How to Compress a Video

Create files small enough to share online

Videos can be enormous files. Compressing them makes them easier to send out to friends and family, share on social media, and save room on your phone. It's also simple to do.

Why Should You Compress Video?

Video compression is useful for a number of reasons. If you want your videos to upload and download quickly online, compression will reduce the file size and make that an easier process, especially on social media. If your video will only be watched on a device with limited storage, compression can help you save space. And if you want to send videos via email or over social networks, compression will help you meet any file size limits.

How Video Compression Works

The video you're shooting is probably already compressed. Unless you're filming video with a professional cinema camera, most video devices, whether they're your smartphone, your DSLR, or your camcorder, will compress the video as you shoot it using a piece of software called a codec.

Codecs can be "lossy" or "lossless". For example, YouTube uses lossless codec H.264. The codec takes each frame of a video and divides it into a grid. It then compares the grids. If the information in the grid hasn't changed, those squares aren't loaded up during playback, in lossless formats, or discarded entirely with lossy formats.

Lossy codecs can squish a video down to a much smaller size, but it'll come at a loss of quality. Lossless sacrifice space for quality, although they can achieve surprising reductions. As a general rule, modern devices will shoot using a lossless codec, and let you decide whether to compress it further when you're doing shooting and editing.

Before You Compress Video

With any video camera, there are certain steps you should take before you start filming.

  1. Try to shoot in places with lots of light, particularly direct sunlight. The better lit your video is, the more information your codec will have to work with. If possible avoid shadows and subtle grades of dark colors.

  2. Consider how your video will be seen. For example, if you're going to be watching it on an older flatscreen, choose 1080p resolution.

  3. If you know you're going to crush video files down to the smallest possible file size, shooting with a lossy codec beforehand will save time in rendering and reduce the risk of errors.

  4. Use a simple editing program to cut your video down to just the most relevant parts. Even lossless codecs can pack shorter videos into much smaller spaces.

Compressing Video in Windows 10

Windows 10 comes with a simple app called Video Editor (formerly Movie Maker) that allows you to make simple videos. It's a useful way to quickly compress video in Windows. Another advantage is that it exports a copy of your project, instead of destroying your files, so you can go back and try again.

  1. Assemble your video by uploading it to the app and putting any touches you want on it.

  2. Select Export in the upper-right corner.

    Export button in Windows 10 Video Editor
  3. You'll be presented with a set of options, small, medium, or large. Choose the one most appropriate to your needs.

    Small, Medium, or Large export options for Video Editor on Windows

Compressing Video in iOS and MacOS

iMovie comes standard in both MacOS and iOS. Starting with iOS, follow the next few steps.

  1. Finalize your movie and tap the Export icon, which is in the center of the row.

  2. Tap Save Video.

  3. Choose your ideal size from the menu.

    iMovie on iOS, Share button, Save Video, and output sizes

The macOS version of iMovie works similarly to the iOS version, with a couple of differences.

  1. Once you've edited your movie, select the Share button in the upper right corner of the iMovie screen.

    Share button in iMovie for macOS
  2. Choose File as your export.

    FIle export type in iMovie for macOS
  3. Select the size you'd like to export your video as. The smaller the number here, the smaller the file size but the more the compression.

    File sizes for iMovie export
  4. Your Mac will save the exported file wherever you tell it to, just like it does with every other file save.

Compressing Video in Android

While Android apps are not necessarily standardized, most modern Android devices will include a simple video editing tool in the Gallery app with a few compression options.

  1. Open your Gallery app and select your video.

  2. Choose the edit function, usually the word Edit or a pencil icon.

  3. Press Resolution or Export and choose your resolution from the menu.

    Three Android screens showing Edit, Resolution, and options buttons

Compressing Video With a Website Video Editor

Websites editing videos also offer compression options. However, remember they may compress the video as part of the export process. As a rule, once you're finished with your project, you'll select a button marked Export Video or Finish Video and be presented with a shortlist of options. Here, for example, are Clipchamp's choices.

Clipchamp's video compression options

Notice the stars next to higher-resolution options: These are paid features on this particular site. You may need to try out several sites to find one that allows better compression for free.

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