Is JPEG Dead?

We’ve had a great run together, and you served us well, but the time has come that we move on. You didn’t do anything wrong, even though others preached that we, photographers, should always use raw instead of you, JPEG. Those who preached only raw and nothing but raw didn’t understand how you, JPEG, were needed and helped digital photography to explode. Yet all good things must come to an end.

Yes, I admit that I’ve been a fan of the JPEG format for a long time. It’s required for most of my editorial work, as speed and convenience is needed to make deadlines. I also shot raw, especially when I know that I don’t need to have an image out to my editor as fast as possible but when speed is necessary, JPEG is excellent. That is until now.

In this video by Tony Northrup, he provides well thought out and supported reasons for moving beyond the now almost 30-year-old JPEG format, which was introduced in 1992. Northup advocates that the JPEG format be replaced with the new High Efficiency Image File Format (HEIF and pronounced as HEF). This format is similar to JPEG as its an image compression format, so it isn’t intended to replace raw. You can think of it as a modern version of JPEG that now lets you have images file sizes at almost one half the size of the corresponding JPEG file. For me, that means faster downloads from the memory card, and also quicker uploads to my editor. This improvement in speed cuts down on my time in the photo den after an event, which in turn permits me to get back to the hotel or my flight sooner.  

I haven’t tried the new format yet myself, and my camera lineup doesn’t shoot in HEIF, but when I look for new equipment, it will be one of the considerations I used to pick a new camera body.

What are your thoughts? Is it time for the JPEG format to be retired, or should we keep using something that isn’t broken?

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Deacon Blues's picture

Is JPG dead? Is the DSLR dead? Is the Nifty Fifty dying? etc etc

Rule of thumb: If a headline ends in a question mark, the answer is "no".

Steven Hille's picture

Unless this new format can be down the road supported via firmware upgrade, I'm going to be forced to use the older .JPG format even with a Canon R.

It cannot. It is too CPU intensive. However, a firmware update can bring AVIF support to current cameras.

Jerome Brill's picture

Tony trying to get everyone to take up arms against jpeg while simultaneously plugging Squarespace three times in a 15 minute video.

Andrzej Muzaj's picture

Thank you for the executive summary. Now I don't need to watch it anymore. :D

Worse, he is trying to get them to back a stillborn proprietary Apple solution.

dred lew's picture

It’s not proprietary and not an Apple solution. It’s an industry standard.

Industry standard is a meaningless term. GIF was an industry standard, and it was owned by IBM and Compuserve. OpenEXR is an industry standard and it is owned by Industrial Light and Magic, (ILM). WebP is an industry standard and it is owned by Google.

Apple owns patents in HEIF. That part of the technology belongs to Apple. It IS proprietary, inasmuch as DNG is the proprietary property of Adobe. Stop conflating the issue.

Tony is all about the plug/spam of his book and Squarespace. i will never ever ever ever do business with Squarespace. its spammed to death by every "photographer" on youtube. its like a cold everyone got one but i dont wanne be near it.

Reginald Walton's picture

Sigh! Another Tony video...And at the moment, Capture One doesn't support the HEIF format. I have to use LR for my HEIF files.

Robert Montgomery's picture

This leads to the question that I have been repeating since the 1990's. The question is whether digital photography is truly archival. Advances in technology I get. But the question remains how many images saved to disc, drive, stick, in JPEG will be lost. Formats change. At one time we saved to floppy discs, and ZIP Drives, and the image was saved in a different format, ie: Kodak had it's own encoding. Since the majority of images now, are never actually printed, what good will finding a stash of a thumb drives in an attic be, when there will be no readily available hardware or software to read the stick. Don't believe me try and find a new computer that accepts floppy disc's or software that actually reads Kodak's old format. At least with film, especially if its black and white, if it was properly developed, archived processed, and stored you still have a chance of being able to not only traditionally make a print, you can also make a scan of the negative even if the original negative is over 100 years old or older.

I am not trying to say film is better than digital, this is not about that. It's more on the lines that with more people taking pictures of world around them using all kinds of digital media, whether that record of a time and place that was captured and recorded will be lost to future generations.

