Watch: HEIF vs. JPEG on iPhone 8 compared

Posted:
in iPhone edited October 2017
Apple announced support for the High Efficiency Image File (HEIF) photo format at WWDC in June, a standard that supposedly retains image quality while boasting better compression that results in files half the size of past formats. We decided to test out Apple's claims by using our iPhone 8 Plus to take photos in the legacy JPEG format and HEIF, then comparing them side by side.





You can find the option to shoot in either HEIF or what Apple calls "most compatible format," read as JPEG compatible, in Camera settings.

First off, HEIF files pulled from iPhone bear the HEIC file extension, a container for saving images encoded in the HEVC video format. We found that JPEG file sizes were an average of 80 percent larger than photos saved in HEIF, with the greatest disparity being 96 percent.

Despite the huge storage savings, image quality left a bit to be desired. Taking a close look at each set of images, we saw that the new high efficiency format loses detail, especially in low-light shots. Compared to JPEG files, detail and color looked smudged and smeared.

Even though the new HEIF format loses some image quality, it's still very impressive for being almost two times smaller in size.

If you aren't viewing images side-by-side and aren't looking for the absolute best quality, then shooting in high efficiency format should be fine for you.

Transferring files to Mac

We did discover a few issues when importing HEIF files to Mac, including odd file handling quirks like unwanted auto-conversion to JPEG.

To transfer HEF files, first go into Settings, then Photos, and change the "Transfer to Mac or PC" setting to "Keep originals" instead of automatically transferring photos into a compatible format.

Regardless of this setting, if you AirDrop files to your Mac, they will auto-convert into a JPEG format with an older sRGB color profile instead of the wide-color Display P3 profile that was introduced with the iPhone 7. The image quality will stay the same as the lackluster HEIF format, but the file size will be much larger, in fact almost as big as a regular JPEG photo.

We discovered two ways to correctly import HEIF format photos without conversion. First, you can navigate to iCloud.com on your Mac and download the files from there using the keep originals option. The other method is to import the files into your photo library using a USB cable.

We confirmed that the format was in fact HEIF in the Photo Library, but discovered that when you drag the photo onto your desktop, or share the photo directly from Photos, it auto-converts to JPEG, with a size identical to the AirDropped version.

One workaround is to right-click on Photos Library within Pictures, then click on Show package contents, open the Masters folder, and navigate through the year, month, and day folders to find the HEIF photo. You can then drag it onto your desktop without auto-conversion.

So if you really care about storing HEIF formatted Photos, and want to be able to freely share and move them around, you have to go the iCloud route or use the convoluted workaround. This is useful if you want to store them on an external drive while utilizing the smaller size HEIF files.

But, if you share those HEIF files using AirDrop from your Mac, they will auto-convert to JPEG if the receiving device doesn't support HEIF, and even if it does support it, like with High Sierra, the file size will jump up to the auto-converted file size, despite carrying the correct file extension instead of the JPG extension.

It makes sense that Apple would take every chance it gets to auto-convert the HEIF files. The new format still has a ways to go before being broadly implemented, and many users will likely run into problems when attempting to share or upload photos in HEIF format.


Social media sharing

We tried uploading the HEIF photos to multiple websites, like Facebook, and nothing currently supports it.

If you find yourself stuck with a bunch of HEIF photos that you want to upload to a social media site, you can easily convert them by selecting them, right clicking on one, and clicking "Open with Preview." Then select all within Preview, go to File, Export selected items, then click options, and change the format to JPEG or any other desired format, and finally click choose.

Conclusion

So here's the big question: should you take photos in the new HEIF format or the older, yet more widely compatible, JPEG format?

First of all, there is only one iOS Settings option for changing photo and video recording formats. And the new 4K 60 frames per second and 1080p 240 frames per second recording modes offered with iPhone 8 and iPhone X require the high efficiency mode to be turned on.

If you want to take higher quality JPEG photos, but also shoot in 4K 60, you'll have to constantly switch back and forth in the Settings menu.

