Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Work with the HEIF file format, part of Mobile Photography Weekly.
- [Sean] One of the major photo-related changes that Apple has set in motion with iOS 11 is the adoption of the High Efficiency File Format for still photos and videos. Hi, I'm Sean Duggan and on this episode of Mobile Photography Weekly, we're going to take a look at this format and explore how it might impact your mobile photography workflow, both on the iPhone or iPad as well as on your computer. The default photo format for iOS 11 on the iPhone 7 and later and the newest generations of the iPad Pro is now HEIF, or High Efficiency Image Format for stills and HEVC, which stands for High Efficiency Video Codec, for video.
JPEG and the MPEG-4 H.264 video format are no longer the default. So, the question might arise, well, why make the switch to HEIF and HEVC? Well, the name says it all, High Efficiency. HEIF and the HEVC formats result in significantly smaller file sizes with much better image compression quality. The HEIF format can also be thought of a bit like a containter. Unlike a JPEG, which can hold a grid of pixels that make up a photo, the HEIF format can contain different types of photos and different photo data, including live photos, animations, and bursts, so it's much more versatile.
With a new file format, there are always questions and concerns about compatibility. At the moment, Apple's adoption of HEIF and HEVC is really just preparing the soil and getting everything in place under the hood. There are two places where you'll be using and interacting with HEIF files, on your iPhone or iPad and on the computer. On an iOS device, things should function pretty seamlessly because to ease the transition to HEIF, iOS 11 will seamlessly translate these files into JPEG and H.264 when you open an image or video in another photo app, or when you transfer them to your computer.
And every week there are more and more iOS apps that are updated to include support for HEIF. Let's take a quick look at some of the settings in iOS 11 that influence the use of the HEIF format under the hood. So, I'm going to scroll down here in Settings until I find the Photos and Camera setting. By the way, in previous versions of iOS, these two settings were together. Now in iOS 11 they each have their own space. I'm going to go into Camera settings first and I'm going to choose Formats, and here you can see what the Camera Capture format is set to.
High Efficiency is going to be the HEIF format for stills and the HEVC format for video. If you choose Most Compatible, it's going to behave like it used to, which is going to be capturing with JPEG and the H.264 MPEG format. I'm going to leave that set to High Efficiency and I'm going to back out here, and let's go into the Photos settings. If we scroll all the way down here, down at the very bottom where it says Transfer to Mac or PC, if you have it set to Automatic, which is the default, it will automatically transfer photos and videos in a compatible format.
So, what that means is, it's going to convert HEIF files to JPEGs and HEVC video files into the H.264 MPEG format. If you choose Keep Originals, it will send those original files and that's where you might run into problems on your computer with programs that don't understand those new file formats, so I would recommend leaving that set to Automatic there. So, there are a couple of other apps where there are settings that govern how the image is transferred to your computer. One is PhotoSync, which is a really useful app.
I go into the Settings by tapping on the gear here and I go into Configure, and then up at the top if I choose Computer, and then down under Transfer Settings, I go into Transfer, here in the middle there you can see that there are options governing how the HEIF format is converted into JPEG. So, I can just have it set to On, where it'll just convert it to JPEG, or if I want both, I can choose HEIC and JPEG. And by the way, HEIC is the same thing as H-E-I-F.
Even though the file is commonly referred to as H-E-I-F or HEIF, on the phone, you'll often see it identified as HEIC. And then, down below that is a setting that governs the conversion of HEVC to the H.264 video format. Now, another place you're going to run into these is in the Dropbox app. So, if you're working in a folder in Dropbox and you go to add files from your phone, so I'll tap the plus button there and now I'm going to choose to Upload Photos, and let me just get a few pictures of this guitar and I'll tap Next.
Down here at the bottom you see it recognizes these as the HEIC photo format and it is now set to convert them to JPEG. Of course, I could choose to upload the originals, but again, I may run into compatibility problems with programs on my computer. Now, one final example, I'm going to go into Snapseed and I'm going to open up a file and I'm going to choose go out to my device, and let's choose one of these guitar pictures and you'll see, down below there, that it is recognizing this file as a HEIF file, or in this case, identified as an HEIC file, but when I tap Use, it's going to be converted into a JPEG so that Snapseed can work on it and any file I save out of Snapseed will also be saved as a JPEG file.
So, right now, at least in terms of how the format will work on your iOS device, things will operate pretty much as they always have and you shouldn't really run into any compatibility issues, but it's another story on your computer because at the moment, there are not a lot of computer programs that can recognize the files. For instance, according to Adobe, the newest version of Photoshop CC 2018 will open HEIF files, but what's not so clear is that you have to be running macOS 10.13 High Sierra in order for this to work.
At the present time, the latest Photoshop on a computer running earlier versions of the macOS or any versions of Windows cannot open the HEIF format. The same goes if you're using the most recent High Sierra version of the Apple Photos program on your Mac. Then Photos will recognize the HEIF format, but older versions of Photos on older operating systems will not be able to recognize them. So, in terms of HEIF as it relates to other programs on your computer, things are still in that awkward transitional phase and for a while, in order to work with HEIF images from your phone, they'll need to be converted to JPEG first, so just make sure that those settings I showed earlier are enabled on your iOS device.
In the long run, the High Efficiency image and video formats will result in more storage space on your iPhone or iPad because the files you're capturing are smaller. Fortunately, Apple has put a lot of thought into making the gradual adoption of these formats as smooth as possible, but in the near term, depending on your operating system and the programs you're using, you could run into some hiccups with the HEIF format on your computer.