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Image File Formats
Updated April 2024

A Bestiary of File Formats

Here is a brief discussion and comparison of twelve file formats for photography and graphics. Don’t look for a complete or scholarly treatise. It’s merely my take on what they’re for, where they come from, their future prospects, and particularly how I use them.

TIFF (“Tagged Image File Format”) is the grand-daddy of image file formats, originating in the mid-1980s. Designed from the outset to be flexible and extensible, it has many mutually-incompatible variants for specialized uses ranging from fax machines to desktop publishing to camera raw files. But in its simplest form of a single 24-bit or 48-bit color image without compression, TIFF is probably the most durable, compatible, and widely supported of the current file formats that can store full image data.

With the notable exception of Web browsers, nearly all software that displays or edits images can read TIFF. That compatibility comes at the price of large file size: Each pixel of a color image requires at least three bytes, up to as many as eight. That makes it unattractive for Web use, which is why browsers don’t support it. Some software allows compression, but the resulting files aren’t much smaller and may be unreadable in other programs. The compression option in Photoshop actually increases the size of 48-bit (16 bits per color channel) TIFF files!

TIFF can store the metadata that digital cameras and some image editing programs create to record date, time, exposure, color space, owner, copyright, and other information. It also accommodates multiple channels (e.g., alpha channels that indicate transparent parts of images and store selections in image editors; infrared cleaning data from scanners; and the usual red, blue, and green). Photoshop’s implementation can store layers, making TIFF effectively interchangeable with its native PSD format.

I use TIFF for storing full-resolution finished, non-sharpened “master” images. From them I make everything else: the smaller versions for this Web site, prints, and any other products purchasers might want to license. I believe these simple uncompressed TIFF files are very likely to remain supported indefinitely, which makes them suitable for archival storage of finished images.

JPEG (“jay-peg”) is named for the Joint Photographic Experts Group, a “joint working group of the International Standardization Organization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)” that also collaborates with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). JPEG developed this standard in 1992, and made the final update to it in 1994. Because it was the first of a series of image file standards that JPEG subsequently promulgated, they’ve now given it the official retronym of “JPEG 1.” But as those newer JPEG formats have not attained anything like the popularity of the ancient JPEG 1, nearly everyone just calls it “JPEG.”

JPEG is ubiquitous on the Web and in digital cameras for full-color 24-bit photographs. Every digital camera creates it, every browser supports it, and nearly all software that displays or edits images can read it. It uses “lossy” compression that attains very compact file sizes by cleverly exploiting the quirks and limitations of human vision. It discards a significant amount of image data that the human eye and brain won’t miss. Most software that creates JPEG files can vary the amount of compression to balance quality against file size. Too much compression means smeared color, lost detail, and artifacts. Too little compression means an unnecessarily large file. JPEG is limited to 8 bits per channel. It can store metadata, but not alpha channels or layers.

JPEG with low compression (“maximum” or “highest” quality) can be an appropriate choice for storing final versions of images that you are absolutely certain will never require further editing or processing beyond resizing. When viewed or printed, such files are effectively indistinguishable from much larger uncompressed or losslessly-compressed files. But the lossy compression means that repeatedly opening and re-writing a JPEG file degrades the image as the compression process discards more and more of the original data. It’s rather like the way photocopies of photocopies get increasingly fuzzy. The lost data may also limit and complicate adjustments in an image editor, which can sometimes be a problem with digital camera JPEG files.

Because JPEG is so pervasive, it’s a likely candidate for future-proof archival storage, subject to its inherent limitations. JPEG has been around for over 30 years. That’s practically an eternity in a world where disposability and planned obsolescence are the very definition of technology. Microsoft, Google, and Apple have each developed or embraced newer and technically-superior file formats (more about them later). All three companies have been trying very hard to consign JPEG to the “legacy” ash-heap of history, with little success.

