First created in 1987, GIF files have remained one of the most common types of images, especially on the Web. One reason for GIF's endurance, despite limitations such as a small color palette, is its ability to display looping animations, a feature not present in most other formats such as JPEG. Animated GIFs have a number of downsides, however, such as a large file size with all but the simplest animations.
Animated vs. Static Images
While once used mostly for small, clip art-style animations on websites, GIFs today often feature larger, more complex images, such as clips from videos. These animated GIFs are frequently used on blogging sites such as Tumblr, as they more easily depict short, humorous events compared to a series of still images. The major downside with this use is file size; while animated GIFs using line art and few colors have small file sizes, those featuring higher resolutions and more colors can require several megabytes each, slowing page loading, as well as using up memory and eating into your data plan when viewed on a smartphone.
GIFs vs. Videos
When animated GIFs first became popular, streaming video sites did not exist. Today, these sites offer several advantages over GIFs, such as having audio, higher quality video and potentially smaller file sizes for clips of equal length. On the other hand, GIFs have several situational advantages as well: Site designers and users on social media can embed GIFs directly into a page, having them play without any viewer interaction. They also work on all types of systems, unlike Flash videos that won't work on many smartphones.
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Modern Web browsers can display video clips without requiring a plugin such as Flash. Web designers can use this method with the HTML5 "
Ordinarily, GIFs contain no more than 256 colors. This poses a disadvantage compared to every other common type of static image or video file, as it causes the coloring to look unnatural when GIFs are made from video clips. When used for images originally drawn with fewer than 256 colors, however, no colors will be lost.