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The Big Fixx: digital camera image problems > Working with 16-bit Images

Working with 16-bit Images

Many high-end pro photographers want to work in 16-bit depth as much as possible because it maintains more tonal quality than 8-bit. Although Elements 3 now supports opening RAW images and working in 16-bit depth, what you can do is very limited. In fact, you’re basically limited to tonal adjustments because features such as layers, most filters, and a host of other cool features are not available at all when working in 16-bit—you have to convert down to 8-bit to get Elements’ full feature set back. Is 16-bit really that much better? It’s a matter of constant debate among photographers.

Step One

You have to start by opening an image in a “high-bit” format (like RAW) to be able to create a real 16-bit image (go to File, choose Open, and navigate to your RAW file). Opening a regular 8-bit JPEG image and then converting it to 16-bit depth won’t add quality that wasn’t there in the first place. You have to start with a RAW image, then you can decide whether you want to continue working in 16-bit or process the file as a regular 8-bit image. Choose your setting from the Depth pop-up menu in the bottom-left corner of the Camera Raw processing window.

Step Two

If you choose to process the image as a 16-bit image and click OK in the Camera Raw processing window, take a quick look under Elements’ Filter menu and you’ll see how few filters are available to you. Pretty much all of Elements will feel this same way—almost everything’s grayed out (you can’t access it). However, after you’ve made your tonal adjustments in 16-bit mode, you can convert to 8-bit mode by going under the Image menu, under Mode, and choosing Convert to 8 Bits/Channel.

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