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12 bit vs. 14 bit

joe cormier , Feb 27, 2011; 08:28 a.m.

I have read that when shooting for HDR imagery that 14 bit produces a greater tonal range than
12 bit. If so, why not shoot in 14 bit all the time? I have a Nikon 300s. What are the disadvantages
of shooting in 14 bit?
Thanks as always,



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Lorne Sunley , Feb 27, 2011; 08:35 a.m.

Slightly bigger NEF (RAW) files. Doesn't do anything if you record JPEG files only. The time to process the image in camera is increased.

Matt Laur , Feb 27, 2011; 08:40 a.m.

I generally shoot (with D300) in 14-bit, for that extra bit of latitude. But if I'm doing action stuff, I go to 12-bit for the speed gain. In practical terms, the 12-bit files are rarely distingsuishable from the 14-bit flavor. But if you're dealing with highly contrasty scenes, every bit of dynamic range can help you in post.

Kevin Delson , Feb 27, 2011; 09:03 a.m.

I've pixel peeped at 12 Vs 14 bit.

To my eyes, I can't see a difference.
Agreed, with heavy PP editing, 14 bit may give you a slight edge.

Then again, if I am that concerned over dynamic range, I'll use a medium format w/ digital back.

Steven Jackson , Feb 27, 2011; 09:12 a.m.

Use 14 bit for Landscapes , where you will be crafting your image in post. 14 bit = more info in the file= more tunability in PP. I have found that things like your blue skies will appear smoother if you actually "pixel peep" If your not selling very large prints or dont have people taking a microscope to your images, then you wont see a difference.

Francisco Disilvestro , Feb 27, 2011; 09:12 a.m.

In digital image processing, for a given Dynamic Range you will need a correspondig bit depth. So if you have a 13 stops DR you will need at least 13 bits.

It does not work the other way around, so if you increase bit depth above the DR, you just have useless bits (or noise is higher than the extra bit levels)

According to DXOMark, the D300s has a dynamic range just above 12 bits at base ISO, so it could make sense to use 14 bits, but only at base ISO (100 - 200).

The answer might be different for other cameras, as an example the D7000 is closer to 14 stops DR (13.9 according to DXOMark) at base ISO. So it definetly makes a difference.

At present, it makes no sense in any camera to use 14 bit at high ISO.

D.B. Cooper , Feb 27, 2011; 09:46 a.m.

What are the disadvantages of shooting in 14 bit?

Larger image files/less card capacity, longer write times to the camera's memory card, longer in-camera operations like long-exposure noise reduction, takes less shots to fill the buffer with burst shooting, some operations take longer in post.

I shoot 14-bit lossless almost exclusively. The only exception is for burst shooting if I need the extra shots before the buffer overflows. I'd rather have too much data than not enough. If it saves a few shots in a year, IMO it's worth any bother. YMMV.

Shun Cheung , Feb 27, 2011; 10:06 a.m.

12-bit vs. 14-bit capture is like cutting a pie into 12 pieces or 14 pieces; it is still the same pie or same image but now you have finer increments. My experience with 14-bit is that it may give you some subtle advantages such as slightly better shadow details in some occasions. In most situations it is hard to notice any difference.

On the D3, D700, and D7000, I always shoot 14 bit just in case I can use the subtle advantage. On the D300/D300S, its drops to maximum 2.5 frames/sec in the 14-bit mode. Since the D300 is my wildlife camera, I always shoot at 12 bit to get 6 to 8 frames per second for action photography. (The same applies to the D3X.)

Dave Lee , Feb 27, 2011; 02:17 p.m.

I wish someone could post some images shot in 12 and 14 bit and actually show the supposed 14 bit advantage. When I first bought my D300 in November, 2007, I did a test with 12 and 14 bit and even when I pulled the curve way up and way down, could see no difference at all. Perhaps there is someone here who has done a better test than that? Most of the time I don't need rapid fire so I'd shoot 14 bit if I thought there was a reason to.

Edward Ingold , Feb 27, 2011; 03:07 p.m.

The bit depth has nothing to do with dynamic range. Black is black and white is white. The greater the bit depth, the more steps in between. The additional two bits gives 4 times as many steps. You probably won't see any difference unless you do a lot of editing which affects the color or contrast, with less tendency to show posterization.

The affect on file size (RAW only) and processing time is minimal. You paid for this feature, why not use it?

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