Best Ways to Quickly Compress a Video File

by Barrett

Video files are notoriously large. Now with HD and 4K… whoa! If you’re editing your home movies on your computer, you’ll quickly realize your final masterpiece is going to need some squeezing before you can share it. Here’s how…

If you happen to find yourself hyperventilating while trying to compress a video file, this post should offer you a shortcut to the finish line. The key word in today’s title is quickly. To be clear… For those of you who practice the craft at the professional level, I guarantee you know more about this task than I do, and I’ll let you lead the way on what is actually ‘best.’

This space is reserved for everyone else on planet Earth who may have shot or edited a family video into an extraordinarily-large file. And then you need to magically shrink the size to email the file or post it somewhere online.

And, I’ll be working in an Apple ecosystem on my 2017 iMac.

Still here?
All right then.
After that rather lengthy disclaimer, let’s begin…

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…of Editing
The universe of video file compression can be unpredictable and sometimes stormy. It’s a place where even pros can encounter stiff winds. It’s also something of an art form that I guarantee you don’t want to explore if you don’t have to.

So, here are a few simple solutions to easily chop down your video file size…

Final Cut Pro X
If you want access to a more advanced editing tool, you’ll want to invest in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, which costs $299.99. Sure, that’s a hefty investment, but a fraction of the cost of what Pro editing software used to run.
(Professional editors – Please hold your boos about FCPX.
Hey, you’re not even supposed to be here!)

Final Cut Pro X also offers you some decent file compression choices when it’s time to export your video. Here’s how to find them:

  • First go to ‘File’
  • Then ‘Share’
  • And ‘Master File’

Then select your Video Codec:

  • ‘H.264 for Faster Encoding’ or ‘H.264 for Better Quality’
    (‘Faster’ usually creates a smaller file.)

Then, select ‘Computer’ under ‘Format’
And choose your resolution:

  • 1920 x 1080
  • 1280 x 720
  • 960 x 540
  • 854 x 480

Of course, the smaller the resolution, the smaller the resulting file size.

If you want to shrink it more, I think you’re out of luck.

Apple Compressor
…Unless you also buy Compressor, Apple’s separate file-compressing software.

This is FCPX’s companion ($49.99) that’s designed to create just about any size or flavor of video file you’ll ever think of.
(Plus, it can create multiple versions as one job.)

You can bring the resolution down to whatever you want.
(With some practice)
Plus, you’ll quickly see there’s a prebaked option that creates a wicked-small file.
(428 x 240)

Compressor is probably more than you need, but for fifty bucks, you’ll never complain about this topic again.

The Cost for Getting It Done ‘the Right Way’
So, for a total of $350, you’re set to edit, encode and compress like a professional.
(Sure, there are pros out there who walked away from Final Cut Pro platform after the 2011 FCPX redesign made it unrecognizable to long-time fans of FCP7. But others made the transition and have been satisfied with the ongoing free upgrades FCPX has received over the years.)

But you need not worry about this particular controversy as FCPX is plenty powerful for all of your personal editing/compression needs.
(It is for me!)

I should also mention that if you’re spending some money, there are great non-Apple options out there to consider like Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Adobe Media Encoder CC.

But what if you’d really prefer not to invest any money at all to get the job done?
Are there free options?
There are sure are!
(Though you won’t have as much flexibility.)

QuickTime Player
You can shrink your video file in the QuickTime Player application just by creating a new version with different settings:

  • Go to ‘File’
  • Then, ‘Export’
  • And click on ‘480P’
    (That’s the smallest file size option. It actually squeezed a test MOV file for me down to 640 x 360.)

Using Apple’s iMovie editing software is another great choice.
Once you get your video file into the program-

  • Go to ‘File’
  • ‘Share’
  • ‘Resolution 540p 60’
  • ‘Quality: Low’
  • ‘Compress: Faster’

iMovie was able to create a smaller file size than QuickTime by automatically reducing the data rate.
(Yes, that’s another variable. No, don’t ask.)

And iMovie was also able to beat QuickTime at the compression game while still keeping the frame size a little larger.
(It’s really nice when your friends and family don’t need a magnifying glass to watch one of your videos.)

Getting the Job Done for Free
So, if you have to choose between QuickTime and iMovie as the free applications that Apple gives you, iMovie is the better choice.

That said, QuickTime is the easier choice.
(Unless you’ve already been editing your video in iMovie.)

Tech Inner Peace
If you’re beginning to get the feeling that there are no truly ‘simple’ solutions in the video editing and compression world, congratulations… You’ve begun your journey to knowing what you’re talking about.

But the really good news is you don’t have to feel like an amateur either when playing in this pond of complexity.

If you want to spend some money to get the job done… good choice.
If you want to MacGyver the solution for free, Apple gives you tools for that too.

And if you’ve got some other ideas to offer, do share!
…Like creating and sharing an animated GIF from your video.

Hold your applause.

All right, don’t.