What Is The HEIF Image Format?

The High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF) is something now available on Android as well as iPhones, but, what is it and is it worth using?

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What Is The HEIF Image Format? : Image file format


With the introduction of Android 9, Android smartphones now support the High Efficiency Image Format (HEIF) which means Apple iPhone owners are no longer the only ones who can capture photos in this space-saving format. However, as it's still quite new, is the format actually worth switching to and is it widely supported? Let's find out...


What Is HEIF? 

The High Efficiency Image Format is used by Apple iPhones, and now Android smartphones, and it's an image format that, when saved, creates a smaller file-size but the image quality remains the same, or indeed could even be slightly better, than that of a JPEG file. 

HEIF does this by using more advanced compression methods but it's not the only cool feature of HEIF as it also offers 16-bit colour (JPEG only offers 8-bit) and you can apply certain edits without altering the actual image file. Essentially, this means you get access to non-destructive edits so you can rotate or crop an image, save it then if you decide you don't like it, undo what you've applied. It's worth noting that not all edits are compatible - you can only rotate, crop and create image overlays.

Smartphones also use HEIF files to pack burst photos into a single file as well as images you've focus/exposure stacked which, again, saves space. 

If you're an Apple user, you may have seen the file extension 'HEIC' which as well as images, stores sounds so you can save Live Photos (when using an iPhone that's compatible).  


Will It Replace JPEG?

In all honesty, we don't know the answer to that question but as we are now taking more photos with smartphones, where space can be a premium, it's no surprise that manufacturers are looking for image formats that take up less device space, upload to the cloud quicker and still offer the same level of quality, if not better, than the JPEG format. 


Does It Have A Downside? 

Yes, and it's a big one - compatibility. Even though both Apple and Android are now featuring this file format in smartphones, the rest of the digital world isn't quite with them. Many applications are still only compatible with JPEGs and as a result, on export, HEIF files are converted to JPEG automatically. Macs (macOS High Sierra) can read the file format but to get them to work on a Windows PC you will have to be part of the Windows App Preview Program as us normal folk can't use Windows 10 and HEIF files together, yet. 

There are no web browsers supporting HEIF at the moment, not even Safari, and the most popular social network platforms don't support it either.

Adobe Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic CC and Adobe RAW do support HEIC image files, now, but only on iOS, not Windows. You can also view/edit smart previews (reduced resolution, editable proxies) of HEIC image files synced from other Lightroom clients that support this image file format on Android devices. 


Do I Have To Use HEIF?

You can go to your smartphone's settings (iPhone) and switch from 'High Efficiency' to 'Most Compatible' so your smartphone knows you want to capture photos as JPEGs and not HEIF but as images will be converted on export anyway, there's not that much point in doing so.

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JackAllTog Avatar
JackAllTog Plus
14 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
9 Aug 2018 1:52PM
Well explained, thank you.

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