I have four band aerial photography - RGBI. I need to share it with my users, a mixture of MapInfo, QGIS, and ArcGIS.

What format should I store/serve the data in?

GeoTIFF isn't well suited to four bands because some applications assume the fourth band is transparency. ECW and JPEG2000 are proprietary, plus not all applications support four bands.

I can split it up into different layers/files but would prefer not to.

  • I still think GeoTIFF is the best, it is hard in software design to cover all possibilities in read/view software and provide a sensible default, but anything worth using will allow you to change a default interpretation. Perhaps this q should be about the specifics of that for your targets?
    – mdsumner
    Feb 25, 2014 at 20:35
  • I second that GeoTIFF may suit well with appropriate metadata (see @huckfinn's answer). However, let me also propose the the Erdas IMAGINE *.img format, which supports multiband well and is widely supported (MapInfo manual p.52, ArcGIS, QGIS via gdal). It is proprietary though, but well documented.
    – lavarider
    Feb 26, 2014 at 8:28

1 Answer 1


I think that it is not a matter of raster format (only). You need additional metadata infos to make a multiband interpretation. Tiff especialy GeoTiff for example will technically deal with a wide variation of packing, stacking and the arrangement of bands (.. sample types, blocks an stripes and so on) and can store the info in the tag directory, but not in a standardized semantic way (1st band is NIR channel, second band is ultraviolet channel...). NetCDF can store alot of spatio-temporal relateted stuff into a n-dimensional grid (... climate and weather stuff for example x,y,z,time,forcast as adress), with metadata and interpretation of bands, layers and fields (...physical meaning, units , limits for the datasets) via attributes and there are some how to use "standards".. So you will need a "pseudo metatdata standard" on top of a "raster format" to share the multiband info in a popper way, or intention how to use it in certain applications (...see NCO "It also exploits the geophysical expressivity of many CF (Climate & Forecast) metadata conventions...").

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