JPEG may be old and clunky, but it works well enough. The main benefit newer formats provide is more efficient and intelligent compression, which means an image file of comparable quality will be smaller. This is a highly compelling advantage for companies like Google and Facebook that store billions of images on their servers, but it matters less to people who create and view image files. For image creators and Web designers, JPEG files continue to offer certainty that everyone will be able to view them no matter what hardware or software they’re using.

I use JPEG files for the small images on this Web site, and for delivering high-resolution licensed images to purchasers by download or e-mail.

GIF (“Graphics Interchange Format”) is nearly as old as TIFF. Every browser supports it, and nearly all software that displays or edits images can read it. It keeps file sizes small by limiting the number of colors in a stored image, and through “lossless” compression— when you uncompress the data you get back exactly what you started with.

GIF is not useful for photographs because it allows a maximum of 256 colors. (Imaging software can simulate a larger color palette by “dithering,” a process that blends tiny dots of the 256 colors to produce additional colors.) GIF is very useful for text or drawings, since lossless compression doesn’t create the artifacts and smearing that lossy compression (e.g., JPEG) often produces in images with sharp, high-contrast edges. GIF supports “transparency,” which means you can designate one of the 256 colors as “invisible” so the background shows through it. That way, lettering, logos, or other images can appear to “float” on the page regardless of the color or background.

I use GIF files (with transparent backgrounds) for the graphical titles at the top of the Travel Photo Essay pages on this Web site. Another common use of GIF is for animated images, since the GIF standard allows multiple images in a single file that Web browsers can display in rapid succession. That feature has made the ancient GIF format newly popular among today’s bloggers, blog commenters, and social media users, as it provides a bandwidth-efficient way to distribute the video counterpart of tweets.

The pronunciation of GIF— whether the g is “hard” as in gift or “soft” as in jiffy— has been a subject of controversy for years. The Oxford English Dictionary, whose American edition proclaimed GIF a 2012 “word of the year,” says either is correct. But when Steve Wilhite, who invented the GIF format, received a “lifetime achievement” Webby Award in May 2013, his five-word acceptance speech (delivered as an animated GIF) was It’s pronounced “JIF” not “GIF”.

PNG (“Portable Network Graphics,” pronounced ping or P-N-G) originated as a “patent-free” replacement for GIF. CompuServe, the pioneering online service, released GIF in 1987. They were apparently unaware that Unisys owned a patent on the “LZW” algorithm chosen for its lossless compression. Unisys slept while GIF became popular, first on Compuserve and other computer bulletin boards and then on the nascent Web. In 1994 they woke up and put their lawyers to work, ordering developers of commercial software that creates GIF files to start paying royalties. Five years later, perhaps out of a desire to squeeze everything they could out of their patent before it expired in 2003, Unisys announced that developers and even individual users of noncommercial and free GIF software now owed them royalties.

PNG was the open-source community’s reaction to the awakened Unisys. It uses a public-domain lossless compression algorithm, and provides most of GIF’s features including transparency. It improves on GIF by supporting full 24-bit color, which makes it suitable for photographs. Because the compression is lossless, file sizes are significantly larger than JPEG. Line art and graphics with 256 or fewer colors, for which GIF is most commonly used, can produce file sizes comparable to GIF.

One reason PNG hasn’t supplanted GIF is that, for many years, Microsoft chose not to support it fully in their Internet Explorer (IE) browser. IE accounted for more than 90% of browser usage in the first five years of this century, and remained the most-used browser through 2011. IE versions 6 and earlier— which a few people continue to use despite Microsoft’s efforts to kill IE 6— do not support the “alpha channel transparency” used for color images with transparent backgrounds. IE versions before 9 display incorrect colors in some PNG files. I learned that the hard way when I tried to replace the graphical titles on my Travel Photo Essay pages with new PNG versions. Microsoft finally added full PNG support to IE version 9. All current browsers fully support it.

