Question about 16bit images in Photoshop

Explorer ,
Jul 22, 2018 Jul 22, 2018

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I have heard that Photoshop only uses 15bits of image data for all values except the highest value, for which it uses 16 bits. This means, that instead of the range of pixel values going from 0 to 0xFFFF, they go from 0 to 0x8000. At least that was the way it was in very early versions of Photoshop, like Photoshop 7. Has that changed? Does Photoshop now allow true 16-bit image data to be retained, so that when I save a full 16-bit image, it doesn't lose half of its available values? If so, which version of Photoshop first introduced the handling of true 16-bit image data? If not, then that means that 16-bit image processing is lossy in Photoshop, and that is not a desirable trait.

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Community Expert , Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

15 bit +1 was not an oversight but a deliberate design in order to have an odd number of integers and therefore give a middle value. Chris Cox who was an engineer at Adobe explained, in the past, that this was to speed up many of the blending calculations. Whether that reason is still valid with modern PC hardware is a point for debate, although some still complain of lags. It is though still at the core of Photoshop.

 

For visual work it makes no noticeable difference as the difference between

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Community Expert ,
Jul 22, 2018 Jul 22, 2018

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I don't know if that has changed, but do you honestly believe that there is any living soul on this planet who can see the difference between 15 bits color and 16 bits color (or any screen or printer that can display it)?

-- Johan W. Elzenga

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Explorer ,
Mar 11, 2020 Mar 11, 2020

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Johan, 

I am a living soul and I can see banding in my terrain model that is caused by this issue.  
-Donald

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New Here ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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No I don't believe they can see the difference, but that is not the point.

It is nice to know for engineering and scientific use. I just ran into this problem trying to figure out why photoshop is reporting roughly half the "16-bit" value as the label claims, compared to what I see in OpenCV. It is in fact a 15-bit value and that would have been nice to know, or better, it would be nice to have true 16-bit.

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Community Expert ,
Jul 22, 2018 Jul 22, 2018

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Photoshop’s »16bit« is »15bit + 1«, so it is definitely not 15bit (as it cannot be expressed by just 15bit) but it does indeed not represent the 65536 values per channel one might expect but only 32769.

See posts by, for example, Chris Cox on the issue.

Re: 16-bit or 15-bit+1?

Why is there a difference in dithering quality when drawing in 8bpc vs 16bpc? | Photoshop Family Cus...

As far as I know this has not changed so gar (CC2018).

If not, then that means that 16-bit image processing is lossy in Photoshop, and that is not a desirable trait.

And yet it can offer huge advantages compared to woking in 8bit depending on the image content and the Adjustment Layers’ severity.

I think there has been a Feature Request over at

Photoshop Family Customer Community

but I can’t find the pertinent thread at current.

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Guide ,
Jul 22, 2018 Jul 22, 2018

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Chris danced around the answer a bit when he was asked if the data in a full range 16bit image file is retained when opened in Photoshop. His answer:

Once inside Photoshop, the data is converted to the 0..32768 range.  Yes, resaving will alter you data a little, assuming you had full 16 bit data to start with

"a little"? What kind of statement is that? The data is changed, or it is left intact.

Now, I agree that with RAW photography it might not be that important in most cases (arguably), but for VFX, film, HDRI and 3d work this may pose major problems down the pipeline. A 16bit full range image is not possible to create in Photoshop, and an existing one will be clipped from 65536 down to 32768 values.

For example, 3d rendered images may very well make use of the full range of values in order to use varying exposure values in a comp. Or a 2d artist may paint a background image in full 16bit range at varying exposures (Krita can do this very easily, for example) and using that same image in widely alternating lighting circumstances.

But Photoshop will clip the range of such images, making them unusable.

And Photoshop won't even warn the user about this. Absolutely unforgivable.

The main reason why Chris didn't implement the full 65536 range at the time when 16bpc was introduced in Photoshop for the first time was because of performance issues. At the time memory space and CPU speeds were a bottleneck, and that is the only reason why he and his team decided to implement a delimiter in Photoshop's 16bit image mode. And the fact that it is easier to calculate with, and less of a hassle for the programmers.

The real issue is that Photoshop's developers haven't fixed this as of yet. I assume they would have to tear out large chunks of older legacy code that affects the entire application by and large, and instead of running the risk of breaking everything, they just leave it as it is.