Mark Harris's picture

But there is a big difference between willingness to support a Kodak format used by a handful of people to produce low res images in the infancy of digital photography, and the billions of high-quality jpegs there are around. There will be no problem finding software to read jpegs in a hundred years time.

Robert Montgomery's picture

I respectfully disagree . You make an assumption that is unanswerable about the future . Also you fail to realize that "in the beginning " those images were not considered low resolution . The were cutting edge. I lived those times. You are applying todays standards to a past time. What is high resolution today might be primative low resolution tomorrow .

Logan Cressler's picture

I dont think it matters because in the end, there is just too much data to even sort through or care about. Considering there are over 200,000 photos uploaded to facebook alone every single minute. The images that are important will still get to the future, but no one is going to want to look through a couple of quadrillion images of parking spaces, memes, kittens, and your baby making his first throw up.

I do agree with you that without an actual physical product that can be viewed without any electricity or special equipment that nothing is archived.

I think in the right hands, digital photography is very much archival. In fact, digitisation of priceless artworks is the only way to preserve the memory of such artworks and protect against their loss in the event of war, natural disasters or other events such as accidental or deliberate fires.

In fact, there's an entire army of archivists doing really valuable work to preserve the cultural and artistic history for future generations.

Phase One have an entire division of their company dedicated to this very task; I'm sure there are other vendors out there too that provide similar archiving solutions.

Robert Montgomery's picture

What you are discribing is copywork. Not actual archiving of the phyical original work. More of plan B as you discribe in case of distruction. Once the original is lost, everything is copy . That is like saying tbe reproduction of the lost Amber Room in St. Petersburg, or any of the solen artwork is just the same as the one that was original. Sure there are copies and some repoductions, as records, but still not thw same. The work you discribe is good. I support it. But without constint reformating as formats and hardware change even that effort is vulnerable . And even if successful to access the cooy you wl need a way to do so. Archival to me is to be able to view the original as it was made w/o any relience on backward adaptable hardware or software or process. IE I can go to France stand in line and see the real Mona Lisa if i want. That chance with digital is that, that the original is subject even if it was their at all

No, it's not dead. As long as I still have clients calling to ask how to save photos from a web page which most people have done the same way since 1995, I'm not going near any format that is not 100% universal.

My first 160 Gb external drive cost over $500. Now I can get a 1 Tb SSD for $79. I'm not worried about saving a bit of storage space. If storage space were such an issue, no one would shoot RAW.

Logan Cressler's picture

I would say its less about saving storage space long term and more about saving space in camera while shooting.

Fair point -- thanks. I assume this is targeted mostly at non-RAW shooters, then, since the space savings of 100 JPEG to HEIF files would be negated out by just a handful of additional RAW files.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I'd love to see HEIF being adopted. Unlike JPEG, it supports 16-bit which plays much better with aRGB than 8-bit

Actually, it supports 14-bit. Still, the point is taken. …And still, the Apple supported AVIF also supports 16-bit, has wide support, has no patent issues, has a smaller file size, better reproduction, and requires less computational resources to produce/process.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I did not know that.

I wish that C-1 and Photoshop would output as 14-bit JPEG then. (Ha... I bet I've missed where they do that. I need to do some reading...)

Thanks for the update.

( EDIT: I can only find 12-bit for JPEG, unless we go to a variant of the JPEG family ).

[EDIT] To clarify, I was not saying that JPEG supports 14-bit. I was saying that HEIF supports 14-bit. It does not support 16-bit. [/EDIT]

There is JPEG XR, JPEG 2000, JPEG SPIFF, and another one, (besides JPEG JFIF, the one we are used to using). I believe that JPEG XR supports 16-bit integer, possibly floating point. Not sure.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Yeah, sure. JPEG is practically an institution, no way will it be replaced anytime soon. Every image on this website is either a JPEG or PNG.

Robert Montgomery's picture

And Kodak too was thought to be an institution .

Patrick Hall's picture

Hmmmmm, I wonder what file format everyone is delivering to their clients and posting to social media 😂

WebP, whenever I can. JPEG if I can't.

Robert Montgomery's picture

Same argument was made about digital cameras being a toy. By Kodak in 1974 when one of their own made the first 16 kilobyte digital image and saved it to VHS tape.

Logan Cressler's picture

.meme is the preferred format to upload to social media.

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