Home » How to make your Apple Photos library smaller. Use H265 (HEVC) for your videos.

How to make your Apple Photos library smaller. Use H265 (HEVC) for your videos.

After many trips and vacations, my Apple Photos library was more than 500 gigabytes big. What can I do to make my library smaller? I start to use H265 (HEVC) for my videos.

My big Apple Photos Library

Apple Photos is my main media storage application where I store all my videos and photos. All my media is synced to the Apple cloud with iCloud. If I make a picture with my iPhone it will automatically appear on my MacBook Pro. But it also happens vice versa. If I import the photo’s and videos from my DSLR and pocket camera on my Macbook those files will also appear on my iPhone. If I delete a file on one machine, its also automatic delete from the other machine. Also, the trash is synced on my devices. If I delete a picture on my MacBook I can use my iPhone to recover that picture. Even the edits I make are synchronized. Those are features of iCloud I really appreciate.

Slowly my Apple Photos library is growing bigger and bigger. You go on a trip and shoot a lot of videos. You found an old folder filled with old vacation photos and videos on an external drive. Your parents send you old pictures they scanned. All those media files I collect in Apple Photos. Before you know the library is around 550 gigabytes big. The library contains 38 years of my life in digital form.

My Apple photos Library is big
My Apple photos Library is big

A couple of months ago I decided that its time to take control of my media collection. I did every day a Pomodoro. This is a productivity trick that you focus 25 minutes on one task. For every day I focus 25 minutes on my library. I started to delete pictures that had no meaning anymore. When I just got my DLSR I made without a problem 600 pictures at a party. As a reminder, I only kept 10 pictures of that party. I used my phones as a memory. In a couple of weeks, I managed to delete 15.000 pictures.  I’m still not at the end of the library. Every day I do a small chunk of work. But still, my library is big. I found out that in this 550GB big library around 400GB is video. That’s a lot.

HEVC

In the autumn of 2017, Apple released their new operating systems. OSX 10.13 for the Apple computers and IOS 11 for the mobile devices. In this software, Apple introduced a new codec for video and photos. Let’s talk about this new codec for video. HEVC. What stands for High-Efficiency-Video-Coding. Its a way better compression for storing video. Apple claims that it can make your video twice as small as the previous video codec they used: H264. I can tell you this is true. But videos I shot with my Canon, Sony and SJCAM camera’s even become smaller.

I made a short youtube video to show the difference in quality between H264 and HEVC. You see the change in quality is negligible. But the saving in disk space is huge!!!

The original video is a 34 seconds long and is 224MB big. Its recorded with a 50Mbit bitrate on a Sony Cybershot RX100 mark 3 camera. After I encoded the video to HEVC it’s only 17MB big. That’s only 7,5 percent of the original.  You will lose some color and sharpness. But for private videos, I don’t have a problem to encode it to HEVC.

I started to encode all my old videos in HEVC format. In the table, you can see some examples of video clips I encoded.

H264 to HEVC compression rate

CameraLength of the videoclipSize in H264 formatSize in H265 formatPercentage
SJCAM SJ4000WIFI31 seconds64.8 MB15.1 MB23.3 percent
Apple iPhone 718 seconds195.1 MB8.9 MB4.6 percent
Canon Powershot S100160 seconds702.5 MB85.5 MB12.2 percent
Sony Cybershot RX100 Mark 337 seconds242.8 MB20 MB8.2 percent

Why would I want to make my videos smaller? It will take less space at my harddisk. I need less space in the iCloud. The video will load faster if I want to stream it to my iPhone. Because my Apple Photo Library is getting smaller I have more space for other files on my hard disk.

Using Permute to encode the videos

When I wrote this blog post there are two good video encoders for making HEVC files for OSX. Handbrake and Permute. Handbrake is free, faster and offers way more settings than Permute. But I choose to use Permute because of a better workflow. Plus Permute conserve the metadata of the video file. I can tell you that this is super important. Apple Photos is using the date and time metadata in the video for the correct place in the timeline. If your video is shot on 04 January 2013. And you encode it with Handbrake at 08 August 2018. Than Apple Photos will not place that video in the timeline on 04 January 2013 but on 08 August 2018. So your timeline will be messed up. Permute keeps the correct recording date in the encoded video file. Using Permute is too simple to fail. With Handbrake, you can make easy a mistake. There are just too many settings in that program. Permute cost only 10 dollars. But you can also find it in the Setapp subscription.

How did I configured Permute?

I made a custom preset for my encoding work. I want to keep the same video and audio quality as the source video. If a video is 4K it will be downscaled to 1080P.

The preset that I made in Permute
The preset that I made in Permute

I have a folder on my desktop with the name “IMPORT APPLE PHOTOS” where Permute automatically saves the encoded videos. I put CPU usage on low so I can use my computer when Permute is busy. Disable previews is also a good advice. Otherwise, Permute can spend minutes on making small previews of the videos. For me, that’s not important. It only cost a lot of time.

The general preference in Permute
The general preference in Permute

This is important. You need to tell Permute that you want to preserve the creation date of your video. Otherwise, the encoded video file will get the date of the day you encoded it. If you import the video back to Apple Photos it will have the wrong place in the timeline. So turn it on.

Important. Preserve the creation date
Important. Preserve the creation date

My workflow

In Apple Photos I made an album with the name “To Permute”. When I’m doing my Pomodoro and I find a video which I want to encode to HEVC I just drag that video to the “To Permute album. Before I will sleep or I don’t want to use the computer for a long time  I will select all the videos files in the “To Permute” album and do right-click on the files. I choose then edit with Permute.

Choose the video's you want to encode and edit with permute
Choose the videos you want to encode and edit with permute

Apple Photos will prepare all the selected videos and send them to Permute. Check in the left-top bar if you choose the correct preset.  The only thing you then need to do is press the start button. Now you need to wait. Some videos are encoded in a couple of minutes. But I also had some long videos that took two days. My MacBook is not that fast. Read my blogpost about keeping a MacBook cool.

Encoding videos with Permute from H264 to H265
Encoding videos with Permute from H264 to H265

When Permute is done with encoding I just drag all the video files in the “IMPORT APPLE PHOTOS” to Apple Photos. Do a quick check if the videos are oke. After that, I just delete the videos in the “To Permute” album.  When I do my next Pomodoro I just start over with a new batch of videos.

In the near future, I want to use an Apple Script that will import the videos automatically after Permute encoded it. I found this thread at the Apple forum how to do that.

Three weeks later

In three weeks time, my Apple Photo library shrunk from 550 GB to 300 GB.  It’s still a work in progress. I hope to get my library under 200 GB. I also hope to find an easy workflow to convert some raw photo’s to JPG format, or even to HEIC photo format. I will share this on my blog if I find a good method.

Happy encoding.

Three weeks later made my Apple Photos library 250 GB smaller
Three weeks later my Apple Photos library is 250 GB smaller

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