I discussed this with my friend Tom the other day, and he argued that most people don’t know the differences between image formats. “And why should we?”. Well, I tried and finally convinced him that choosing the right format for his photos is crucial and that he will notice a significant difference by choosing it correctly in each case. For example, we know what a JPEG image is, but getting to see this format better is beneficial.
This article will discuss JPEGs history (don’t worry, it will be a short flashback), analyze the format’s characteristics, and look at the advantages and disadvantages. Finally, we share some tips to help you choose if or when you should use JPEG for your photos.
If you ask a professional photographer, “do you shoot on JPEG?” you will probably get a very passionate, negative answer, as most photographers shoot on RAW or TIFF formats. On the other hand, more than 200.000 images make their way to Facebook alone every minute, and over 90% of them are taken in JPEG format. It becomes evident that JPEG is the most popular image type worldwide, and for good reasons.
History of JPEG File Format
JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, the company which developed JPEG. The group established the standard JPEG in 1986 and continued to develop the format throughout the years. The format was designed to handle the photographic image files by using an algorithm that reduces file size with a small cost for image quality.
Although photographers mostly used it during the first years, it became rapidly popular. Due to the appearance of the Internet and digital photography in 1990, smaller image files became extremely favored, and many people preferred JPEG over other formats because of that feature. Nowadays, JPEG photos are used for an enormous number of tasks, as several billion JPEG images are produced every day as of 2015.
What is the JPEG Image Format?
As mentioned above, the JPEG format designers created an algorithm to compress large files and convert them automatically to smaller ones, with a little compromise in image quality. For this reason, JPEG is one of the most commonly used standards for compressing images and photographs.
The human eye is scrupulous at detecting brightness changes but relatively low at noticing hue and saturation changes. For this reason, JPEG compression uses native RGB as a colorspace on maximum quality, but if you go below this, the data is converted to a working space called YCC – Y is brightness, and the two Cs are Chroma channels.
The resolution of these two color channels can be halved without visual loss of image quality, and this is what the JPEG algorithm does. This is called Chroma Subsampling and can be 4:4:4 (without downsampling), 4:2:2 (halved horizontally), or 4:2:0 (halved horizontally and vertically). The eye is more sensitive to vertical details, so JPEG’s halving of the horizontal resolution passes, in most cases, undetected. Although this halving is invisible to our eyes, the loss of information is essential when it comes to editing a JPEG picture.
To be more understandable, JPEG works exceptionally well when it comes to complex pictures, including many gradients and color information in general. However, the JPEG compression is not ideal for images with solid lines or text. Don’t forget that JPEG, like any standard type of picture, has specific benefits and drawbacks. Before we dive into the advantages and disadvantages of JPEG, let’s have a quick look at the format’s two major categories.
The Joint Photography Expert Group has also developed JPEG 2000 and JPEG XR standards, characterized as improved editions of the JPEG standard. Even though most people can’t tell the difference, there are two main subcategories of the JPEG image format:
- JPEG/Exif – for pictures captured by digital cameras
- JPEG/JFIF – for file transferring and storing, mostly on the Internet.
JPEG Format: Advantages and Disadvantages
As in most cases, choosing to use JPEG over RAW or other photo formats has its advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, there are specific reasons or circumstances in which utilizing the JPEG format is preferable, even for professional photographers.
On the other hand, the fact that JPEG has been widely used by cameras and smartphones doesn’t necessarily mean that its limitations should be overlooked. Hopefully, after reading the format’s advantages and disadvantages, you will decide which design best suits your needs.
JPEG has been the most popular photo format for many years now for good reasons. A JPEG image is easy to edit and work with, small in size, one of the fastest ways to shoot, quick to deliver, and extremely compatible with almost any device.
We will analyze all those advantages one by one to help you understand the reasons behind the format’s popularity and decide if shooting in JPEG is the best option for you as an amateur or professional photographer.
- Small file size: When it comes to size, JPEG images can’t be compared to any other type. Using JPEG is the best way to save space in your camera or smartphone. Depending on the photo, JPEG varies from 4 to 7MB while RAW sizes approximately 25MB. This is the essential feature of a JPEG image and the reason behind the format’s popularity.
- High resolution: Although it doesn’t deliver a TIFF or RAW image’s quality and solution, a JPEG does support 24-bit color with up to 16 million colors. This fact narrows the quality decrease making it almost impossible for the human eye to discover differences.
- Better in burst mode (or continuous shooting): Due to the JPEG’s size, the format allows taking more high-quality photos in burst mode.
- Ultimate compatibility: Another vital advantage of JPEG over other formats is that JPEG photos can be opened or edited by almost every computer, smartphone, camera, and software on the market.
- Adjustable compression: Meaning that in most photo-capturing devices, JPEG format allows you to choose how much of the image quality you want to ‘sacrifice’ according to your available space.
- Printing: Fortunately, JPEG images can be directly printed from your camera or smartphone, without the need for photo editing software.
