Since iOS 11, Apple has made HEIC the default file format for saving photos on iPhone and iPad. The move away from JPG is to reduce file sizes and for its other benefits including the ability to have multiple photos (from a burst sequence, say) in one file.
Android 9 (Pie) also added support for this high-efficiency format, and it can be worth using it if your phone doesn't already save photos in this modern format.
The problem is that your laptop or PC probably can't open these HEIC files after you've imported them from your phone. Microsoft added HEIC (and HEIF) support in version 1809 (the October 2018 update), but you may still have to jump through a couple of hoops before the native Photos app will open these files and let you view them.
What is an HEIC file?
If you copy photos from a recent iPhone or iPad to a PC or laptop, chances are you’ll see a lot of strange HEIC files:
The format was developed by MPEG - not Apple - so it's not Apple trying to do its own proprietary thing. In fact, HEIC is slowly usurping the established (but old and flawed) JPG format.
Images with a .heic are compressed using HEVC, which is the high-efficiency video codec. These images are then stored in a HEIF file, which stands for High Efficiency File Format
There are lots of benefits of using HEIF files, even if it is a bit confusing that the file is called HEIC rather than HEIF.
Here’s why HEIC files are great:
- Around half the size of JPG for the same quality
- Can store multiple photos in one file (ideal for Live Photos and bursts)
- Supports transparency like GIF files
- Can store image edits, such as cropping and rotating so you can undo them
- Support 16-bit colour vs JPG’s 8-bit
How do I open an HEIC file in Windows 10?
Make sure you have Windows 10 version 1809 or later. (If you're not sure, type winver into the search box at the bottom-left of the Windows 10 desktop, then press Enter.) If the version is below 1809, then open the Settings app and go to Update & Security > Windows Update.
Next, you need to install the support utility, available on the Microsoft Store as HEIF Image Extensions. It usually costs £0.79/US$0.99, but it may already be installed on your device.
Now, click the following link to get the HEVC Video Extensions. This will also cost you £0.79/US$0.99, but it feels like a small price to pay for the extra functionality.
A previous method allowed you to get this tool for free using the identical Device Manufacturer version, but since October 2020 it's only available if you redeem an eligible code.
See more on opening H.265 videos in our separate guide: How to install HEVC codecs on Windows.
For both tools, click the 'Get' button and wait for the software to be installed.
Now, you should find that double-clicking on an .heic file will open it in the default Windows 10 Photos app. If not, you should see a window similar to the one below where you can click on the Photos app and tick the box marked: Always use this app to open .HEIC files.
How to convert HEIC to JPG
When you open a file it will behave as a normal JPG. You can edit it as normal using the tools available in the Photos app, but you'll also notice that even if you don't make any changes after clicking on the 'Edit & Create' button at the top right, there's a blue 'Save a copy' button at the bottom which lets you re-save the photo in your preferred format, including JPG.
That method is fine if you want to convert the occasional photo, but there are far easier ways of batch converting a lot of photos to JPG
If you want more control, such as the level of JPG compression, file renaming and more, then check out Duckhead's HEIC to JPG - The HEIC Image Converter on the Microsoft Store.
Here, we're using iMazing converter, a small app that lets you drag and drop files and choose whether to convert them to JPG or PNG, as well as the output folder.
Apple users can easily convert an HEIC file to JPEG on a Mac.
Share as JPG from your iPhone
If you'd rather avoid converting files in Windows, then as long as you still have the photos on your iPhone or iPad, you can select and share them in the Photos app via email or upload to a cloud storage service.
When you do this they’ll be converted to JPEGs automatically. When you choose to share via Mail you'll get to choose which size - always go for the original (maximum) file size if you want to retain the best quality.
And if you choose a cloud provider such as Google Drive, you should see that the files will be saved with a .jpeg extension.
How can I stop my iPhone saving photos in HEIC format?
Open the Settings app and scroll down until you see Camera. Tap it and then tap on Formats.
You'll see this screen, and you need to change it from High Efficiency to Most Compatible:
You might like to read our tips for taking better photos with your iPhone.
It's a similar story for videos, with H.265 files requiring a codec in order to open in certain apps. Learn more in our guide on how to install HEVC codecs on Windows.