8-bit vs 16-bit images – does it really make a difference what you work in?
It’s an argument that’s been around for as long as digital photography. Should I edit in 8-bit or 16-bit mode? What are the benefits of one over the other and does it really make any difference at all? In this pretty in-depth video, StyleMyPic walks us through what it means and busts two of the most common myths surrounding bit depth.
It’s an interesting video, going through quite a lot of detail. So, here’s a handy time index for different parts of the video so you can bounce back and forth between the bits that really interest you.
- 0:10 Introducing Bit Depth/Color Depth/Pixel Depth
- 0:26 Concept of Bit Depth
- 0:47 Bit Depth definition visually explained
- 1:18 Understanding Bits per Channel (BPC) in Photoshop
- 1:54 What exactly are ‘Bits’?
- 2:31 Why 8-bit has a maximum value of 255
- 3:06 Different Bit Depth have different tone/RGB values
- 3:38 Photoshop Bit Depth comparison 1bit B&W/8bit grayscale/8bit RGB/16bit RGB
- 5:17 1st Reason for no visible Difference between 8-bit & 16-bit RGB
- 6:16 2nd Reason for no visible Difference between 8-bit & 16-bit RGB
- 7:25 Spot the Color difference challenge in Photoshop + Human Visibility explained
- 8:11 Why Photoshop shows 255 value for both 8 & 16-bits
- 8:28 Which is Better for retouching – 8-bit or 16-bit
- 8:59 Myth 1 debunked
- 10:06 Myth 2 debunked
The short version is that a greater bit depth in the source images means that there is more colour data available for you to work with. Greater bit depth in the editing stage means that you lessen the risk of destroying colour and tone information during your post-processing and retouching. It’s to help minimise loss. Generally, though, after editing, 8-bit for your final output is usually more than plenty.
There are exceptions to putting out 8-bit final files, though. For example, you might be editing for use on a high bit depth wide gamut display that can produce more colours and tones than an 8-bit file contains. Or you might be using a printer that can print outside of the normal 8-bit range to be able to produce smoother tones. But, if you’re using that kind of hardware, you probably already know when it’s practical to put out in 8-bit or 16-bit and likely have a workflow in place.
As for the myths… Well, you’ll have to watch the videos to find out about those.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.