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JPEG, TIFF, or RAW - Which Should I Use?

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: fundamentals, camera, basics, guides, tips, format, jpg, tiff, raw

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The image format JPG, TIFF and RAW (also known as NEF)

I just bought a new digital camera! I see that my new digital delight can take images in several different formats. There’s JPEG mode, TIFF mode, or even a mode called RAW.  Is one better than the other?  What differences will I see in the final images between the three formats? Which will it be, JPEG, TIFF, or RAW?

Nikon D1H

Nikon D1X

Nikon D100

Nikon D2H

Nikon D70

Nikon D1X, D1H, D100, D2Hs and D70s DSLRs

The type of photography YOU do weighs heavily on which mode you use. And, you may want to use ALL the formats at one time or another.  Since your camera is flexible enough to shoot in multiple formats, you shouldn’t be afraid to test them all. There are pros and cons for each of them, and we’ll consider each below:



The JPG format

The great majority of photographers use the JPEG image as their primary image capture mode. This is mainly for the following reasons:

  • Maximum number of images on camera and computer hard drive storage.
  • Fastest writes from camera memory buffer to memory card storage.
  • Absolute compatibility with everything and everybody in imaging.
  • High-quality first use images.
  • No special software needed to use the image right out of the camera. (No post-processing)
  • Immediate use on websites with minimal processing.
  • Easy transfer across Internet, and as e-mail attachments.

If you use JPEG as your primary image format, just be aware of these facts.

  • JPEG is a "lossy" format, which means that it permanently throws away image data from compression algorithm losses as you select higher levels of compression.
  • You cannot use JPEG to manipulate an image more than once or twice before it degrades to an unusable state.
  • Every time you modify and resave a JPEG image, it loses more data.
  • May not be as sharp out of the camera as TIFF or RAW modes, due to initial camera compression.
JPEG image is capable of making marvelous images. The initial image out of the camera is considerably smaller in file size, and yet still yields an excellent image for web use or printing. You simply cannot modify the image multiple times without the image becoming unusable. Many photographers work within this knowledge, and shoot exclusively JPEG images.  


(6 Votes )
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Originally written on December 10, 2005

Last updated on October 28, 2016


William Wallace (Monarque7) on October 22, 2021

Thank you for the info!

Timothy Blackshear (NikoBlak) on January 31, 2019

Thank you for this invaluable information!

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