O Google Photos offers unlimited free storage for photos and videos, compressing files to save space. However, photos taken with iPhone 7 or higher and saved in the HEIC format do not go through the compression process, and are saved in the original quality. It is a missing benefit on most Android devices, even on the newly released Pixel 4.
The user stephenvsawyer do Reddit realized that Google Photos does not compress iPhone photos that are taken in HEIC format. This is a standard adopted since iOS 11 that promises smaller file sizes compared to the traditional JPEG, and with similar image quality.
O Tecnoblog performed a test and, really, photos captured with an iPhone 8 Plus are saved in Google Photos in HEIC format without compression. We compared it with several different files and their size on iOS and in the cloud is always the same.
You can see the file size in Google Photos by pulling it up in the mobile app, or by clicking the “i” button on the web interface. To see the attributes of photos on the iPhone, we use the Metadata View (iOS does not have a native EXIF viewer).
JPEG files and videos are compressed in Google Photos
We note, however, that Google Photos only maintains the quality of HEIC files. The images will not be saved in the original quality if they are:
- received by WhatsApp, Telegram and other apps;
- saved from the web;
It is because, in these cases, the file will have a JPG or PNG extension. For example, if a friend takes a photo on the iPhone and sends it to you via WhatsApp, it will first be converted to JPEG format; then, when saved to Google Photos, the file on your phone will go through compression.
Besides that, videos will also be compressed by Google Photos. Google says that if the resolution is Full-HD or lower, it “will look similar to the original”. Videos over 1080p will be scaled to Full-HD.
It is possible to save all photos and videos without compression by selecting the option “Original quality” in Google Photos, but this will count towards your storage quota. There are 15 GB free, divided between Photos, Drive and Gmail; if you exceed this limit, you can purchase space through Google One, which sells 100 GB for $ 6.99 / month.
iPhone, iPad and Samsung Galaxy S10 save photos in HEIC
High Efficiency Image Coding (HEIC), also known as High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF), is used by default on the following Apple devices:
- iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus or later
- iPad (6th generation)
- iPad Air (3rd generation)
- iPad mini (5th generation)
- iPad Pro (10.5 inch)
- iPad Pro (11 inch)
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2nd generation) or later
Some Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10 + and S10e, can also save photos from the camera in HEIC format. This needs to be activated manually:
- open the camera and tap Settings (gear icon);
- scroll the list a bit and tap on Storage Options;
- activate the HEIF Photos option.
The original Google Pixel, Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 have full-size photo storage from Google Photos; the first generation even receives this benefit for an unlimited time. However, Pixel 4 doesn’t offer that, just three free Google One months.
HEIC photos are not always smaller than JPEG
On Reddit, user stephenvsawyer says that “if Google tried to compress HEIC photos from iPhones, they would become bigger”. This is not necessarily true: we use the online converter HEICtoJPEG to get JPEG images from iPhone HEIC photos, and he managed to reduce the file size without changing the dimensions.
In the example above, the two files have a resolution of 3024 x 4032 and a horizontal and vertical resolution of 72 dpi. The difference is in the bit strength (32 in HEIC, 24 in JPEG), but the image quality is basically the same.
That is, there is space for Google Photos to convert HEIC files to JPEG in order to reduce their size. Why doesn’t that happen? The user stephenvsawyer has a good guess: this saves computing power, “because Google doesn’t have to compress and process all the billions of backup photos on iPhones.”