If we're just talking photos, then it depends on the user. If you're the kind of person who takes thousands of photos and doesn't really mind a slight degradation in quality, then definitely use the new HEIF format. If you don't take that many photos, or you have a higher storage iPhone model, then use the old JPEG format to ensure you're getting the highest quality images possible.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    Apple pronounces HEIF as "heef" - let's make sure we don't introduce people into bad habits like spelling it out ;)
    Avieshek
  • Reply 2 of 36
    UberFlyGuyUberFlyGuy Posts: 1unconfirmed, member

    If you want to take higher quality JPEG photos, but also shoot in 4K 60, you'll have to constantly switch back and forth in the Settings menu.

    Apple needs to fix this. I would rather shoot pics in JPEG and deal with conversion later via Photoshop or other editors .
    But would like to shoot video in 4K 60 or 1080p 240.
    Its about choice.
    Apple should not back users into a HEIF/HEVC ‘thermal corner’.😳
    Now where’s that toggle switch.  🤣
    cornchipmizhoumacseekerentropyswilliamlondonsuperklotonbaconstang
  • Reply 3 of 36
    Until the HEIF format is adopted by popular apps, and the image quality improves, I don't see much benefit to saving photos in this format, other than saving HD space on your phone. If you currently need to convert to JPEG to do anything useful with the photo, and in doing so it creates a JPEG file using the lower HEIF image quality but the same file size as shooting originally in JPEG, what is the point?

    It would be nice if you could shoot in JPEG, then decide afterward which images to convert to HEIF. Then you could offload all of your better quality JPEGs to your computer, then convert the copies on your phone to HEIF to save space on your phone.
  • Reply 4 of 36
    "Even though the new HEIF format loses some image quality, it's still very impressive for being almost two times smaller in size."
    Not a very impressive statement. Two times something means it is twice as big. Two times smaller makes no sense. Multiplying by .5 would be the proper term. Why not just say half the size? 
    Your original statement is nonsense.
    mizhouSoliAvieshek[Deleted User]williamlondonalanhgutengelpayecopayecorandominternetperson
  • Reply 5 of 36
    Unless it's not compatible for some reason I'm unaware of, wouldn't shooting RAW with the Adobe Lightroom app be the way to get the best picture quality from an iPhone 8? It's dramatically better on a 7.
    Avieshekbaconstang
  • Reply 6 of 36
    randywaltersrandywalters Posts: 4unconfirmed, member
    “use the old JPEG format to ensure you're getting the highest quality images possible.” Um… did you really mean to say that?
    Avieshek[Deleted User]baconstang
  • Reply 7 of 36
    mattrogers_2mattrogers_2 Posts: 10unconfirmed, member
    Am I the only one that doesn’t see the quality difference at all? I’m picky about such things and I simply don’t see it. 
    cornchipwatto_cobraAvieshek
  • Reply 8 of 36
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,589member
    Great. I am going to spend the next couple of weeks converting all my photos to HEIF. Nothing like living on the bleeding edge of technology hurt. 
    macseeker
  • Reply 9 of 36
    SendMcjakSendMcjak Posts: 66unconfirmed, member
    Damn, good investigative work, AI!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 36
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    larz2112 said:
    Until the HEIF format is adopted by popular apps, and the image quality improves, I don't see much benefit to saving photos in this format, other than saving HD space on your phone. If you currently need to convert to JPEG to do anything useful with the photo, and in doing so it creates a JPEG file using the lower HEIF image quality but the same file size as shooting originally in JPEG, what is the point?

    It would be nice if you could shoot in JPEG, then decide afterward which images to convert to HEIF. Then you could offload all of your better quality JPEGs to your computer, then convert the copies on your phone to HEIF to save space on your phone.
    It could be useful if you're producing tons of photos automatically or in conditions were lets face it it wouldn't matter (most non outside good light conditions). Just reducing your bandwidth to the cloud if your a intense social photo producer could be worth it. I'm sure there will gateways to automatically convert those to instagram, snapchat, facebook or the like on or off phone within a few days wheter they decide to support it or not.

    Most of what's posted on social media can 100% be "degraded" from the on phone format and no one will cry or bat an eyelash.
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 36
    It surely would be great if the video actually focused on the allegedly artifacts that were supposedly worse on HEIF than o JPEG. Better yet, provide some detailed stills on the article itself, because even if I pause and go pixel hunting on YouTube, it means nothing, since the video was re-compressed (and possibly transcoded) since it was originally produced.

