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Tips & Tricks

Color Depth: How It Affects Image Quality

By Paul Faecks on June 2nd 2014

Big companies often advertise their new, fancy screens as “Full HD,” “retina,” or “UHD” displays. But these terms just refer to the resolution and the resulting pixel density. An important feature that receives way less attention is color depth. The higher the given color depth, the more colors can be recorded or displayed. Linus gives you a nice, short overview that covers everything important regarding bit depth. Color depth is especially important for photographers shooting portraits because a camera with an extended amount of color depth produces smoother transitions between different skin tones.


Modern DSLRs usually have 8-bit of color depth for each of the 3 RGB channels, which results in a depth of 24-bit. If you are shooting in RAW, you usually get about 12-15 bits of color per channel. If you’re shooting on medium format sometimes even more. Color depth is one of the most important arguments for photographers wanting a Hasselblad or a Phase One because you can achieve smoother skin tones.

Color Depth Image Quality

A picture with low color depth

1 bit of color would be 2 displayable colors: black and white. The average 24bits of a Jpeg file result in 16.777.216 displayable colors. In conclusion: the more bits, the more displayable colors. Of course, the biggest downside of a higher bit-depth is that the files get bigger. You need more processing power, faster Internet and finally, of course, a screen that is capable of displaying the colors properly. The color depth only describes the capability of recording a certain amount of different colors, the average 24bit photo doesn’t have 16.777.216 colors. A lot of colors get lost by compressing files, too. If you want to find out the color depth of your camera, you can do so here at dxomarks website. [via TechQuickie, images via screencaps]

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Paul Faecks is a portrait- and fine art photographer, based in Berlin. If you want to check out his latest work, you can do so by following him on Instagram or by liking his Facebook Page

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Sudhanshu Jain

    Hi. Real advance article. Will recommend it to my friends.

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  2. John Cavan

    Modern dSLRs will be 8 bits per channel when configured to save in JPEG format because JPEG is 8 bits per channel not because of anything in particular about modern cameras. RAW images are 12+ bits per channel (higher-end cameras have more) and so when shooting in JPEG, you’re giving up quite a bit of information to the decision making of the people that wrote the camera firmware.

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