Better understanding 8 bit and 16 bit mode in photoshop?

Better understanding 8 bit and 16 bit mode in photoshop?

In images that are identical, open in 16 bit and 8 bit mode, it can be very challenging and hard to find differences. If it is so challenging to distinguish these two different modes than

why is the option even offered?

8 bit is a standard mode that is given to JPEG format images, which means that when we take a picture and save it in JPEG format, the image that is being created is a 8 bit image.


So, what’s the benefit of choosing 16 bit mode in

Why to edit in 16 bit mode?

Before going further, let’s understand in detail what the term “bit” stands for.

Computer reads only binary information which includes 0 and 1 combination values. As we work with graphics, the color or tonal information for each of pixel element is stored as Bit.

Number Digits can confuse most of us but in simple words it means that the higher the bit the higher the possible color value which means that the image will be rich in colors.

Even though our image will be rich in colors our naked eye can only see certain color, not all colors stand out to our eyes. Because of this, we cannot distinguish 8 bit and 16 bit image even when juxtaposed.


Why edit in 16 bit mode if we can’t find difference?

It would be better to use 16 bit mode while editing images even though it is hard to make out any difference. At certain point, sooner or later you will encounter problems like image posterization and banding. It’s a problem within tone transition of colors because of lost color that will be hard to recover in 8 bit image.

Let’s show how it works. Here is an example from Photoshop, here two identical images are being edited in two modes.
It will be always easy to visualize the difference in a gradient mode. Here simple black and white transition gradient is used to make the differences stand out.


Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode

Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode


We can see that we get same identical image with 8 and 16 bit.we can change our image mode by

Going through

Image>>Mode>>8 bits/channel or 16 bits/channel


Lets do some editing stuff so that we can find difference in  8 bit and 16 bit.

Its easy to see difference by changing  level(Level is just like curve which is use to change color contrast of photo) of pictures.We will be taking about level in different tutorial later.Dont worry  🙂 but for now just

By pressing

Cltrl+L (Win)


we can get level box and change its slider like below:



Dragging its bottom slider black and white close to each other,we can get both image with grey like shown in pictures below

Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode

Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode



Still identical at this point.Again lets do some level editing more.




Watch what happen when I drag black and white slider close to each other,we can clearly see that banding problem like below.

Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode

Difference between 8 bit and 16 bit mode

As we can see clear,we get the problem in transition of color from black to white .Thats called banding problem in Photo.Had it done in 16 bit,the problem of this type will be fully minimized decreasing the posterization occur in photo.


Do not be confuse while choosing this between 8 bit and 16 bit  ,it always better to use 16 mode though  the JPEG that comes from your DSLR is 8 bit JPEG. A good thumb of rule can also be shooting in RAW and edit in 16 bit  file  because of  extra bits ,you increase the possibility of color while performing editing and retouching like curves or levels.

Previous Simple explanation of RGB and CMYK color modes
Next 5 things to better understand depth of field.

About author

Anup Ghimire
Anup Ghimire 60 posts

Anup ghimire is a self learned Photographer/Designer and recently graduated in multimedia technologies from London metropolitan university.Traveling is something he loves the most after photography. You can see some of his photos at his facebook photography page

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