- Fast delivery and quick transfers: The format’s small size makes it the best storage option, online distribution, and file transfers.
- Sharing in social media: A JPEG can be shared right out of the camera while RAW files, for example, are more massive and must be edited before they can be shared.
Now that we have analyzed JPEG’s advantages, it is time to look at why the format isn’t the first choice for many professional and amateur photographers. Although JPEG’s compression is perfect for size and compatibility, this comes with a compromise in quality.
JPEG photos are harder to control, limited when it comes to depth, and in some cases, a wrong choice. Let’s have a look at the disadvantages of JPEG in-depth and understand why JPEG isn’t the right choice on some occasions:
- Compression discards data: Meaning that the JPEG standard erases some color data to make the output smaller in size. This color data is discarded when the file is compressed, and you can’t later manipulate it with editing software. Thus, JPEG photos have limited depth, as the format records only 256 color tones in each channel when RAW images can record more than 4096.
- Processing control: When you shoot on JPEG, you are limiting the color variations and your camera’s processor. For this reason, shooting in JPEG with a DSLR, for example, feels like using a Ferrari car for delivering food.
- White balance: Given the fact that correcting the white balance later is impossible when shooting in JPEG format, you have to set the white balance in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.
- No transparency or opacity: Unlike formats like PNG, JPEG format doesn’t support transparency or opacity.
- Resaving a JPEG: As a general rule, resaving a JPEG isn’t a good idea as repeated JPEG saves ultimately can degrade your image.
Tools to Work with JPEG
As mentioned in the JPEG advantages section, the format offers maximum compatibility. Nowadays, all people have access to an enormous number of tools around photography; JPEG format proves to be one of the best options for photo manipulation.
To be more specific, I have been using two photo editing applications for the last five years. The first one is Adobe Photoshop, and the second one is Picverse. There are occasions where I prefer shooting in JPEG and others when I prefer RAW format. When it comes to photo editing, I need to be able to upload photos edited on my iPad, which is not my primary computing system.
For those times when I don’t have time or don’t need ultimate image quality, the combination of shooting in JPEG and then editing the photos in Picverse is lifesaving. This personal experience is a perfect example of JPEG’s correspondence in numerous tasks and tools.
JPEG photos are smaller than formats, so editing workflow when shooting in JPEG is faster, doesn’t require excellent computing power, and can be manipulated by any software. If you add to that the fact that JPEGs can be easily compressed again or be converted to other image formats, it is obvious that there are a vast number of tools and reasons to work with this format.
Tips for Using JPEG Format Effectively
Since we have analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of JPEG and the valuable tools you can work with when shooting in this format, it is time to look at some tips that will help decide which format is the best option for you as a photographer.
First of all, we already mentioned that you are the one who makes all the decisions when it comes to photography. If you looked at the advantages of JPEG and concluded that you need to shoot smaller photos, this is the right way to go. On the other hand, if you need all the color information you can obtain from your camera, then shooting in RAW is preferable.
To be more specific, some news and sports photographers shoot in JPEG due to the format’s compression, which allows them to take more photos and use the camera’s burst mode in a better way than RAW or TIFF. On the other hand, landscape and portrait photographers usually shoot in RAW, as every small detail counts on their field.
Another great feature most cameras have is to shoot in both RAW+JPEG simultaneously. In this way, you will be able to manipulate the image in any way you want and choose which format you prefer to use in every case. It becomes evident that there are ups and downs in photography, like in life, concerning every decision. Thus, don’t worry about choosing the ‘right format,’ but about choosing the right one for you at that specific photoshoot.
Finally, let’s have a look at some extra tips concerning your workflow when shooting in JPEG:
- When editing from your computer, you prefer saving your process as 16bit TIFFs to avoid quality loss. When you are finished, save the final photo as a JPEG.
- Keep in mind that software like Photoshop and Lightroom allows for extra compression before you save an image and give you an estimation of the final file size.
- Some applications will allow you to fix the color balance of a JPEG. Adobe Lightroom and Picverse are now able to manipulate those settings to a certain degree, but if you want full control over your photo, then you should consider shooting in RAW.
- Shoot in JPEG if you prefer editing from your phone or your tablet, as editing RAW photos demand more powerful computers to be manipulated.
- Always explore the JPEG format settings on your camera, as most of them allow you to test the compression and image style before shooting.
Rashed Al Mamoon
COO & CTO
Rashed Al Mamoon, COO of Tradexcel Graphics Ltd. (TGL) has given a truly inspirational contribution to the company since he joined. As Chief Operating Officer, he has used his innovative vision and excellent insight into restructuring the workflow of the organization, which minimized redundancies and improved productivity. It incorporates not only a new management framework for the organization but also technologies that facilitate better Human Resource Management and Customer Services. He took over several projects simultaneously and ensured that results were delivered to the customer in accordance with the contractual time-frame. His success at improving project completion rates encouraged company profit.