My Photo Stream vs. iCloud Photos

How does My Photo Stream differ 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. We researched these two Apple services to help you better understand how your iOS and iPadOS devices save and share photos and videos.

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.

My Photo Stream vs iCloud Photo Library

Overall Findings

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 JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and RAW file formats.

  • 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. In contrast, iCloud Photos 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.

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.

My Photo Stream Pros and Cons

  • File sizes optimized to save space on your device.

  • By default, photos are saved automatically.

  • Photos synced across all devices with the same Apple ID.

  • If you delete a photo from My Photo Stream, it's deleted only from the stream, not from devices.

  • Only stores photos for 30 days.

  • Supports only four file formats.

  • No video or Live Photos.

  • Apple is discontinuing this feature.

When you take a picture while My Photo Stream is enabled, the photo is uploaded to the cloud, and then downloaded to other devices that use the same Apple ID. 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.

You can change the default 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.

iCloud Photos Pros and Cons

  • Stores files indefinitely.

  • Supports more file formats than My Photo Stream.

  • Supports video and Live Photos.

  • The number of files you can save is restricted only by the amount of iCloud storage you've purchased.

  • Full-sized photos and videos are saved in iCloud.

  • Entire library available from iCloud on any device.

  • As your library grows, you may have to purchase more iCloud storage.

  • When you delete a file from iCloud Photos, that file is deleted on all connected devices, as well.

iCloud Photos, which will eventually replace My Photo Stream, gives you all the options of My Photo Stream and then some. Like My Photo Stream, iCloud Photos uploads photos to the cloud and syncs them across all your Apple devices. It also downloads photos to a Mac or Windows computer. Unlike My Photo Stream, however, iCloud Photos stores video and Live Photos. It keeps a full-sized copy of the photo or video in the cloud. The size of your image library is limited only by the amount of iCloud storage you have.

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.)

Because iCloud Photos is a web-based storage service, you can also gain access to your photos by typing 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)

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.

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. For now, 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 your devices' limited storage space.

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.