Is there really that big of a difference between 12-Bit and 14-Bit RAW?

Jul 2, 2021

John Aldred

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.

Is there really that big of a difference between 12-Bit and 14-Bit RAW?

Jul 2, 2021

John Aldred

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.

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12-Bit used to be the standard for most raw files in the early days. Then, somewhere around 10 years or so ago, most of them started switching up to 14-bit. There are a few that still only shoot 12-bit and some give the option of both. Why? Well, the lower bit depth allows for better performance due to the reduced data throughput requirements.

We all know to shoot raw rather than 8-bit JPG, but is there that much of a big difference between 12-bit and 14-bit? In this video, photographer Michael Brietung wanted to find out. So, he shot identical images using his Canon EOS R5 in 14-bit using the mechanical shutter and 12-bit with the electronic shutter to see if he could see any difference at all.

Michael shoots several series of images including 5 stops overexposed, 5 stops underexposed and correctly exposed. The images were then corrected in lightroom, adding or removing exposure where required and tweaking the levels to make them match with the correctly exposed shots. Then he pixel peeps a bit (as he freely admits) to see if there’s any real noticeable difference.

And, surprisingly, no there wasn’t all that much difference between them really. At least, not until you looked at the one 5 stops underexposed, where the differences were quite obvious even when the image was zoomed out to see the whole thing on screen.

Sure, you’re never intentionally going to underexpose a shot by five stops, but if you’re working in a high contrast scene, some parts of the scene might be that dark just to preserve the highlights. If you’re pushing the extremes of your camera’s dynamic range capability, it means you’re going to be able to pull more accurate detail and colours out of those shadows much more easily if you’re shooting 14-bit raw rather than 12-bit.

If you’re not shooting high dynamic range scenes, you may not notice much of a difference, if any at all. And if your camera offers performance benefits by shooting 12-bit raw, you might be better off shooting that instead. It should take up a little less space on your hard drive, too.

Do you see a difference between 12-bit and 14-bit raw for what you shoot?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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One response to “Is there really that big of a difference between 12-Bit and 14-Bit RAW?”

  1. Adrian J Nyaoi Avatar
    Adrian J Nyaoi

    Big difference, 14bit raw used up your sd card faster.