JPEG vs. GIF

Michele Wanke
Digital camera owners can benefit from knowing the difference between JPEG and GIF formats.

JPEG vs. GIF; many digital photographers find themselves contemplating the pros and cons of each when editing images. Knowing which format to use yields better pictures.

Defining JPEG and GIF

JPEG

Joint Photographic Experts Group or JPEG (pronounced "JAY-peg") is currently the most popular image file format used in designing websites. The format refers to a method for compressing information to create smaller individual images without severely compromising the integrity of the original photo. JPEG is also the standardized format used by many digital cameras for storing images.

GIF

Graphics Interchange Format or GIF (pronounced "Jiff") is another widely supported image-storage format. CompuServe introduced GIF in 1987 to compress non-photographic images for use on the Internet. GIFs reduce the original image size by eliminating unnecessary color information. Resolution is limited to 8-bits, or 256 colors.

JPEG vs. GIF

Reviewing the differences between JPEG and GIF formats helps you decide how to best display your photos on the web.

Pros of JPEG

There are a number of advantages associated with the JPEG format, including:

  • Preserves Integrity of Photos. JPEG is the preferred file format for digital photographs and scanned pictures as it supports 24-bit images or more than 16 million colors. The JPEG method of compression also helps preserve the overall integrity of a photo, including the clarity, richness and tone.
  • Speedy Downloading. JPEG compresses the image into a smaller file making it quicker to download photos taken on your digital camera.
  • Action Photography. Shooting JPEG increases the frame rate, which allows more frames to be recorded in a sequence. This is advantageous for shutterbugs who specialize in action photography.
  • Instant Printing. JPEG allows you to bypass post processing and upload images directly off your digital camera's memory card. If you are a fan of instant printing and are using a dye-sub printer you will need to use JPEG, as it is the only format these tiny printers process.
  • Space Saver. JPEGs reduced image size results in quicker recording speed and reduced hard-drive storage.

Cons of JPEG

Some disadvantages of using JPEG format include:

  • Compression Drawbacks. JPEGs use a "lossy" compression scheme; meaning that it is not as good for images where every pixel counts or when you can get compression by using less than 24-bit color.
  • Loss of Photo Quality. If you save a JPEG photo in JPEG format after altering it, you are compressing the image again. Do so can severely diminish image quality.
  • Not Good for All Images. The JPEG format is not generally suited for web designs which rely on non-realistic images such as cartoons, logos or line drawings.
  • Other Limitations. If your web design requires black and white images or motion compression, JPEG format is not recommended.

Pros of GIF

There are several benefits associated with the GIF format, including:

  • Preferred Images. GIF is the preferred file format for images with large areas of solid color, such as logos, text as graphics, and cartoons. The GIF file format only supports 8-bit images or up to 256 colors.
  • Interlacing. GIF interlaced photos can be displayed as low-resolution images at first, and then users can adjust the clarity and add details gradually.
  • Animation. GIF images can be used to create simple animations.
  • Supports Transparency. GIF files are extremely useful for web designs because transparency is supported. A transparent image allows the background of the web page to be displayed, which enables the image to appear borderless.
  • Other Advantages. GIF is ideally suited for black and white photos, line drawings, illustrations, clip arts and small text that contain few pixels.

Cons of GIF

The disadvantages of GIF include:

  • Not Ideal for Photographs. GIF does not compress photographs very well, especially images that show texture or color gradations.
  • Compression. GIF is a "lossless" form of compression, which means every pixel in the original image is preserved. The end result is large file sizes and noticeably long download time.
  • Dithering. The GIF format only supports a palette with 256 colors, while the JPEG format supports 16 million colors. This means that the colors you choose may not be the final color you see after saving in the GIF format, unless you manually insert color from the GIF palette. If you decide against completing this tedious process your computer will "dither" the color to approximate the nearest color it has in the GIF palette. This can result in compromised photo color quality.

Conclusion

When deciding between JPEG and GIF formats keep this simple rule in mind: "Lots of colors, JPEG; solid colors or no gradations, GIF."For additional information on the JPEG vs. GIF debate, consider reviewing the following resources:

Each file format comes with its own particular advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which format will best enhance your photos.

JPEG vs. GIF