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Thread started 29 Sep 2011 (Thursday) 21:34
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How important is 16-bit color processing vs. 8 bit?

 
wuzzittoya
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Sep 29, 2011 21:34 |  #1

I have PS Elements 9 and it allows you to use layers, but only in 8-bit. You have to shift to RGB from Adobe color gamut and to 8 bit from the 16-bit (which actually is 14-bit, I know...).

I read that that is NOT the case in a full version of PhotoShop. I have a student at home so I CAN get it for student price (thank God kids actually occasionally can save you money - goodness knows they cost the earth to feed, clothe, educate, entertain...) but wasn't sure if switching to be able to use layers was costing me too much?

I thought about trying GIMP as an alternative but not sure if, since I'm not familiar with it, I would notice enough difference to find changes so I figured I'd ask people who are more experienced and may have had opportunity to use both programs.

Thank you in advance for any insights! :)


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bboehm
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Sep 29, 2011 21:45 |  #2

I use elements. Now that it supports layers, lots of people are going that route. Unless you're a pro or a PS fanatic, I don't really see the need to spend all the extra money on PS. I think it's pretty rare that you would ever be able to tell the difference between and 8 bit and 16 bit photo.


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dave_p
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Sep 29, 2011 21:51 |  #3

Does it affect the end result in the medium in which you most often view your work? I think you are the only one who will be able to answer that. You'll need to do a test or two.

Is the difference noticeable in the right circumstances? Yes. There it's a good write up over at Luminous Landscape or The Light is Right, I can't remember which. Will you notice it in what you do? Only you can say.




  
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tonylong
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Sep 29, 2011 22:05 |  #4

Well, let's see: if you shoot Raw, then you could ideally make the best use of your higher bit depth in the Raw processor. The Raw and the 16-bit image files have more "latitude" in making tonal changes without introducing artifacts of different kinds. So, for sweeping tonal changes, Raw is best, followed by a 16-bit tiff/psd.

From there, 8 bits can be used for a lot of things, which is why Adobe at some point just says "convert to jpeg".

So, in my opinion it's good to have a workflow where first of all you do everything you can in a Raw processor, things that can make good use of the greater bit-depth. In fact, you can even bring a tiff into your Raw processor if it needs more work in which 16 bit would benefit.

But, it seems smart to go to 8-bits fairly quickly once you leave the Raw environment, at least if your system and software is going to struggle with the huge files. When you have a 16-bit image with multiple image layers, RAM can struggle unless you are "fully loaded"!

Of course, if your 16-bit image has had "important' stuff done to it, then saving it as a "project file" before converting it could be wise!


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tim
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Sep 29, 2011 22:06 |  #5

First up, most of what you say sounds wrong to me. You're mixing up ACR and Elements, and you don't appear to know the difference between RGB (a generic way to represent color) and a color profile.

I suggest you work in sRgb, 8 bit mode. 16 bit mode is unnecessary for most things.

There are a dozen threads on this topic, a search will find some.


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tonylong
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Sep 29, 2011 22:24 |  #6

You know it's funny -- a number of days ago we had a big discussion about the 8-bit/16-bit issue here (in a no-longer-active thread). During the course of the thread, I did take a second look at my workflow which, for Photoshop was the "old school" approach of clinging to a 16-bit format.

I had that approach for some years, but hadn't given it much thought in more recent years, since I moved to Lightroom and simply stopped going regularly into Photoshop -- just for "special" projects.

And then a few days ago I had a "special project", a "focus stacking" project involving a series of 5 macro shots of a little spider. I loaded them all into Photoshop with my LR settings being 16-bit tiffs for Photoshop editing.

Well, they all loaded, I was able to load them and merge/blend/whatever, although on my 5-year-old PC the processing wasn't as quick as it might have been. Then at some point I was going to flatten the 5 layers for some quick final "stuff", and so before I did I saved the "project file" and then I went back to work.

It wasn't until later that I saw that the project file containing the 5-image layers was over 238 MegaBytes! It wasn't until then that I recalled the conversation, and considered the fact that I had done all the tonal stuff in Lightroom, and that the only things I used Photoshop for wouldn't have benifitted from 16-bit over 8-bit!

Ah well, live and learn:)!


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D ­ Thompson
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Sep 29, 2011 23:34 |  #7

tonylong wrote in post #13185192 (external link)
Ah well, live and learn:)!

Yep, I know as well that some old ways die hard! ;) Probably where 16 bit is very useful is for gradients and doing color moves.


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picard
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Sep 29, 2011 23:42 |  #8

do medium format camera images process at 16bits ?


