If you find that the default file format for your iPhone’s photos is HEIC and you wanted JPG instead, here’s how to change it back.

HEIC vs. JPG

Back in iOS 11, Apple introduced the HEIC file format for iPhone photos. Among other advantages, it’s more efficient when it comes to file size.

From Wikipedia: “The High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF) is a container format for individual images and image sequences. HEIF image files are typically stored with filename extensions .heif or .heic. ” [or .HEIC]

You might not have noticed a default switch in iOS 11 back then because if you emailed the photos, iOS converts them to JPG for compatibility. And of course, iOS knows how to display HEIC files in the Photos app. But, in some cases, along the way, even if the default was JPG the default may have changed again from JPG to HEIC during an iOS update.

Changing the Default

That happened to me.  I noticed that my new default was HEIC, and I needed it to be JPG, so I had to remind myself how to do it. It’s simple.

  1. Go to iOS Settings and swipe down to Camera. It’s buried in the 6th block, the one that has Music at the top.
  2. Tap Formats
  3. Tap Most Compatible to set the default photo format to JPG. See the screenshot.

Settings > Camera > Formats

Notes

1. All this applies to the iPad as well.

2. Your iPhone will still always save screenshots in the PNG format. There’s a technical reason for this. See: “Why Your iPhone Uses PNG for Screen Shots and JPG for Photos.

3. The Most Compatible setting will force your videos to be saved in H.264 (AVC) format. This is High Definition (HD), 1080p at 60 fps.

4. If you ever want to record video in 4K/UHD, you’ll have to change the setting back to High Efficiency. This will, of course, save photos as HEIC, but allow video files to be saved as H.265 (HEVC), and then you can elect to record 4K at 60 fps. It sure would be nice to allow both JPG and a default of 4K/UHD/60 fps, but Apple has not yet seen fit to separate the photo and video preferences.

5. In either case above, H.264 or H.265, the file extension remains MOV.

6. If you have an HEIC photo and need to convert it to JPG, there are several safe options without having to download an unfamiliar graphics app to your iPhone. First, you could email it to yourself and let iOS do the conversion. Or you could AirDrop it to your Mac and use the macOS app Preview to convert to JPG. I also found this recent article to be well written and helpful.

More Notes & More Reading

Windows 10 supports the HEIF format, but there is a lot of momentum on the side of JPG. In the last few years, I haven’t seen any indication of a dramatic, widespread shift to HEIF/HEIC except for, perhaps, some professional photographers. Finally, in early 2019, Google’s Android Pie started offering support for HEIC.

Here’s more (good) reading on why the HEIC format exists.

Finally, here’s a nifty article that gets into more detail. “What The Heck Is A HEIC File, And How Do I Open It?

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Thank you. That’s really helpful. I’ve been going round in circles trying to upload photos to a website I’ve used before (within the last 6 months) so I hadn’t registered the format was different as it was obviously acceptable then. I’ve reset my iPhone camera for future pics but now need to work our how to convert existing ones to Jpeg. (I’ll follow your link above). I wish I’d asked the right question and found you a week ago! This has been hugely frustrating and a total time waster until I found this article so many thanks.

Thank you this was very helpful!!!

Lee Dronick

My Affinity Photos app on the Mac can not open .heic files. They are aware of the situation and hopefully they will soon have an update.