Tiff vs Jpeg – Where and When to Use Them

tiff vs jpeg featured image.

Tiff vs Jpeg implies that a showdown looms between jpeg and tiff with a last-file-standing conclusion. These two file formats are among the most frequently used in digital photography. The differences between tiff and jpeg define their places in photography. Therefore, it’s good to know how they are different and when they are most useful.

In this article, we dive into how these two file formats came into being, look at their pros and cons, and demonstrate how both – tiff and jpeg – occupy specialized roles in digital photography.

Basic Differences Between Tiff and Jpeg

In simple terms, tiff files excel in image quality, making them the go-to format for editing and large format printing. Jpegs find their place in online distribution and compact file storage.

tif file format editing printing.
Tiff files are superb for high-quality image editing and large-format printing.
jpg file storage and online display.
Jpeg sets the standard for Internet images and the small file size accommodates storage.

Tiff images contain all of the data of the original photograph, resulting in significantly larger files and high quality images. Meanwhile, jpeg files lose some data with each save. This results from the compression methods used.

The jpeg’s lossy compression algorithm creates a smaller, more manageable file size with some accompanying loss of image quality. However, extensive editing with photography software leads to further image degradation. Compression artifacts emerge as this data loss increases. With care, high quality jpegs hit a sweet spot between file size and data loss. So, images intended for online use take advantage of the lossy compression of jpeg files.

A tiff can be saved with or without compression. As an added advantage, the tiff compression system retains all the original image data. In Photoshop, tiff offers an option to save layers. A tiff file can sustain numerous edit and save processes without displaying any loss of image quality. Therefore, tiff is the favorite for editing and for high quality, large format printing.

Tiff and Jpeg File Size

Jpegs are significantly smaller in size compared to the tiff format.

This photo of a cargo ship, when saved in tiff and jpeg formats, illustrates this point.

The image measures 4500 x 3000 pixels. When saved as a tiff file, it requires 82.3 megabytes of storage space. Saved as a jpeg, it takes only 7.6 megabytes.

ship save image size and size.

Let’s distinguish between image size and file size. Pixels represent the dimensions – the width and height of the visual representation. Megabytes, abbreviated MB, denote the digital weight of the file. The metadata blocks below show the difference in file size of the tiff and jpeg formats. For more on this, see the post on exif data.

photo metadata tiff file format.
Metadata of a tiff image file.
photo metadata jpeg file format.
Metadata of a jpeg image file.

To sum up, jpegs can be tailored to offer good image quality and fast load speed, which makes it a great choice for online use. But you have better options for printing.

The tiff file format offers just that, with superb detail and color rendition. In addition, tiff files maintain all their data in storage, thanks to lossless compression. However, the large file size makes them too cumbersome for web use.

Tiff vs Jpeg Backstory

Let’s look at a bit of Tiff vs Jpeg history. As defined by the Library of Congress, the tiff is a “tag-based file format for storing and interchanging raster images.” The jpeg file allows “bitstreams to be exchanged between a wide variety of platforms and applications.”

Tag image file format abbreviates to .tif as a file extension. Tiff files are compatible with a wide range of image processing software. The publishing, photography, and graphic design industries use the tiff format extensively.

Jpeg becomes .jpg as a file extension. This format is also widely compatible across a range of platforms, particularly on web applications where load speed is in demand. Also, at high resolution and low compression, the jpeg format is acceptable for printing.

The Aldus Corporation developed the tiff, or tagged image file format, in the late 1980s. Aldus was later acquired by Adobe.

C-Cube Microsystems created the jpeg file system in 1992. The Joint Photographic Experts Group set the standards for the system and their acronym became its name.

Raw File Formats

Raise your hand if you shoot raw. The raw file format captures the greatest detail and color quality your digital camera can produce. A previous post, Raw vs Jpeg, has some excellent information.

If you shoot in jpeg, you lose image data in the camera. That data cannot be recovered by up-saving a jpeg to tiff. The smaller files may save space on your memory card, but you will have some image degradation right out of the camera.

Save from a large file to a smaller file, as this graphic demonstrates.

