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Difference Between 8 Bit and 16 Bit Color

8 Bit vs 16 Bit Color

If you are converting analog to digital or vice versa, there is always the issue of bit depth. Bit depth is the number of bits you use to represent a single color; two popular examples are 8 bit color and 16 bit color. It’s pretty obvious that 16 bit color uses twice as many bits than 8 bit color does. This results in the primary difference between 8 bit and 16 bit color, which is the number of possible colors they can represent. In 8 bit color, a single pixel can have any of 256 possible colors (28), while a single pixel in 16 bit color can be any of the 65,536 possible color combinations (216). With a greater palette of colors, you get smoother shade gradations that result in better and more realistic looking photos. This is more apparent when the photo is loaded with different shades of the same color.

The downside to using 16 bit color over 8 bit color is the added demands to the computer that processes it. Images that use 16 bit color tend to have larger file sizes and take longer for programs to process when editing or even when just showing. This is compounded even further when you have photos with very high resolutions.

When dealing with photography, you also encounter the 8 bit and 16 bit terminologies. But they are used a bit differently here. JPGs and other formats like PNG can have 8 bits per channel or 16 bits per channel, for a total of 24 bits and 48 bits respectively. Both produce photos that are adequate for printing. But, 16 bits per channel gives you a bit more leeway when it comes to photo-editing. Using 8 bit color would result to some rounding errors while editing that would result in a lower quality photo. If you used 16 bit color per channel instead, rounding errors would result in an image with 15 bits; way more than the 8 bits per channel utilized by most printers to print photos. If you intend to do some post processing on your photos, you will probably get the best result when using 16 bit color.

Summary:

  1. 16 bits can represent a lot more color shades than 8 bits
  2. Using 16 bit color is more demanding to the computer than 8 bit color
  3. Using 16 bit color gives you more leeway in editing than 8 bit color

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