Multiple-frame animation is the only GIF feature not included in the PNG standard. Two competing extensions attempt to fill that gap. The developers of PNG released the specification for MNG (“Multiple-image Network Graphics”) in 2001. The Mozilla Foundation (developer of the Firefox browser) released the specification for APNG (“Animated PNG”) in 2004.

MNG is effectively dead. Firefox included MNG support until 2003, when Mozilla removed it. Other browsers never implemented it. Current browsers, including the new Chromium-based Edge, include native support for APNG. Old browsers, including the original Edge and all versions of Internet Explorer, display the first frame of an APNG file as a still image.

PNG has a design flaw that makes it useless for modern digital photography. The PNG standard makes inadequate provisions for metadata. While it does allow a few text fields, there’s no standard way to store the exposure data and camera information (EXIF) that nearly all digital cameras record in their raw and JPEG files. And more significantly, there’s no standard way to embed the color space and profile information that’s essential for a color-managed workflow.

The PNG plug-in Adobe includes with Photoshop extends the format to 48 bits and embeds a color profile, but it doesn’t save even the minimal metadata allowed in the PNG standard. It produces 48-bit files significantly larger than Adobe’s JPEG 2000 plug-in. fnord software offers SuperPNG, a freeware replacement for Adobe’s plug-in. SuperPNG can store and read full EXIF metadata, including color profiles. It also works with 48-bit images, which it compresses much faster than Adobe’s plug-in at the expense of somewhat larger files. I don’t know whether any other software can properly read those files.

JPEG 2000 was the Joint Photographic Experts Group’s first attempt to anoint a successor to JPEG 1. Its superior lossy compression technology can produce fewer and less noticeable artifacts with smaller file sizes. It also includes a very effective lossless compression option. Despite its real advantages JPEG 2000 never caught on, apart from a few specialized applications outside the photographic or consumer realms.

More than two decades after its release, only Apple’s Safari browser for Macintosh and iOS include native support for JPEG 2000. Some browsers on other platforms can display the images with plug-ins and extensions, but designers of Web sites can’t count on users having those installed and properly configured. Part of the problem may be that JPEG 2000 was developed by an independent group rather than by an influential company like Microsoft or Apple, so no well-funded company has enough incentive to promote it. There’s also the fact that the “legacy” JPEG 1 continues to serve its purpose adequately, despite its age and its limitations.

Another difficulty is that image compression algorithms are a minefield of overlapping and broadly-drafted patents, in part due to the understaffed (and some would say inept) United States Patent and Trademark Office. The committee that created JPEG 2000 claims to have obtained all the necessary rights from the owners of the various patents covering its underlying technologies. They’ve made “a strong goal” of allowing anyone to implement the basic functionality without royalties.

But even with licenses, those patents effectively preclude the adoption of JPEG 2000 within the influential open-source community. There also remains a pervasive fear that someone might suddenly emerge with an unnoticed and possibly dubious “submarine” patent, and attempt to shake down developers the way Unisys did with GIF and Forgent Networks did with JPEG. Forgent’s patent was ultimately invalidated, but not before they extorted over $90 million from 30 companies and sued 31 others.

Photoshop CS2 (2005) and CS3 (2007) supported JPEG 2000 through a plug-in buried in an “optional plug-ins” directory on the installation CD or DVD. You had to know about it and install it manually. Its lossless mode provided the most space-efficient way to store 48-bit images, including metadata and alpha channels. Reading files was very slow. Writing files was excruciatingly slow, as the plug-in made multiple passes through the file to optimize lossy compression even if you selected lossless compression. A “fast mode” check-box option disabled this optimization and made file writing somewhat faster, but it often mysteriously un-checked itself and forced you to wait for the useless optimization before you can reset that option.

Adobe seemed to have signed JPEG 2000’s death warrant with the release of Photoshop CS4 in 2008. No longer included on the installation DVD, the plug-in was relegated to a boneyard collection of “legacy optional plug-ins” (formerly) available from Adobe’s download site. But they resurrected JPEG 2000 in CS5 (2010), which installed a somewhat improved (but no faster) version of the plug-in as a standard part of Photoshop. That change of direction suggests that at least some of Adobe’s customers are finally becoming interested in the format, though I suspect it’s mainly those who use it for specialized scientific and technical applications.

