Creative Technology Explained

How to Reduce Video File Size Without Losing Quality

Mihir Patkar 10-08-2016

These days, your smartphone, your DSLR camera, and your GoPro can all shoot high-quality, high-resolution video — but wow, the size of that video file can sure balloon quickly.


You will feel the pain when your memory card maxes out or you want to upload one of these videos to share on the Internet.

The good news is that you can reduce video file sizes fairly easily. The bad news is that unless you change the right settings, you will lose video quality. How do you balance the two? Which settings should you change to get reduce size without compromising quality? Read on to find out.

1. Pick the Right Software

You really should use a computer for this task, not a tablet or a smartphone. The powerful desktop tool Handbrake is the most useful cross-platform media convertor out there. It’s completely free and works the same on Windows, Mac, and Linux.


If you’re on Windows, you can also try the Freemake Video Converter, which has an easier interface. However, Handbrake does a better job of encoding and converting videos, so I would recommend learning its interface and going with that instead.


Meanwhile, if your video has issues, try a video quality enhancer to iron those out first.

Download: Handbrake for Windows, Mac, or Linux (Free)

2. Start With the Audio

Before you begin chopping down the quality of your video, head to the “Audio” tab in Handbrake. You might be surprised how much space audio channels take up. Unless you’ve shot a concert, always tackle the audio first.

For any video where human speech is important or music isn’t a priority, here’s what you need to do.



I would recommend that you don’t mess with the sample rate and simply set it to Auto, but it can be tweaked to optimize audio file size 5 Tips for Optimizing Audio File Sizes If you've ever wanted to reduce the size of an audio file but weren't sure how to do that without impacting the quality of the recording, here's everything you need to know. Read More . For human speech, set the sample to 32, and if music is important, set it to 48.

3. Choose the Best Codec and Container

Ideally, the original video you shoot should be using the highest quality video codec and container. When you’re ready to reduce the size, you pick the most efficient codec and container.

What’s the difference between the two? Basically, the codec is the encoder/decoder that turns a video into bytes (the “brain” that determines the base quality) whereas the container is the file format (the “body” that determines compatibility with different devices and services).



Choose H.264 as the codec. This is the most efficient and popular codec for high-definition videos and is said to be almost two times as good as MPEG-4 in compressing videos. It is also recognized by most devices today, be it a simple TV or the Raspberry Pi.

As of this writing, you don’t really need to bother with its successor, the new H.265 standard.



Choose MP4 as the container. Again, MP4 is efficient, but more importantly, it’s the most widely recognized file format for videos. In fact, YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook recommend MP4 as the preferred container.

4. Reduce the Video Resolution

It’s great that your phone can shoot 4K videos, but do you even have a 4K-ready TV or monitor to play it on? Most people have HD Ready or Full HD TVs What’s the Difference Between HD Ready & Full HD? Television and computer monitor manufacturers can be a sly bunch, using different acronyms to disguise hardware capabilities. Well, worry no more. We've explained what HD Ready really means. Read More , but the big secret is that video resolution isn’t as important as you might think.


Resolution affects the size of the video greatly, but the quality may not be greatly affected. How far you sit from the screen, the upscaling technology of the TV What Is Upscaling? How Does It Work? Is It Worth It? What is upscaling? How does it work? Is it all it's cracked up to be? Here's everything you need to know. Read More , and the bitrate of the video are going to have as much or greater impact.

Here’s a list of commonly-used resolutions:

  • 2160p (3840×2160)
  • 1440p (2560×1440)
  • 1080p (1920×1080)
  • 720p (1280×720)
  • 480p (854×480)
  • 360p (640×360)
  • 240p (426×240)

As a thumb rule to reduce file size by resolution, check the video’s original resolution and choose one level below it. In Handbrake, you will find this in “Picture Settings” in the top-right menu. You can even check out a Preview of the lowered resolution before you commit.

If you plan to simply upload your video to YouTube Everything You Need To Know About Uploading Videos To YouTube Currently, there are three ways to upload videos to YouTube. Here's an in-depth look at how to use your computer, phone, or games console. Read More or Facebook, then 720p is the best way to go (assuming file size is more important to you than resolution). Facebook even caps the resolution at 720p but YouTube lets you go higher till 4K.

