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How to change your iPhone photos from HEIC to JPEG

By default, iPhones save camera photos in Apple’s compressed HEIC file format and not JPEG. Here’s how to change that setting so your pictures load properly on non-Apple devices.

How to change your iPhone photos from HEIC to JPEG
Raymond Wong / Input

If you’re a longtime iPhone user, you’ve probably run into this issue once or twice: error messages trying to upload it somewhere or viewing it on a Windows PC. The most likely culprit: Your photo was saved as an HEIC file, Apple’s own image format, that is not JPEG.

Apple committed to HEIC back in 2017 with iOS 11 as a way to save storage space as the iPhone camera system improved. Compatibility has improved in the past few years, but the file type still isn’t widely used — JPEG is still the most popular image format.

If you’re tired of converting HEIC files to JPEG or another file format (Input deputy editor Ray Wong recommends using iMazing’s free HEIC Convert app for Mac) or don’t see the value of the format, you can easily change your settings to shoot JPEGs instead or make conversions more automatic.

What exactly is HEIC?

HEIC is less of its own format and more of a “container” file for HEIF (High Efficiency Image Format) and HEVC (High Efficiency Video Compression). That’s a complicated way of saying it’s a format that can hold multiple compressed photos and videos at once without quality loss. It’s how your iPhone 13 Pro can shoot thousands of beautiful, high-quality images without eating up tons of storage.

Live Photos are the poster child for HEIC, as they are made up of an image and video file combined. HEIC allows those two high-quality files to be stored together in one “container.”

HEIC vs. JPEG: Which is better?

You’re going to find folks on both sides of the debate when it comes to HEIC vs. JPEG. Quality-wise, the formats are nearly identical to the average user. If you’re completing deep-dive edits, you may notice more subtle color and detail differences, but the difference really comes down to file size and compatibility. There are a few key differences you should know about.

HEIC vs. JPEG file size

A JPEG (left) takes up 3.6 MB, while a similar HEIC file only takes up 2 MB.

Most HEIC files will take up less space than a similar JPEG file. Using advanced compression, HEICs can actually be about half the size of a JPEG with similar image quality. For example, in the image above, you can see that a JPEG (left) takes up 3.6 MB, while a similar HEIC file only takes up 2 MB. The smaller file size is obviously a major advantage if you don’t own an iPhone with a ton of storage (i.e. 32GB or 64GB) or you’re running low on storage over time.

HEIC compatibility

JPEGs have a much longer history than HEICs and are therefore compatible with more devices and programs. JPEGs are the most common image file — it would be odd to run into a website or program that couldn’t open one up properly.

HEIC files aren’t universally compatible. The format has become more commonplace in recent years and compatibility is being increased across the board, but the primary usage is still on Apple devices. You might run into issues using HEIC files on some websites and non-Apple products. Apple does have some auto-conversion tools though, which we’ll get to below.

Editing HEIC files

HEICs and JPEGs are both lossy file formats, meaning that repetitive editing, saving, and converting can degrade the quality of the file over time.

HEICs retain a bit more quality with every edit compared to JPEGs. Edits are also saved within a HEIC file, so you can reverse changes to an image using the right programs; this is called “non-destructive” editing.

HEIC vs. JPEG image quality

HEIC technically supports a broader color range and includes more details like shadows, mid-tones, and highlights, but it’s nearly impossible to spot the difference unless you’re doing serious pixel peeping and side-by-side comparisons.

How to stop your iPhone from shooting in HEIC

By default, iPhones and iPads shoot images in HEIC format (to conserve storage, duh!). But it’s a nuisance if you share HEICs to non-Apple devices. Instead of using an app like the aforementioned HEIC Converter or uploading images to a website like HEICtoJPEG, which will spit out a JPEG for you (but, um, privacy concerns!), you can just force your iPhone to shoot in JPEG. The downside is, of course, the increased file size. But if that’s a compromise you can handle, here’s how to do it.

You can change what format your iPhone uses to capture photos in your camera settings.
  • In your “Settings” menu, find and tap on “Camera.”
  • In the “Camera” menu, tap on “Formats” at the very top of the menu.
  • Here you can select either “High Efficiency,” which will allow your iPhone to shoot and store HEIC files, or “Most Compatible,” which will have your phone capture JPEGs.

If you want to capture HEIC files but want to avoid incompatibility issues on devices that don’t support the format natively, there’s a toggle hidden in your settings that can help convert images to compatible format upon transfer. This feature is probably already enabled on your iPhone, but it’s worth checking out.

With this setting enabled, your iPhone will convert HEIC files to JPEG when you send them off to different devices.
  • In your “Settings” menu, find and tap on “Photos.”
  • Scroll down to the very bottom of this menu to find the “Transfer to Mac or PC” header. If you have “Automatic” selected, your iPhone will convert your HEIC files to JPEg files when you use sharing options that could go to an incompatible device. If you go to share a photo over AirDrop or iMessage with another Apple user, it’ll remain an HEIC. But if you use the share feature to send a photo in an email or on another platform, it’ll be swapped for a JPEG. If you have “Keep Originals” selected, your iPhone will only share photos in the format you shot them in.

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