It's not even specifically mentioned in Photoshop's documentation, as far as I am aware. For example here:

Photoshop image essentials

In the meantime just about any other image editor and digital painting app supports a proper full range 16bpc image mode. And Photoshop "best in class" doesn't? Worse, doesn't warn users?

Sad, sad situation.

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Community Expert ,
Jul 22, 2018 Jul 22, 2018

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an existing one will be clipped from 65536 down to 32768 values.

That seems to be a false statement, the number is 32769 (15bit + 1), not 32768 (15bit).

If one does not exist yet just post a Feature Request over at

Photoshop Family Customer Community

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Guide ,
Jul 23, 2018 Jul 23, 2018

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c.pfaffenbichler  wrote

an existing one will be clipped from 65536 down to 32768 values.

That seems to be a false statement, the number is 32769 (15bit + 1), not 32768 (15bit).

If one does not exist yet just post a Feature Request over at

Photoshop Family Customer Community

I (implicitely) referred to my quote of Chris Cox counting from 0 to 32768 values, which yields 32769 - but I should have been more clear.

I recall someone already posted a request for this issue, and other requests have been made throughout the years related to Photoshop's 16bpc mode problems. This includes the obvious banding issues when working in Photoshop's 16bit mode. It never got resolved, and it probably never will - until the devs finally decide to rewrite the core code base.

Which may take another decade. Sorry to be sounding a bit harsh, but I've experienced these issues for a very long time, and nowadays I just don't use PS anymore for this type of work.

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Community Expert ,
Jul 23, 2018 Jul 23, 2018

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This includes the obvious banding issues when working in Photoshop's 16bit mode.

I work for print mainly, so I don’t know those – for me 16bit is rather often the solution to banding-issues.

I recall someone already posted a request for this issue

Like mentioned above I think so, too, but I could not locate it … if you find or create new one please post the link here.

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Community Expert ,
Jul 23, 2018 Jul 23, 2018

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Rayek, if you see banding in Photoshop in 16 bit mode, it is in your display system!

Whether Photoshop uses 15 + 1 or 16 bits has no practical significance whatsoever. It was done that way to maintain an absolute midpoint.

Sad situation? Unusable? Unforgiveable? Your choice of words is interesting. I haven't noticed that Photoshop chops up my work.

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Community Beginner ,
Jun 22, 2020 Jun 22, 2020

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This has nothing to do with looking at pictures on a monitor. These are data files represented with pixels used for things like GIS and displacement maps. Using Photoshop 15bit files results in a stair-stepped or banded model. If you're trying to determine elevation from this data, it will be completely wrong because Adobe has decided to delete half your data.

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New Here ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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Totally agreed. I have become a huge fan of Photoshop, but I also working in computer vision and am examining exact pixel values. This is a huge oversight and major dissapointment for the software.

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Community Expert ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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15 bit +1 was not an oversight but a deliberate design in order to have an odd number of integers and therefore give a middle value. Chris Cox who was an engineer at Adobe explained, in the past, that this was to speed up many of the blending calculations. Whether that reason is still valid with modern PC hardware is a point for debate, although some still complain of lags. It is though still at the core of Photoshop.

 

For visual work it makes no noticeable difference as the difference between the two is well inside a difference that can be seen. In some work such as 3D heightmaps then it can make a difference - although 32 bit floating point linear can be used for such applications.

 

Dave

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Community Expert ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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I suspect that people who really do need the extra precision (3D and scientific applications) will be working in 32-bit mode anyway.

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Community Expert ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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It isn't an oversight! It's simple math. 

Do tell us what capture device you have that produces true (full) 16-bit data. Or when you've seen 15+1 bit use, over the last 30 years being an issue? 

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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Guide ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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@thedigitaldogYou might not have issues with this limit since you are a photographer, but in 3D, games, and scientific work it *is* an issue. I ran into this problem years ago while working on 3d projects. I suddenly experienced visible banding in 3d height maps where there was none before.

 

And it also affected HDRi work for 3d scene lighting that I did in the past.

 

@Lumigraphics16bit files often provide sufficient precision while keeping file sizes manageable. In particular with games and heavy 3d scenes for rendering. Throwing 32bit images at GPU rendering may overload a GPU's memory for accelerated rendering. A 16bit image is just less taxing and in many cases good enough.

