In digital photography, JPEG and TIFF are the two most prominent file formats. Each one boasts unique strengths for different applications. Whether you’re a professional photographer, graphic designer, or just someone looking to save and share images, it is important to understand the differences between these two formats, their strengths and weaknesses, etc.

In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into what makes JPEG vs TIFF a distinct comparison, and we’ll examine aspects like image compression, file sizes, practical usage, and more. So, let’s dive in!

What is a JPEG File?

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is perhaps the most recognizable and widely used image file format. It is popular because of its efficient compression techniques, which significantly reduce file size while maintaining a reasonable image quality. Whether you are clicking photos on a camera/phone, or you are any sort of digital image artist, the .JPG file extension is your go-to option for saving and especially sharing your imagery.

This format uses what is called lossy compression, meaning some image data is lost or “thrown away” during the process of saving (creating) the image file. However, you can use less compression, which results in a higher quality image, or you can use more compression, which saves file space but results in a poorer qulaity image.

JPEGs are typically used for all kinds of digital photography & imaging; even if a camera captures images in a “raw” format initially, most photographs eventually become JPGs by the time they are shared and/or viewed online. This is due to their near-perfect balance of quality and file size.

What is a TIFF File?

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is favored for its high-quality image preservation. Unlike JPEG, TIFF can create image files with zero compression, or lossless compression, and these options ensure that there is near-zero loss of image quality.

This means that TIF is a preferred choice for image editing in professional settings, such as graphic design or publishing, where maintaining the original, highest-quality imagery is paramount.

Difference Between JPEG and TIFF Files

In the above example, you can clearly see that the image on the left has vibrant colors, crisp details, and smooth, subtle tones, while the image on the right has faded colors, slightly mushy details, and “blocky” tone transitions.

You might think that this representation is a perfect example of just how much better TIF is vesus JPG, however, you’d be wrong! The JPG image you see above was merely saved at its worst-possible settings, (extremely high compression) …and it was re-saved a half-dozen times, too! In other words, the above example is completely mis-representing how good a JPG image can actually look.

In reality, if you actually compare a TIF mage against a  highest-quality JPG version of the same image, you will simply not see any difference whatsoever, at a glance. In fact, you’d have to zoom in to 200% to see even the faintest hint of lost detail in the JPG image. (See below)

The bottom line is this: JPG is a very powerful image file type, and virtually 100% of photographers and digital photographers should use the JPG format almost 99% of the time when they are exporting, sharing, or even printing their imagery.

However, there are plenty of instances in which using TIF is also highly desirable, so you must continue reading!

JPG vs TIF | Compression

JPEG uses lossy compression, which makes it more suitable for web use where smaller file sizes are essential. However, as demonstrated above, JPG has a very wide range of compression algorithms at its disposal. Adobe Lightroom offers a range from 1% to 100%, and Adobe Photoshop simplifies it as a range from 1-12. Either way, the highest quality settings for JPG compression can still save you more than 50% compared to either a raw or TIF file type, and the “worst” quality JPG compression can save you an incredible amount of space, although we don’t usually recommend it.

TIFF, on the other hand, often uses lossless compression, or fully uncompressed, making it ideal for editing and archiving high-quality images. Additionally, TIF files’ compression-related quality loss does not worsen if you open the same image a 2nd time, edit it some more, and then save it again. (With a JPG, each time you open it and perform an edit, your newly saved results will get a tiny bit worse!)

Lastly, TIF images offer 8-bit and 16-bit quality, the latter of which affords truly incredible image quality, especially in terms of preserving smooth tone/color transitions.

Therefore, TIF files, although significantly large, are a must-have for anyone who is doing a lot of image editing, re-saving, and expects to use the final result for anything that will be viewed in high-resolution or as a large print.

JPG vs TIF | Practical Usage

jpg vs raw landscape photography

As you might imagine from our descriptions above, JPEG images are ubiquitous in digital photography and online platforms, including websites and social media. Even if you set your camera to shoot in “RAW”, and even if you edit some files in Photoshop as TIFs here and there, inevitably virtually all your images will eventually be shared as JPG files.

The simple reason for this is that JPG is the ubiquitous file format of virtually the entire internet, and most web-based apps and platforms. The internet simply has a terrible time viewing TIF files, as well as various raw files or PSD files. 

JPG vs TIF | File Size

Everything we’ve discussed so far is actually very good news, because it means our modern digital world is highly optimized. JPEG files are smaller, in terms of their MB/KB file size. (To be clear: saving a raw image as a JPG does not necessarily reduce its resolution “size”, you can save a full-resolution JPG file and still save a lot of file space!

