In the world of digital, smaller is typically better. Sure, creatives and video professionals alike will always chase greater pixel counts and larger RAW files. However, the real goal everyone is after is the ability to reduce video size — making big files smaller and more manageable (while still keeping the same high quality).
And how does that happen, you ask? Compression, of course!
Let’s take a look into the seemingly (but not all that) mysterious topic of how to compress a video file and how you can specifically apply its magic to your videos. We’ll go over how you can compress video files on a variety of devices — like iPhone, Android, Mac, and PC — without losing video quality and explore some of the more popular video compressors available online.
In this article
- What is video compression?
- Do I have to compress a video in order to share it?
- What is a codec and why do I need to know?
- What’s the difference between lossy and lossless codecs?
- What are the types of video files involved in compression?
- Watch our video tutorial on how to compress a video
- How to compress a video on iPhone, iOS, and Mac
- How to compress a video on Windows 10
- How to compress a video on Android
- How to reduce video file size online
- More video compression FAQs
- Ready to keep learning about video compression?
- Now you’re a video compression pro
What is video compression?
Video compression is reducing the overall size of a video file or clip. This is done by using a specific compression algorithm to lower MB on video or reduce the total number of bits needed for each frame (or image) contained in the video clip.
If you shoot video footage on your smartphone, for example, chances are it’s being compressed immediately and will be compressed even more throughout your transferring, editing, exporting, and uploading process.
Overall, when you make a video file smaller, it makes it possible and easier to share files between any number of sources. Even video recorded on your smartphone is going to need compression to transfer it to cloud storage, to your computer to edit it, or even to another person through email or messaging.
Wanna send a video file over email? You need compression.
Not sure what a zipped video file is all about? That’s compression.
When done properly, a good video compressor can reduce the size of a video file to nearly 1,000 times smaller than the original. However, when done with the wrong software or in the wrong way, video compression can sometimes corrupt a file and make it unusable. So you want to make sure you’re using the proper software and following the right steps.
Do I have to compress a video in order to share it?
Technically no, you don’t have to compress a video to share it. However, it’s generally considered “best practice” to compress or condense a video file before you share it.
Unless you’re working in high-end video production, working with uncompressed video files is going to drastically slow down your workflows and make data management nearly impossible once you start adding in larger and larger uncompressed video.
What is a codec and why do I need to know?
A codec is a specific algorithm device or program that can compress video (and audio) data. Its name stands for “compressor-decompressor,” as it can be used to encode or decode a data stream or signal.
Codecs are an important part of video compression, as well as most video editing, sharing, or streaming processes. Even if you aren’t super familiar with codecs, you’re probably using them all the time without realizing it. Most computers and operating systems come preloaded with the majority of the codecs needed for playing and managing different video file types.
If you’d like to read more in-depth about codecs and different file types, here’s a great intro to file formats to check out.
What’s the difference between lossy and lossless codecs?
Another factor to consider when reducing video file size is the distinction between lossy and lossless codecs. Let’s take a quick look at what those two terms mean and what you should keep in mind for your compression needs.
These are smaller files overall and easier for all types of digital transfer and delivery. Lossy files are compressed following a method that is meant to be imperceptible to the human eye, which means that they are a great option for any video being streamed online. However, lossy files aren’t perfect and might not be the right option for anyone looking to do any more advanced editing, color grading, or effects.
These are larger files overall but still compressed and useful for speeding up transfer and delivery. Unlike lossy, though, lossless files are compressed following a method that is meant to keep all of the original data intact. This obviously increases the file size, causing slower playback, but also provides more information for those looking to work with raw data.
What are the types of video files involved in compression?
Now, let’s go over some of the different file types that you might encounter when working with video compression. It’s important to understand these distinctions as you make your decisions about how you want to compress your video files and where they might be used.
One of the most common video file format types, MP4 stands for MPEG-4 Part 14 and is the preferred format for any Apple device. It’s also quite popular for video and audio in general and is a great option for posting videos to social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
AVI stands for Audio Video Interleave and is the preferred format for any Windows device. It is compatible with the vast majority of operating systems (Windows, iOS, and Linux) as well as most of the popular web browsers and social platforms. AVI is one of the higher-quality formats for video but also tends to be larger in file size.
MOV is one of the best video file formats for web and TV. MOV (also known as QuickTime Movie) is one of the larger file types and great for high-quality video, audio, and other types of playback. MOV is designed for QuickTime on Windows but also works with most social platforms and streaming.
