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News & Insight

JPEG Gets A Major Update – Now A Rival For RAW & TIFF?

By Kishore Sawh on January 22nd 2014


For those of you who read in pixels and write in matrices of ones and zeroes, you’ll appreciate the news just broken by The Independent JPEG Group. For those who still read in print and write with a feather quill, like me, this is still important.

A JPEG is the ubiquitous file format standard most widely used as a lossy compression format for digital images. While the degree of compression can be somewhat adjusted to find a balance between quality and size, a compression ratio of 10:1 is most typically used. This usually achieves compression with a modicum of perceptible loss. The JPEG standard came about in 1991 and publicly in ‘92 and has been getting updates since. The standard specifies the codec which dictates how an image is compressed and decompressed.


[REWIND:RAW vs JPEG (JPG) – The Ultimate Visual Guide]

The Independent JPEG Group defines that standard and have just released version 9.1, the latest of the ‘libjpeg’ library, which will support greater color depths of 12-bit, as well as greater scaling (“Smart Scale”), and compression choices (arithmetic coding). Most interestingly to photographers would be the new option of entirely loss-less compression. Most pros will preach the merits of RAW in terms of loss-less quality and high-grade editability, but it may mean JPEGs will soon be able to do the same.


From the press release there seems to be an understanding that this update will not reach a mass audience of applications immediately, and higher-end printing and projection will likely be using it first. It’s hard to imagine photographic hardware and software going for this new JPEG in place of RAW, so it will be interesting to see how well, and widely it is received in our field. What are your thoughts on the matter? And DOES it matter?

Source: INFAI & Photoscala

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Craig

    The arguments on RAW Vs JPEG always get a little silly. While reading what most people have written it is clear that almost all of you have no understanding regarding the quality difference. I shoot RAW, not because I can’t get it right in camera because I always get it right in camera, I shoot raw because the Lightroom presets are too demanding on a raw file. With a lot of processing you don’t get the same color depth, this isn’t just the case with raw or JPEG but is the same with high ISO compared to Low ISO. I frequently shoot in low light and at a fast pace, and because of this RAW is better for me but only because of the final adjustments I will make. The problem is that new cameras are getting higher and higher pixel counts. I would like higher pixel counts since I create large prints, but my camera cannot hold many raw files in the buffer. I find that exceeding 16 megapixels is too demanding when it comes to shooting in raw and so I am forced to keep to a lower pixel count so that I can continue shooting RAW. I welcome a 12 bit loss less JPEG but only the file sizes offer my a larger buffer count and faster write speeds. On paper Raw does not give you better than this. For all people that shoot RAW just because it is supposedly better, I bet most of you have no idea how to work with a RAW file. I’ve seen the rubbish on most photographer websites. Raw doesn’t do most of you any good at all, since you just don’t understand it. I know why I shoot RAW, and it is just because of my processing needs. Even still I could just shoot JPEG and tell you a shot it in raw and non of you would have any idea it was shot in JPEG.

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  2. Charlie MacPherson

    As a wildlife and nature shooter, I’m usually not in control of the lighting on my subjects. There are many instances where properly exposing my subjects results in blown highlights.

    This – at least in my experience – is where the RAW format shines. If those highlights are blown by less than 1 stop, I have a good chance of being able to recover detail in post.

    If the new JPG format can compare in this regard, it may be worth a glance, but I don’t see any real advantage in my application, aside of a tiny improvement in number of frames available in the buffer.

    I’ve always made it a practice to manage my buffer when shooting wildlife and don’t lose shots because I’ve overrun it.

    But if I’m on a Polar Bear shoot and I end up with unrecoverable blown highlights because of this new JPG format, you’ll hear me scream all the way from northern Alaska.

    I’ll stick with RAW until I have a darn good reason to switch.

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  3. fiatlux

    Lossless JPEG is nothing new. It was there from almost the beginning, albeit with poor compression results.

    This led to the creation of a new, more efficient lossless JPEG format: JPEG-LS.

    JPEG-2000, which aimed at replacing JPEG with state-of-the-art compression techniques, also included lossless extensions.

    Note that this latest lossless encoding option has been developed by the Independent JPEG Group. It is not clear to me how this relates to the ISO JPEG standardisation progress.

