TIFF, RAW, JPG: find out which is the best image format for photos

TIFF, RAW, or JPG are only some of the image formats available. There are several formats and they influence the quality of digital photography. Each extension affects the photo differently and has its advantages and disadvantages when editing in programs like Photoshop, storing in cloud services like Google Photos, for example, or when posting on social networks like Instagram or Facebook.

Techidence has gathered in this list the three most common formats in digital and mobile cameras to explain the differences between them: TIFF, RAW, and JPG/JPEG.

To begin with, we should explain that there are two compression categories: Lossless and Lossy. Lossless compression preserves the image and because of this, the file size is larger than the others. It is usually applied to images that require higher quality and where the fidelity of every detail is very important.

Lossy compression, on the other hand, stores the image in a smaller size because it is more dedicated to the portability of the file, especially for online use on websites, blogs, and other platforms.

JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

JPG Format

The JPG image format, also known as JPEG, is one of the best-known image formats and uses the lossy compression method. Developed specifically for storing photographic images, JPEG has become the standard format in popular digital cameras and for display on the web.

The JPG image format has an infinitely smaller file size than TIFF and RAW and is almost ready because the camera’s converter acts according to its settings. Edits end up being small. It can be compressed on the fly without the parts of the photo that matter being changed.

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However, depending on the amount of noise or detail in an image, the compression may be affected. Those with soft skies and little texture will compress better. A JPG image can have up to 16 million colors and can undergo various levels of compression. The maximum size of a JPG file is 65535 X 65535 pixels. The maxim goes, the higher the compression, the smaller the file size, consequently, the lower the quality of the photo.

The bit depth per channel (bpc) tells you how many unique colors are available for each pixel. The more bits per pixel, the more colors available and the more accurate the representation. JPEG supports 8 bpc.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)

TIFF Format

Very popular among professionals, if you are wondering what a TIFF image is, this format can be very good for editing and printing. Because it has low or almost no compression, the image does not lose detail like JPG, but the files are much larger and also heavier.

Like a Photoshop (PSD) file, a photo saved in TIFF format supports the use of layers (different versions of the image within the same file) and transparent background. It is not supported by some browsers and may not open if you try to view it as you do with other, more common formats. Unlike JPEG, TIFF files can have a bit depth of 16 bpc or 8 bpc.


RAW Format

Ideal for editing details, RAW is a file that does not suffer any compression (TIFF suffers minimal compression). As its name says, it is a “raw” file. The main difference with JPG is that RAW records everything that the camera sees, so it allows freedom to the photographer, who will process the information in his way. This format works as a “digital negative” – equivalent to film in analog photography – which is why it is accepted by justice as evidence in a court of law.

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Since the RAW image format does not suffer any compression, its color depth is 30/36 bpc, giving more fidelity to the image. The problem with this extension is its size: it can be two to six times larger than a JPG file. In addition, RAW does not have a unique extension but depends on the camera manufacturer. Canon, for example, uses the extension .crw or .cr2, and Nikon uses .nef or .nrw.

Those who prefer to use RAW should also master a little bit of image editing because the files are only opened in editing software. The most suitable are Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, which come with the Adobe Camera Raw plugin. This is why many professionals recommend saving images in RAW and JPG on the memory card.

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