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16bit vs 8bit editing in photoshop

The question discussed many times and still often asked – whether to process RAW files in 16 bit or in 8 bit mode?

The answer depends on quality of the source file and the intended use of the image. When you work with well exposed photograph and don’t edit it intensively, the difference between 8bit and 16bit isn’t significant. However in case you need best possible quality there is a difference.

Even if you save the final result in 8-bit file (e.g. JPG only supports 8-bit mode), there is a difference depending how you edit your file.

Whether it’s a big deal or not is rather subjective…. but the difference is pretty obvious.

I made a simple example – took a well exposed image, didn’t apply very much editing, didn’t have too many layers. There are 2 frames in the animated gif: one is the result of 16 bit editing, converted to 8 bit at the end; the other frame is result of 8-bit editing – i.e. same file was first converted to 8 bit, then editing applied. It enlarged to 400% to make the difference more visible.

16bit vs 8bit

In case you have underexposed image, in case you have higher ISO, in case you apply intensive editing – you will see much bigger difference between 8 and 16 bit. But even this example above is sufficient for me to do my editing in 16 bit.

Updated guide about selling photos online

I updated the guide about selling photos online – http://stock.miklav.com/

Part 4 of the guide needs to be extended further, it’s in my “to do” list.


Power of photoshop

Looking at digital art works I often wonder how they were made. Some artists give an idea about their work process. When I saw pictures made by Erica Leighton I liked many of them.

I just picked one relatively simple example of her work. Here are 3 photos she used as a source. Before looking further, what do you think can be done with these 3 pictures? –
carriage sea bed
These pictures are stock photos, clicking on them you will get on corresponding stock agency pages.

That’s the work of Erica based on the above 3 photos:
work by Erica Leighton
I don’t know Erica so I can only guess how she works… I suppose she first has a picture in her mind and then looks for appropriate source photos. Even with this simple example (I mean technically it’s not too difficult) it looks very impressive what can be achieved with very average source material.

Photography related videos

I’ve been watching quite a few photography related videos lately. Some of them interesting to watch, some are useful for work, so here is a quick summary of what I’ve discovered recently.

Interesting interviews with photographers can be found on WorldPressPhoto web site. First, click on 2008, and then click on one of the icons. If you click the picture of president Putin you will see the interview with Platon about how he has made his award winning portrait of the Person of the Year 2007.

Google has a series on YouTube called “Authors@Google”. They have recently posted a video of famous American photographer Joe McNally speaking to Google employees in their headquarters (thanks for Strobist for posting about that in his blog)


Just in case it doesn’t play you can go via the link

Useful photoshop tutorials (videos) can be found on Layers magazine website.

Digital Photography School
has recently posted a selection of 24 photography podcasts that will inspire you.

Belgian fine-art nude photographer Pascal Baetens is actively involved with fine-art tv project since last year. Fine-art tv features weekly programs devoted to photo artists from around the world. Past issues are viewable too.

Another Belgian photographer Bert Stephani runs interesting blog. Not so many videos but very many photos. Besides good pictures and interesting comments on his website, Bert has recently started running ‘The decisive photographer‘ workshop. I did not attend it myself, but the review on Bert’s blog look interesting – so it’s worth to consider attending if Bert will continue running it.

Blond girl from an uncomon angle

I took this photo 1.5 years ago. Something attracts me in this picture, and I am not sure what. Perhaps the angle that is not so common, or may be something else…
You can see here two versions of the same picture (click to enlarge):
Blond girl above photographer - original Blond girl above photographer - re-edited
The one of the left is the original edit I made 1.5 years ago. The one on the right was re-worked recently. Not only I decided that it will work better after the turn, but I made the color warmer and used some dodging and burning. I tried not to overdo with the editing (which is my habit with most of my photos). I like the new version better than the original one – and what about you?

Alternative to Photoshop

I was wondering for a while whether there is a decent alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I mean a serious photographer shooting always in RAW, who doesn’t want to loose any of the data captured by the camera – i.e. processing the files in 16-bit until the last save.

Remark: To outline my photo editing needs:

  • minimum: Full 16-bit editing, including layers, noise removal plugin, curves/levels, blurring, cloning, color adjustment;
  • optional: Support of Canon EOS 40D RAW format;
  • important: easy to use interface suitable for intensive workflow

Recent version of Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 looked promising, so I decided to give it a try.

Unfortunately it isn’t suitable for people like me. I will list the limitations in the order I experienced them, not in the order of importance:

  • PSP X2 can’t open RAW files from my Canon EOS 40D – not critical;
  • PSP X2 can’t properly handle TIF files saved with ZIP compression – not critical;
  • PSP X2 can only save 8-bit and/or flattened files in common formats (TIF, PSD), and can only save multi-layer 16-bit picture in it’s own format – not critical;
  • Most filters/effects only work in 8-bit mode as it was with photoshop several years ago. – not critical, as long as layers, curves, levels and blur work in 16-bit mode;
  • Some tools only work in 8-bit mode, e.g. clone – this is critical for retouch;
  • Using on the same PC, PSP X2 works much slower than Photoshop CS2 or CS3 – may be critical, but probably can be addressed by a faster PC with more memory.

Overall functionality of PSP X2 is quite impressive; and many (most?) of Photoshop plugins work with PSP. The price of PSP X2 is much more attractive comparing with Photoshop. Also, some workarounds are possible to overcome the above listed issues.

However, considering limitations altogether, and considering intensive workflow my conclusion is that Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 is not a decent replacement of Adobe Photoshop CS+ for serious photographers. Perhaps one of the next versions will make it suitable…

Other alternatives?

  • GIMP isn’t – not only it is very uncomfortable to use but it still doesn’t support 16-bit editing.
  • Photoshop Elements 6 isn’t an alternative either because of very limited 16-bit support – only a few filters supported in 16-bit; and adjustment layers don’t work in 16-bit mode.
  • Googling for 16-bit programs I found Picture Window Pro 4.0. Tried that one – yes, it supports full 16-bit editing, but the interface isn’t convenient and no layers supported at all.

Conclusion: At the moment there seem to be no other software than Adobe Photoshop CS3 that can suite my needs. It is priced high, but not without a reason. And, despite it’s high price there are options available to obtain it cheaper than a standard price (I mean, legally). Checking on eBay I found quite a few offers in a range of 250-350 USD for a full-boxed-retail-version.

GIMP isn’t too bad, but lacks 16-bit support and has non-friendly interface
PSP X2 is actually quite good, the only serious missing point is lack 16-bit editing.

Remark: 16-bit editing is very important in case of intensive digital manipulation. Editing in 8-bit will result very quickly a non-continuous color representation. You can easily see that effect as a comb when executing Levels command. This might not be an issue for personal photographs or for minor editing, but this is not acceptable in most professional use.

Remark #2: I’ve got impression that PSP X2 beats Photoshop Elements 6 if you compare them. Actually PSP X2 is positioned in the same market area as PS Elements and isn’t competing with the “real” photoshop. However, adding 16-bit support and keeping it low-price would make it a serious alternative to Photoshop itself rather than just Elements.