How to Deal with Running Out of iCloud, Google, and Dropbox Space

A +1 for DevonTHINK 3 from me for archiving your email (or actually any major project).

A reminder that I’ve not updated that particular database for a while.

The Samsung Galaxy A7 has a 16MP camera and would be right at Google’s threshold, but Apple doesn’t make a phone with a camera larger than 12MP. My Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70 has a 20.3MP sensor; so I would not want to rely on Google to store the images from that camera.

It’s not just about resizing of photos over 16 megapixels—Google is also applying significant compression to all “High Quality” photos. However, as this article points out, Google’s doing a pretty good job of that.

I, too, am having storage issues with Dropbox. I have 2 gigs of free space and keep messages to upgrade cuz Dropbox is almost full. My problem is all the photos from my iPad and iPhone. Two questions:

  1. Is there a good photo duplicate finder I can use for my Mac, iPhone and iPad?

  2. I see those photo sticks advertised that will download your photos from iPads and iPhones and delete duplicates. Has anyone used one and would recommend? They are not cheap (to me, anyway)!

In other words, you should consider Google Photos to be a medium for sharing/distributing your pictures, but not your master archive.


TBH if you’re not experienced in dealing with photo management, or just want an easy solution, let iCloud Photos do the work for you. Managing it all via manual or background uploads to Dropbox (or any other non-iCloud syncing cloud) is typically a load of work for very little reason. And dealing with duplicates that way is potentially hours/days/weeks worth of painful work. Why bother? Most people value their time not to want to deal with that.

Hence, if you’re trying to get your iPhone/iPad/Mac photos to be in one library without duplicates, just sign-up for very modestly priced 50GB ($1/mth) or 200GB ($3/mth) iCloud Drive accounts, and let it merge all libraries for you. All photos will be added to a single iCloud Photos library, and when it’s finished uploading from all devices it should correct most doubles already, but then you can make a final look through to spot any it may have missed.

One tip, before you do the iCloud Photos thing, best practice is to make backups of them first! (just in case something negative happens and photos don’t get into iCloud Photos properly or similar! Computers are never infallible).

Perhaps in your case you could gradually copy (keeping the originals stored in each devices Photos app!) the images from each device to your limited Dropbox storage space first, move them all bit-by-bit to a single “Photos Backup” named folder somewhere on your Mac. Then upgrade to a higher iCloud Drive storage plan, and then set-up and use the iCloud Photos to do the work (this could take hours if many photos). When you’re sure all your photos are definitely in iCloud Photos and none in your “Photos Backup” folder are missing, with all your photos appearing on all devices in the Photos app, you can then delete that “Photos Backup” folder (and stick with something like Time Machine to backup your Mac locally, which will include a copy of your iCloud Photos library).


Jimthing, I do have the 50gig iCloud storage already. If I take a picture on my iPhone, I know it shows up on my iPad, too. Does ICloud use both of those photos or just where the original is taken?

When you say back up iCloud photo, is there a special back up for it or does normally backing up my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro take care of it?

When I plug my iPhone and iPad for back up into my Mac, Photos open and a download begins. When it is time to unplug those devices, I get a message saying that there are still photos to download. I don’t have that many new photos between back ups. So what is going on here?


Does ICloud use both of those photos or just where the original is taken?

It uses ONE version, that syncs to all devices after it’s automatically uploaded the full size original to iCloud Photos.

The idea is that any original full size photo taken on an iOS device (iPhone/iPad) is synced straight to iCloud Photos (if no internet connection, it’ll do the job later when you are connected). So you shouldn’t have to plug those iOS devices into a Mac to copy photos from them into the Mac’s Photos app.

Check the settings on all devices are doing what you want.

  • Typically most users want their iOS devices to only have smaller “optimised” versions on them to save physical storage space on those devices (they can always tap on an image to have the full size original version download).

  • However on their Mac, they’ll set it to “Download Originals to the Mac” so they have a local copy of the full size original on the Mac. Alternatively, if your Mac has small storage available, you can set it “Optimise Mac Storage” and it’ll save smaller versions on the Mac (just as you have it do on your iOS devices).

At all times, iCloud Photos is storing the FULL SIZE ORIGINAL, so it’s available on any of your devices (iOS, Mac, or even logging into online).

Of course those settings are entirely up to each user. For example, some users with models of iPhone or iPad with plenty of storage, may instead prefer to have all their full size originals on these devices as well. It depends on just how many photos they have, whether they can fit all their (gazillion!) original size photos on them, and whether they want to use up all that space to do so on said devices.

Hope this helps.

NB: If you used a non-Apple device camera (e.g. a compact camera, DSLR, or something), then for such devices (or just their storage SD cards, perhaps), you plug them into your Mac or iOS device, and then there are options to import the photos into the Photos app on the device. They’ll appear in an “Recently imported” photos folder which will sync to iCloud Photos, where you can edit/delete/curate them on any of your devices as you wish.


On a related email issue. It’s worth noting that Time Machine backups of folders (aka ‘mailboxes’) in the Mail app do not seem to properly recover emails containing attachments.

