There’s more to digital photography than the megapixels of your camera. Many of us go around clicking pictures without realizing that there are different file formats to suit different needs. Most SLR and DLSR cameras offer three file formats—JPEG, TIFF and RAW. Let’s take a look at the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is an ISO/ITU standard format for compressing still images. The most popular and visible of the three formats, it is essentially good to reduce image sizes to make them more handy and convenient.
It is simple and versatile, and is supported by all kinds of imaging software. The best part is that you can minimize the negligible quality loss by specifying the amount of compression. You can set it to high quality if you are printing a high-resolution photograph. You could lower the quality level, upload the image on the Internet, or compress it even further to send it in an email.
It compresses a larger image to a much smaller size, but this results in loss of quality. This is because the JPEG format looks at the image and removes only the information that it can recreate by looking at neighbouring pixels when the image is displayed again.
Tagged Image File Format, or TIFF, is ideal for high resolution printing and page layouts. TIFF compresses the image in such a way that you can restore the original one when needed.
This file format is most popular with media houses and photographers who would want to compress the file and yet be able to restore the original as and when required. To work with photos, use a loss-less format such as TIFF or the RAW format of your editing software.
It consumes a lot of memory space. It means that your camera memory or hard disk drive can fill up much faster than JPEG pictures.
RAW file format allows you to save your pictures in their original form, minus colour adjustments, white balance or sharpening. The images are stored exactly the way the camera “sees” it.
It’s a great tool for photographers who have a lot of storage space and want to have a backup of the original, unedited images.
There is no processing done by the camera before the image is saved. This is one of the major advantages of RAW because today’s digital cameras can detect more than 256 levels of strength. But since the TIFF and JPEG formats don’t allow more than that number, the camera throws away that extra information. The RAW format saves these extra strength levels, giving you a better image and more contrast levels. And then, you have complete control in manipulating the image any Photoshop or Paint program. Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop Elements 4 or 5 are great for processing RAW images. Adobe’s Lightroom is one way of achieving near-natural photos. There is complete flexibility and control over your images, especially once you figure out how to use the curves tool in Photoshop/Lightroom. It’s best to edit on a raw image as there is no quality loss.
It takes a little longer to record the picture on the camera’s media, but when the time comes to process it, you’ll find it worth the wait. After all, RAW format gives you the ability to change white-balance, hues, contrasting colours, highlights and everything else.
If you are shooting in fast-shooting mode, say ice skating or rally racing, use the JPEG mode, because the time the RAW format takes to record could cost you a good shot. RAW takes a longer time to store and copy. As there is no single RAW standard for all cameras, you would need to use your camera manufacturer’s software to read the RAW file.
If you have large storage space and don’t mind the additional time loss due to storing and copying, TIFF and RAW images are ideal. Also, if you want to enlarge your pictures, TIFF and RAW score all the way.
But, if you don’t really have a high-end camera, and don’t need to print large images, you can do without TIFF and RAW. The JPEG format should do the trick for you as it saves a much smaller image size with negligible quality loss. The best way to go about using it is to set it to high image quality (that’s “12” on the quality radar), and you should do well.