4th August 2016 – Tintern Abbey and File Formats.

Tintern Abbey was our rendezvous last meeting, the next is at Gloucester Docks and we have a  themed shoot. Please see the club’s Facebook Page or email the club for details (link on the main page). Not a bad showing considering it’s the other side of the Severn Bridge, even if we seemed to lose each other when we moved on to the Old Railway Station and its sculpture trail. Possibly the others I lost track of went on to the bridge at Brockweir, or home. Still it was a rewarding evening.

 

So the Olympics have just started and on display this week were the armouries Canon and Getty have provided, several million dollars worth. Then this is an enormous event. One photographer has already had £30,000 worth of kit heisted by a street gang using distraction tactics (and that had an interesting postscript). Whatever else you might say about it, there are no small numbers involved in the providing of it. The International Olympic Committee have banned GIF’s from the attending photographers (among other formats) in an effort to maintain control on who and how money is made from the images taken of the action. GIF’s, Graphic Interchange Format, are generally thought of in their animated form these days, though it is a lossless file format for stills too, and it is this animated form that has the IOC so animated, or at least its ability to simulate film/moving pictures. Which is all very fine, but what is a lossless file?

 

Lossless files describe the performance of data compression – squeezing the raw data into smaller storage spaces without losing quality. They are not just photographic formats but audio formats too and there are general formats for other data, the most familiar of which are Zip files, but also for computer code. GIF has been around a fair few years, but it has grown in both popularity and capability, but it only handles 256 colours. Its appeal to the web is its tiny size, and of course its ability to be turned into short animations. As a format it actually predates the Web as the it has been around (unaltered) since 1989.

 

JPEG on the other hand, is a “Lossy” format. Lossy “is the class of data encoding methods that uses inexact approximations and partial data discarding to represent the content” (Wikipedia). It is a one way street, meaning it cannot be reversed. Lossless preserves the colour data (but might reduce it as in a GIF). Its irreversibility had Reuters making JPEG their only accepted format, one suspects, as there are more limitations on its ability to be manipulated as well as the economies of scale available in limiting the number of formats they have to accommodate. It is pretty universal as formats go. Outside of the personal storage areas you won’t find RAW on the web, but JPEG you will find pretty much everywhere. Most cameras shoot JPEG of course – it is the photographers format, JPEG stands for the Joint Photographic Experts Group. It will give you 16 million colours, more than you can actually see, but the trick is in the transition between colours and shades of colours, which are generally pretty vibrant. Its widely accepted of course (see above) and you would have to look long and hard to find a computer that cannot handle it.

 

We linked to the JPEG v RAW argument in the last post, but RAW doesn’t get a look-in when talking about most of the images we see. Then, in the days of film we saw a lot, lot, more prints than ever we did negatives. The world, though , has changed a lot in the last 25 years where digital is the new normal – normal for taking and displaying images. The world’s first digital SLR was a modified Nikon F3,  The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System (DCS) which was tethered to a 200MB hard drive, that the photographer carried over the shoulder. Its capacity was 156 uncompressed 1.3MP images and was yours for around $30,000 US (about £23,000 at current exchange rates, but actually closer to £40,000 when you take inflation into account). That was 1991. On the 6th August that same year Tim Berners Lee posted the first page to the World Wide Web (the internet is actually the system of computers that powers it) and though one and the other are now inseparable, the first image was posted in 1992. CERN made the code a gift to the World in 1993, and the rest, as they say, is a gloriously messy history.

 

Whereas we will find lots of JPEGs and GIF’s on the web, as presentation formats at the very least, they are by no means the only formats. BMP, often called a “Bump”, is sometimes used by photographers but it is not very flexible and the . TIFF, or Tagged Image File Format, is more common because it is the standard digital format in the printing industry. It has been controlled by Adobe since 2009 but was originally created by Aldus as a format for Desk Top Publishing, which for many years was the next big thing.  It was designed to be a very flexible format, supporting such types of compression as JPEG, LZW, ZIP (or none) and retains all colour and data information as well as being saved with layers. But the files are huge. Hence camera RAW which compresses the original data losslessly, but it isn’t a single agreed format as the camera manufacturers all have their own versions of it.

 

PNG Portable Network Graphics), the last of the more common formats, was envisioned as a replacement for GIF. Not all web browsers – think of how we store most of our images on line these days and browsers are a very big thing – support it, though that is increasingly uncommon now. It can’t be animated like GIF’s can, which probably keeps the GIF a more common file type, and whereas it does, otherwise what GIF does, only better, those files tend to be large.

 

So there we have it, in aggregate some of the reasons why, as photographers we deal with RAW and JPEGS the majority of the time, and why TIFF is still used to store images by some. All because you can animate a GIF and the IOC voraciously defends its commercial properties….

 

 

N E X T   M E E T I N G

Costume shoot at Gloucester Docks, see Facebook/email club as per above.