What you’ll learn.
What is a HEIF file?
HEIF stands for High Efficiency Image File. Along with the more common HEIC format (with the two being fairly interchangeable), HEIF files are based on a standard known as High Efficiency Video Compression. It’s a lossy compressed format, which means that the files don't hold onto all their original data, which may affect picture quality. Nevertheless, HEICs are capable of handling various types of imagery such as stills, bursts, and collections. HEIF also stores the metadata that describes each image.
HEIF’s main appeal is its space-saving capability. It’s more than a match for the most widely supported image type — the JPEG. When faced with compressing the same image as JPEG, HEIF can match it for quality in a smaller file size or produce a higher quality of image in the same file size.
History of the HEIF file.
The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) first developed the HEIF file in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it emerged from the shadow of its lossier, more popular cousin, the JPEG. That’s the year Apple decided to adopt the HEIF format for its iOS 11 update, replacing JPEG entirely. Other developers, like Microsoft (for Windows) and Android, soon followed suit.
Professional image capture brands took notice, too — in 2019 Canon officially announced they had moved to HEIF files.
How to use an HEIF File.
The HEIF format has become more and more popular since being adopted by Apple in 2017. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why:
High image quality.
Professional and amateur photographers alike are excited about HEIF’s potential. Like JPEG, the file sizes are generally small, but JPEG only supports an 8-bit color scheme while HEIF supports up to 16 bits. That translates to far higher quality images captured on your camera roll.
HEIF offers transparency, while JPEG does not. Also, the unique file properties of an HEIF image mean you can make changes to the image without having to save new versions as you go. So, in the editing suites all over the world, HEIF has proven extremely popular.
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Pros and cons of HEIF files.
They may be relatively new to the scene, but HEIF files are already proving very useful. Here’s why you might (and might not) want to consider working with HEIF files:
Advantages of HEIF files.
- HEIF images compress to smaller sizes than JPEG without losing as much quality, and between equivalently sized JPEGs and HEIFs, the HEIF image will be appear crisper.
- Captured on camera, HEIF files store high-contrast details — preventing some of the common issues with JPEGs.
- HEIF files can compress the huge swaths of video data that smartphones capture.
- Apple still converts HEIF files to JPEGs for external transfer. This comes in handy when you’re sharing pics with JPEG users.
Disadvantages of HEIF files.
- Although Apple’s iOS supports HEIF, other platforms like Windows require specialized extensions.
- None of the major web browsers support HEIF, including Chrome, Firefox, and even Apple’s own Safari.
- HEIF is not supported by printer manufacturers, so you can’t print your HEIF file without first converting it to a supported file type.
- Social media hasn’t yet adopted HEIF — that means no sharing HEIF pics on Facebook or Instagram.
How to open a HEIF file.
On your Mac (running macOS High Sierra and later), you can open HEIF files using Apple Preview and Apple Photos. On your iOS device (iOS 11 and later), use iOS Photos to open a HEIF file.
On PCs running Windows 10, you’ll need to install the HEIF Image and HEVC Video Extensions from the Microsoft Store before you can open a HEIF file with selected programs such as Windows Photo Viewer.
How to create and edit an HEIF file.
Create a HEIF file with Adobe Photoshop using these simple steps:
- Open an existing image file in Photoshop and click Save As.
- Select HEIF from the Format menu in the dialog box that appears.
- Save your new HEIF file to your chosen location.
HEIF files: frequently asked questions.
Should I shoot in HEIF?
Despite HEIFs advantages over JPEGs, professional photographers should still lean towards shooting RAW files for later conversion — but if you’re using an iPhone to snap pics, HEIF has advantages over JPEGs and other formats in terms of quality and storage.
Will HEIF replace JPEG?
Given the size of Apple’s user base, HEIF has, in some respects, already replaced the JPEG. On the other hand, JPEGs are still handy for other platforms, browsers, and devices which haven’t followed Apple’s lead in standardizing the HEIF file format. HEIF does have multiple advantages in shooting and storing images over JPEG, but the two can co-exist peacefully for now.
Why are my photos HEIF instead of JPEG?
On Apple devices, HEIF tends to be the default file type for photo capture and storage. If you’re sending pictures, your device converts the images to JPEG automatically before they’re sent to your friends’ or family’s Android phones. That way nobody misses out.
How do I turn off HEIF?
If you’d rather shoot or edit in a format other than HEIF, it’s easy enough to swap out. On your iPhone, open Settings, then Camera, and tap on Formats. Then select most compatible. Keep in mind that HEIF files take up less space on your device.
What’s the difference between HEIC and HEIF?
HEIF is the name for the standard — High Efficiency Image Format — while HEIC is Apple’s chosen file name extension. The terms are basically interchangeable because the High Efficiency Video Compression (HEVC) standard, also known as H.265, is the base for both.