Updated: Mar 2, 2018
We thought we would put together a little this and that about different file types. JPEG, RAW, and TIFF in particular since they are some of the most common.
Are all of these file types different? Yes. Will you want to use each of them at different times? Also yes. Do you have to use all of them? No. But you can. Here are the broad strokes:
JPEG - Jpeg files are the most common and are what we are most familiar with. Jpeg files are actually processed by the camera so what you end up with is an easy to view, send, share, print file. You may have heard people refer to this as a 'lossy' file, which is true to a degree. What that refers to is that Jpeg files are compressed (which is why you can fit about twice as many Jpegs as RAW files on a memory card) and when they are opened they are expanded, then compressed again, then when you open it again it expands, then compresses again when closed, and on and on - similar to if you were opening, editing, saving, opening, editing, saving, etc. Think of it as shoving a nice suit into a duffel bag, then pulling it out, then shoving it back in, etc. All of the sudden the suit isn't so appealing after all of that compression and expansion.
RAW - Ahh, the RAW file that your favorite photography blogger says you have to use or you might as well not pick up your camera. RAW files are just that, raw data from your camera's sensor. It is not processed like a Jpeg, so if you were to shoot RAW and Jpeg files of the same image and compare, you would find that the RAW file looks a bit more flat, dull, and not quite as sharp - and it isn't. RAW files record more data about the scene and skip on the in-camera processing. These files are not only meant to be edited, but they need to be edited to look their best. And you need special software to process them. So why bother? Well, RAW files give you a cushion in terms of exposure and color. With a Jpeg file, you may only be able to shift the exposure +/-1 stop before things start getting ugly, whereas with the RAW file you could go +/-3 stops or more. So that great shot that is just too dark or light? Totally fixable. White balance off in left field? Absolutely no problem to correct. Things you just can't do with a Jpeg file.
TIFF - This file type may or may not be available in your camera's menu, but it is an option in your editing software. TIFF files are considered 'lossless' (as opposed to the 'lossy' Jpeg files). They are not compressed and retain the file's information, which results in a MUCH larger file. They are primarily used when editing photos over time or to maintain data for printing digital files quite large. Where the Jpeg was the suit stuffed in the duffel bag, think of the TIFF as a suit in a garment bag - neatly packed, but takes up more space and looks better after being unpacked and repacked.
We've all got our own 'type' that works for us. And if it works for your style and workflow, then whose to say what's right and wrong.