What's the difference between iCloud Photo Library and My Photo Stream?

With iCloud Photo Library, you can store all your photos in iCloud with no limits, unlike the traditional Photo Stream we've been accustomed to for the past few years. As long as you have enough iCloud storage, iCloud Photo Library will save all your photos. But what happens to your regular Photo Stream when you enable iCloud Photo Library? And more importantly, where did all your synced albums go? We've got the answers to these questions and more!

An overview of the differences between iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream

There are a few key differences between iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream that you need to remember. Before we start: It's important to note that at this time iCloud Photo Library is still in beta form; as such, we recommend always backing up any photos you plan to store on the service. That caveat over with, it's time to break down what each service offers and how they differ. Here's a brief overview:

Regular Photo Stream:

  • Only stores your most recent 1000 photos or the last 30 days of images, whichever is greater
  • Does not use your iCloud storage allotment
  • Compatible across all devices including iPhone, iPad, Mac, and PC
  • Stores web-optimized versions of your photos, which may degrade quality
  • Does not upload and sync videos
  • You can still sync photos and albums from your Mac or PC via iTunes when Photo Stream is enabled

iCloud Photo Library:

  • Stores all your photos and personal video and has no limits as long as you have the iCloud storage space to support it
  • Uses your iCloud storage allotment
  • Accessible on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and online via iCloud.com
  • Stores full-resolution photos on the server and on your devices and supports many file formats including JPG, RAW, PNG, GIF, TIFF, and others
  • Uploads and syncs videos as well as photos
  • You can not sync albums and photos from your Mac or PC via iTunes when using iCloud Photo Library, and any existing albums will be removed when you enable the service

I've enabled iCloud Photo Library, my Photo Stream is completely gone! Why?!

Photo Stream is gone after turning on iCloud Photo Library

Your Photo Stream isn't technically gone. Since iCloud Photo Library now stores all your photos instead of just the most recent 1000 or last 30 days, it'd be confusing to divide up your Photo Stream and Camera Roll. As such, anything that appears in All Photos is backed up to iCloud Photo Library and available on any iOS device with iCloud Photo Library enabled.

If you switch on the "Upload to My Photo Stream" option in Settings > Photos & Camera, your last 1000 photos/last 30 days of images will still get uploaded to Photo Stream, and will display on a Mac, PC, or iOS device (with iCloud Photo Library enabled). Note: If you have multiple iOS devices, make sure to turn iCloud Photo Library on for all of them or none of them — if you have one device with iCloud Photo Library enabled, but another with just Photo Stream enabled, those devices won't talk to each other, and you won't see photos from one on the other.

You can tweak a few settings as to how your iPhone or iPad handles your iCloud Photo Library images on device. Currently, you can choose to either store web-optimized versions (thus saving storage space), or download and save high-resolution copies to your device. If you aren't sure where to find this setting, you can follow our guide:

Can I still access photos on my Mac or PC if I enable iCloud Photo Library?

Can I access Photos on my Mac or PC if I enable iCloud Photo Library?

Yup! You can access your entire iCloud Photo Library on the new Photos for OS X if you're running OS X 10.10.3 or later, or via iCloud.com. As with your iOS deices, if you're going to use iCloud Photo Library, the best way to keep your images in sync across platforms is to make sure you have both iCloud Photo Library and Photo Stream enabled on all your devices.

So how do I get the photos on my Mac or PC to iCloud Photo Library?

How to transfer photos to iCloud photo Library

You can use Apple's Photos for OS X app, if you're running OS X 10.10.3 or later. You can read more information about this in our Photos for OS X Ultimate Guide, linked below.

Updated at 4/8/15 to address Photos for OS X's release.