Newer mobile devices have started using an image file format known as HEIC, or high-efficiency image codec, for photos on iPhones and iPads.
It’s conceptually similar to JPGs in that it’s an image format that’s geared toward sharing images, and it uses lossy compression. It maintains good quality while keeping the file size small. And it’s not ideally suited to editing images or storing them in a master archive.
The reason we’re seeing more of it is that it uses a newer, more efficient algorithm to encode the data than JPG. That means small files while maintaining similar or better image quality. And smaller files are especially important for sharing images on the web or transferring from mobile devices.
The catch with HEIC is that it’s not universally compatible in the way that JPGs are. If you try sending a HEIC file to someone else, there’s still a reasonable chance they won’t be able to open it. 1
Converting the HEIC file to JPG will make it much more compatible. There are multiple ways to do it, and I cover several of them elsewhere on this site. The method I’m focusing on here not only converts the file, but it also sets up a very convenient little workflow hack that’s very handy to have whether you’re converting one file or batches of multiple HEIC files.
Using macOS Automator to Convert HEIC to JPG
If you’re using a Mac–at least, any Mac in the past few generations–you don’t need any fancy software–it’s a function baked directly into macOS and accessible to Automator.
To save yourself some time the next time you have to do it, you can quickly set it up as a Quick Action (or what used to be called context menu services) so that you can right-click on the file and convert it to JPG with a single click.
Open the Automator App
You can find it under `/Applications/Automator.app’.
Set Type of Action
When it asks you for the type of document, choose Quick Action. (In older versions of Mac OSX, it was called Service.) Then hit the Choose button.
Set Workflow Options
It will have added an initial section to the workflow area at the right. For the top option next to “Workflow receives current”, select the “image files” option. Leave the rest at their defaults (you can customize the image and color fields if you like, but there’s no need to).
Set Processing Type
From the Library in the left column, click on Photos to narrow the available actions. In the list of actions (second from left), scroll down and choose “Change Type of Images.” Click and then drag to the right-hand workflow panel.
Set Output Image Type
The action will be added, with the default “To Type” set to TIFF. Use the drop-down to change it to JPEG.
Export Automator Action
That’s all you need to do with the workflow section. Now you just have to export it as an action.
In Automator’s main menu, go to
File > Export.
In the Export As section, name it to whatever you like. Something like
HEIC to JPG seems logical. Then choose where you want to save it. This is only a temporary spot for it, so it makes sense to put it somewhere you’ll find it quickly, like the Desktop. Then click the Save button.
Install Automator Quick Action
Next, find the file you just saved using Finder or, if you put it on the Desktop, just go to the Desktop. Double-click on the file.
You’ll get a popup asking if you want to install it as a quick action (or service). Click on the
Install button. The .workflow version will then be automatically moved, and you can now use right-click in Finder to convert the file using the quick action.
Things Worth Knowing
Automator is baked into macOS, so there’s no need to install anything and buy anything.
The app you’ve just created is available immediately. There’s no need to restart the computer or Finder.
When changing the format from HEIC to JPG, you don’t get any control with this method on the level of compression or any other editing controls. To get control over the compression options, you’d need to use either different software or combine this simple action with other actions that can handle those kinds of image transformations and editing. I’ve put together a separate guide to converting HEIC to JPG using XnConvert.
- You can turn off HEIC and just use JPGs by going to Settings > Camera > Formats > Most Compatible. This has the effect of also switching any videos you record with the phone’s camera to encode with the widely compatible H.264 codec rather than the newer, less-compatible H.265 HEVC codec.[↩]