Were you sifting through an old iPhone, iPad, iMac, or MacBook looking at the photos you had taken on that device (or another device made by Apple)? Did the .heic file extension catch your eye, and now you’re wondering what is an .heic file? You aren’t the first and you won’t be the last iPhone or Mac user to scratch their head at this interesting file format.

HEIC (High Efficiency Image Format) is a file format used for images. It is developed by Apple and is the default image format for the latest versions of their operating systems like iOS and MacOS. HEIC is designed to provide superior image quality to traditional image formats such as JPEG while reducing file size. It’s not difficult to imagine how mobile devices benefit greatly from being able to more efficiently utilize limited storage space. HEIC uses advanced compression techniques to achieve these goals and also supports advanced features such as editing metadata without recompressing the entire image and saving multiple images in a single file.


The screenshot included in this section displays the stock images Apple has included with MacOS Ventura. You may notice that there is only one file selected (highlighted blue), yet there are two images on preview in the sidebar. Two distinct images are able to exist under a single type of file because the .heic file format falls under the umbrella of file formats that are known as containers.

You are likely capable of puzzling out general idea of containers without additional assistance, but assumptions are always dangerous; so we will define it too. Container format is used when an individual wants to embed multiple data streams into one file. Container format files will also almost always be accompanied by metadata.

For example, a photo taken in .heic format may be composed of three images taken 1/3 of a second apart as well as metadata detailing where and when the images were taken.

Is HEIC Better than JPEG?.

The .heic file extension has many similarities with the widely used .jpeg image format. Lets assume two cameras are taking a photo: from exactly the same place, at the exact same time, and of the same object. Pay no mind to the metaphysical incompatibility of that statement, lets assume that one photo is taken in the .jpeg format and the other is taken in .heic format. What differences are there between the two photos?

Advantages of HEIC

Compression: The .heic photo will have a smaller file size than the .jpeg, as .heic uses more advanced data compression algorithms.

Image Quality: HEIC supports a wider color gamut and dynamic range. I.e. the HEIC photo will appear to be more vivid than the control JPEG photo.

Lossless Compression: .heic supports lossless compression. This is a distinct advantage that is unrelated to the previous section on compression, as lossless compression allows for files to be saved an indefinite number of times without suffering degradation in image quality.

The Disadvantage of HEIC

Compatibility: JPEG has been a commonly used image format for 30 years. It should not be surprising that nearly all of the devices produced during that time period can accommodate JPEG files.

JB Larson
JB Larson

JB Larson is technologist passionate about researching data storage devices, educating clients about technology, and playing the piano when he's not working.

Articles: 63