Even with the significant space saving it provides, I can’t recommend JPEG 2000 for archival image storage. Despite its apparent revival in Photoshop, it’s impossible to predict the future of the format. Adobe’s Lightroom does not support it, although a third-party plug-in (£15, Windows only) can read JPEG 2000 files. IrfanView provides JPEG 2000 plug-ins for 32-bit and 64-bit versions that can read lossless 48-bit files created by Adobe’s Photoshop plug-in. It reads the files somewhat faster than the Adobe plug-in, but it’s still much slower than other compressed formats. I don’t know if encoding and decoding JPEG 2000 inherently requires a lot of processing, or whether the lack of wide acceptance has precluded the development of optimized algorithms.

Still, I use JPEG 2000 for saving 48-bit “working” files I create in the process of editing images. It saves significant space when I archive my projects to DVD or Blu-Ray, and Adobe provides no real alternative.

JPEG XR was Microsoft’s answer to JPEG 2000, and offered very similar features and performance. Microsoft originally called this proprietary format Windows Media Photo. But when they decided they wanted to monopolize digital imaging the way they’ve monopolized office applications, they renamed it HD Photo. Microsoft started promoting HD Photo at the beginning of 2007. They appointed a “Director of Digital Imaging Evangelism” to spread the gospel. Yes, that’s the actual job title!

While Microsoft’s evangelists haven’t yet saved the souls of many users or software developers, they have obtained (or purchased?) the endorsement of four international standards bodies. The Joint Photographic Experts Group has given it the JPEG cachet as as “JPEG XR” (XR stands for “extended range”). The International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission have jointly designated it as “ISO/IEC 29199-2”; and the International Telecommunications Union has approved it as “ITU Recommendation T.832.”

Microsoft has offered royalty-free licensing of the relevant JPEG XR patents under their Microsoft Community Promise program. Microsoft promises not to sue developers who implement the full open specification. But some members of the open source software community have problems with the legalese wording of the Community Promise, and don’t trust Microsoft to keep their (weasel) word. However, Microsoft’s control of those patents may actually work in JPEG XR’s favor. Their armada of lawyers stand ready to torpedo anyone who threatens a “submarine” attack.

Despite over a decade of evangelism and the prestigious international recognition, JPEG XR seems to have fizzled in the marketplace. Microsoft’s original Edge, as well as Versions 9 and later of Internet Explorer, were the only browsers that could display JPEG XR images. They’re both obsolete. Microsoft apparently abandoned JPEG XR with the Chromium-based reboot of Edge. Neither it nor any other Chromium-based browsers (including Chrome, Opera, and Vivaldi) support JPEG XR. Microsoft’s Expression Studio Web design suite can create the files, and the media viewers included with Windows since Vista can display them. The only non-Microsoft applications I’m aware of are the freeware viewer/editors IrfanView and Paint.NET, which offer optional plug-ins that can read JPEG XR files.

Microsoft has a free plug-in for 32-bit and 64-bit Photoshop (Windows only). Although the “details” section of the download page says it was published on 12 May 2016, it’s actually the version they released on 7 June 2013. It supports 24-bit and 48-bit lossy and lossless images, but only one alpha channel; the plug-in displays a warning if you attempt to save an image with more than one alpha channel. I don’t know whether this undocumented restriction is in the plug-in implementation or in the JPEG XR specification.

I’ve found that the Microsoft plug-in’s lossless compression produces files similar in size to those produced by Photoshop’s JPEG 2000 plug-in (the JPEG 2000 version is very slightly smaller). But it reads and writes the files significantly faster, which might make it an attractive alternative if you don’t need multiple alpha channels. I don’t know if either of these similar (and similarly unsuccessful) formats will continue to be supported (and thus, readable) over the long term.

