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16 bits or 8 bits?


When it comes to digital photography, the tonal range of an image refers to the range of brightness levels that are present. A greater tonal range means a greater range of brightness levels, which in turn means a more details and transitions in the image. In digital photography, this tonal range is determined by the bit depth of the file. In this blog post, we'll explore the possibilities of 16 bit files and what makes them special in digital dark room while editing your photos.


First, let's define what a bit is. A bit is the smallest unit of digital information, it can have one of two values: 0 or 1. In digital photography, the bit depth of an image file refers to the number of bits used to represent each pixel in the image. So a 8 bit file uses 8 bits per channel to represent each pixel, while a 16 bit file uses 16 bits.


The main advantage of a 16 bit file is that it has a much greater tonal range than an 8 bit file. Specifically, a 16 bit file can represent 65,536 levels of brightness, while an 8 bit file can only represent 256 levels. This means that a 16 bit file is capable of creating much more detail in the shadows and highlights of an image.



Another advantage of 16 bit files is that they are less susceptible to banding and other forms of color distortion. Banding occurs when the tonal transitions in an image are not smooth, and instead show visible bands of color. This can happen when there are not enough levels of brightness to represent the tonal transitions accurately. With 16 bit files, there are so many levels of tonal values available that banding is much less likely to occur.


Of course, there are some downsides to using 16 bit files. One is that they take up much more storage space than 8 bit files, as each pixel requires twice as much information however in modern-day storage options it is not a toppling subject to worry about. 16 bit files are larger and more cumbersome to work with, especially if you have a large number of images which is also not a bigger issue with the modern technologies in our laptops and PC’s. Additionally, some software programs may not support 16 bit files, or may not be optimized for working with them, I, just like other photographers, use Adobe's LR, PS and DxO NIK to post process my photos which supports 16 bits files.


So, 16 bits offer a much greater tonal range than 8 bit files, which can result in more detailed and nuanced images. While they do have some downsides, the benefits of using 16 bit files are significant enough that many photographers choose to work with them. If you're interested in maximizing the tonal range of your images, consider experimenting with 16 bit files and seeing what kind of results you can achieve.


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