my mac, or save to dropbox/Files app, or send via the mail app, file type is still JPEG…

    What am I doing wrong?

  • ticky13

    If these new formats are so great in that they save a ton of storage space, why is no one else like Adobe supporting them?

  • Rob

    You may want to remove this from your article, delete this comment right after
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/813dc03ffc0e6e3b6a7e25e80fb1d1f232b2b808a3ca3cfe062b0e52b9bfb826.png

  • Shervin Tochahi

    i have iPhone 6s on ios 11 but i don’t have this option in my camera setting

    • Shervin Tochahi

      nvm xd i just saw iphone 7 and above supported

  • Boaz van Veen

    How do i convert already existing media to this format to take up less space? (on device)

    • Marcus

      You can’t. Already existing media was compressed using H.264, so trying to compress it again using HEVC would result in a loss of quality.

  • Dylan Roy

    If these new formats are so great in that they save a ton of storage space, why is no one else like Adobe supporting them?

    • Adobe apps have supported HEVC video coding since 2015. They don’t support HEIF images, yet.

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    I’m not sure if I want to update my MBP to High Sierra, still on El Capitane and it’s rock-solid, also because I’ll be bummed to see the “OS X” be replaced with “macOS.” Just don’t like the naming convention.

    Question 1: will updating my iPhone to iOS 11 (not sure if I want to do that just yet either because reasons (not jailbreak related) reconvert existing image and video media to these new formats?

    Question 2: will taking a video or photo in an iOS 11 phone be readable on a computer running OS X El Cap?

    EDIT: never mind, turns out iPhone 6S Plus can’t take advantage of these new standards.

    • 1) No

      2) Yes if the media is shared via email, iMessage, AirDrop or other method in the Share sheet because iOS 11 will automatically transcode it into the more compatible JPG/H.264 format. iPhone 6s can’t capture in these new camera formats but it can read & edit both HEIF images and HEVC 4K videos.

  • Joe Sparacio

    I just got an iPhone 8, and currently have PhotoStream enabled (but not iCloud Photo Library). For years, all of the still images I take on my phone automatically appear in the Photos app (formerly iPhoto) via PhotoStream after connecting to WiFi. The same is true with iOS 11 and iPhone 8, except when I connect via USB to copy over videos, Photos tries to reimport all of the still images, as if they’re not already in my Photos library. When I reimport them, I end up with duplicate JPGs, one set via PhotoStream, and another set via USB transfer. HERE’S THE GOTCHA—the file names, modified date, and all meta data is identical, but the file sizes are different! Apparently, iOS 11 transfers a slightly different “compatible” JPG over PhotoStream than it does over USB, and Photos things they are two different images. I think I’m going to have to revert to JPG/H.264 and use the “Keep Originals” setting until High Sierra comes out. I’d love to hear what folks with the public beta are experiencing.

  • BAiNZy3

    Very well done article for explanation. What I don’t understand is that why does HEIF/ HEVC to JPG/H.264 for social media services ? Is that just for standard comparability or some else ?

  • Gary le

    Is it a typo when you said you set up your iPhone 7+ to shoot 4k at 60fps? Mines only goes uo to 30fps at 4k!

  • Zackeroo

    When I first got my iPhone 6 I think it was on ios 9 it played 4K video when I tested it.