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How to get full resolution photos and video in iCloud Photos

With iCloud Photos, iPhone, iPad, and Mac users can store all their photos and videos in iCloud so that they are always kept synchronized between all devices, while also being backed up automatically. However, Apple also lets users remove the original files from the device in order to save storage. But how does this affect the quality of the media you see in the Photos app?

Download Originals or Optimize Storage

If you’re an iCloud Photos user, there are two options available in the Photos app settings: Download Originals or Optimize Storage. The first option, as the name suggests, will simply back up all your photos and videos to iCloud, but every file will also be stored locally on your device.

The benefit of choosing Original Download is that you’ll always have a copy of all your photos and videos with you. This means that even when you don’t have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, you can still check your entire photo library. However, turning this option on can end up filling up your device’s internal storage pretty quickly.

Because of this, Apple also offers the Optimize Storage option. When this option is enabled, the Photos app will eventually remove the local version of your photos and videos from your device to save storage. In other words, you may need an internet connection to open your photos and videos stored in iCloud.

Seeing low quality previews in iCloud Photos? Here's how to get the full resolution media

Your library will still be there in the Photos app, but the media will only be downloaded from iCloud when you choose to open them.

Low-quality previews in iCloud Photos

Recently, some users on Reddit raised a discussion about the Apple Photos app showing low quality previews for media stored in iCloud Photos. While this isn’t exactly a new “feature,” it seems that Apple has indeed further reduced the resolution of the previews (especially for videos) when you don’t have local files downloaded to your device.

In the past, the Photos app used to download the original image or video from iCloud when that media wasn’t available locally. But since we now have things like ProRes 4K videos or ProRAW images that result in really large files, iCloud shows users a lower resolution version of that media.

This has both positive and negative points. The good part is that these lower resolution previews are downloaded faster than the original files, which is important when you don’t have a fast internet connection available. But the downside is that the quality is considerably worse than the original media.

If you really want to get the original media from a photo or video stored in iCloud, there are a few things you can do. The first and most obvious is to switch to the Download Originals option. But this, of course, requires that your device has enough free space on the internal storage because it will download your entire library.

But if you just want the original version of a specific media, there’s a simple trick to force the app to download it instead of the lower resolution preview. Simply tap or click the Edit button, and then the app will download the full resolution media from iCloud. After that, you can exit Edit mode and the original media will still be there for a while.

Seeing low quality previews in iCloud Photos? Here's how to get the full resolution media

When it comes to photos, zooming in on the images is sometimes enough to force the Photos app to download the original media, so that you can see all the details. But keep in mind that this is a temporary solution, and the original media will be removed from the device after a while.

And if you’re on a Mac, you can also export the original media by clicking the File menu and then Export > Export Unmodified Original. This option will also ignore any edits and filters that you have applied to that photo or video.

You can check the difference between a lower resolution preview and the original media in the screenshots below (click on the images to expand them):

Feature request

Personally, I believe Apple should add an option to let users choose if they want to always see iCloud Photos media in full resolution. More than that, I would also like to see the Photos app let users keep or remove specific media from local storage.

How do you think Apple can improve the iCloud Photos experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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