What is a 30 Bit Photography Workflow?

Many photographers have been buying expensive wide gamut monitors in order to take a full advantage of their ability to display over a billion of colors. What many do not realize, is that their actual workflow is most likely limited to just 16.7 million colors due to software and hardware limitations. How does one achieve a true 10 bit per channel, or 30 bit workflow? What are the advantages and is it worth the effort? To answer these questions, I decided to dig into the 30 bit photography workflow in detail and explain its advantages, disadvantages and also discuss its future.

Grand Tetons Sunrise

NIKON D7000 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 28mm, ISO 100, 1/100, f/8.0

With computer monitors advancing year after year, we are now seeing excellent wide gamut options for even those of us that are on tighter budgets. The next step in resolution is 4K monitors and we will start seeing solid, true 4K panels on the market fairly soon. With all this new technology making its way into our homes and businesses, it is crucial to understand how these new technologies can improve the results and help us get the best out of our equipment choices.

1) What is a 30 Bit Photography Workflow?

If you are not a geek who understands things like bit depth, ICC profiles and other related jargon, you probably have no idea what a 30 bit photography workflow stands for. Well, don’t worry – for a while, I had no idea either! Most of us take pictures and don’t even have a clue what the “14-bit RAW” option in our camera really means! When a monitor displays an image, each displayed pixel is represented by a certain number of colors. Since the basic unit of information in computing is bits, this number is often represented as “bits”, or “bit depth” (sometimes also referred to as “color depth”). Bit depth is represented as number 2 with an exponent. For example, 2-bit color is 2² = 4 total colors. In the early days of computing, monitors used to be monochrome, which is basically 1-bit (21 = 2 colors for black and white). If you are old enough to remember EGA monitors, those used to be 4-bits with only 16 total colors. Nowadays, most screens feature 24-bit “true color” panels that are capable of producing a total of 16,777,216 colors. Because colors are made from three main colors (Red, Green and Blue), the 24-bits I am referring to represent the total number of colors, which translates to 8 bits, or 256 colors per color channel (28). So if you do the math, that’s equates to 28 x 28 x 28, or 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216. So if you hear someone mention “8-bit display” today, keep in mind that they are referring to 8 bits per channel, which is a 24-bit screen with 16.7 million colors.

In comparison, a 30 bit monitor means 10 bits per channel, which is 210 = 1024. That’s 1024 colors per channel, so if we do the math 1024 x 1024 x 1024, that’s a total of 1,073,741,824 colors, which is 64 times more colors than a true color display! It would seem that a slight increase from 8 bits to 10 bits would only slightly increase the total number of colors, but as you can see, that’s certainly not the case. So if you ever wonder what you would gain by shooting a 14-bit RAW file instead of a 12-bit, we are talking about 4.4 trillion colors vs 68.7 billion, again 64 times difference in comparison! Hence, a true 30 bit monitor is significantly better in displaying more colors than a typical 24 bit monitor.

In short, a 30 bit workflow is aimed at displaying that many colors on the screen for you to see and work with. And that’s where the problem lies, because it is not as simple as it may sound!

Human Spectrum vs sRGB vs Adobe RGB

3) 30 Bit Workflow Components

In order for you to be able to see over a billion colors in true 30 bit depth, you not only need a wide gamut monitor, but you also need other hardware and components that actually send the proper color information to the screen. First, it starts with the operating system of your computer that must be able to support outputting 30 bits. If you are a Mac user, you can stop right here, because Mac OS still has no support for 30 bit color output. As of July 2014, the latest version of Mavericks 10.9.4 is only capable of outputting 24 bits. This means that you can only attain 30 bit workflow if you are a PC user (both Windows 7 and 8 have built-in support for 30 bit output, but if you use Windows 7, you will have to turn off the Aero theme).

Second, you will need a professional graphics card such as “NVIDIA QUADRO” that has software support for 30 bit output. Although both NVIDIA and ATI video card hardware can be used for 30 bit output, NVIDIA drivers seem to be more stable for this purpose. Personally, I use an NVIDIA QUADRO K2000 video card to output to two Dell U2413 monitors (dual screen setup). Special video card drivers specifically designed for these cards will have to be installed, since 30 bit support has to be supported by both hardware and software.

Third, you will need a special cable type that can actually handle that much data output. An old DVI cable won’t work – you will either need the latest generation HDMI cable (HDMI 1.3 standard), or DisplayPort / Mini DisplayPort cables. Personally, I use DisplayPort cables – you can even daisy chain those between multiple monitors!

Fourth, you will need imaging software that can support 30 bit output. Unfortunately, this is where the biggest issue is today – aside from a small number of software packages like Adobe Photoshop CS6 / CC / CC 2014 and Zoner Photo Studio, there is no other software on the market with 30 bit support. As far as I know, Lightroom 5 still does not have 10 bit support right now and just applies dithering to make images appear smoother.

Lastly, if you will obviously need a good wide gamut monitor that can handle more than 8 bits of data. And this is where things can get tricky as well – the Dell U2413 monitor that I referenced above and personally own, for example, is not a true 10 bit monitor – it achieves 10 bits by using an 8 bit panel + FRC / dithering. True 10 bit monitors are very expensive in comparison and only a small number of companies like Eizo offer them. Sadly, this “cheating” by using dithering does not just apply to 10 bit screens – many cheaper 8 bit monitors are not true 8 bit panels either, utilizing a 6 bit panel + dithering. So don’t be too frustrated if you own an 8 bit wide gamut display, since 8 bits of native colors is still way better than 6 bits plus “emulated” colors! Also, don’t forget that your monitor must have proper digital inputs for DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort or HDMI 1.3.

