Understanding picture file types


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

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What are common file types for digital pictures?

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.

Common graphics file types include JPEG (.jpg), TIFF (.tif), and sometimes bitmap (.bmp). In addition, some digital cameras can save pictures in RAW format, which is uncompressed and hasn't had effects like white balance or sharpening applied. There are many types of RAW picture file formats which can vary by camera manufacturer. RAW picture files are typically the highest quality picture file formats. They can be opened and edited in many different photo programs.

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) or RAW 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, can't 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.

RAW Advantages

  • High-quality images aren't compressed and preserve finer details than JPEG pictures.

  • RAW images are less likely to result in blown-out highlights, in which detail is lost in areas that are too bright, such as the sun shining on a person's face.

  • You've got more control when editing RAW pictures in a photo-editing program. Edited pictures can be saved at a higher-quality level, too (compared to JPEGs).

RAW Disadvantages

  • Many programs, including most web browsers, can't display RAW pictures.

  • Specific codecs, which vary by camera manufacturer, need to be installed to view RAW pictures in Windows.

  • RAW picture files are usually much larger than the same picture that's saved as a JPEG. As a result, RAW pictures consume hard disk space far more quickly than JPEGs.

  • RAW pictures often require more advanced photo-editing programs than those used for editing JPEGs.

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)

Which types of picture files can I view in Windows Photo Viewer?

You can view the following types of pictures in Windows Photo Viewer.

Picture file type
Common file name extensions

Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG)

.jpg and .jpeg,

Tagged Image File Format (TIFF)

.tif and .tiff

Portable Network Graphics (PNG)

.png

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF)

.gif

Bitmap

.bmp and .dib

HD Photo

.wdp