 

The simple fact remains that Photoshop reduces a 16bit image's precision to half - without informing the user. And the only reason why it was originally introduced by Chris Cox was for performance reasons back in the nineties.

 

It should be obvious to anyone that it is simply unacceptable in this day and age. No other image editor that supports a 16bit image mode destroys your data without any warning! It should be fixed, but I have an inkling that this would affect the core code base quite a bit, and therefore it is left alone by the devs.

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Community Expert ,
Aug 11, 2022 Aug 11, 2022

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@rayek.elfin wrote:

@thedigitaldogYou might not have issues with this limit since you are a photographer, but in 3D, games, and scientific work it *is* an issue. I ran into this problem years ago while working on 3d projects. I suddenly experienced visible banding in 3d height maps where there was none before.

 

What issue? 

Visible banding due to data/processing or visible banding due to the display path? The later is absolutely possible. 

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."-Carl Sagan

I await the evidence. 

 


The simple fact remains that Photoshop reduces a 16bit image's precision to half - without informing the user. And the only reason why it was originally introduced by Chris Cox was for performance reasons back in the nineties.

 

Again, zero evidence was provided! As written and never addressed: Do tell us what capture device you have that produces true (full) 16-bit data. Or when you've seen 15+1 bit use, over the last 30 years is an issue? 

Provide it, I'll ensure Adobe engineers at the top of the food chain see it. Balls in your court. 

 

It should be obvious to anyone that it is simply unacceptable in this day and age. No other image editor that supports a 16bit image mode destroys your data without any warning!


 

Aside from Chris Cox (originally Mark Hamburg) actually telling some of us the math behind their source code, do tell us what software you refer to in which a lead engineer has either provided you the code or told you "no, we use full 16-bits for editing data"? Or the last statement is an assumption with again, no data as some here could suspect.

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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Guide ,
Aug 15, 2022 Aug 15, 2022

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Perhaps a small example is helpful in understanding how Photoshop potentially destroys data in a 16bit integer file.

 

Here is a sample 16bit integer png with four shapes in it. The background value is set at a neutral 32768 for each RGB channel. Each shape is drawn at an integer 32769:

A "grey" shape drawn with RGB 32769,32769,32769

A "green" shape drawn with RGB 32768,32769,32768

A "blue" shape drawn with RGB 32768,32768,32769

A "red" shape drawn with RGB 32769,32768,32768

 

Open the file in Photoshop. Can you figure out what four shapes are hidden? 🙂

 

Btw, I wouldn't mind Photoshop throwing away data if the user would be warned against it. In my opinion it is rather unfortunate that users might rely on precise values maintained in their 16 bit integer files - be those 3d rendered, produced by scientific sensors, GIS depth maps, or whichever source - and the software fails to inform the user about it.

 

quote
quote

@thedigitaldogYou might not have issues with this limit since you are a photographer, but in 3D, games, and scientific work it *is* an issue. I ran into this problem years ago while working on 3d projects. I suddenly experienced visible banding in 3d height maps where there was none before.


By @rayek.elfin

 

What issue? 

Visible banding due to data/processing or visible banding due to the display path? The later is absolutely possible. 

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."-Carl Sagan

I await the evidence. 

 


The simple fact remains that Photoshop reduces a 16bit image's precision to half - without informing the user. And the only reason why it was originally introduced by Chris Cox was for performance reasons back in the nineties.

 

Again, zero evidence was provided! As written and never addressed: Do tell us what capture device you have that produces true (full) 16-bit data. Or when you've seen 15+1 bit use, over the last 30 years is an issue? 

Provide it, I'll ensure Adobe engineers at the top of the food chain see it. Balls in your court. 


By @thedigitaldog

@thedigitaldogI do not presume to second guess your colour management and photography knowledge and experience, yet when you (again) display your misunderstanding as it relates to 3d height maps and (again) confuse banding in 3d mesh displacement resolution with visible image banding, I most respectfully ask you to inform yourself first about how height maps are used in 3d modeling and rendering apps. I am not talking about visual banding. I am talking about actual loss of resolution in the 3d displacement maps when 16bit greyscale depth maps are opened and saved in Photoshop.

 

I have created a simple gradient greyscale file that blends from 00000 to 65536 in steps of 1. When opened in Photoshop half the values are ignored by Photoshop and replaced with the previous step value. Which means 4 pixels are converted like so:

32768 - 32769 - 32770 - 32771 becomes 16384-16384-16385-16385

Half the data is lost.