This makes JPG perfect for both sharing and storing large numbers of images.

TIFF files are significantly larger, due to their minimal compression, which can double, triple, or quadruple your storage needs almost immediately.

If you’re a landscape photographer or a portrait photographer who does a lot of advanced editing to your photos, then of course, you’ll eventually have to save some or most of those images as TIF files. We’ll go over some of the additional reasons below, but the bottom line is that for every 100 photos you capture, it is likely that only 1-5 of them will need to become TIF files.

JPG vs TIF | Layers

best hdr software photomatix pro

One of the biggest advantages of TIF files that we haven’t mentioned yet is the ability to create image layers within the same image file. Let’s say you want to do some very advanced editing, such as swapping out faces in a portrait, or creating a luminosity-masked HDR landscape. With a JPG file, once you are done editing, the image is “flattened” and all of your hard work is consolidated to that one, lossy-compressed image file.

With a TIF file, you can save all of the layers you’re working on and come back to them later to make additional adjustments. (Also, remember that you can edit a TIF file as many times as you want, and it won’t slowly degrade with each save!)

JPG vs TIF | Transparency

TIFF supports transparency in images, which is a critical feature for graphic designers working with layered images. JPEG does not support transparency, since (as we mentioned) each image is “flattened” when it is saved. (If you have a “see-through” background on an image in Photoshop, as soon as you save the file it will force that background to become pure white...)

JPG vs TIF | Artifacts

This is one of the biggest, most obvious drawbacks of lossy compression: JPEG images can exhibit artifacts, or visible flaws/lessening of vibrant colors. This is indeed due to lossy compression.

By comparison, TIFF’s lossless nature means it retains the original image quality without such artifacts. (When using “lossless” compression, as opposed to an uncompressed TIF, the definition of “lossless” is based on what the human eye considers “impossible to detect”. )

JPG vs TIF | Compatibility

JPEG is almost universally compatible across all platforms and devices. Whether you are texting or emailing a photo to friends or family, or you are sending a high-res image to an online print lab, JPG is a common way to transfer, store, and share images. Also, even if you are doing long-term archival storage, JPG is considered to be more compatible, because more devices and softwares can all view the files more easily, even if you are just browsing folders on your computer.

TIFF, while popular in professional circles, may not be supported by most web platforms, and requires specific software (such as Adobe Lightroom for viewing and editing. However, TIF files are often accepted or preferred by high-end print labs, since TIF is the only way to transfer an image with 16-bit image data maintained from raw capture and throughout the editing workflow.

JPG vs TIF | Web & Social Media

For websites and social media, JPEG is again the winning, go-to image format due to its small file size and broad compatibility. TIFF files are generally too large and resource-intensive for web use.

JPEG vs. TIFF Files: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can TIFF files be converted to JPEG? A: Yes, TIFF files can be easily converted to JPEG, though this will involve a reduction in image quality due to JPEG’s lossy compression.

Q: Can JPEG files be converted to TIFF? A: Yes, JPG / JPEG files can be easily converted to TIF/TIFF, however, the existing compression of the JPG file will not be “undone”. The only benefit of doing this is if you plan to perform many edits to an image file, and wish to minimize *FURTHER* loss of image quality.

Q: Is TIFF better than JPEG for printing? A: Generally, yes. TIFF’s lossless compression means it retains more detail and color depth, which is beneficial for high-quality prints. Most online print labs accept JPG, however, and this is more than enough. Virtually all in-store print labs will either only accept JPG images, or even if they do accept TIF files, the quality advantages maybe lost because of potentially poor quality paper, ink, and outdated printer calibration.

Q: Should I use TIFF for online images? A: Not usually. TIFF files are larger and can slow down website loading times. JPEG is more efficient for online use.

Q: Can I edit JPEG images without losing quality? A: Every time a JPEG file is saved after editing, it loses some quality. If frequent editing is required, consider either saving that JPG as a TIF to avoid further loss, or preferably, go back to the original (raw?) image file, edit that, and then save it as a TIFF, only converting to JPEG as a final, additional step for sharing. (meaning, save both the TIF and JPG files!)

JPG vs TIF | Conclusion

This image is a layering of 20+ different raw frames, edited and saved as a TIF, and only exported to JPG for web use.

In conclusion, both JPEG and TIFF have their rightful place in digital imaging. Choosing between them depends on your specific needs – whether it’s for web use, professional editing, or storage considerations. Understanding these differences ensures you make the right choice for your imaging requirements.