Shouldn’t all cameras provide a TIFF capture-mode option?

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April 28, 2016 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

A friend owns the Nikon D810, and he told me that it has a special feature: a TIFF capture mode. This sounds ideal, since JPEGs do not provide ideal image quality, and Raw files require a lot of processing in software. Why don’t all cameras include an option to shoot TIFFs?
—Finley T.

The TIFF capture mode might be very suitable for some images, especially as an alternative to JPEG to ensure optimal image quality. However, the Raw capture mode provides some benefits over TIFF as discussed in the text. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

The TIFF capture mode might be very suitable for some images, especially as an alternative to JPEG to ensure optimal image quality. However, the Raw capture mode provides some benefits over TIFF as discussed in the text. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

Some other enthusiast-grade Nikon DLSRs, including the new D500, and some Pentax models also provide a TIFF capture mode as part of the manufacturers’ goal to offer numerous options to the user, Finley. However, the majority of owners of such cameras usually shoot most of their images in the more typical capture modes. In fact, Nikon still recommends “NEF (Raw) for photographs that will be processed after leaving the camera, JPEG for photographs that will be displayed or printed without further processing” in their DSLR Camera Basics | Image Quality and File Type article.

The reasons for this are primarily based on file size. A TIFF image captured by the camera is massive because it is not compressed. By comparison, JPEGs are quite small, but the type of compression used in-camera is “lossy,” so there is some degradation of quality. Raw files are larger than JPEGs but still acceptably small, and they benefit from “lossless” compression. Because of the large TIFF file size, the camera’s burst depth is significantly reduced: you can shoot fewer TIFFs in a series than Raw or JPEG photos.

Though not available with the majority of cameras, the TIFF capture mode option is included with some models. While it does have some theoretical benefits, Raw capture mode is more practical and useful in my experience. © 2016 Peter K. Burian

Though not available with the majority of cameras, the TIFF capture mode option is included with some models. While it does have some theoretical benefits, Raw capture mode is more practical and useful in my experience. © 2016 Peter K. Burian

With the Nikon D810 and a very fast UHS-1 SD card, for example, you could capture up to a hundred Fine JPEGs in a sequence or up to 36 shots in 12-bit Raw capture but only 25 TIFF photos. And if shooting TIFFs in a long series, you’ll also wait longer for the camera to be ready to fire again, which can mean missing some important moments. In some types of photography, such as sports and wildlife, we often want to take long series, making JPEG or Raw the preferred choice. (When you open the images in a computer, all will provide the full 36-megapixel resolution from the D810, of course, regardless of the capture mode that was used.)

As you would expect with the huge TIFF files, a memory card will hold fewer of these photos compared to Raw or JPEG images. Since high-capacity cards are quite affordable now, this is less of a concern than in the past. Still, it does mean that a card is more likely become full at an important moment during a wedding, for example. While changing cards, you’ll miss some great shots.

The TIFF capture mode may provide the finest possible image quality in theory, but serious photographers often modify their images in software for creative reasons, as I did with the photo of the falconer with an eagle. That Raw capture was extensively modified in terms of contrast, shadow detail, colour rendition, exposure, and so on to achieve the desired effect. Modifying a TIFF photo is a destructive process. On the other hand, a Raw file has greater latitude: it tolerates significant modifications with little loss of quality as discussed in a previous Q&A: “Is it true that you need to shoot Raw photosfor the best quality?” So, while it’s great to have numerous options with a versatile camera, the traditional capture modes remain the most suitable for most photographers.

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