The iPhone is the most popular camera in the world, and it can record surprisingly good video. So why does sending a video attachment sometimes result in such horrible compression, and how can you keep your home movies looking crisp and clear when you send them to your friends?

How to attach videos

First, the basics. To send a video to a friend, you’ll need to open Photos and choose a clip. Tap the Share button in the bottom left and then select Message from the pop-up overlay. Type in the name of a contact, add some accompanying text if you like and hit Send. You’re done!

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Alternatively you can tap the photo icon to the left of the input box from within the Messages app and select a video that way.

iMessage vs. MMS

When you attach a video via Messages, the app automatically compresses the clip (if necessary) to a suitable filesize for sharing. The size limitations vary based on whether you’re sending an iMessage or a regular SMS text. Remember, iMessages are only compatible with other Apple devices and are sent over the internet. SMS messages are sent over a cellular network, like a phone call. In the Messages app, iMessages display in blue while SMS messages show up in green.

The upper filesize limit for iMessages is pretty high. The actual figure is undisclosed but it’s reportedly around 220MB. This means that unless you’re taking really long videos, slow motion or using the iPhone 6s’ new high resolution 4K video capture, you’re unlikely to hit that limit. Even if you do, the Messages app will automatically apply the necessary amount of compression to lower the filesize without clipping the video.

This means that using the default settings (1080p HD at 30fps) on the latest iPhones, you can send a video of just under two minutes without it needing to be compressed. Switch the quality down a notch to 720p HD – still pretty good! – and you can record four minutes of video before hitting that 220MB ceiling.

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However, if you’re sending a regular text message to a non-Apple user, attachments are sent using the MMS (multimedia messaging service) protocol. By comparison, these types of messages are extremely limited, usually capped at 1.2MB or less. That’s right, roughly two hundred times less than the iMessage limit. Media sent in this way is also automatically compressed down to fit within that tiny size restraint, which is why videos sent via MMS often reach their destination looking like they were filmed around the year 1995. In the dark.

Added to the fact that many phone contracts charge extra for MMS messages, sending videos this way is best avoided. If you have no other choice, try to keep the clips as short as possible and consider filming in 720p to limit the amount of compression that needs to be applied.

Alternatives to Messages

So what can you do if you want to share a video with your non-iPhone owning friends without the quality being completely drained? Luckily there are a few alternatives we can explore.

If your contacts also have them installed, it may be worth using an alternative internet messaging app to send your video attachments. Compared to the paltry 1.2MB limit of text messages, the popular Whatsapp has a slightly more realistic 16MB attachment limit, while Facebook Messenger allows you to share files up to 25MB.

You could also consider sharing your videos via email (follow our previous instructions but select Mail instead of Messages from the share sheet). Most email services have around a 25MB attachment limit, though they do differ so your mileage may vary.

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Arguably the best alternative – though a little more work to set up – is to use a cloud-based file sharing service such as Dropbox, Google Drive or iCloud Drive. All of these apps will allow you to upload your videos to the cloud and then share them with a download link that can usually be sent by email or text message.

Ultimately, iMessage is a great way to share media. If you’re connected to Wi-Fi, it’s completely free and has a generous filesize limit. Maybe the easiest way to send high-quality videos is just to convince all your friends to buy iPhones.