What Are the Differences Between JPEG, TIFF, and RAW?

Learn When to Use Each Type Photo File Format

Tips for shooting in RAW, TIFF, and JPEG
One of the best reasons to shoot in RAW is to allow you to edit your photos more easily later, including adjusting the white balance. Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

Q: What are the differences between JPEG, TIFF, and RAW photo file formats?

JPEG, TIFF, and RAW are photo file formats that nearly all DSLR cameras can use. Beginning cameras typically only offer JPEG file formats. Some DSLR cameras and shoot in JPEG and RAW simultaneously. And while you won't find a lot of cameras that offer TIFF photography, some advanced cameras do offer this precise image format.

Continue reading to learn more about each type of photo file format.

JPEG

JPEG uses a compression format to remove some pixels that the compression algorithm deems unimportant, thereby saving some storage space. The compression will take place in areas of the photo where the colors of the pixels repeat, such as in a photo that shows a lot of blue sky. The firmware or software inside the camera will compute the compression level at the time the camera saves the photo, so the reduced storage space occurs immediately, saving space on the memory card. 

Most photographers will work in JPEG the majority of the time, as JPEG is the standard image format in digital cameras, especially inexpensive point and shoot cameras. Smartphone cameras also record in JPEG format the majority of the time. More advanced cameras, such as DSLR cameras, also shoot in JPEG a lot of the time. If you're planning to share photos across social media, making use of JPEG is smart, as it's easier to send the smaller files through social media.

RAW

RAW is close to film-quality, requiring a lot of storage space. The digital camera does not compress or process a RAW file in any way. Some people refer to RAW format as a "digital negative" because it doesn't change anything about the file when storing it. Depending on your camera manufacturer, the RAW format may be called something else, such as NEF or DNG.

All of these formats are very similar, even though they use different image formats.

Few beginner-level cameras allow RAW format file storage. Some professional and advanced photographers like RAW because they can perform their own editing on the digital photograph without having to worry about what elements of the photo the compression program will remove, such as with JPEG. For example, you can change the white balance of a photo shot in RAW using image editing software. Some smartphone cameras are starting to offer RAW image formats along with JPEG.

One disadvantage to shooting in RAW is the large amount of storage space required, which will fill your memory card quickly. Another issue you may encounter with RAW is that you cannot open it with certain types of image editing or viewing software. For example, Microsoft Paint cannot open RAW files. Most stand alone image editing programs can open RAW files.

TIFF

TIFF is a compression format that does not lose any information about the photo's data, either. TIFF files are much larger in data size than JPEG or RAW files. TIFF is a more common format in graphics publishing or medical imaging than it is with digital photography, although there are instances where professional photographers may have a project where a TIFF file format is required.

Very few cameras have the ability to record in TIFF.

How to Use JPEG, RAW, and TIFF

Unless you're a professional photographer who is going to make huge prints, a high-quality JPEG setting is probably going to meet your needs for photo data. TIFF and RAW are overkill for many photographers, unless you have a specific reason for shooting in TIFF or RAW, such as the need for precise image editing.

Find more answers to common camera questions on the camera FAQ page.

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