In 2019, the Joint Photographic Experts Group released the initial specification for JPEG XL, which they apparently intend as the successor to the failed JPEG XR. The “L” in XL supposedly stands for “long-term.” That presumably reflects JPEG’s desire for it to become the new gold standard that finally consigns JPEG 1, GIF, and PNG to the dustbin and remains the preferred imaging format for at least the 30 years its legacy ancestor has endured.

The developers of all the major browser engines are supposedly working on supporting JPEG XL. But as of April 2024, the current versions of Safari for Mac OS and iOS are the only browsers that support it. Apple added support for single JPEG XL images, but not animation, in September 2023. Firefox has had “experimental” support since version 90 in 2021. A startup option enables it in “nightly” development versions; but it’s not available at all in the “stable” versions most people use.

Chrome/Chromium and Edge partially supported JPEG XL with an undocumented startup option in versions 91 through 109. Google removed that support with version 110 in February 2023. That’s not surprising given that their own WebP format seems the one most likely to achieve the long-sought goal of supplanting JPEG 1. But as other tentacles of the Google octopus have “expressed interest” in JPEG XL, it’s possible the Chromium developers will eventually have reason to add support for it.

For now, there are unofficial extensions that bring JPEG XL support to Chrome/Chromium and Firefox. But it would not make sense for any Web developer to ask users to install them to view their site.

GIMP, ImageMagick, IrfanView, and a few other tools and viewers can read and write JPEG XL; and there are plug-ins for Windows, Linux (QT/KDE), and MacOS. But so far there are no plug-ins to create JPEG XL files with Photoshop. There was a Web site that offered free drop-and-drag conversion of JPEG, PNG, GIF, WebP and AVIF files to JPEG XL, but it’s now gone.

When I last updated this page a year ago, I opined that JPEG XL was dead and awaiting burial next to its XR sibling. That was mainly because no Major Corporation had made any effort to support and implement it. But now that Apple supports it in their browser, I’d call JPEG XL comatose. Whether it emerges from the coma probably depends on Google.

Google developed WebP (pronounced weppy) specifically for Web use. Its raison d’être is to help companies that store a lot of images on servers (e.g., Google) save space and cost, while also speeding up the loading of Web pages for users. Google claims WebP produces lossy files 25%-34% smaller comparable-quality JPEG, and lossless files up to 34% smaller than PNG. But Mozilla Foundation (Firefox) researchers found that neither WebP nor JPEG XR significantly outperformed JPEG. They concluded that developing an improved JPEG encoder would be better than adopting a new format.

Like JPEG and PNG, WebP is limited to 8 bits per color channel. The current specification includes support for metadata, color profiles, and alpha channels, and provides lossless as well as lossy compression. The WebP standard includes animation, which makes it a candidate for consigning the antiquated GIF format to the “legacy” bone yard.

To date, WebP is the only truly successful one of the proffered replacements for JPEG. All current browsers support it, though it took a while to get there. The WebP specification was first released in 2010, but as recently as 2018 only Google’s own Chrome (and other browsers based on Chromium, including Opera, Vivaldi, and the new Edge) could display it. Mozilla added WebP support to Firefox in 2019 with version 65. Microsoft provides a free WebP plug-in for the obsolete original Edge; the new Chromium-based Edge supports it natively.

Apple added support for WebP to Safari in 2020 with the release of iOS/iPadOS 14 and MacOS X 11 (“Big Sur”). Mac users who have not upgraded (or who can’t upgrade) to “Big Sur” can get WebP support by using a browser other than Safari. But owners of legacy iPhones or iPads that can’t be upgraded to iOS 14 or later versions will need to buy new hardware if and when Web developers start replacing JPEG, PNG, and GIF images with WebP. Anyone still using Microsoft’s obsolete Internet Explorer will have the same problem. Still, the widespread browser support suggests that Google, the Internet’s 500-kilogram silverback gorilla, might ultimately succeed where Microsoft and the Joint Photographic Experts Group have failed.