5. Bitrate Is the Last Resort

The biggest factor in determining the quality of a video is its bitrate, so make that your last resort. In simple terms, bitrate is the amount of data being shown in one second What Is Bitrate & Why Is It Important? [MakeUseOf Explains] With today's technology, we can expect high amounts of speed and quality with everything that we do on our computers, our smartphones, and any other recent gadgets. However, while this increase in speed and quality... Read More . The more data you allow, the more artifacts can be shown on the screen, and the better the video quality will be.


Most DSLRs record video at high bitrates as do most screen recording and screencasting software Record Your Desktop with These 12 Great Screencasting Apps Need to record your desktop? Luckily, you'll find that screencasting apps are more common than you might think. Here are some of the best free ones. Read More . Again, YouTube has some recommended bitrates that you can use as a thumb rule for any video file. Don’t go below these recommended numbers, but if your current bitrate is higher, you can safely reduce it.


It’s best to keep your bitrate variable rather than constant. In Handbrake select Video > Quality > Average Bitrate, and key in a number that best corresponds to your video’s resolution, using the above chart. Also check the box for 2-pass encoding.

6. Don’t Change Frame Rates

If anyone tells you that you should reduce the frame rate, don’t listen to them. Every video expert, video hosting site, and video editor says that you should keep your video at the same frame rate that it was recorded in.


The human eye only needs 24–30 frames per second (FPS) for a decent picture, so it might seem logical to lower the frame rate to that range. However, doing that can affect the smoothness of the video, and especially make movement seem jerky or unnatural.

So avoid this unless you are experimenting with slow-motion videos How to Shoot Slow-Motion Video: 3 Tips to Get You Started Everyone wants to walk away from an explosion in slow motion. Fortunately, with today's phones, it's easier than ever. Read More .

Got Any Other Tricks to Share?

With this guide, you should be able to substantially reduce the file size of a video without greatly affecting the quality. Remember, go step by step, you might hit your intended target size much before you need to reduce the resolution or the bitrate. What tricks do you use to bring down the size of a video that you want to share?

And if you perform your editing on your mobile device, check out these free video editing apps for iPhone and iPad The 6 Best Free Video Editing Apps for iPhone and iPad Looking to make some memories from media on your iPhone or iPad? Here are the best free video editing apps for iPhone and iPad. Read More .

Image Credits:scale pan by kulyk via Shutterstock

Related topics: File Compression, Record Video, Video Editor.

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  1. Ratheesh
    August 26, 2018 at 10:34 am

    I think media coder (for windows) is a great option for video compression. It has many settings which are too good for a pro to get the work done. I have used many free softwares including handbrake but it is the most powerful one. It has an option called constant QP for video compression. Using this is even good for getting action movies compressed. I suggest the professionals to try it.

  2. PD
    August 18, 2018 at 1:11 am

    The original? 69,448. The post-Handbrake copy? 552,907.

    I've used settings from at least 3 different sources, no two being identical, by the way, and not one has produced the claimed results.

    Does anyone know how to use Handbrake to make a file smaller?

    • Simon
      September 27, 2018 at 9:44 pm

      This article is pretty bad.
      Use h265 at Quality 22 to 26 (whatever you like, smaller looks better) and at medium to placebo speed (slower offers better file size but it takes longer).
      Don't change the resolution, that is total BS. The resolution makes little to no difference because the size is determined by the bitrate. Decreasing resolution will only decrease the video quality and there are better ways to reduce the file size.
      For audio I always go with MP3 at Quality 7.5.
      And that's it. It should be smaller unless the original uses even better compression.

      • Jeff
        September 29, 2019 at 6:01 am

        Changing the resolution actually CAN matter so it's NOT total BS.
        It all depends on WHAT device you will be playing the video files on.

        For example, back between 2008 to 2010 when I was in college, I played on my PSP a lot between classes. I decided to then convert a lot of Anime to play on my PSP, which has a MAX resolution of 480 x 272. Handbrake helped a lot in doing this.

        While viewing this on the computer, it might look bad, viewing it on the PSP screen, however, it looks good. I can't remember the bitrate I put on it but I'd get episodes to 60 to 80 MB, the subtitles would be burned in so I'd be able to watch the episodes no problem.

        There isn't just 1 click solution for everything so the Quality 22 to 26 might not work well or be redundant for having too much bitrate and it just increases the filesize.
        My old phone would play 720p videos but would lag very bad at 1080p videos, so I'd have to convert them all down 720p.

        My advice to anybody who will find this article and use it is play around with the settings to find what works well with your device.
        If you are converting videos to play on your phone, for example, take a video (tv show, movie, anime, etc) and make multiple queue's for the file, changing something each time.