WMV is another larger but quality video file format. WMV stands for Windows Media Video and is obviously designed for Windows devices. WMV is comparable to MOV in file size with similar high-quality playback. Mac devices can view WMV videos but can only play them through Windows Media Player.
Watch our video tutorial on how to compress a video
Learn by watching? Check out this helpful tutorial video or the step-by-step instructions below.
How to compress a video on iPhone, iOS, and Mac
Now let’s look at some of the different tools available to you on your computer, smartphone, or favorite video hosting, sharing, and services platform provider.
If you want to learn how to compress a video on a Mac or iOS device, you have several options to consider. For Mac desktops or laptops, you can always compress a video in iMovie (or Final Cut Pro if you’re up to speed with their popular NLE app). However, your best bet might be to use QuickTime, as it’s often considered the easiest option.
Here are the steps you need to follow to compress a video using QuickTime on your Mac:
- Open QuickTime on your Mac.
- Choose and open your video.
- Navigate through File > Export As > Choose.
- Select the file format you’d prefer for your video.
- Choose your output file name and location.
- Hit the Save button.
Another quick tip for working with compressed video on your iPhone is to simply go into your settings, navigate to Camera, then go to the “Record Video” section and select a lower resolution.
How to compress a video on Windows 10
To compress a video on a Windows PC or laptop, using the built-in Windows Video Editor is a great option. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:
- Open Video Editor.
- Start a new video project card.
- Add the video file that you’d like to compress.
- Click the “Finish Video” button.
- Select the file format that you’d prefer for your video.
- Hit Export.
How to compress a video on Android
Just as we went over creating smaller video files for your iPhone, you can follow a similar process with your Android devices:
- Open your Android Device.
- Go to the “Application Menu.”
- Choose the camera icon.
- Select the “Resolution” icon.
- Choose your new recording format.
How to reduce video file size online
Along with the options above, you also have plenty of compression apps and platforms available to you online. Here are the steps to follow for using FreeConvert.com:
- Go to freeconvert.com/video-compressor.
- Upload your video file (up to 1GB unless you want to create an account).
- Select your Video Codec, Compression Method, and Target Size.
- Click Compress Now!
Other popular online video compressors
There are also plenty of other free video compression services available online. A few others include:
More video compression FAQs
What does compressing a video do?
Compressing a video means reducing the size of a video file’s information. Compression allows video files to take up less space and be more easily sent or uploaded over the internet.
When should I compress a video file?
You should compress your video files if you intend on sending or uploading them. To reduce your storage resource costs, you could also compress video files if you intend on housing them on a hard drive or in the cloud.
How can I compress a video without losing quality?
You can compress a video without losing quality a few different ways:
- Use a video compressor.
- Adjust the video bitrate.
- Convert your video to a different format (web-friendly).
- Trim the length of your video.
What is the best size video format?
The size of your video depends on the content you’re producing and the platform on which it will live, but a 16:9 aspect ratio is the most common for videos today. We suggest using one of the following format types:
How do I reduce the file size of a video?
You can reduce the file size of a video in a number of ways, including using a video editing software or an online file converter or simply changing your camera settings.
How do I compress a large video file?
You can compress a large video file by opening it in a video editing or playback software and exporting it as a smaller file type.
Can you compress a video on your phone?
Yes, but you will need to upload the video file to an online converter or use a video editing app.
How do I compress a video for Vimeo?
You can compress a video for Vimeo by simply choosing the “download file” option and selecting the file format and size you prefer.
How to compress a video to share via email?
Sending large files via email can be, well, a beast. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to send large files via email.
Ready to keep learning about video compression?
You’ve likely been working with different file formats and codecs for a while but just haven’t realized it. Hopefully, these definitions, insights, and resources have helped you gain a solid understanding of the basics of video compression.
These are only the basics, though, so if you’d like to learn a bit more about video compression and how it works for your Vimeo uploads, renders, and playback, check out our full video and audio compression guidelines.
Keep honing your video editing chops with these recommended reads:
- Looking for the best video editing software in 2022? Start here
- Here’s how to crop a video (without even opening your laptop)
- Want to become a better video editor in 2022? Start here
- How to add music to any video: A step-by-step guide
- Unsure how to use Adobe After Effects? Start here
Now you’re a video compression pro
Video compression isn’t so mysterious after all. We hope this guide has helped you gain a better understanding of how to compress a video.
Once your video is compressed, check out Vimeo’s Video Library to store and organize all of your video files.
Originally published on July 13, 2022 and updated September 12, 2023