Last week, in Mail app I accidentally deleted an iCloud email folder (titled “Apple”, it contained all my years of Apple receipts, etc. Not disastrous to lose, but still very annoying!). To begin with, deleted mailboxes cannot be recovered from the website recovery section (in the online Settings screen). This effectively leaves you with your backups – in my case Time Machine.

However, whether you use the GUI version of TM or use Finder to simply locate the deleted .mbox file in one of your TM backups, after importing that mbox file back into Mail app (appears in “On My Mac” area), you cannot move any messages with attachments out of that imported folder and back on an IMAP server folder (so the folder is viewable across devices, rather than being stuck in the “On My Mac” on that single Mac) – those messages with attachments will not move!

In Mail app trying to move messages with attachments would throw one of two similar pop-up error messages:

“Couldn’t load body for LibM…”
Screen Shot 2020-02-25 at 13.45.48
“Couldn’t load body for…”

Solution (kind of):

In the end I had to use a utility to turn the “partial.emlx” emails from the Finder backup (those with attachments get the partial bit in their name) into an older version of Apple formatted emails, and then import those into Mail app to be able to have them work properly and be movable. The major caveat being you lose attachments (not ideal, but luckily most attachments were just graphical elements of these emails, so I didn’t need most of them).

That utility is a very old one, but still worked on my Mojave macOS:
emlx to mbox Converter

Other useful links for the technically minded (most of this goes over my tech level!):

I don’t know what it is with TM in the last few years, there seem to be so many things wrong with it. It either straightforwardly cannot recover data at all or only partially, the recovered data is somehow corrupted making it effectively unusable, or just throws an error message telling you it has to restart all your backups from fresh (not very good is it)!
When backups are not good enough to rely on, you lose all faith in said backups being there when you need them. I’m going back to having an additional Carbon Copy Clone. :roll_eyes:

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Jimthing, I should have been clearer when I mentioned plugging in my iPhone/iPad into my Mac —- I only do that when I am backing up those devices. Photos opens and wants to download the photos — except that it seems to download the same ones over and over. When the back up is finished, and I want to disconnect, I get a message that photos are still be uploaded. I don’t have that many new ones, so I don’t know why it is taking so long!

Where/how does one back up iCloud Photos?

With whatever backup solution you use on your Mac. Just make sure you’re downloading originals.

Adam, I hate to be a dunce, but how do I make sure I am downloading the originals? Will pictures have copy on them or some other designation. I want to do right the first time!

If you launch Photos, and then choose Photos > Preferences from the menubar, in the iCloud tab, select Download Originals to this Mac.


Thanks for the info on downloading originals. What about the photos that I have edited in my iPhone and iPad?

If you have ICloud Photo Library, photos that you take and edit on your iPhone and iPad are uploaded to iCloud and, if you have download originals turned on, both the originals and the edits are available on the Mac. For example, you can edit a photo on the iPhone and then revert to original on the Mac later on.

Apple discusses this here:

Thanks for the link!

I’m a huge fan of Grand Perspective.

But this week I ran into a huge limitation when trying to figure out where all my hard drive space had gone.

It appears that macOS’ permissions prevent it from seeing how much space is in use by other users on the same Mac. Even doing a Get Info in the Users folder reveals this problem.

And in my case, the missing 60GB of space was under another account!

This problem seems to exist even with Full Disk Access granted to GP. Is there a way around this?

I used to use Grand Perspective many years ago, and it’s a great app. But when Daisy Disk came along I switched to it as it’s a fantastic app. Really well designed and more effective for me at locating where I can free up space and and making it happen. One of the nice features it has is that it can look into areas that are normally hidden from your user.

Highly recommended, check it out as it might solve your issue. It’s well worth the small purchase price, but there’s also a free trial so you can test it.

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Hi Adam,

Here is what I am wondering:

I am basing the following on the assumption that you were doing all this message moving (via Apple-Mail) to your “On My Mac” area, from the gmail-cloud space, while you were running macOS Catalina at the time.

My concern is this: Did you have any problems when moving messages via Apple-Mail, due to the bug flap supposedly introduced during macOS Catalina?

Reference: Tsai’s blog:

Back-story: I recently was running a Mac-Mini with macOS Mojave, trying to avoid the Apple-Mail bug, and in the end, I am essentially skipping Catalina entirely, and “jumping” to Big Sur (most recent version available), all in hoping the bug has been repaired, although according to Tsai’s blog (most recently), he doesn’t really give Apple-Mail a clean bill-of-health in this regard.

Please advise. Thanks so much for your help !!

—Phil V.

I honestly don’t remember all that well, but my vague impression is that the act of moving from Gmail to On My Mac didn’t seem like one of the things that was likely to trigger that bug, if it even still existed.

Apart from this usage, I don’t use Apple Mail, so I haven’t had to adjust my behavior otherwise. But if you’re that concerned about it, continuing to use Mail at all would seem problematic. If you’re using Gmail behind the scenes, I’d encourage you to check out Mimestream. It’s great.