A simple task made complicated

This isn't a particularly interesting post. That is, unless you reading this now, like me at the time of writing this, have spent the best part of an hour trying to solve the same issue. Like a few other posts I've made in the past, the purpose is really to make this easier to search for, if others encounter the same problem.

Someone had recorded a video on an iPhone that they wanted to transfer to a Windows PC. Naturally, they connected the phone via a USB cable to the computer, navigated through the existing DCIM directories to copy the files across and found, well, nothing. So they asked me about it.

What was going on? They used the same process before and it worked fine. And the videos were definitely still on the phone: you could play them there. As these videos had large file sizes, I suspected there was some limit being encountered.

No easy answers

Many of the workarounds posted online seem to fit one of the following categories:

  • Moving the video via iCloud, or some other uploading route. (Too slow and too tedious.)
  • Using some other app to get the video to a PC. (May involve spending money and requires auditing the app to ensure it and the developers are reputable.)
  • Re-encoding the video on the phone to a smaller size somehow, possibly via iMovie? (Didn't try this and may have been slow. This would have been the next thing I suggested if the solution below had not worked.)

The Apple documentation itself suggests making sure iTunes is installed, using the Windows Photos app and then importing from there. This didn't work.

The fix

I found someone posted a fix on a forum. On the iPhone's Settings, select Photos, and then under "Transfer to Mac or PC" setting for the Photos app, change "Automatic" to "Keep Originals". That was it. Much simpler than any of the other suggestions.

The import actually worked through the Photos app then. In fact, you did not need Photos at all: checking the DCIM directory listed the file.

What "Keep Originals" does is take a direct copy of the photos and videos, instead of doing some unspecified magic and converting them on copy.

(Though not tested, iPadOS has the same setting and presumably behaves in the same way.)

As someone unfamiliar with iOS, I'm not entirely sure how you would connect the setting to the behaviour. But the main thing is that it resolved a very frustrating and very badly documented issue very, very quickly.