When Facebook first experimented with serving WebP images to Chrome users, they received many complaints from people who were suddenly unable to edit, e-mail, or share downloaded images on other platforms. (Facebook’s managers and developers were apparently unaware that anyone did that.) Google responded by creating a free codec for Windows that allows Microsoft Office, and other applications (mostly Microsoft’s) that use the Windows Imaging Component, to read the files.

Other imaging software that supports WebP includes Pixelmator, ImageMagick, Konvertor, reaConverter, XnView, IrfanView, and recent versions of Paint Shop Pro. Adobe added support for reading and creating single-image WebP files to Photoshop in February 2022, with version 23.2. Google has a free open source WebP Photoshop plug-in, WebPShop. I used version 0.4.3 (the current version in June 2022) to create the larger versions of the pictures for the revised Yellowstone in Black and White page. It wrote the WebP files, but ticking the “preview” box to see the effects of different compression levels produced a “preview not available” message. Without a preview, I needed to set an arbitrary “quality” (compression level), write the file, and inspect the result in an external viewer (lather, rinse, repeat) to determine the best setting. That’s a needless hassle. Google’s documentation for the plug-in includes a screenshot of the plug-in interface with a functioning preview on a Macintosh. Is preview not yet implemented on the Windows version? Or could the problem be that I’m not using the latest rental version of Photoshop? The “0.4.3” version number suggests that the plug-in is still a work in progress. That version was released on 1 April 2022, and it remains the current version as of April 2024.

While I haven’t attempted a rigorous quantitative test, my experiments with WebPShop suggest that WebP really does live up to Google’s claims for it. The files are significantly smaller than JPEG files of similar quality. Despite that lack of a preview in the Google plug-in, WebP is enough of an improvement over JPEG 1 that I’m now using it for all new or updated “large” images on this Web site. The smaller thumbnail-sized images on Travel Photo Essay, Scenery, and Fine Art pages remain in JPEG 1.

AVIF (“AV1 Image File Format”) is the newest fantastic beast in the image format zoo. Released in 2019, it was developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), a consortium of well-known Big Tech companies dedicated to open-source, royalty-free multimedia standards. Derived from AOM’s AV1 video standard, it can store sequences of images for animation (to replace GIF) as well as individual still images (to replace JPEG). It also supports transparency (to replace PNG). As a potential JPEG-slayer, its efficiency is reportedly comparable to JPEG XL. Like WebP (and JPEG), AVIF does not support 16-bit color.

As of April 2024, current versions of all major browsers support at least single-image AVIF. Chrome and Chromium-based browsers have fully supported it since August 2020 (version 85 and later), although Microsoft disabled it in Edge until version 121 in January 2024. Firefox has supported AVIF still images (but not animated sequences) since October 2021 (version 93 and later). They implemented full support in version 113, released on 8 May 2023. Apple added partial support to Safari 16.1 at the end of 2022. Safari 16.5 for Mac OS added full support in March 2023. Safari on iOS still does not support animated images. These versions require Mac OS 13 (“Ventura”) or later. Users of Macs that can’t be upgraded to that version can choose another browser, but users of older iPhones or iPads don’t have that option. The inability of all but the latest iPhone and iPad devices to display AVIF images may be a reason for Web developers to avoid it for now.

Adobe’s Illustrator now includes AVIF support, but Photoshop does not. There is a free open-source plug-in for Photoshop. I’ve tried it, and found that it produces files somewhat larger than the WebPShop plug-in for WebP. I don’t know whether that means the WebP format is inherently more efficient, or merely that the current version of the AVIF plug-in is not yet optimized. Another option is a Web site that offers drop-and-drag conversion of “legacy” image files to AVIF. It does the conversion locally in your browser.

