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Digitization 101: TIFF vs. JPEG

April 10, 2015

When it comes to digitization, so many options are available that it sometimes becomes more time consuming to figure out what image specifications are needed than to actually digitize of the material in question. Let's take a look at two of the most common file formats and their benefits and trade-offs.

In regards to file formats and image types, we live in a world of three letter acronyms- JPG, TIF, LZW, BMP, RAW, PNG, PDF, GIF, (the list goes on)-- so one thing we need to ask ourselves before we decide is, "what will we be using the image for?

If the answer is, "long term preservation" then the traditional answer would be a lossless or uncompressed TIFF file. Around for nearly 30 years, the Tagged Image File Format has garnered a reputation for being a untainted, versatile format—but, in color or even grayscale representation it also has a reputation of being space-hungry, processor demanding and hard drive greedy, especially when it comes to representation of full color. With storage space becoming cheaper, processors becoming more robust and transfer rates becoming faster, the TIFF has become a more acceptable and practical choice for those seeking what is known as "archival image quality".

From a single TIFF file, multi-faceted editing can be applied and derivatives can be easily created without significant overall loss in image quality. Image compression algorithms and schemes such as LZW and CCITT Group 4 have been used in the past to package up TIFF files into nice little digital suitcases in order to shrink file size, but as hard drive space increase and sizes becomes less and less of an issue and rendering options on devices and through applications expand, the multifaceted beauty of what can be achieved through and from an uncompressed full color TIFF file stands alone.

Some folks don't care about "long term preservation". For them the word “TIFF” is just a synonym for a petty argument. They simply need a modest file that is easily rendered across a broad spectrum of devices, small enough to be quickly transferred via mobile phone or displayed online and legible enough to give them the information they need. One thing is for sure, the JPEG (JPG) file defines efficiency. Sure it is based off of lossy compression, but that in itself reflects life's ephemeral nature.

The JPEG seems almost more friendly-- more compatible, thus more "human” when compared to the rigid, formal complexity of a 24 bit TIFF file. The best thing about a JPEG may be a result of its most criticized characteristic-- that you can compress it down to the smallest file size imaginable and somehow, in such a degraded state, it still contains enough information to remain legible. Sure, we might recall the early days of the internet where a compressed, low resolution JPEG image of several thousand pixels tended to appear as if it had lost its focus-- along with acquiring a bad case of digital chickenpox-- but with megapixel counts and image resolutions from image capture devices increasing each coming year the amount of compression that can be applied to an image before visual artifacting is observed is quite high. The key to the use of a modern day high resolution JPEG is simple—don’t rely on it as a stable source of multiple derivative files and satisfaction will be guaranteed.

New owner hopes to turn page for Kirtas

Kirtas Technologies once looked to be on the verge of something big.

In 2006, the Victor book digitization company signed a contract with Microsoft Corp when the software giant sought to create a vast digital library to rival Google Books. Within a couple of years, Kirtas’ headcount went from a couple dozen to nearly 150 as revenues skyrocketed. Then, that same year, Microsoft pulled the plug on its Live Search Books project, sending Kirtas into a tailspin that its new owner hopes to reverse.

Canadian document scanner distributor Ristech Co. closed on Kirtas at the end of October. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Ristech CEO Robb Richardson said the company will continue to distribute Kirtas gear, such as its line of Kabis book scanners, as well as scanning equipment from other manufacturers. “We were their first international reseller and we’ve always liked the products and done well with them,” he said.

But Ristech hopes to integrate higher-end optics into Kirtas machinery, already made to handle high volumes and fast scanning speeds, Richardson said.

“We can leverage both our workforces and the technology itself,” he said. “We can put higher-end archival digitization cameras into the production devices. (Previously), it was always a trade-off. If we can integrate the two technologies and get it into production-type speeds, it’ll open up a whole new market.”

The company hopes to get new Kirtas products on the market by the second quarter of 2015, aimed at such potential buyers as federal and state archives, national libraries, and “anyone with rare and unique collections,” Richardson said.

“A lot of these collections. they don’t want people to touch them because they’ll deteriorate,” he said. “The problem is, they can’t share the knowledge. These scanners are able to unlock and share with researchers and archivists.”

Ristech also plans to keep Kirtas and its small manufacturing operation in Victor, he said: “We have no intention of moving that. It’s close and the expertise level in manufacturing is there. We’re going to go where the personnel and the expertise is, and that’s in your backyard.”

Ristech bought Kirtas from French scanner maker i2S, which bought it in 2011 as it looked to get into the United States market. But i2S decided to divest itself of Kirtas earlier this year, at the same time Ristech was talking to it about distributing some i2S product in North America. Today, Kirtas employs about 10, Richardson said.

“Throughout the years it’s really been dwindling,” he said. “It’s been downsized quite a bit. We’re trying to open up new markets. We’re trying to catch a wave here. When we can get some production ... it’s going to open up a lot of doors.”