    While at it, why is it that AI got the "youtuber" attitude the last couple of months? This is the first that I actually watched, and I just don't see the point. At least this article also got text, for the readers among us. I enjoy the podcast, and read the articles about as soon as Twitter notifies me, if I'm available, but I don't think the video actually brings anything to the table. Unlike the podcast, I can't watch while I'm driving. Obviously, I won't watch it at work, but even at home, I find the experience to be obnoxious.
    OferAvieshekrandominternetpersonlorin schultzbaconstang
  • Reply 12 of 36
    To export the HEIF file to your Mac, all you have to do in Photos are select the photos you want to export and then in the File menu select “Export” > “Export Unmodified Original”.   No need for USB cables or to go spelunking in your Photos library folder.
    edited October 2017 watto_cobraAvieshek
  • Reply 13 of 36
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Apple pronounces HEIF as "heef" - let's make sure we don't introduce people into bad habits like spelling it out ;)
    That’s a problem, since it reminds me of heifer. But what would a true replacement for GIF+JPEG be without a pronunciation debate that will outlast the format itself?
    watto_cobramacseekerbaconstang
  • Reply 14 of 36

    If you want to take higher quality JPEG photos, but also shoot in 4K 60, you'll have to constantly switch back and forth in the Settings menu.

    Apple needs to fix this. I would rather shoot pics in JPEG and deal with conversion later via Photoshop or other editors .
    But would like to shoot video in 4K 60 or 1080p 240.
    Its about choice.
    Apple should not back users into a HEIF/HEVC ‘thermal corner’.😳
    Now where’s that toggle switch.  🤣
    Agreed. Most likely they need to use a higher bitrate setting for HEIF to fix it, in return for less optimization in relation to JPG.
    Avieshek
  • Reply 15 of 36
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,492member

    If you want to take higher quality JPEG photos, but also shoot in 4K 60, you'll have to constantly switch back and forth in the Settings menu.

    Apple needs to fix this. I would rather shoot pics in JPEG and deal with conversion later via Photoshop or other editors .
    But would like to shoot video in 4K 60 or 1080p 240.
    Its about choice.
    Apple should not back users into a HEIF/HEVC ‘thermal corner’.😳
    Now where’s that toggle switch.  🤣
    If any slightly quality difference that requires an intensive side-by-side comparison isn't working for you then why not just shoot in RAW instead of shooting in an already compressed lossy format?

    baconstang
  • Reply 16 of 36

    Looks like teething problems with HEIF. I'm sure it's going to improve.

    I was hoping that Apple would support RAW directly with iOS 11.

  • Reply 17 of 36
    AvieshekAvieshek Posts: 100member
    'infltr' on iOS makes use of HEIF format for it's separate background-foreground filters not possible through JPEG.
  • Reply 18 of 36
    19831983 Posts: 1,146member
    So in conclusion Apple’s current implementation of HEIF sucks ass! I can’t believe how badly this has been implemented by Apple! This is beta foda. So all the advantages of shooting photos in HDR 10bit color are lost, because HEIF has inferior image quality to 8bit JPEG to begin with! Apple goes by the mantra that it doesn’t incorporate new technologies until they are properly refined and just work! Not in this case.
    baconstang
  • Reply 19 of 36
    lgusaas said:
    "Even though the new HEIF format loses some image quality, it's still very impressive for being almost two times smaller in size."
    Not a very impressive statement. Two times something means it is twice as big. Two times smaller makes no sense. Multiplying by .5 would be the proper term. Why not just say half the size? 
    Your original statement is nonsense.
    It is possible to have a -2x of anything. It's basic and valid arithmetic. Stop being an overly sensitive wise ass.
  • Reply 20 of 36
    Just did a test and Photos Version 3.0 (3201.11.120) always makes a HEIF Portrait photo blurry as soon as you hit the Edit button. This is not resolved by hitting "Revert to Original". This does not happen when when editing a JPEG. Even the HEIF photo after conversion to JPEG retains its focus. Weird.

    Anyone care to test this on their rig and confirm my experience?
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