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8-Bit vs 16-Bit Photos: Here’s What the Difference Is


More bits are better, right? But do you really know the difference between 8-bit and 16-bit images? Photo educator Nathaniel Dodson breaks it down for us in this informative 8-minute video for his channel tutvid.

As Dodson explains, a greater bit depth means that you have more room to push and pull colors and tones before you start seeing artifacts like banding in your image.

If you are shooting in JPEG you’re limiting your bit depth to 8-bit, which gives you 256 levels of color and tone to play with. RAW images can be anywhere from 12 to 16 bit, with the latter giving you 65,536 levels of color and tone, meaning that you have a lot more latitude for change.

To help understand the scale of bit depth difference between 8 and 16-bit images, picture an 8-bit image as a 256-foot-tall building. A 16-bit image would be 12 miles tall, or 24 Burj Khalifas all stacked on top of each other.

In terms of color, an 8-bit image can hold 16,000,000 colors, whereas a 16-bit image can hold 28,000,000,000.

Note that you can’t just open an 8-bit image in Photoshop and convert it to 16-bit. When you create a 16-bit document, you are giving the document the ‘space’ to hold 16 bits of information. Importing an 8-bit image just means that you will have 8 bits of unused ‘space’.

This extra bit depth does come at a cost. More bits means bigger file sizes, making images more costly to process and store. In the end, it depends on how much flexibility you want in your images, as well as whether your computer hardware can handle processing the larger images.

Watch the full video above and you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which to use. You can also find more tutvid videos on the official YouTube channel.