You probably have not spent much time thinking about the various image formats modern technology offers photographers and the differences between these formats.
Before the digital age, photography required the use of film to record an image. Over the 100 or so years of film photography, companies like Kodak constantly created a new and improved films. If you had a particular need, such as a high ISO, it was available. However, you sacrificed some image quality for this benefit.
Today, most of us do not use film but rather a digital camera that produces a computer file. Modern cameras usually offer us more than one file type to save our precious images. Which one do we choose?
The most common is the JPG (or JPEG) file. All digital cameras use this format, and in some cases, this is the only format they offer. The files are relatively small, but the images are excellent and used by websites and businesses dealing with photographic images. There are a few concerning features of JPEGs that you may not like. First, the camera software edits your picture. Unnecessary data is lost for further use.
Further processing by Lightroom or Photoshop cannot retrieve the missing information in the sky or the shadows. You can’t alter the white balance of a JPEG image to the extent you can with other formats. The worst thing is that every time you copy the file, you lose some information. Creating multiple generations of a photocopy is the same thing and concerning for historical and family history purposes.
The filetype used by most serious photographers is called RAW. RAW image options are available on most cameras designed for “serious amateurs.” I like to use RAW because the camera does not edit the image, and I have access to all the image data.
RAW files are not used by websites or most photo businesses in producing the final product, although they may use them internally while prepping the photo for printing or reproduction. These files are much larger than a JPEG file and require the most memory chip and drive space of any other photo file type. As far as editing, the image needs to be “developed” by some photo software to bring out the image’s full potential (Lightroom, Photoshop, and others). An unprocessed RAW image looks flat, muddy, and perhaps a bit dark or off-color. After processing, the images can be stunning, sharp, snappy, and attention-getting, just like your mind’s eye saw the picture when you made the exposure. Learning to edit RAW files takes time, and most people do not want to use their few free hours in front of a computer to process images from their vacation.
Another image format is called a TIFF file. Size-wise, it is between a JPG file and a RAW file. It retains much of the data captured by the camera so you can manipulate the highlights, shadows, and white balance of the photo. If you copy the TIFF file, no data is lost. Typically, TIFF files do not come from the camera directly but come from editing software to archive or perhaps to print the photo.
If you are scanning photos from grandma’s scrapbook, you should consider a few things about the image format you select. The JPEG choice gives you a nice image but a limited ability to correct stains and creases. If you scan in TIFF format, the TIFF image will have more information but may look a bit more “grainy” when compared to the JPEG of the same image. TIFF images tolerate copying without damage, so their archival potential is better than a JPEG.
RAW files are probably not possible from most scanners available for home use. I suggest using a 35mm digital camera as your scanner and set to produce RAW. Just take a photo of the photo as carefully as you can. A tripod will be of great help because then you can create a copy that is level vertically and horizontally.
If you are taking family photos and want to edit them, use the RAW format. If you don’t want to do that, then use a camera that gives you a JPEG very close to how you saw the image when you created it. Then, later you can convert the photos you like to TIFF format for the grandchildren and beyond.