Once a file is saved to Jpeg, the lost information cannot be restored by saving up to Tiff.

graphic save tiff to jpeg.
Save from Tiff to Jpeg.

From Raw to Tiff

The lossless compression of the tiff files preserves the detail and depth of color of the original file. Then that file can go through multiple editing programs and be saved to a format with a smaller file size for use on applications where high speed takes priority over top quality. And then, you can retain the original image as a saved tiff for future use.

Storage Space

Hundreds or possibly thousands of tiff files crowding your computer creates a storage issue. An image saved in the tiff format can be 200 megabytes or more. Therefore, 75 tiff images at 200 MB each would fill a 15 GB flash drive. External storage is advised.

Tiff File Compression

The downside of tiff files is size; however, compression mitigates the size issue with no loss of image quality. The two most commonly used options for compressing tiff files are LZW and zip.

LZW compression takes its name creators, Lempel, Ziv, and Welch. This type of lossless compression employs a single code number to encode a combination of recurring characters.

PKWARE founder Phil Katz created the Zip file. Another type of lossless compression, the Zip file encodes data into a smaller number of bits by deleting nonessential or repetitive data.

The Tiff Options panel in Photoshop shows Image Compression choices.

Pixel Order defaults to Interleaved, which is compatible with all tiff applications.

photoshop tiff options panel.
Photoshop options panel for saving as tiff.

Either method – Zip or LZW – results in significantly smaller file sizes with no loss of image quality, saving space on the disk or server.

Tiff Compression

I saved the skyline photo below with no compression, then with Zip compression, to compare.

skyline photo.
Skyline – original photo is 5400 x 3600 pixels.

Zip compression reduced the file size from 273.5 MB to 197.2 MB.

tif metadata no compression.
Metadata no compression.
tif metadata zip compression.
Metadata Zip compression.

The algorithms used in image compression work best when they can collate large amounts of similar information. Therefore, photos with less detail and limited color tones will compress further, resulting in an even smaller file size.

Compressed files work a bit slower. Also, some programs may not be compatible with compressed tiff files; however, that’s uncommon in the present time.

Recommended: for 8-bit tiff file, go with either LZW or Zip. For 16-bit tiffs, Zip is better.

Saving Jpeg Image File Formats

Digital cameras and the Internet created a demand for quality images that are easy to use, load quickly, and work across all platforms. In the Tiff vs Jpeg matchup for online use, we have a clear winner. Jpeg files have unrivaled compatibility across web browsers, image processing programs, and online applications.

The jpeg image file format “supports up to 24-bit color and uses lossy compression to compress images for more convenient storage and sending,” according to Adobe. Follow this link for more data about the jpeg file.

Jpeg counterparts include jpg, jpg, jif, jfif, and jfi.

An image with a transparent background will not save as a jpeg. A better solution is a format that supports transparency, such as a GIF or PNG.

Jpeg Format Options

The Baseline Standard Jpeg employs a format recognized by almost all web browsers. Other formats, Baseline Optimized and Progressive offer enhanced color and greater detail but are not compatible with all web browsers.

The JPEG Options panel in Photoshop.

The Image Options slider sets the file size – the amount of compression.

Format Options defaults to Baseline (“Standard”) in Photoshop.

photoshop jpeg options panel.

To share photos online, you’ll want to save them in the appropriate size. A number of options are available for resizing Jpegs.

  • Paint is an image editing program that comes free with windows.
  • The Preview application on Mac operating systems offers another free option for resizing jpegs.
  • Apps such as Resize Me! and Image Shrink are available for Android devices.
  • Various online resizing programs vie for your attention, many of which are free.

Keep in mind that as you resize and save a jpeg over multiple sessions, you risk image deterioration in the form of artifacts. In this bird photo, which has been saved and resaved, the sky shows color banding, a common artifact.

bird image showing artifacts.
Photo after multiple saves, showing artifacts.

Tiff and Jpeg Conclusion

In the Jpeg and Tiff matchup, both are leaders in their respective specialties. They represent two of the most common formats in digital photography.

The jpeg rules the web since it requires less space for storing and loads quickly.

The tiff retains the most data, giving it the advantage in editing and printing.

In the jpeg vs tiff face-off, it’s a win-win.


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