DNG versus TIFF

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Today’s Question: Is Adobe DNG better than TIFF? I saw an advertisement that indicated that the default file format when taking pictures is typically JPG or TIFF, both of which have limited editing options. It went on to explain that Adobe DNG was an uncompressed raw file format with higher quality image than a JPG or TIFF and greater editing capabilities.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In the context of capturing photos, I would say that Adobe DNG is indeed somewhat better than TIFF. DNG is also most certainly better than JPEG in terms of overall image quality and flexibility. In general I would say that DNG is on par with proprietary RAW capture formats in terms of image quality and post-processing flexibility.

More Detail: In a general way you can think of the Adobe DNG (Digital Negative) file format as being a variation on a proprietary RAW capture, minus the “proprietary” element. That is because the Adobe DNG format is openly documented by Adobe, which is aimed at providing a degree of peace of mind for photographers.

A variety of cameras now offer the Adobe DNG format as a capture option within the camera. Many cameras also offer proprietary RAW capture formats. Virtually all cameras support JPEG capture, and some cameras support the TIFF file format for capture (though this is becoming a rare option to find in a camera).

I would say that if your camera offers a RAW or DNG capture option, that is always your best choice in terms of potential image quality and flexibility in post-processing. The TIFF file format will generally provide very good image quality, but with a file size that is about three times (or more) larger than a RAW or DNG capture file without as much flexibility in post-processing. In other words, as a general rule I never recommend using the TIFF capture option in any camera that supports this option.

The JPEG capture option will provide the lowest quality with the least amount of flexibility in post-processing. That doesn’t automatically make JPEG capture a bad thing, but it certainly represents a compromise.

So in general I would say that I do agree with the statements included as part of today’s question. I would just hasten to add that if there is a proprietary RAW capture format available in your camera that will provide the same potential benefits as an Adobe DNG capture in terms of capture quality and post-processing flexibility.

Some photographers feel more comfortable using the Adobe DNG format compared to proprietary RAW capture formats, because the former is openly documented. Other photographers prefer to employ the proprietary RAW capture format, such as to take advantage of special features that are only available with that capture option combined with the software provided by the camera manufacturer for processing the images.

The point is that in terms of image quality and processing flexibility the DNG and proprietary RAW capture options are quite similar, with a handful of nuanced decisions that can be made based on the specific needs and preferences of each photographer.