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    • fiatlux

      …and for what photography concerns, support for 12bit depths and wide gamuts are much more important than lossless coding in my humble opinion.

      I’d much rather have 12bit lossy JPEG than 8 bit lossless. And neither replace RAW.

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  4. Middletonduff

    It’s an interesting update. Typically RAW formats have always been the domain of the higher end product while JPEG has been used on the “everything ” else type of camera. The lossless issue will bridge the gap between the 2 formats. There is more to to RAW format like Metadata and white balance. Still could it mark the end of DNG ?

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  5. Mrd

    Rember: Every time a jpeg file is opened you lose information.

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  6. Michael Steinbach

    Sure, we should see this about the same time JPG 2000 gets adopted…. What never heard of it? look in your “save as” selections in PS right below jpg. The same or similar promise but no adaptation.

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  7. Tom Kwas

    I shoot Nikon, even tho I think the Canon is a better camera, specifically because the model I have shoots TIFF. I’ve spent 40+ years as a photographer, the vast majority shooting transparency and delivering it direct to agencies. Most of the things I do are under controlled lighting, so nailing a transparency in the old days, is like nailing a TIFF today. I am totally frustrated by cameras that have no TIFF option, so I have to shoot RAW and spend time futzing with it before delivery; time my clients do NOT pay me for. Any process that improves what I can do with the file before delivery is a plus. BUT, in order for this to work for me, it would have to be loss-less after minor changes: i.e someone would have to be able to open the file and make minor exposure changes of a half stop or less, or minor color moves, then re store with no loss. If not, forget it, it’s still TIFF for me. BTW, I read years ago that MicroSoft had a jpeg variant that they were trying to get people to back that was totally loss-less, and could be resaved with changes that would soften the file, and no one was interested.

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  8. Benji

    I wonder what ever happened to Jpeg 2000?

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  9. Gogu

    That RAW in PS vs JPG in Camera is a VERY forced statement. I know usually with Canon cameras, there used to be a big problem with in-camera JPG photos. They were visibly softer than the JPG resulting from a RAW conversion on a computer. By older I have noticed this issue in Canon 1D Mk3 and Canon 5D Mark 1. I have no idea if these issues have been resolved in newer cameras, but it’s easy to check if you have a Canon camera, just shoot RAW + JPG and then compare.
    On the other hand, Nikon doesn’t seem to have this problem, not even with older models such as D300 that I tested for this issue. I have tested this with my Nikon D3, shot RAW + JPG a whole photo shoot especially for this purpose, 2 months ago. Came home, got my RAWs inside Capture NX, View NX and Adobe Camera Raw and converted them into JPGs ( I have to photos available if anyone is interested ). Both Capture NX and View NX looked absolutely 100% the same as the JPG shot in camera – even in more difficult scenes with great lighting differences, somewhat to be expected as both programs retain the colour profiles settings from the camera – and the Adobe one looked visibly more washed out and softer, again somewhat normal considering it does not retain any settings from the camera to the RAW file – after playing with the settings inside ACR, I managed to KINDA get them closer to the NX ones. However, bottom line is, at least with Nikon cameras, there is no sharpness loss, nor any type of detail loss even in shadows/highlights when compared to JPG if you are NOT messing up with the settings. Dynamic range is a whole different story, RAW is years ahead in that department.
    So I shoot RAW only when I have nasty lightning conditions so I need to BRING out details in Shadows/Highlights later or if I shoot landscapes or scenes I know for sure I will need to HDR later. If you do not take advantage of the huge dynamic range, and you shoot in controlled conditions or the light is great, RAW doesn’t bring any real advantage in my opinion ( at least for Nikon shooters ). Shooting RAW and just converting those into JPG without working on the files, is simply not needed from my experience.

    However, it doesn’t mean that if you shoot JPG and miss-expose, the shot is ruined. Mistakes happen, lights change dramatically.
    Here is an example of a ruined exposure JPG shot by a lot more than 1 stop ( my fault, I was taken by surprise by their coming in, I was shooting details in the church and the priests were not ready either but they hurried in anyway ). With a bit of PS work – things can be resolved in a very usable manner. Mind you, the original, underexposed shot was taken at ISO1600 so the dynamic range of the CMOS sensor was already sliced-out considerably. However I think I managed to save a pretty crucial shot:
    Here’s the file:
    And this is a 5 year old camera. I reckon the newer cameras might have fared even better. Yes a RAW file would have been great here, but I very rarely happen to miss the exposure in this way.