 

This also happens with a RAW photo developed in Lightroom (full 16bit range) or a RAW developed in another image editor or developer: once it is opened in Photoshop intermediate values are not maintained. It is easy to check: develop a RAW file, save as a tiff, open in Photoshop, and save a tiff copy.

 

Open the original tiff in an image editor that does support true 16 bit integer files. I use PhotoLine, for example.

When I compare the original developed version in PhotoLine with the version I opened and saved in Photoshop: low and behold, all values are capped to odd ones. In the original values can be xxxxY where Y is either an even or odd number. In the Photoshop saved version Y can only be odd. Because all even values in the original 16bit range had to be downsampled to 32679 values from a range of 65535. That's how Photoshop solves it.

 

In short: all values in the original developed tiff are now limited to the 32769 range and values that differed 1bit in a channel are turned into equal values by Photoshop. There *is* a reduced colour fidelity. Data was lost.

 

Obviously visually it doesn't matter. Print can't capture this, nor screens or human eyes. But losing that fidelity in science, research, astro processing, or in visual effects (3d), games, what not - depending on how the files are used this is a very bad thing or at a minimum super inconvenient to work with: I am of the opinion that it is rather preferable to be avoided?

 

Or not? Should Photoshop be allowed to blind-side the unsuspecting user who expects that their original image data is left intact?

 

Shouldn't Photoshop at the very least inform the user about the incurred loss of data when opening an image file? I mean, Photoshop does warn us when we are about to save a layered file using a file format that doesn't support layers. A kind warning up-front would help to prevent potential frustration and misunderstanding. (It would have when I first encountered this issue many years ago!)

 

I do realize my statements in the previous post here were rather blunt and I apologize for that. Personally I have dealt with this (and still do) in my work. Because other artists have no idea about Photoshop messing with 16bit files that are generated from other software with a full 16bit range, and they then proceed to make some adjustments in PS, and losing half the data, and send it to us. It may not matter in one situation, but there are enough cases for us where it does matter.

 

And even in 32bit mode Photoshop's 16bit eyedropper tool still insists on pretending to be a 15bit ("+1") one. (Why?!)  Nor is working with 32bit files always an option, as I've explained before. So a Photoshop user expecting the 16bit mode to not mess with their image data is problematic. And indeed, as suggested here, the only practical recourse is to switch to an alternative image editor. Because Photoshop is not enabling a proper 16bit workflow. And it destroys data without warning!

 

In short it's a major workflow hassle for those of us who do need a "real" 16 bit mode. At least, it was for me until I switched to other software for 16bit file editing. I mean, at the very least allow for true 16bit values when working in 32bit mode. But even in that image mode the 16bit values are limited to 32769? That is just odd in my opinion.

 

Still like Photoshop, though, and I work and deal with Photoshop on a daily basis, of course. I just wish it would be brought into the 21st century already. I do understand what Chris is saying, btw: at the time when I first hit this snag, I had a good discussion with him about it. He kept reiterating that it was done for code and memory performance reasons, which I understand. What I never understood till this day is why the devs haven't updated the 16 bit mode to allow the user to opt for a full 16bit range. My own musings are that it would affect large swathes of Photoshop's core code.

 

PS Photoshop is a bit inconsistent with how it interprets 16bit files. The values in the hidden message do pop up in Photoshop when converted to a TIFF file and imported - so PS seems to transform the colours when a 16bit TIFF is loaded. The values are still wrong, of course.

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Community Expert ,
Aug 15, 2022 Aug 15, 2022

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@rayek.elfin wrote:

Perhaps a small example is helpful in understanding how Photoshop potentially destroys data in a 16bit integer file.

 

The first flaw; you've provided us with an untagged document. RGB mystery meat. 

 

Open the file in Photoshop. Can you figure out what four shapes are hidden? 🙂


 

Why would I care? I can't see nor output the four 'hidden shapes'. *Anywhere. 

 


@rayek.elfin wrote:

This also happens with a RAW photo developed in Lightroom (full 16bit range) or a RAW developed in another image editor or developer: once it is opened in Photoshop intermediate values are not maintained. 

 

I've asked twice, but you can't seem to answer so I'll try the last time: What true 16-bit camera (raw) are you referring to and when will you provide us a raw from it?