        I would, for example, take an Anime episode, change the bitrate (in my case in 250 intervals, starting from 500 which I know is too low).
        I would name each file at the end of the bitrate it was encoded as. Doing this would let me find the sweet spot for both quality and filesize.

        Yes, this will take a lot of extra time, but once you find one that works well with your device (up to the quality you're looking for and still compressed enough on space), you can then save that as a custom preset.
        Spending the extra time doing is worth it in the end and especially useful if you have multiple electronic devices with various hardware specs where the video might not be able to play in its native resolution on all the devices (maybe the device can't push 4K or 1080p).

        This way, if let's just say you have a bunch of files you want to convert, you just click the preset the custom preset that you already prepared, fill up the queue and the save file location, start it up then walk away.

        I would do this many times load up the queue before bed or before going to work and let it just encode the videos while I sleep or while working.

        I had multiple custom presets on the right, one for PSP (480 x 272) with settings that worked well with it.
        I had another for my older phone for 720p videos.
        I now have another one for 1080p videos for my Galaxy S9+ I have (for source videos that are extremely large like 4 to 10 GB, I can encode and compress it until I can upgrade my 128GB microSD card to a 256GB microSD card.
        I'd encode the built-in preset just to see how good it looked and file size first, then use it as a starting base and change settings to tweak it further.

        Point is, customize for each device (especially with different specs) is very important.

        And, as it does say in the article, I ALWAYS turn on 2-Pass Encoding.
        I would rather have it take much longer encoding and result in a smaller file.

  3. Fred
    July 20, 2018 at 12:14 am

    I followed this advice and the resulting video is 5x larger file size than the original.

  4. Theo
    June 21, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Used HandBrake once but it's not as intutive and quick as Total Video Tools for Mac. I can determine the proportion of compression and batch processing is supported Total Video Tools. A 1GB moved reducing to 250MB only took minutes to finish.

  5. George N.
    June 10, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Good advice.
    One correction about choosing Codecs: H.264 is twice better in compressing than MPEG-2, not MPEG-4, because H.264 is essentially the core of MPEG-4 format.
    H.265 will cut file size even more, just make sure your player supports it.

  6. x
    June 4, 2017 at 11:21 pm

    Is there a similar articole on this site about photos?

    • Laura
      June 21, 2018 at 10:07 am

      Photo Size Optimizer is a light-weight program that works great in compressing photos.

      • DAS
        December 31, 2018 at 2:20 pm

        Caesium PH.

  7. Mike
    August 12, 2016 at 1:23 am

    Or you can sometimes crop the video to a smaller size.its best if you keep both the x and y resolutions to a number evenly divisible by 16.

  8. Steve
    August 10, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    It's not easy to compare one program to another with completely different source material. With the x264 encoder, use of different presets (placebo, veryslow, slower, slow, medium, fast, faster, veryfast, superfast, ultrafast), CRF if used (CRF 10 takes much more time than CRF 30), or single pass CBR/VBR or two-pass with CBR or VBR, and tune (film, grain, animation, or default) all affect encode time. Then if you also add in video filters (yadif or other deinterlacing, IVTC filter chains), audio compression and audio filters... unless you compare the same source material and being meticulous with settings, you can't compare 1:1. Me? I just use FFmpeg. IVTC/deinterlace, adjust framerate if needed to achieve an actual 23.976 fps framerate for telecined material, crop black bars off, preset veryfast, tweak the "tune" option for filesize, CRF of 18 for 480p or 22 for 720p, downscale if I want even smaller size, 64 kbit/s per audio channel and AAC audio format. I can't tell you how many weeks and months I've spent playing with video encoders...

  9. Anonymous
    August 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    Loved this article. I do YouTube a lot and a 6min awesomely edited video takes up 800MB in size which is very large.
    I use Free Video Compressor which lets us decide the SIZE which we want and the quality reduction. I think that is the best but the problem is that it takes a lot of time.
    How much time does handbrake take?

  10. Steve
    August 10, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Don't go off of bitrates -- use CRF instead. For videos at 480p resolution, CRF 18 is pretty good, for 720p, CRF 22 seems to be about the same overall quality as the source with a slightly bigger size than a CRF 18 480p video. CRF essentially is a two-pass quality in a single pass and works off of motion. Specifying by bitrate is great if you want a known-size, but if you want a known quality, CRF is the way to go. Experiment with your source to see what you can tell the difference on.