JPEG image files are as ubiquitous to digital photography as 3 ½ x 5 ¼ inch prints were to film photography.
Just as 35mm film photography had other size prints available, notably the 4 x 6-inch snapshot print, so does digital photography have other image file options, JPEG vs TIFF.
A 4×6” or 4R print was superior in some ways to the 3R or 3×5 as it was often referred to, even as Betamax was superior in some ways to VHS for video.
There are other digital image file format options that have some definite advantages over JPEG. One common alternative format is TIFF. Keep on reading to find out more!
JPEG Vs Tiff In 2023 (All you need to know)
What is Tiff Format?
TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format. Without getting too technical, tagged means it can hold a whole bunch of information about the image.
Besides the exposure values and RGB data, it holds other information that can be accessed, read, or manipulated by imaging programs.
By the way, though the basic format has been around since 1986 when using the term TIFF, most photographers are actually referring to Baseline 6.0 TIFF lossless format as created by Aldus Corp in 1992, defined by Adobe Systems in 1994, and improved by Adobe in 2002.
Pros of using Tiff format
Right there in the spec definition is one of the main reasons many photographers and graphic artists employ TIFF, the format is lossless. In other words, there is no compression to the file.
Compression is a basic idea in our everyday computer-using lives. It makes files smaller by reducing redundancy.
Essentially, it takes out of the file data that can be readily removed without changing the basics of whatever is in that file.
Photographically, compression takes away information that can be used to adjust exposure, contrast, and color reproduction.
Images that have a lot of detail in them, or a wide range of colors and exposure values, typically can’t be compressed as much as images with large expanses of similar tone or features.
So, an image of a document can be compressed a whole lot, a picture including a large area of the sky can be compressed a great deal also, while a photograph of a group portrait won’t allow too much compression. Generally speaking.
A TIFF leaves in all that “extra” information so that it can still be accessed or even changed. When converting camera RAW image files, saving them as a TIFF preserves all the information that was originally present.
Cons of using Tiff format
File sizes are huge in TIFFs. A typical scene recorded in-camera RAW and saved directly to TIFF without any manipulation can almost triple the file size.
A 20MP camera RAW file can easily become 60MP as a TIFF, while a similar image recorded as a JPEG maybe only about 8MP. These numbers aren’t exact, because there are many variables involved.
Another issue is that many printers won’t print from a TIFF. That problem is easily managed, simply save it as a JPEG and keep the TIFF for future use.
Unfortunately, that all starts to eat up computer memory. When shooting with some of the newer high-megapixel sensor cameras, computer storage becomes a major consideration.
In addition to file storage, there’s computer processing memory and speed to consider. Each TIFF takes up more room to process than a JPEG would.
With older or less expensive computers having limited RAM and processor speed, this means that working on the images will take longer than with compressed or other smaller image formats.
What is JPEG format?
JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Expert Group, a group formed for creating and maintaining standards involving digital photography.
Similar to how ASA and ISO for film (and later digital sensor) light sensitivity referred to American Statistical Association and International Organization for Standardization.
Longtime film photographers will also recognize the acronym DIN, Deutsches Institut für Normung.
All of these organizations represent a set of standards with worldwide acceptance. Without standards, not much could get done, or repeated, in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, or even education.
As an example, what if Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa marketed films labeled slow, fast, and really fast.
Without knowing what relevant parameters were employed to arrive at those labels, there would have been no consistency in making adequate comparisons.
History and economics lessons aside, JPEG is a digital photographic image format that utilizes lossy compression in order to keep files compatible and reasonably sized.
Pros of using JPEG format
The primary advantages of the JPEG format are related to speed, storage space, and accessibility.
Speed relates to both reading and writing. Recording a JPEG in-camera is a fairly rapid process, depending on the memory card and camera processor configurations.
A JPEG begins as a recording of most, but not all, of the exposure, color, and detail in a scene. You can even set your camera to record in different-sized files.
Any other device that reads JPEGs, including mobile devices, can quickly render an image to a viewscreen. Processing speed is also quickened since it is already less for any program to read as opposed to a camera RAW image file.
Storage space for image files can be optimized by means of increased compression. Even without further compression, JPEG files tend to be smaller in total size than TIFF or camera RAW.
Additionally, smaller storage space also lets JPEGs be sent over most e-mail servers without the sometimes needed step of uploading to a cloud folder and sending the link or having to resort to sending zipped files.
Virtually any device that can display images can read a JPEG. Even small mobile devices are compatible with the JPEG standard.
The smaller file sizes also come into play here, as a device with limited processing speed, RAM, or storage space is less likely to crash or be unable to read and display the image.
Cons of using JPEG format
Since JPEG makes use of lossy compression as part of its standard, you are losing some form of information from either the original scene or the image file.
Certain operations in sophisticated image processing programs are able to make good use of the data in a TIFF or RAW file that may be completely missing from a JPEG.
For instance, deep layer exposure and color information is recorded in a RAW file that isn’t in a JPEG, or that information is only recorded in a limited manner with JPEGs.
A skilled post-processor can pull image data out of a deeper recording that can enhance an image to a great degree.
Color profiles need to be set with JPEGs, too. Using a RAW file, you can set whatever color profile you need and the data within the deep image file will render as you intended it to.
With a JPEG, if you did not record it with the proper white balance in the first place, there may not be enough exposure and color data within the file to correct it during post-processing.
Also, since a JPEG uses lossy compression, not being a lossless format, you can actually degrade the image by using too much compression.
Additionally, details become soft, contrast can be missing, and the overall image has a ‘soft’ feel.
All of these things can be controlled, though. Either in-camera or as we save new files after post-processing.
Which one do I recommend?
All things being equal, I prefer shooting in-camera RAW and saving it as a lossless TIFF during processing.
All things are rarely equal in every shooting situation, so there are good reasons to also shoot in JPEG format.
If I am shooting photos that need to be sent to a client right away, a JPEG straight out of the camera can be sent without too much worry about whether they can view the image.
JPEG vs TIFF, which is best? I have filled up portable hard drives and cloud accounts with TIFFs, and I have printed and shared so many JPEGs I have lost count.
They are both great formats for their intended usage. By learning the differences, we can make the right call for whatever we are photographing.