Discover AVIF, the Modern Image Format

Discover AVIF, the Modern Image Format

When you talk about digital images, you inevitably think about JPEG. For almost 30 years, this has been the most used format to view, edit and distribute images across the internet. JPEG has been and still is the most popular format, but other options, capable of offering a plethora of advantages have started to emerge.

Which are the new contenders? Well, in previous articles we’ve mentioned two of them: HEIC, Apple’s default photo format, and WebP, a file type developed by Google. Today we are going to analyze another modern image format called AVIF. Keep on reading to discover all there is to know about this next-gen image file.

What Is AVIF

AVIF is a format released in February 2019, designed to store a single image or image sequences. AVIF uses the same HEIF container format as HEIC, but resorts to the AV1 video coding format for compression. HEIC, on the other hand, uses the HEVC compression standard. It’s important to mention that AVIF is open-source, royalty-free. This means that nobody actually owns it. You can use it and, if you want, bring improvements to it without having to pay anything.

The Strong Point of the Format

So why should one choose this format? What makes it so advantageous? Well, it all comes down to compression. Thanks to its advanced compression algorithm, AVIF is able to deliver images considerably smaller in file size than a traditional JPG, without sacrificing quality. This makes it an optimal solution for online use.

The remarkable capabilities of the format were revealed by Netflix through a comprehensive post in the Netflix Technology Blog. Using internal promotional photographs, the technical team carried out a vast image compression comparison test between JPEG and AVIF. The pictures were scaled down to different bitrates, ranging from approximately 20,000 to 80,000 bytes (0.02 to 0.08 MB). The results showed that, even when they were massively compressed, the AVIF images maintained an impressive quality and were almost identical to the source. The compressed JPEG’s, on the other hand, suffered major changes that practically made them unusable. They showed important color distortions and blurriness of details.

“We need an alternative to JPEG that a) is widely supported, b) has better compression efficiency and c) has a wider feature set. We believe AV1 Image File Format (AVIF) has the potential.” , the Netflix technical team concluded.

Other Important Features of AVIF

As demonstrated above, AVIF is able to provide a higher compression efficiency (it supports both lossless and lossy compression). This is where it shines. But this doesn’t mean it can’t do anything else. The format offers a large variety of features that make it a suitable solution for numerous use cases. AVIF can support:

  • 8-, 10-, and 12-bit color depths
  • HDR and WCG (wide color gamut) images
  • Animations, live photos and multi-layer images
  • Film grain synthesis
  • Monochrome images
  • Transparency

The Drawbacks

The AVIF image format does come with impressive features, which make it the format of the future for web use. But at the moment it also has certain disadvantages. Just like in the case of HEIC and WebP, the support is not as widespread as needed. And this is perfectly understandable, since we are talking about a format that was officially released in 2019.

AVIF is incompatible with Internet Explorer and older versions of the rest of the browsers. Google Chrome (v85) and Opera (v71) in 2020, Firefox (v93) and Safari (v16) in 2023 and Edge (v121) in early 2024 adopted the format. AVIF is not supported on older Windows versions, only on Windows 10 and 11, and you need to download the AV1 extension from the Microsoft Store. On Mac you’ll need to run macOS 13 to open and view the file. In terms of photo editors, things are improving, with software like ImageMagick, GIMP or Lightroom more recently adding support. Nevertheless, there are still various tools incompatible with the format.

Besides compatibility issues, another disadvantage is related to its higher encoding complexity, which may lead to a slower processing time of the images.

AVIF vs JPG

  • In terms of image quality and size, AVIF is a far better option than JPG. Thanks to its truly efficient compression technique, an AVIF file can be up to 50% smaller than a JPG. The tests carried out by the Netflix technical team showed that AVIF images are visibly clearer and more accurate than JPG’s.
  • In terms of features, AVIF again is the winner. This next-gen format supports both lossy and lossless compression (JPG – only lossy), alpha transparency for infographics and logos, as well as animated sequences.
  • When it comes to compatibility, JPG still holds on to the number one spot. It is by far the most popular image format and the one which is supported on every browser, OS, platform or photo editor. AVIF is making progress, but it is far from reaching JPG’s popularity and support.

AVIF vs PNG

  • In terms of file size, AVIF uses a more advanced compression algorithm to substantially reduce image size without quality loss. On the other hand, PNG uses lossless compression, which results in larger files.
  • In terms of image quality, both represent great options. AVIF can produce crisp images, without color distortions even when resorting to a heavy compression. PNG uses lossless compression, which means the quality of the photos will remain at a high level.
  • When it comes to features, they both support transparency, which makes them optimal for icons, logos and other graphic elements. AVIF offers other useful functions though, such as direct animation support and the ability to store metadata.
  • When it comes to support, PNG’s can be easily viewed on almost any device, browser or editing software. Even though is gaining ground, AVIF is still not as popular.

How to Convert AVIF Images

As seen before, AVIF is an excellent choice for web use. Even though support for the format has improved over the years, there are still scenarios where you’ll need to convert it to a more popular file type, such as JPG or PNG. If you find yourself in the situation in which AVIF images can not be viewed or uploaded due to lack of support, you can quickly convert them with a tool like our very own PhotoMarks.

PhotoMarks is a batch photo editor for Windows and Mac that provides support for more than 50 image formats, including moderns ones like HEIC, WebP and AVIF. With this app you get to convert dozens or hundreds of image files in a simple, three-step process: add your photos in Step 1, apply certain edits in Step 2 (if necessary) and convert them to the desired output format in Step 3. Once you’re done, hit the Process button and let the tool to automatically convert all your files.