What is the difference between TIFF and JPEG?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is today’s question.

Question: What is the difference between TIFF and JPEG?

Today's answer is from David Topping: TIFF and JPEG are two of the three file formats most relevant to photographers (RAW is the third), with JPEG being the most common format related to digital photography.

The most significant difference between the two formats is that while a JPEG file is smaller than a TIFF file, the compact file size comes at a cost because of the “lossy” compression – detail is retained where it is most important and discarded where it is less visually significant (the actual amount of compression is dependent on the amount of detail in the image; less detail allows for greater compression).

JPEG files allow you to select how much compression is applied, which gives some degree of control over how much the image quality will be affected (the greater the level of compression, the greater the sacrifice in image quality). But even at the highest quality level, the image is altered slightly. And the repeated manipulation and saving of an image will progressively degrade the image quality by introducing and enhancing compression artifacts.

In comparison, a TIFF file is significantly larger than a JPEG file, but uses “lossless” compression to preserve the quality of the original image. The TIFF format can also have a bit depth of either 8 bits per channel or 16 bits per channel, and a TIFF file can be saved with multiple layers (it also supports transparency). This is a good format to use while editing an image over several sessions, as no detail is lost in the process and no compression artifacts are introduced to compromise the image quality.

With its universal compatibility and compact file size, JPEG is the best format for displaying photos online (just be sure to save the original file to preserve the highest level of image quality). The TIFF format is best for preserving image quality and is a better choice for working files that you intend to edit.


Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com