BTW, you should know how so many Adobe Engineers feel when they hear folks who don't know better, talking about RAW photos (they laugh a lot); examine the name of their raw converter which has nothing to do with wrestling <g>. 

 


In short it's a major workflow hassle for those of us who do need a "real" 16 bit mode.

 

On imaginary 16-bit workflows, got it.

Kind of even clearer now why Adobe isn't paying you and your 'argument' any attention. 

Or anyone else after this four-year-old post appeared. 

 

What you think Chris explained and what the actual facts about the math used as explained** by Hamburg greatly differ. *Either way, Photoshop may not be the tool you need and Adobe isn't going to re-engineer it for a tiny subset of people who over 30 years have screamed about this minutia!  Enough said. 

 

** "It is not an arbitrary decision on how to display this data, it is displaying an exact representation of the exact data Photoshop is using, just as 0-255 is displayed for 8 bit files".

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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 'What true 16-bit camera (raw) are you referring to ..........?'

I believe the Fuji GFX100S can now output 16 bit raw files. In addition, not all image files start in a camera. 3D renders are regularly output at 16 bit (or 32 bit).

 

As far as visual results are concerned, even starting with such files, I agree that the difference between 16bit and 15+1 bit is academic.

 

Dave

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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@davescm wrote:

 

 'What true 16-bit camera (raw) are you referring to ..........?'

I believe the Fuji GFX100S can now output 16 bit raw files. 


There's a setting, is it really 16-bits of data? 

Even if so, it makes no difference as you point out and as shown here (and let's take into account, two differing shots and shot noise) even when one underexposes 6 stops:

https://blog.kasson.com/gfx-100/visual-comparisons-of-fuji-gfx-100-14-and-16-bit-raw-precision/

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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'There's a setting, is it really 16-bits of data?'

From what I understand the 16 bit of the GFX100 is real, but it is hard to get reliable detailed info on the sensor and ADC. 

The 3D renders are definitely real, I produce my own renders in full 16 or 32 bit/channel depending on the next processing steps.

 

Dave

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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None of this matters, Adobe isn't going to do anything about this because the burden of proof something is broken hasn't been provided. 4+ years in just this thread should make that pretty clear. 

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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Over the years, this thread has established the facts, that 16 bit in Photoshop operates using 15 bits + 1.  It also established that this was a concious design decision when 16 bit was introduced, so nothing is faulty or broken. It also established that a reduction from 16 bit to 15 bit +1  makes no visible difference in a visual workflow i.e. the human eye just cannot see the difference. So no case can be made on the basis that reducing the bit depth from 16 bit to 15 bit +1 makes a visible difference to an image.

 

However, it is also true that the difference may be important to certain specific workflows e.g. specific scientific work and possibly elements in 3D workflows. We also cannot speak for Adobe and say 'never' as who knows what changes are made to the core of the software in the future.

 

I would suggest that, if full 16 bit is really important to those working in such workflows, that those folk raise an idea for Photoshop to use full 16 bit and, calmly and dispassionately, make the case for the practical benefits it would bring to them, that cannot be achieved simply by working in 32 bit. Then, get as many colleagues working in those workflows to support their idea, vote for it, and add their own comments on the specific benefits.

 

That is the only way that this will get any attention in Adobe, let alone bring about a change. Using statements such as 'values are wrong' and 'losing half the data' are not going to bring about any change, as they do not show why keeping such data correct, and in full, would be of real practical and business benefit, or why the existing 32 bit workflow does not already address that issue.

 

Personally, I will not be raising the idea as I am happy with the status quo, and where I do need the high accuracy I can use 32 bit. I'll leave it to someone in one of those workflows to take it forward.

 

Dave

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Community Expert ,
Aug 16, 2022 Aug 16, 2022

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First, the proponents of "we must have full 16-bit not 15+1 bits" have to file a feature request in the forums. This isn't it. 

Then they need a boat load of up votes before anyone inside the Photoshop team will even consider their request. 

Then the team has to decide if the engineering time and cost is worthwhile to the massive base of Photoshop users. 

So I'd suggest no one posting here hold their breath on anything happening based on the history. 

They are of course welcome to use other products they feel does what they think they want. 

Author “Color Management for Photographers" & "Photoshop CC Color Management/pluralsight"

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