iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream: What’s the difference?
When Apple released iOS 8.1, the company included beta access to its new iCloud Photo Library service. With iCloud Photo Library, you can store all your photos in iCloud with no limits, unlike the traditional Photo Stream we’ve been accustomed to for the past few years. As long as you have enough iCloud storage, iCloud Photo Library will save all your photos. But what happens to your regular Photo Stream when you enable iCloud Photo Library? And more importantly, where did all your synced albums go? We’ve got the answers to these questions and more!
An overview of the differences between iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream
There are a few key differences between iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream that you need to remember. Before we start: It’s important to note that at this time iCloud Photo Library is still in beta form; as such, we recommend always backing up any photos you plan to store on the service. Okay, that caveat over with, it’s time to break down what each service offers and how they differ. Here’s a brief overview:
Regular Photo Stream:
- Only stores your most recent 1000 photos or the last 30 days of images, whichever is greater
- Does not use your iCloud storage allotment
- Compatible across all devices including iPhone, iPad, Mac, and PC
- Stores web-optimized versions of your photos, which may degrade quality
- Does not upload and sync videos
- You can still sync photos and albums from your Mac or PC via iTunes when Photo Stream is enabled
iCloud Photo Library:
- Stores all your photos and personal video and has no limits as long as you have the iCloud storage space to support it
- Uses your iCloud storage allotment
- Accessible on iPhone, iPad, and online via iCloud.com; a new Photos app for Mac is coming in early 2015, and presumably iCloud for Windows will receive access around that time as well
- Stores full-resolution photos on the server and on your devices and supports many file formats including JPG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and others
- Uploads and syncs videos as well as photos
- You can not sync albums and photos from your Mac or PC via iTunes when using iCloud Photo Library, and any existing albums will be removed when you enable the service
I’ve enabled iCloud Photo Library, my Photo Stream is completely gone! Why?!
Your Photo Stream isn’t technically gone. Since iCloud Photo Library now stores all your photos instead of just the most recent 1000 or last 30 days, it’d be confusing to divide up your Photo Stream and Camera Roll. As such, anything that appears in All Photos is backed up to iCloud Photo Library and available on any iOS device with iCloud Photo Library enabled.
If you switch on the “Upload to My Photo Stream” option in Settings > Photos & Camera, your last 1000 photos/last 30 days of images will still get uploaded to Photo Stream, and will display on a Mac, PC, or iOS device (with iCloud Photo Library enabled). Note: If you have multiple iOS devices, make sure to turn iCloud Photo Library on for all of them or none of them — if you have one device with iCloud Photo Library enabled, but another with just Photo Stream enabled, those devices won’t talk to each other, and you won’t see photos from one on the other.
You can tweak a few settings as to how your iPhone or iPad handles your iCloud Photo Library images on device. Currently, you can choose to either store web-optimized versions (thus saving storage space), or download and save high-resolution copies to your device. If you aren’t sure where to find this setting, you can follow our guide:
Can I still access photos on my Mac or PC if I enable iCloud Photo Library?
Sort of. You can access your entire iCloud Photo Library via iCloud.com, after logging in to your account. Within iPhoto or on your PC, you currently only have access to Photo Stream. As such, your computer will grab any new images that you take or upload, but it may not completely sync up with your iCloud Photo Library database if you uploaded images that never synced to Photo Stream.
Bottom line: If you’re going to use iCloud Photo Library, the best way to keep your images in sync across platforms is to make sure you have both iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream enabled on all your iOS devices.
So how do I get the photos on my Mac or PC to iCloud Photo Library?
If you’re opting to use iCloud Photo Library, all the albums you’ve synced from iTunes will instantly be removed from your iPhone or iPad. Until Apple offers a native solution in 2015, you can use the iCloud.com uploader in order to get your older photos into iCloud Photo Library.
Just keep in mind that the web uploader is still very much in beta. It’s a simple web uploader that only supports JPEG files, and won’t upload video. While my colleague Serenity had luck with it, I have yet to get it to load without timing out on me. Hopefully Apple improves upon this soon. Until then, it’s always worth a shot.
There are other options, too, if you can’t get it to work, like creating a shared Photo Stream in iPhoto and sharing it with yourself. That’s what I ended up doing. You can find directions on doing that in the second link below.
- How to upload photos to iCloud Photo Library via iCloud.com
- Troubleshooting iCloud Photo Library: How to sync images from your computer or iPhoto
Still need help with iCloud Photo Library or Photo Stream?
If you’re still confused or need help with a particular issue, our forums are a great place to ask. Just hit the submit question link below and let us know what you need help with!
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