What’s the difference between JPEG vs TIFF file formats? And which should you use in your photography?
In this guide, I explain everything you need to know about these two common formats – including what they are, their benefits and drawbacks, and how they compare. By the time you’re finished, you’ll know which file format is best for your photos (whether you plan to do online sharing, high-end printing, or anything in between).
So without further ado, let’s take a look at JPEG and TIFF files in turn:
What is a JPEG file?
JPEGs are compressed image files, standardized by (and named after) the Joint Photographic Experts Group. They’re a common format for storing digital photos, they feature 24-bit color and custom compression, and they’re generally marked with a .JPG or .JPEG extension.
JPEG is one of the most popular image compression formats used by photographers today, but what makes it so great?
JPEGs allow users to store high-quality, viewable images – without creating huge file sizes. As I mentioned above, JPEGs can be compressed (often down to a few hundred KB). This is great for file sharing, plus it saves space and potentially prevents images from being copied illegally.
Of course, compression does have its drawbacks. The more you compress an image, the more data you lose, which decreases image quality and limits editing and printing flexibility.
What is a TIFF file?
TIFF is a high-quality image file format (the name stands for Tagged Image File Format). It creates a large, uncompressed file with no image degradation or compression artifacts, identifiable by the .TIFF extension.
One great advantage of TIFF files over JPEGs is that they can be created with 16 bits per channel (for greater color depth over 8-bit JPEGs). Also, unlike JPEGs, they can store multiple layers, which is useful when editing in a layer-based program such as Photoshop.
However, TIFF files take up more storage space than their JPEG counterparts.
JPEG vs TIFF: An in-depth comparison
JPEGs and TIFFs feature similar characteristics – but there are plenty of differences, too. I highlight all the main features below.
JPEG vs TIFF: Compatibility
JPEGs and TIFFs can generally be opened by the same software. Files of both types can be viewed and edited using a range of photography applications for desktop and mobile interfaces, from Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to Preview (Mac users) and Microsoft Windows Photos (Windows users).
However, only JPEGs can be reliably displayed by internet browsers. You’ll struggle to share TIFFs on websites and social media.
JPEG vs TIFF: Printing
TIFF files offer greater color depth and enhanced image quality, so they are usually preferred when saving for large-format printing purposes such as a large poster or canvas print.
But in certain cases, high-quality JPEGs can be equally effective for creating prints, as some professional printing services can’t reproduce the additional image data stored in TIFFs.
JPEG vs TIFF: Post-processing flexibility
TIFF files include plenty of data, so you can do extensive post-processing in editors such as Lightroom and Capture One without a noticeable loss of quality. TIFFs are also great for editing in Photoshop, as they can save layers; that way, you can always save your incomplete files with their Photoshop layers intact, then come back later for another round of adjustments.
JPEGs offer little editing flexibility, and significant adjustments can cause unpleasant artifacts such as banding. They cannot save layers.
One point worth mentioning: Cameras don’t shoot in TIFF. To create a high-quality TIFF file, you’ll need to shoot in RAW, process the image in a RAW editor, then save it as a TIFF. You can photograph in the JPEG format (your camera will do an in-camera RAW-to-JPEG conversion), but this will reduce post-processing flexibility; you also have the option to shoot in RAW, then save the file as a JPEG once your editing is complete.
In other words: While TIFF files are more flexible for editing, you can always edit in RAW first, then convert to a JPEG or a TIFF file at the end of your workflow.
JPEG vs TIFF: Size (and image quality)
As I emphasized earlier in this article, TIFF files are significantly larger than JPEGs – and they feature significantly better image quality, too. JPEGs undergo lossy compression, which discards image data, whereas a TIFF file’s information is fully preserved.
JPEGs may look as good as TIFFs, especially when viewed on a browser – but the lack of image data can reduce the format’s usefulness if your goal is to print.
On the other hand, one of the main reasons to use a JPEG is the huge amount of storage space you’ll save when working with high numbers of images. JPEGs take up far less hard drive space, plus they take up less room on a memory card (you can often get by on a single 32 GB or 64 GB image card for days, weeks, and even months).
JPEG vs TIFF: Practical uses
JPEGs are perfect for online sharing (with friends and family), social media, blogs, and some printing.
TIFFs are primarily used when you need the most data – that is, the optimal file with the best details for output. Photographers often use TIFFs for art show prints, magazines, brochures, and newspapers.
JPEG vs TIFF: Metadata
Both JPEG and TIFF files embed metadata; this is essential for preventing copyright theft, as the files will include extra information (such as the image owner).
Other EXIF metadata saved in both file formats can include when and where the photo was taken, the file size, the camera and lens used, and technical details such as the aperture, shutter speed, focal length, and ISO. You can even add captions to your file metadata!
JPEG vs TIFF: Final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know when it makes sense to use JPEG – and when it makes sense to use TIFF.
While JPEGs can be the best file choice if you’re looking to retain hard drive storage space and keep file sizes low, TIFFs offer superior quality and flexibility when editing.
Whether you choose JPEG or TIFF is ultimately up to you and depends on your intended use. Just be sure to choose carefully!
Now over to you:
When do you plan to use the TIFF format in your own photography? When do you plan to use JPEG? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
JPEG vs TIFF FAQs
TIFF files are usually larger in size and allow users to create high-quality prints. JPEGs are compressed and therefore lower quality (but also smaller).
TIFFs are uncompressed, which results in very high-quality images (and very large file sizes).
Yes, TIFF files undergo zero compression, so you lose no data during the conversion. JPEGs do experience (lossy) compression, so the quality takes a hit.
No, unfortunately not. Converting a JPEG to a TIFF will increase the file size, but it cannot create image data that has already been discarded. (A JPEG-to-TIFF conversion will, however, prevent any further compression.)