JPEG Vs JPEG2000 (Why Did It Never Take Off?)


It wasn’t that long ago that anything about the year 2000 seemed so futuristic. Then 2000 and 2001 came and went. People born in 2000 are graduating high school!

In digital photography, 2000 was the year the Joint Photographic Experts Group introduced what some thought would be the next digital image standard, the JPEG2000. What is the deal with JPEG vs JPEG2000? Keep reading to find out!

JPEG Vs JPEG2000 (All you need to know)

What is JPEG2000 Format?

JPEG2000 was intended as a replacement for the JPEG digital image file format. More than a mere upgrade or a tweak of the JPEG standard’s performance, JPEG2000 was based on a completely different technology. 

Standards are important for a variety of reasons. Without some accepted way of measuring, creating, or utilizing things, very little could get done in the world.

The idea of standards goes back a long way. Some standards that we are very familiar with are used to measure size, weight, and distance. Standards are vital for business, technology, science, and everyday, mundane things.

The Metric System is a standard many of us use without batting an eye. Our lenses are measured in millimeters. A 35mm lens from a new Pentax will be the same focal length as a 35mm lens from an old Exacta.

If a tripod made in California weighs 3 kilograms, a photographer in Manilla can expect that same tripod to weigh 3 kilograms there.

JPEG is a standard for creating, storing, and using digital photo files. It was adopted by manufacturers of computers, cameras, and memory systems early on in the evolution of digital imaging.

Additionally, JPEG image files are easy to store and use, but they have some limitations. The way they compress data is one of the major drawbacks to using JPEGs, which is why there are several alternative image formats, such as TIFF and PNG.

Why did JPEG2000 never take off?

While data compression is not a horribly bad idea, it allows for reasonable file sizes, for one thing, it does limit the quality of photographic images. JPEG2000 was invented primarily to overcome that limitation.

By the way, it’s not really compression itself that is an issue, it’s whether the compression is lossy or lossless. Lossless compression consolidates data without losing any important digital details.

Furthermore, Lossy compression removes some information that is duplicated throughout the image file. 

On a computer monitor or smartphone screen, you would probably not notice much quality difference between a lossy or lossless digital image.

When working the image in an image manipulating or post-processing program, or if making large physical prints, you will start to see some limitations in the lossy compression of JPEG.

JPEG2000 uses lossless compression or also a user defined lossy compression that doesn’t remove as much data as lossy JPEG. File extensions of JPEG2000, if you ever see them, are .jpx and .jp2. Since it’s a better format, why isn’t it more common?

As a partial answer, we can look back at a similar situation that occurred in the 1970s and 80s. The Great Video Tape Wars between Sony and JVC. Victor Corporation of Japan (JVC) released VHS in 1976, Sony released Betamax in 1975.

Both were intended for consumer home video use and also professional applications. The formats were not compatible with each other.

In almost every way that could be quantified, Betamax was a superior format over VHS, though in some ways just barely. But the consumer home video market was virtually overtaken by VHS.

The reason had little to do with any perceived quality issues, it was all about distributing the standard among other manufacturers. 

JVC licensed other makers to manufacture VHS for a royalty fee. Sony did not. Therefore, VHS quickly had deep market penetration.

It’s a similar situation with JPEG vs JPEG2000, but without the brand battles. JPEG already had deep market penetration.

JPEG2000 was not backward compatible with JPEG. So, manufacturers and engineers would need to include both standards in whatever they made. 

Though JPEG2000 is a superior format, few companies are bothered with it. Besides JPEG being virtually ubiquitous, there were also already other formats out that were lossless, namely the TIFF and PNG.

So, the need for the expense just wasn’t there for firms considering making JPEG2000 compatible products, whether hardware or software.

Differences between JPEG and JPEG2000

The differences in JPEG vs JPEG2000 are how they are made and how they are used. JPEG is discrete cosine transform-based while JPEG2000 is wavelet-based.

Subsequently, few people outside of coding engineers understand exactly what that means, but for the rest of us, it basically means that they are apples and oranges. Not at all compatible.

As for how they are used, that is of interest to photographers. JPEGs encode with lossy compression.

In other words, not all of the data present in the electronic information captured by the digital sensor actually makes it into the JPEG image file.

This is a reason why many photographers shoot in the camera’s RAW format, to get that information recorded in a form that can be read and manipulated.

JPEG2000 records losslessly. It’s still compressed, but in a way, that important data isn’t lost.

In other words, the data is compressed in a way that allows for total reconstruction of the data. With lossy compression, only partial data is recorded, the rest is gone forever. 

Along with the compression, differences come variations in file sizes. Generally speaking, a JPEG file will be smaller than a JPEG2000.

Pros of using JPEG2000 format

The advantage of using JPEG2000, provided you have devices and programs that can use them, is that you retain most of the real data captured by a digital sensor.

That means you can make deep edits and adjustments in post-processing. It also means that you should be able to make physical prints in larger sizes.

It also allows encoding a good amount of metadata in the file. Metadata is extra information about the data in the file.

Of course, it can be manually encoded later. Useful types of metadata are exposure information and copyrights.

JPEG2000 also supports higher dynamic ranges than JPEG. Thus, more exposure and color data is available to read, use, or adjust. 

Cons of using JPEG2000 format

Except in digital cinema, I couldn’t find any cameras recording in JPEG2000. And those digital cinema cameras are recording in Motion JPEG2000, or .mj2 and .mjp2.

No web browsers read JPEG2000 without utilizing some sort of plug-in. There are quite a few programs and apps that have no coding for JPEG2000, though several major programs do. 

Have you ever found a very old reel of motion picture and you really wanted to see what was on it? In order to see the data, the exposed and developed images, you had to find some piece of equipment compatible with the movie format.

In addition to fitting, you also had to play the film at the right speed. Then you could view what was recorded.

In the same way, if you are sent a JPEG2000 file, you will have to view it in a compatible program on a device that supports the standard.

Holds true the other way around, too. Send a client or a friend a JPEG2000 and they don’t have any way to read it, you only cause frustration.

Which one should you be using?

JPEG2000 is superior to JPEG but less convenient. That’s the basic conclusion we come to. Other lossless formats already exist, such as your camera RAW format, TIFs, PNGs, and PSDs.

For sending small-sized files, JPEGS works fine, and JPEGS can be read on virtually any device with a viewscreen. JPEGS can also be used by web browsers.

Sure, in the battle between JPEG vs JPEG2000, the superior format seems to be the newer one, JPEG2000.

But as stated by one ancient book, the swift does not always win the race, nor do the mighty their battles. For what it’s worth, the “lesser” format has come out as the big winner.