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tonylong
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Sep 30, 2011 00:31 |  #9

picard wrote in post #13185540 (external link)
do medium format camera images process at 16bits ?

Well, MF bodies that shoot in Raw would I imagine have the same workflow once they leave a Raw converter. I don't know about the "native" Raw bit depth, though.


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René ­ Damkot
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Sep 30, 2011 05:48 |  #10

picard wrote in post #13185540 (external link)
do medium format camera images process at 16bits ?

They often shoot a 16 bit raw.
The processing is usually done in a raw converter ;)


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wuzzittoya
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Sep 30, 2011 07:53 |  #11

Okay - when I switch to 8-bit color depth I HAVE to be in RGB - Elements won't let me stay in Adobe colorspace when working in 8-bit (at least I could swear it made me switch before - since I only started working with it a lot in the past few weeks, maybe I'm mis-remembering an earlier issue and I should make sure I'm rigth on that). I was shooting in Adobe colorspace because I read I would have a wider gamut of colors to work in vs. RGB. However, if I require layers afterwards (which isn't often, but does happen), I end up having to switch from Adobe to RGB and then from 16-bit to 8-bit. I realize that color depth is NOT color space. I'm sorry I wasn't clear about that part. 8-bit vs. 16-bit colors affects what range you have differently than switching color spaces, which actually changes which color shows up for what numerical value assigned.

The way I've read everything about post-processing, it seems to suggest you should do as much as possible with as much information intact as possible before resorting to limiting your settings, so I was wondering if I was possibly making things worse if when I resorted to layers and how cognizant I should be of the fact. However, the point about the file size getting so unmanageable is well taken, and it sounds like I'm best working with what I have because of the limitations of my hardware (if nothing else).

Thank you.

I guess the observation about the file size is important, and layers would make things pretty crazy pretty quickly. Since I don't have the money to invest in upgrading computer hardware it sounds like I should stick with what I have until I can afford a better work station.


I like to push buttons on thingies that take pictures. Sometimes I like to push other buttons, too.
I only bite on the second Tuesday of every week, usually only mean people - they kinda taste like chicken...
You can call me Wuzzi

  
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tzalman
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Sep 30, 2011 08:45 |  #12

Bit depth (not "color depth") has nothing to do with color; it is merely the number of digits used to write each number. A 3 bit number is 101, a 6 bit number is 000101 - they both refer to the same color.

The color space is called sRGB, not RGB which, as Tim pointed out hours ago, is the generic name of a group of dozens of spaces - sRGB and Adobe RGB are two of them.

You can have 8 bit Adobe RGB and 16 bit Adobe RGB, just as you can have 8 bit sRGB or 16 bit sRGB or (if you have the software to write it) 32 bit sRGB. There just isn't any connection between bit depth and color space.

I was shooting in Adobe colorspace because I read I would have a wider gamut of colors to work in vs. RGB.

If you had 16 bit images you must have been shooting RAWs and converting to 16 bit because jpgs from the camera (and every other jpg) can only be 8 bit. In that case the fact that you had the camera set to Adobe RGB is irrelevant because you have to set the color space of the converted image in ACR. Adobe RGB's wider gamut is only a benefit if you can actually use those more saturated colors, i.e. a wide gamut monitor to display them and/or a wide gamut printer to put them on paper. Otherwise Adobe RGB is is likely to be more of a liability than a benefit.

At any rate, if you are in fact shooting in RAW and doing the heavy lifting in the ACR converter, you really do not need 16 bit for secondary editing.


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wuzzittoya
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Sep 30, 2011 10:28 |  #13

I am shooting in Raw... I thought if you shot 8 bit vs 16 bit you had a wider range of colors because of the number of colors available (but it was exponential and not twice as many) perhaps I've mistaken.

Raw is actually only actually 14 bit though, but 16 bits are available because of the nature of the way processors work - though I can't for the life of me remember why it goes 8, 16, 32, 64, 132, etc. etc... :P

That is true - I would convert to RGB for many options, but had read (and perhaps misunderstood) that shooting in Adobe was best because I then had recorded the largest options and they might change in conversion but since I had all the data there for Adobe and recorded, when I had an output option that could take advantage of the Adobe colorspace the data was preserved to be able to provide the image in that format at its best quality. Is that misunderstood?

Color space is the amount of tones you have to work with - there are different maps that have some overlay that is equal but there are different "fringe tones," so to speak - color that are available to one color space and not the other.

The number of bits recording them, I thought, actually limited how much you said about the color you were recording - more bits mean more information about the color, regardless of the color space it was in.

