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Recommended way to back up large photo/video library on iOS device

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As far as I know, Apple iCloud does not offer much of a straightforward way to store a massive photo/video library in the cloud, and offload it from devices.

iCloud backup features an "optimize storage" setting on iOS, where lower quality versions of the photos/videos are stored on the device, with higher quality copies in iCloud. Under certain conditions, when the photo/video is used in a certain way, iOS automatically downloads the higher resolution version.

This seems to mean that, with an iCloud+ plan offering 2TB of cloud storage, you could back up all the photos and videos you want, however, I am not sure there would be any way to offload them from a device and keep them only in the cloud. If you have 64GB of storage on an iPhone, and 60GB of photos and videos, you are not able to free up storage on an iPhone without deleting the photos both from your device and from the cloud.

Is that correct?

If so, what is a way to back-up a large photo library, possibly still making use of cloud storage, but without forcing you to have the photos take up space on your iOS devices?

(If you simply turn off iCloud storage for the photos app, you would no longer be able to conveniently sync new photos and videos you are taking to back them up in the cloud.)

Is the only smooth, streamlined solution to take your photo archive off of iCloud and run your own archiving set-up using physical hard drives?

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I believe the recommended solution by Apple would be to buy a more expensive phone with more storage.

This is usually not a very good deal financially. For example, currently the iPhone 15 has a 128GB model for $800, while the 512GB model is $1100, so they want you to pay $300 more. Meanwhile a 500 GB memory card would cost only $30. Unfortunately iPhones do not have an SD card slot, so you would have to switch phones to use the memory card.

Alternatively a 2TB hard drive is about $65 and would be a good alternative to iCloud (I believe there is a way to connect external drives to an iPhone). With an external hard drive, if you ever lose the drive the photos will be gone. To mitigate this you can purchase a second drive, and periodically copy the files from one to the other. While this does not use "cloud storage", it would solve your problem and also have some benefits like working offline. It has the drawback of needing to manually copy files between the two drives (or setting up an automated backup).

You can also use a generic cloud file storage like Nextcloud. You can either run your own or use an existing one. In Nextcloud, you have lots of freedom in which device syncs what files. It also has a feature where new photos you take are automatically synced. There are many other open source sync services like Nextcloud, but Nextcloud is one of the most established ones.

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