Here are answers to some common questions about picture file types.

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What is a file type?

A file type is a standard way of storing information on a computer so it can be read or displayed by a program. You can usually figure out the file type by looking at the last three letters of the file name. These letters are referred to as the file name extension. Different programs use different extensions when saving files.

What are common file types for pictures?

Common graphics file types include JPEG (.jpg), TIFF (.tif), and bitmap (.bmp). In addition, some digital cameras can save pictures in RAW format, which is uncompressed and has not had effects like white balance or sharpening applied.

Which file type should I use?

Most of the time, JPEG (.jpg) is the best file type, since it creates high-quality pictures with small file sizes by compressing the data. It’s great for storing and sharing your pictures. If you need a very high level of visual quality (for example, if you’re printing 8-by-10-inch enlargements), you should save in TIFF (.tif) format or save your JPEG picture at the very lowest compression level available.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of common picture file types?

JPEG Advantages

  • Most programs can display, open, and save JPEGs.

  • JPEGs are great for e-mail because of their small file size.

  • Because you can vary the amount of compression used to save a JPEG, you can control the file size and image quality.

JPEG Disadvantage

  • JPEGs automatically compress your pictures when you save them, which reduces the visual quality by a small amount. If you use a high compression level, the image quality can be poor.

TIFF Advantage

  • There is no loss of image quality when saving a picture as a TIFF.

TIFF Disadvantages

  • Some programs, including most web browsers, cannot display pictures in TIFF format.

  • TIFF pictures can be very large (many times larger than the same picture saved as a JPEG). As a result, TIFF pictures consume hard disk space far more quickly than JPEGs.

  • All but the smallest TIFF pictures are too large to send through e‑mail.

What about GIF, bitmap, PNG, RAW, and other file types?

You’ll rarely need to use a file type other than JPEG or TIFF. The bitmap format (.bmp) is an older standard that creates needlessly large files. This wastes disk space and makes it difficult to send these pictures in e‑mail. GIF and PNG are commonly used on webpages, but you’ll find that JPEG works just as well. RAW files, on the other hand, can be created by many digital cameras as a high-quality alternative to JPEG. Many professional photographers choose to work with RAW files because it results in the best possible picture quality.

Can I use RAW pictures in Windows?

It depends. Software that can display RAW pictures might be available as an update to Windows. Each time you start Photo Gallery, Windows checks to see if these updates are available. If they are, you will be given an opportunity to install them. If you have the appropriate software installed, Photo Gallery can open and display some kinds of RAW pictures. If you edit a RAW picture, Photo Gallery will save your modified picture as a JPEG and leave the original RAW picture unchanged.

Why don't my RAW pictures have a .raw extension in the file name?

Every camera manufacturer uses its own unique file type for its highest-quality camera setting, yet refers to the file as RAW. Nikon RAW files end with .nef, for example, while Canon uses .crw and .cr2, depending upon the camera. Collectively, however, all of these files are referred to as RAW.

Should I be concerned about the loss of visual quality when I save in JPEG format?

JPEG pictures are an imperfect copy of the original image displayed in the camera’s viewfinder. If you take pictures at your camera’s highest quality level, however, it can be hard to tell the difference. Every time you resave a picture in JPEG format, the visual quality is reduced slightly, as if you are making a photocopy of a photocopy. How much quality is lost depends upon how much the image has been compressed. Usually, this reduction in quality is difficult to see, but if you repeatedly make changes to the same picture and save it with an intermediate quality level, you might eventually notice a loss of sharpness and color accuracy. For the absolute best visual quality, save your JPEG pictures at the highest possible quality level or work in TIFF format.

Example of a JPEG picture saved at high quality and low quality
A JPEG picture saved at high quality (left) and low quality (right)

Why can't I see some of my pictures in Photo Gallery, even though I know they're in my Pictures folder?

Photo Gallery is intended to show and edit digital pictures from cameras and scanners, so some older file types that are not commonly used for digital pictures today will not appear in Photo Gallery. If you have picture files with .gif extensions, for example, they will not appear in Photo Gallery and can't be edited using the Fix pane. If you want to see these pictures in Photo Gallery, you should change their file type to a format that Photo Gallery can display (JPEG is recommended).

What can I do with each kind of file I see in Photo Gallery?

Photo Gallery can show many kinds of picture and video files, but not all of these files can be imported from your camera, edited, or tagged. The following table shows what you can do with every type of file that can be shown by Photo Gallery.

  • Import indicates whether a file type can be transferred from your camera using Import Pictures and Videos.

  • Fix indicates whether a file type can be edited using Photo Gallery.

  • Tags indicates if you can add tags and other file properties (such as ratings). If yes, you can do this anywhere in Windows. Otherwise, you can only do this in Photo Gallery.

Note that additional types of files, such as RAW, might also appear in Photo Gallery if you install the appropriate update.

File type Import Fix Tags
File type

BMP

Import

No

Fix

No

Tags

Photo Gallery only

File type

JFIF

Import

Yes

Fix

Yes

Tags

Yes

File type

JPEG

Import

Yes

Fix

Yes

Tags

Yes

File type

PNG

Import

Yes

Fix

No

Tags

Photo Gallery only

File type

TIFF

Import

Yes

Fix

Yes

Tags

Yes

File type

WPD

Import

Yes

Fix

Yes

Tags

Yes

File type

ASF

Import

Yes

Fix

No

Tags

Yes

File type

AVI

Import

Yes

Fix

No

Tags

Photo Gallery only

File type

MPEG

Import

Yes

Fix

No

Tags

Photo Gallery only

File type

WMV

Import

Yes

Fix

No

Tags

Yes

File type

DVR-MS

Import

No

Fix

No

Tags

Yes

How do I change a picture’s file type?

You can save a copy of your picture as a TIFF, JPEG, or another file type by using Paint.

  1. Open Paint by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Paint.

  2. Click the File menu, and then click Open.

  3. Choose the picture you want to change, and then click Open.

  4. Click the File menu, and then click Save As.

  5. Click the Save as type list, and then click the type of file you want to use.

  6. Click Save.