In the world of digital, smaller is always better. Sure, creatives and video professionals alike will always chase greater pixel counts and larger RAW files. However, the real trick everyone wants is to make those big files smaller and more manageable (while still keeping the same high quality).

And how does that happen you ask? Three words: Compression, of course! 

Today let us take a look into the dark and mysterious art of compression — and how you can specifically apply its magic to your videos. We’ll go over how you can compress video on a variety of devices (like iPhone, Android, Mac and PC) as well as explore some of the more popular video compressors available online.

What is video compression, anyway? 

Hey, that’s a great question! Like compression itself, video compression is the process of reducing the overall file size of a video file or clip. This is done by using a specific compression algorithm to reduce the total number of bits needed for each frame (or image) contained in the video clip.

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.

In today’s modern digital video production process, video compression is quite regular and necessary as the majority of video files which you’ll deal with need to be reduced in order to make workflows possible.

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 transfer, editing, exporting and uploading process.

Overall, video compression makes it possible and easier to share files between any number of sources. Using the example above, even video recorded on your smartphone is going to need compression to transfer it to cloud storage, your computer to edit it, or even to another person through email or messaging.

Do I have to compress a video in order to share it? 

This is another great question. And while the technical answer might be no, you don’t have to compress a video to share it. The vast majority of the time you probably should compress video before you share it. 

Unless you’re working in high-end video production, working with uncompressed video is going to drastically slow down your workflows and make data management nearly impossible when you start adding in larger and larger uncompressed files.

What is a codec, and why do I need to know? 

Moving along, when discussing video compression we have to mention codecs. What are codecs and why are they important? A codec is a specific algorithm device or program which 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 actually most 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 the different 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 looking into video compression 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.

Lossy: these are smaller files overall and easier for all types of digital transfer and delivery. Lossy files are compressed following a method which 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.

Lossless: these are larger files overall but still compressed and useful for speeding up transferring and delivery. Unlike Lossy though, Lossless files are compressed following a method which 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 all the file types available? 

Now let’s go over some of the different file types which you might encounter when working with video compression. It’s important to understand these distinctions as you make your decisions as to how you want to compress your video files and where and how they might be used.

  • MP4: 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: another common video file format type. 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.
  • FLV: a less-common but popular Flash video format. FLV is the preferred format used by Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR to compress and decompress audio and video streams online. There are two main FLV formats including F4V and H.264. It’s important to note though that FLV does not work with Mac devices.
  • MOV: one of the best video file formats for web and TV. MOV (also known as QuickTime Movie) is one of the larger file types but great for high-quality video, audio and other file type playback. MOV is designed for QuickTime on Windows but also works with most social platforms and streaming.
  • WMV: another larger but quality video file format. WMV stands for Windows Media Viewer 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? Peep this helpful tutorial video, or consult the step-by-step lists below.

How to compress a video in iOS and on Macs 

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.

For compressing a video on Macs or your iOS iPhone, 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 on with their popular NLE app). However your best bet might be to use QuickTime as it’s perhaps the easiest option.

Here are the steps you need to follow for compressing a video using QuickTime on your Mac:

  1. Open QuickTime on your Mac
  2. Choose and open your video
  3. Navigate through File > Export As > Choose
  4. Select the file format you’d prefer for your video
  5. Choose your output file name and location
  6. 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:

  1. Open Video Editor
  2. Start a new video project card
  3. Add the video file that you’d like to compress
  4. Click the “Finish Video” button
  5. Select the file format that you’d prefer for your video
  6. Hit Export

How to compress a video on an Android 

Just as we went over creating smaller video files for your iPhone, you can follow a similar process with your Android devices as well. All you need to do is follow these steps:

  1. Open your Android Device
  2. Go to the “Application Menu”
  3. Choose the camera icon
  4. Select the “Resolution” icon
  5. Choose your new recording format

How to compress a video file 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:

  1. Go to freeconvert.com/video-compressor
  2. Upload your video file (up to 1GB unless you want to create an account)
  3. Select your Video Codec, Compression Method and Target Size
  4. Click Compress Now!

There are also plenty of other free video compression services available online. A few others include:

Ready to keep learning?

Hopefully these definitions, insights and resources have helped you gain a solid understanding of the basics of video compression. You’ve also probably been already working with different file formats and codecs your whole life at this point, but just haven’t realized it.

Finally, you also have plenty of video compression options to consider here at Vimeo. We’ve only really covered some of the basics though, so if you’d like to learn a bit more about video compression and how it works with your Vimeo uploads, renders and playback, check out our full video and audio compression guidelines.

If you’d like to continue expanding your knowledge and honing your video chops, here are some other great articles to check out on the Vimeo Blog:

More video compression FAQs

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, 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 from Vimeo by simply choosing the “download file” option and selecting the file format and size which you prefer.