Use a 16-bit Workflow to Maximize Image Quality

by Sean Setters

By now you've likely heard the same advice many times – "Shoot in RAW format, not JPEG." And the reason you hear that advice so often is because it is vital for obtaining the highest quality from your captured images. But it is important to keep in mind, JPEGs are limited to 8-bits, meaning that a lot of information originally recorded by the sensor is discarded to allow for a minimal file size. Shooting in RAW allows you retain all of the information that was captured at the time the image was taken.

But setting your camera to record in RAW format is only the first step. In order to achieve the highest image quality in your final image, you need to maintain a 16-bit workflow through your entire image editing process, especially if you use multiple image editing programs in your workflow. Even if your intended output is a JPEG (8-bit), you'll get a better image quality by maintaining a 16-bit workflow until the very end.

Here are some things to look for to ensure you maintain a 16-bit workflow when importing and exporting images, assuming you are starting with a RAW file.

Canon's Digital Photo Professional:

If importing a RAW file into Digital Photo Professional (v.3 or v.4), then you're working with all the information your file has to offer from the get-go. If you'd like to export your files for use in other editing programs, choose "TIFF 16bit (*.TIF)" as your export file type. Note: If you use the "Transfer to Photoshop" option in DPP, it will export a 16-bit version of the file.

Canon Digital Photo Professional 16 bit TIFF

Adobe Photoshop CC

When you open a RAW file in Photoshop, it will initially open in Adobe Camera RAW before being imported with the chosen settings. The important thing to look for here is the text displayed beneath your photo which displays the color space, bit depth, resolution and ppi settings for your imported RAW photo.

Adobe Camera RAW 16bit Settings

If ACR says "8 bit" below your image, click on the text and choose "16 Bits/Channel" in the drop-down menu beside "Depth" in the window that follows.

For saving files in Photoshop for use in other image editors, be sure to use the TIFF file format (the TIFF option is not available in the "Save for Web" dialogue) to preserve the highest quality image moving forward. If saving for posterity, saving as a PSD is recommended to preserve your adjustment layers and masks.

Adobe Lightroom CC Classic

Lightroom CC Classic imports RAW & TIFF files at their maximum bit rate, but you'll need to choose one of the non-JPEG file formats for export (TIFF, PSD, DNG or Original) to maintain a 16-bit workflow. Note that "Original" and "PSD" will only be optimal export formats if you plan on further processing the file in Photoshop.

Lightroom CC Classic Export 16bit TIFF

Lightroom CC Classic Export 16bit PSD

If saving as a DNG, there are no other options necessary to adjust for maintaining the highest image quality.

Capture One

Capture One imports files at their native bit depth, so there's nothing to specify when opening RAW files. While exporting your TIFF file, you may need to select "16 bit" via the drop-down menu in the Export Recipe Format.

Capture One Express Sony 16bit

Affinity Photo

Like Capture One, Affinity Photo will open compatible RAW files at their full bit depth. However, you'll need to specify a 16-bit file type while exporting images. The two most common options that support 16bit are TIFF and Photoshop PSD.

Affinity Export 16bit TIFF

Affinity Export 16bit PSD

Luminar 2018 and Aurora HDR 2018

Both Luminar 2018 and Aurora HDR 2018 open compatible 14/16-bit files (including .RAW and .TIFF) at their native bit depths, and recent releases of the software titles now allow for exporting 16-bit TIFF files, with the export dialogues being the same for both.

Luminar 2018 TIFF 16 bit Depth


As previously noted, shooting in RAW is absolutely necessary for obtaining the highest image quality. However, especially if multiple programs are being used in your post processing workflow, saving/exporting 16-bit files will ensure that your images retain high image quality all the way through publication.

Posted: 12/26/2017 12:41:20 PM CT   Posted By: Sean
Posted to: Canon News, Sony News    Category: Photo Tips and Stories
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