I had thought that if I had it left in Adobe colorspace in Elements it wouldn't LET me have an 8 bit depth, only allowed me to keep it at the 16(14) bit depth. As I said, I might be mis-remembering. Only recently have I begun using Elements that much and it was something I remembered from first working with it, so it could have been another operator error at the time that made me get things a little confused.


I like to push buttons on thingies that take pictures. Sometimes I like to push other buttons, too.
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tonylong
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Sep 30, 2011 13:00 |  #14

wuzzittoya wrote in post #13187181 (external link)
I am shooting in Raw... I thought if you shot 8 bit vs 16 bit you had a wider range of colors because of the number of colors available (but it was exponential and not twice as many) perhaps I've mistaken.

First of all, your choice of color space in the camera does not actually matter if you shoot Raw, and also has nothing to do with 8-bit of 16-bit.

A jpeg will be 8-bit and will be in whatever color space you set it to.

[QUOTERaw is actually only actually 14 bit though, but 16 bits are available because of the nature of the way processors work - though I can't for the life of me remember why it goes 8, 16, 32, 64, 132, etc. etc... :P[QUOTE]

Raw files are, well, different when they are not processed. For older Canon cameras they are "12-bit", for newer bodies they are "14-bit", but everything changes when you convert a Raw file to an RGB image, which is where you choose in Camera Raw to open/Save a file either as 8-bit or 16-bit. You can have a tiff or psd as either, but a jpeg will only be 8-bit. Either could be in the sRGB color space or the aRGB color space, 8-bit or 16-bit.

That is true - I would convert to RGB for many options, but had read (and perhaps misunderstood) that shooting in Adobe was best because I then had recorded the largest options and they might change in conversion but since I had all the data there for Adobe and recorded, when I had an output option that could take advantage of the Adobe colorspace the data was preserved to be able to provide the image in that format at its best quality. Is that misunderstood?

You're getting some terminology mixed up -- the choices in the camera are between sRGB and AdobeRGB. If you are shooting jpegs they will both be in 8-bit formats. In camera Raw (since you are shooting Raw) the image will be rendered initially as a 16-bit RGB file and you will be "working in" a color space that Camera Raw is set in -- the link below your camera Raw preview will show this as a "preference". It will also show you whether you will be 16-bit of 8-bit when you open the image in the Elements editor.

Color space is the amount of tones you have to work with - there are different maps that have some overlay that is equal but there are different "fringe tones," so to speak - color that are available to one color space and not the other.

It is true that the different color spaces have different "gamuts". The common sRGB and aRGB have different gamuts. sRGB is the "universal" color space that monitors, systems, viewing software and Web browswer are all able to handle. Adobe RGB (aRGB) is a "wider" color space that contains some brighter, more saturated colors. Yes, there are instances when you may want to use aRGB, but it will only help if you are working with those colors and have a way of "presenting" them -- a monitor that has a wide gamut and/or a printer that can handle the wide gamut.

The number of bits recording them, I thought, actually limited how much you said about the color you were recording - more bits mean more information about the color, regardless of the color space it was in.

I had thought that if I had it left in Adobe colorspace in Elements it wouldn't LET me have an 8 bit depth, only allowed me to keep it at the 16(14) bit depth. As I said, I might be mis-remembering. Only recently have I begun using Elements that much and it was something I remembered from first working with it, so it could have been another operator error at the time that made me get things a little confused.

The "bit depth" is another issue from the color space. The color space determines the "gamut" or range of colors, and like I said, there are some instances where a wider gamut like aRGB can be useful, although for general presentation, such as the Web, sRGB is preferred. So if you are using aRGB to process images, there is no harm there, but for most output you'll want to output/convert to sRGB.

Bit depth is different -- it affects how you can adjust your overall tones within whatever color space you are in. But, as we've said, since you are shooting Raw you can maximise your use of 16 bits in Camera Raw and for most uses just convert to 8 bits in the Elements editor.

As to layers iin Elements, I don't recall having to go 8 bits to use layers, and then I haven't used Elements since version 4 so I don't know what you can do. I also don't recall having to convert from, say, aRGB to sRGB. But for some things you do have to convert to 8 bits. And, for general output, you want to convert to sRGB.

As to color space, check your Camera Raw settings. Check the link below the preview -- does it show sRGB or aRGB? You should know what you are doing there!


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René ­ Damkot
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Sep 30, 2011 13:47 |  #15

Bit depth is the amount of colors. Color space is the range of colors.
An 8bpc sRGB file has the same amount of colors as an 8bpc AdobeRGB image: 16-and-a-bit million.


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How important is 16-bit color processing vs. 8 bit?
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