How to Make Video File Sizes Smaller and What Software to Use

How to Make Video File Sizes Smaller and What Software to Use

Understand how video file sizes get so big, and the software you can use use to make them smaller. Let’s discuss compression, bit-rate, and more.

If you’ve ever had to upload a video online, you know that video file sizes can vary wildly. And, in many cases, it isn’t immediately clear why that is. Let’s start by examining what makes video file sizes so large, then we’ll dive into steps for reducing file size (even by using free applications!).

What Makes Video File Sizes So Big?

So, let’s say you just exported a new video for YouTube, only to discover that the exported video is 20GB in size! (Not exactly a fast upload.) Obviously, most people aren’t going to be uploading 20GB videos, so what’s happening here?

The main contributing factor for a video’s file size is the bit-rate it’s encoded at. Bit-rate is the amount of data the video uses per second when it’s played back. Bit-rate is set during the exporting process and, in most cases, a higher bit-rate will result in higher quality video, but the cost is a larger file size.

Choosing the Right CodecThe H.264 codec is ideal for editing your video.

The video codec you choose is also important. The codec is the type of compression applied to your video during the export. Some codecs are ideal for editing or finalizing your video — such as Apple ProRes — and others are ideal for uploading online — such as H.264.

When you’re planning on uploading a video online, you probably don’t want a file size that’s going to take all day to upload. So, you’ll likely go with a codec like H.264, combined with a medium-to-lower bit-rate.

Why Is Video Compression Different Than Image Compression?

If you’ve ever compressed a JPEG image in Photoshop, you know the process is pretty straightforward. You just slide the Quality slider to a lower number when you save the image out. So, why is it different for video? The short answer is: There’s just a lot more going on with a video. Which makes sense when you think about everything involved with a video file — frame rate, bit rate, codecs, resolution, audio, and file containers.

Some video exporters do simplify the process a lot, which is great for people unfamiliar with the in-and-outs of video compression. But, generally, there are just too many factors for a “one size fits all” slider solution, when it comes to videos.

What Is the Solution for Smaller Videos?

As mentioned earlier, the best solution for smaller video size is choosing a codec that’s ideal for streaming online, combined with a medium-to-low data bit-rate. Usually labeled Mbps, for megabits per second.

If all this is a little confusing, YouTube actually has a help page with their recommended upload settings. There, you can find specific specs they recommend, such as using H.264 for the video codec. They also have recommendations for bit-rate. YouTube suggests a bit-rate between 35-45 Mbps for most 4K videos and a bit-rate between 8-12 Mbps for 1080p HD videos.

YouTube Bit-rate SettingsHere are YouTube’s suggested bit-rate settings.

You can actually get more mileage out of your video files with lower bit-rates if you adjust other settings, as well. An example would be a 720p video at 8 Mbps compared to a 1080p HD video at 8 Mbps. Both videos have the same bit-rate, but the 720p doesn’t have to distribute it over as much resolution. So, as a result, it’ll likely look less compressed, overall.

Frame rate also plays a big factor because bit-rate is essentially “data per second” being used. That’s something to consider when you have a video that’s 30 fps compared to one that might have 60 fps. The video that’s 30 fps doesn’t have to spread the bit-rate as thin because there are fewer frames per second!

Tools to Make a Video File Smaller

Let’s walk through how to compress a video file using two of the most popular encoders available — Adobe Media Encoder and HandBrake. Adobe Media Encoder is included with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Alternatively, HandBrake is a free, open-source video encoder.

How to Reduce Video File Size Using Adobe Media Encoder

First, launch the Media Encoder application, then click the + icon to add your desired video to the queue.

Add to the QueueLaunch Media Encoder application, then click the + icon.

Then, under the Format tab, select H.264.

H.264 PresetUnder Format tab, select H.264.

Under the Preset tab, select either Match Source – High bit-rate or Match Source – Medium bitrate, depending on how much compression you need.

 Match SourceIn the Preset tab, select the type of compression you need.

These presets are good because they’ll automatically match all of the settings of the original video, such as resolution and frame rate.

If you’d like to customize the export settings for something specific, just click on the preset name, which is highlighted in blue. Media Encoder will then open up the Export settings, where you can customize many other options.

Export SettingsCustomize other options in the Export settings.

Then, just set your Output File name and location, then click the green play button icon to start the encoder.

Start EncoderSet your Output File name and location, then click the play icon.

How to Reduce Video File Size Using HandBrake

As mentioned, HandBrake is a free, open-source video encoder available for PC, Mac, and Linux. HandBrake’s H.264 encoder, called x264, is incredibly efficient when it comes to compression, and file sizes can be shockingly small, as a result.

First, launch HandBrake, then drag-and-drop the video file you’d like to compress onto the app.

 HandBrake Launch AppLaunch Handbrake, then drag-and-drop the video file you’d like compressed.

From there, navigate to the Presets on the right side of the app. Under General, select the Fast 1080p 30 preset. This preset is a great starting point.

HandBrake PresetUnder General, select the Fast 1080p 30 preset.

Next, navigate to the Video tab and make any changes you’d like. I recommend setting the framerate to Same as Source and checking on Constant Framerate.

 HandBrake FramerateMake any changes under the Video tab.

You can optimize the video even more by setting the Encoder Preset speed to a slower setting. What this means is that the video will take longer to encode, but the exported video will be even more efficiently compressed, resulting in an even smaller file size.

HandBrake Encoder SpeedTo optimize your video even more, set the Encoder Preset speed to a slower setting.

Under Quality, HandBrake recommends a value between 20 to 23 for HD videos, with lower values corresponding to high-quality.

HandBrake QualityUnder Quality, set your value somewhere between 20 and 23.

Although this isn’t required, I recommend changing the Audio bit-rate from 160 to 320, under the Audio tab settings.

HandBrake Audio Bit-rateUnder the Audio tab, change the Audio bit-rate from 160 to 320.

Finally, just set the file destination and name, then click the Start Encode button. That’s it!

HandBrake Start EncodeSet the file destination and name, then click Start Encode.

Now that you’ve learned how to make videos smaller using compression, check out our Shutterstock tutorial with tips to reduce visible compression with video uploads.

Here’s what else you need to know about image and video file sizes:

A Guide to Essential Video File Types and CodecsBest Image Formats for the Web — High-Quality, Small File SizeHow to Resize Images for the Web Without Losing QualityHow to Resize an Image in Photoshop Without Losing Quality

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