My Photo Stream vs. iCloud Photos

How is My Photo Stream different from iCloud Photos?

Apple currently offers two photo-related services: My Photo Stream and iCloud Photos. The former is an iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch feature that enables you to share recent photos among your iOS and iPadOS devices. The latter is a cloud storage service for your entire photo library.

Apple is phasing out My Photo Stream. So, if you created your Apple ID after approximately 2018 or you use iCloud for Windows version 10 or later, My Photo Stream won't be available.

When you take a picture while My Photo Stream is enabled, the photo is uploaded to the cloud, and then downloaded to your other devices. When you take a photo on your iPhone, for example, you can view it on your iPad without having to copy it manually to the tablet. iCloud Photos stores photos that you've taken on your iOS/iPadOS devices or uploaded to your Mac.

Overall Findings

Screenshot of My Photo Stream on computer

My Photo Stream

  • Stores photos for 30 days. After that, you must back them up to your iOS or iPadOS device.

  • Stores up to 1,000 photos.

  • Supports the following photo file formats: JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and RAW.

  • Does not support video or Live Photos.

  • Photos are stored in full resolution on your Mac or Windows computer; on iOS/iPadOS devices, photo resolution is optimized to save space on the device.

iCloud Photos

  • Stores photos and video indefinitely.

  • How many photos and videos you can store depends on the level of storage you purchase.

  • Supports the following photo and video formats: HEIF, JPEG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, HEVC, and MP4.

  • Stores photos, Live Photos, and videos.

  • Create albums to share with friends and family.

  • Photos and videos are stored at full resolution.

These two Apple technologies are similar in many ways. By default, photos you take on your iOS/iPadOS device are uploaded automatically to My Photo Stream. You can can change this setting so that you have the option to upload photos manually. In this way, you can cherry-pick the best photos and choose which friends and family can view them.

In contrast, iCloud Photos, which will eventually replace My Photo Stream, gives you all the options of My Photo Stream plus the ability to use more image file formats, save video, and keep your images forever, safe in the cloud. The caveat is that the larger your image library, the more storage space you'll need to buy from Apple. (Don't worry: The prices are pretty reasonable.)

By default, you get 5 gigabytes of storage at no cost when you sign up for iCloud. For pricing options in United States and around the world, check out Apple's iCloud storage plans and pricing.

Current Versions: Only iCloud Photos Works With New iOS/iPadOS Versions

My Photo Stream

  • iOS 5.1 or later

  • Mac OS X Lion 10.7.5 or later

  • tvOS 5.0 or later

  • Windows 7 or later (with iCloud for Windows)

iCloud Photos

  • iOS 10.3 or later

  • iPadOS

  • Mac OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 or later

  • tvOS 9.2 or later

  • Windows 7 or later (with iCloud for Windows)

The only real difference here is that eventually you will have to move to iCloud Photos. If you recently created an Apple ID, you'll notice that My Photo Stream isn't an option.

How Is Photo Stream Different From iCloud Photo Library?

iCloud Photos is similar to My Photo Stream in that it uploads photos to the cloud and syncs them across all your Apple devices. It also downloads photos to a Mac or Windows computer. And, unlike My Photo Stream, iCloud Photos stores video and Live Photos. The biggest difference between the two services is that iCloud Photos keeps a full-sized copy in the cloud and doesn't have a maximum number of photos and videos.

Because iCloud Photos is a web-based storage service, you can also gain access to your photos by typing iCloud.com in your web browser's address bar, and then signing in with your Apple ID. In this way, you can reduce the amount of space your photos and videos take up on your mobile device by optimizing the photos for iPad or iPhone. The full-sized photo stays on the server, and you keep a reduced-sized version on your device.

Final Verdict: Use Them Both (While You Can)

Photos app on iPad

Even if you have iCloud Photos turned on, you can still use My Photo Stream — for now, at least.

Only iCloud Photos gives you access to all your photos and videos from all your devices, superseding the abilities of My Photo Stream in most cases. However, you could enable both features on your iPhone but use only My Photo Stream on your iPad to give you access to the latest photos on your iPad without storing every photo you own on your tablet. Even in optimized form, library mirroring consumes limited storage space.

When you delete a photo from iCloud Photos, it is deleted from both your devices and iCloud. If you delete a photo from My Photo Stream, you delete that photo only from the photo stream but keep a copy on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. This approach is useful if you take a lot of screenshots or photos for reference, such as taking a picture of furniture while you're shopping.

Turn iCloud Photos or My Photo Stream on through the iCloud settings in your iOS or iPadOS device's Settings. You can share any photo in the Photos app on your device by tapping the up icon, and then selecting how you want to share.