As of April 2024, CanIUse.com, which provides information about browser support for various Web technologies, provides these estimates of browser support for JPEG 1 replacement formats.

WebP currently comes closest to universal Web compatibility, at least for users who keep their software updated. AVIF became a close second in 2024. But there are still enough older iPads and iPhones that can’t be updated to iOS 14, and thus can’t display WebP or AVIF images, for Web designers to continue using tried-and-true JPEG 1 rather than converting to WebP. That problem will, of course, correct itself in time.

HTML5, the latest version of the language for creating Web pages, does provide a way to serve browsers that can’t display WebP or AVIF an alternative file in JPEG 1 or another “legacy” format. But the need to prepare and maintain two versions of each image file adds complexity and negates the space-saving and cost-saving benefit of storing smaller files in one of the new formats, though users who can display the new formats might still benefit from shorter load times and less data usage. Despite this capability, it would not be unreasonable for a Web developer to conclude that it’s best to just stick with JPEG 1. Or alternatively, to opt for WebP (or possibly AVIF) and not worry about the respective 2% and 7% (and declining) of users with old browsers who can’t view it.

With the release of iOS 11 in 2017, Apple unilaterally supplanted JPEG on the iPhone and iPad. But rather than selecting any of the new standards, Apple chose its own proprietary image file format. The cameras write their image files in the HEIC format by default. HEIC is Apple’s version of the “High Efficiency Image File” (HEIF) standard developed by AOM, which is also the “container” format for AVIF. (A “container” is a standard file format that can accommodate different types of data, such as still images and video.) That’s why you’ll sometimes see HEIC referred to as HEIF. Like WebP, AVIF, JPEG XR, and JPEG XL, HEIC compresses images much more efficiently than JPEG. But it’s supported only on Apple devices. Apple licenses HEIC under onerous terms that, perhaps intentionally, discourage browser developers and others from adopting it.

Fortunately, Apple graciously accommodates non-Apple users. iOS automatically converts HEIC files to JPEG when they’re attached to e-mails, uploaded to a Windows computer, or otherwise cast into the barrens outside Apple’s walled garden. It also provides an option to change the default camera file format to JPEG. Users of Windows 10 and 11 can buy “HEIC support tools” from the Microsoft Store at a nominal price that presumably covers Apple’s license fees. That lets Windows programs like Photoshop or IrfanView read HEIC files.

Although it would seem an ideal JPEG replacement for all makes of digital cameras, I don’t see HEIC gaining much use outside the Apple ecosystem unless Apple decides to make it freely available like WebP, AIFF, and JPEG XL. But that’s apparently just fine with Apple’s executives. It’s sufficient (and surely advantageous) for their operating systems to “seamlessly” convert HEIC photos from Apple devices to the legacy JPEG 1 format for benighted folk who haven’t bought an admission ticket to Apple’s walled garden, while reserving HEIC for their own loyal customers.

DNG (“Digital NeGative,” pronounced ding, or sometimes dingy or dinghy) is Adobe’s open-source universal standard for creating and archiving raw files from digital cameras. DNG is a somewhat controversial topic that merits its own article, which contains an extensive discussion of the format and the problems it’s intended to solve.

Finally, PSD is Adobe Photoshop’s native file format. As you’d expect, it supports everything Photoshop can produce, including layers. To my knowledge, TIFF is the only other format that supports Photoshop layers, although non-Adobe software may have problems reading TIFF files with layers. The main disadvantage of PSD is a file size as extravagant as TIFF, multiplied by any saved layers. The only compression it allows is the nearly worthless “run-length encoding” that compresses some sequences of repeated bytes.

PSD is another possible candidate for future-proof archival storage because of the longstanding thorough dominance of Adobe and Photoshop in the graphics market. Some non-Adobe products like Paint Shop Pro and IrfanView can read PSD, which at least partially allays the concerns of photographers who don’t want to rent Photoshop from Adobe. I use PSD when I need to preserve layers in working files, although TIFF can do that too.

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