You take photos with your iPhone or your iPad and you don’t give much thought to the technical secrets behind them. You just want a picture that looks good.
With the arrival of Apple’s iOS 11, you will need to start thinking more about photo formats. It’s time to get familiar with HEIF and what it means for your photo library.
What is HEIF?
HEIF stands for “High-Efficiency Image Format” and Apple intends for it to replace the JPEG format, which has been around since 1992, which makes it pretty ancient in tech terms.
Apple’s iOS 11 defaults to using HEIF instead of JPEG, but the biggest gotcha here is that not all apps are compatible with the new format. We'll get to how to handle that in a moment.
Apple didn’t introduce HEIF just to push a new format onto its customers. There are actually a lot of positives worth noting:
- HEIF frees up storage: You can store the same image in a much smaller amount of space than a JPEG takes up. As digital cameras take higher and higher quality images, file sizes have gotten pretty huge. HEIF keeps the image quality up but doesn’t suck up all your storage.
- HEIF means better quality images. HEIF images can potentially offer richer colors and higher overall quality than JPEGs with fewer annoying visual artifacts that can muddy an image when you zoom in.
- HEIF has extras: The new format can store more than one image, as well as audio, in one file. This helps when it comes to nifty features like Apple’s Live Photos, which delivers fun, animated photos for your enjoyment.
Surviving the leap to HEIF
New and better technologies have successfully replaced older and outdated ones before, but usually, there’s some resistance as we’re dragged into a new era. Remember when Apple changed the charging connectors on the iPhones and iPads, or when web browsers started blocking Flash videos? We survived those technology shifts.
At the end of the day, Apple likely has the clout to move HEIF into the mainstream, but we’ll have some growing pains as we get there.
If you want to move your HEIF photos to an app or system that doesn’t support the format, you will need to convert them to JPEGs, which nullifies the benefits of having HEIF in the first place.
If you work within an entirely Apple ecosystem of iPhones and Macs, this might not be a big issue, but iPhone-toting Windows users and people who rely on third-party software could encounter some annoyances.
HEIF doesn’t mean the imminent death of JPEG. The older file format has staying power. If you run into compatibility problems with HEIF, just keep in mind you can always convert the file into a JPEG and save the day. Big app makers like Adobe, creator of Photoshop, are likely to add HEIF support to their products soon. Adobe is already rolling it out to some of its offerings.
In the meantime, you can enjoy the benefits of HEIF on your compatible Apple devices and then live with old-fashioned JPEGS the rest of the time.
Follow these instructions to automatically export your HEIF images as JPEGs in iOS 11: Open your Settings and choose Photos. Scroll down to the section titled “Transfer to Mac or PC.” Make sure “Automatic” is checked.
This means your iOS device will transfer photos as JPEGs when necessary, saving you the trouble of converting images.
What to do with your old JPEGS
Great, HEIF is here and it’s a better format, but you still have a whole library full of JPEG photos. Should you convert them into the new format? The short answer is “No.” While there are apps that can convert your old JPEGs into HEIF, it’s not worth the time, effort, or potential technical snafus to do it.
Keep your JPEGS. They’re still compatible with all of your favorite programs. Go ahead and use HEIF on your Apple devices and take advantage of the ability to export the new photos as JPEGS when needed. One day, HEIF may rule supreme, but that day isn’t here yet.
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