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    • Sam

      If you think the Nikon JPEG engine is flawless, I’ve got news for you, it’s not….at all. I’m a photojournalist and often find myself in office environments with mediocre fluorescent lighting. Try shooting RAW + JPEG at ISO 1600 or higher in fluorescent lighting, do a straight convert of the RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW CS5 or better, and tell me the resulting JPEG is no better than the in-camera JPEG. Trust me, it won’t be.

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    • Sam

      btw, I’ve been a Nikon shooter since the film days, so this is not a knock against Nikon, but rather in-camera JPEG processing in general.

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  10. Sam

    Short answer, it’s not even close to being a rival. It might be a rival for an 8-bit TIFF, but who the hell shoots TIFF these days anyway?

    The main reason to use RAW and TIFF is that you can get 12-16 bits per channel. A little compression and chroma subsampling won’t show up in a 36 mpx photo in any real way. The lower dynamic range and reduced sampling precision certainly will show up when you go to edit though. Additionally, in-camera JPEG engines don’t get upgraded, but ACR does. Being able to re-process an image down the line with a better JPEG engine (like the one mentioned here) and with better noise reduction can breathe life into old photos and lengthen a camera’s lifespan.

    The only people I see benefitting from a camera that can shoot lossless jpegs are studio photographers who don’t do much post production and spend the time to get the lighting perfect in-camera. That’s it, and that type of person is probably still the type to shoot raw anyway.

    Also, to go more in-depth with why bitrate is important, there’s also this article wrote a while back:

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    • Shaun

      I agree with you. the new JPEGs may be an improvement but its still a compression of what the RAW format would have captured. that in itself is enough to separate RAW & JPEG. the statement “rival for RAW & TIFF” is an overstatement.

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  11. James Billings

    The point of RAW isn’t compression, it’s the extra dynamic range you can use before finally saving to another format (png/jpg)
    Lossless jpg is a viable alternative to png or tif but the reasons you use raw are unrelated.

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  12. FinnO

    You should also consider, that I don’t see, why the lossless JPEG-compression should be much better than the algorithms that are used in RAW. And if JPEGs are basically the same size, the point of using it, is pretty much gone.

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    • Eric Lefebvre

      Finno, compatibility. JPEG is an established standard … pretty much anything with a display can display JPEG … there are literally 100’s of RAW formats.

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  13. Drew Pluta

    I’m a little puzzled as to why this is being discussed as a contender to replace RAW. Unless it’s better quality why would we care? Sure burst mode shooting but that’s a fringe consideration. It seems there is always a faction of photographers who desperately desire jpg to be a viable pro shooting option. It makes no sense.

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    • Brian Harmon

      Drew there are many pro’s who shoot nothing but Jpeg and have for years. 95% of sports shoot in jpeg. Scott Kelby often shoots in Jpeg etc. Drew what do you store as to have printed?

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  14. Tom Gill

    Unless the new JPEG can perform in post processing the same way a RAW image performs………. I’ll stick to RAW. However, that said, when I’m required to take JPEG images – when photos are needed fast, or in burst mode – I’ll be very happy if those JPEGs have better potential, and no loss.

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  15. Harrison Lansing

    I you don’t see the detail loss in the zoomed RAW/Processed vs JPEG comparison I don’t know what to say. Look at the shadow detail, sharpness, contrast, edge detail, etc and tell me one of those is not demonstrably better than the other…

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  16. Hilary

    Looks great when perfectly exposed but how does it look when the exposure is a stop under or over?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hilary, hi there. I myself have many questions and would like to see all the variations. The images above are from another article we posted prior which is a wonderful breakdown of the differences. However, they are not of the new standard. Cheers -K

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    • Brian Harmon


      IVe been messing with Jpeg VS RAW since updating software and camera body SLT A99 and there is little difference even pixel peeping. printed IVe not had anyone be able to tell the difference up to 11×17 (largest I can print myself on epson R1900) 2 stop under exposed or more RAW has a tiny advantage, over exposed the no real difference. and for printing we pretty much all save as Jpeg anyway. Within a year or so RAW may never be needed (I still shoot RAW and Jpeg out of habit)

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