4) Adobe Photoshop 30 Bit Display Option

Once you have all of the above components and you are ready for the 30 bit workflow, you will need to make sure that your version of Photoshop is going to work. If you are not a Creative Cloud subscriber, keep in mind that CS5 had limited support for 30 bit workflow and only CS6 and above have full support for it. The initial versions of Adobe Photoshop CC had some issues with 30 bit output, but those were resolved with patches. The latest Photoshop CC 2014 has full support and works quite well.

By default, Photoshop does not automatically detect and output 30 bits to your screen – you must turn that option on first! Navigate to Edit -> Preferences -> Performance, then click the “Advanced Settings” button under “Graphics Processor Settings”. You will be presented with the below window:

Photoshop 30 Bit Display

Make sure to put a check mark in front of “30 Bit Display” and you will be good to go!

5) How to Identify 30 Bit Output?

You might be wondering how to check if your monitor is actually outputting 10 bits of colors. There are two methods to find out. The first method involves creating a black and white gradient in Photoshop. First, create a new image with the below settings in Photoshop:

Photoshop Test

Once the image is open, select the Gradient Tool (G), then left-click drag your mouse from left to right (or vice versa), starting from one side of the image all the way to the other side. If you want to keep the gradient straight, hold the shift key as you do this.

With the gradient going from black to white from one side of the screen to the other, you should be able to see very smooth transitions. Take a look at the below image (make sure to open the image fully, or open it in a new window):


If you have a wide gamut display, the above image should appear smooth in your browser. And if you have a low quality display, here is what it can potentially look like:

Gradient with Posterization

If you see vertical lines that separate different color shades as above (also known as “banding” or “posterization”), then your screen is most likely limited to 8 bits. If you see a lot of posterization, it might not even be 8 bits…

The second test is a bit better, since it does not span so much black and white – it is mostly gray. Download this file, unzip the PSD and then open it up in Photoshop. If the whole image looks smooth, you are in 30 bit workflow. If you see those lines / posterization, then you are working in 8 bits or less.

On my properly calibrated Dell U2413 using X-Rite i1Display Pro (custom Dell drivers and hardware calibration), the file appears quite smooth with no posterization visible, which means I am getting 30 bits. Unfortunately, I cannot show you my screen as it won’t show the image properly on your monitor, but hopefully you get the idea.

6) Is it worth it?

Seeing all of the above, you might be wondering if a 30 bit workflow is worth the headache. There is definitely quite a bit of work involved in making this all work and it is not a cheap proposition by any means. If you were to ask me a year or two ago, I would definitely recommend to stay away from it. Back then, Photoshop support was quite bad and good panels were extremely expensive. However, things have changed since then for PC users for the better and now I am starting to see more people adopt a 30 bit workflow to get the best out of their images. For me, given the fact that I already own a decent IPS wide gamut monitor and the cost of getting a professional graphics card was fairly reasonable, I decided to go for it and enable the 30 bit support. While it did not make a drastic change in my workflow, I can now see more colors and I have more options for post-processing images, especially when I need to recover shadow or highlight details. Skies do not appear posterized anymore due to 8 bit limitations, which is pretty noticeable when working with landscape shots.

What about the future? Well, 30 bit workflow is far from being mainstream at the moment, but I believe that we are heading there, albeit slowly. With more people adopting high quality wide gamut monitors and increased interest in seeing more colors, I believe that more software companies will soon start offering 10 bit support. Apple has been dragging its 30 bit support for a while now and considering how widespread the use of Apple products is among the photography community, it is another big reason why adoption is very slow.

Let me know if you have any questions! We will be writing more about colors, calibration and bit depth in the next few weeks.


  1. 1) Arun Kumar
    July 10, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for the wonder full post.
    Your image posted in the article is very beautiful, could you provide the location and exif data?


    • July 10, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Arun, EXIF data should already be there. The image was taken at the Grand Teton National Park.

  2. Profile photo of Mike Banks 2) Mike Banks
    July 10, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Nasim, great bit of information. (no pun intended). This is why I use several pro labs to help me develop and print my pictures when necessary. I’m no tecky and I don’t really know much about the computer or post processing except for my pro work which doesn’t require all you talk about. When I make photographs for my home gallery or certain “live” clients I let the pros do it. They have served me well and at two labs I have the same person to work with all the time.

    • July 10, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Mike, while it is always a good idea to use pro labs that know how to work with colors (and not just ones that make you export everything in sRGB), seeing color and printing are two different things. In the above case, the 30-bit depth I referred to is only for viewing images accurately in your screen. Whether you take images to lab or not is not important in this case.

  3. 3) Paul
    July 10, 2014 at 10:41 am

    What would be really helpful is a discussion of monitors generally, and what would be optimal for viewing and processing photos. For most of us who are not professional photographers, getting the best pictures at a reasonable price is the goal. Similarly, though off topic, a discussion of Lightroom vs. Elements for a more casual photographer. I have Lightroom 3, but have found it cumbersome and confusing; it doesn’t work well for me, and I find I usually go to Elements for editing, which I find easier to use and provides me with better results.

    • July 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      Paul, seeing some of the comments in this article, I realized that the topic of color management is very confusing for many. I am planning to cover this subject in much more detail, so that we can isolate these misunderstandings. As for Lightroom vs Elements, we have already written on the subject in this article.

      • 3.1.1) Ryan Beuke
        December 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        Yes I agree a article surrounding color profiles, calibration, printing in labs etc would be AWESOME!.
        I have a question as well. I have a wide gamut U2410 display, and I have calibrated my monitor with the xrite pro. The question I have is a lab mentioned that I should use their color profile so that my images look on screen like their printers are setup for when printed. IF I do this I assume I cant have more than one profile set so wouldn’t this go against having calibrated my monitor at all? I assume I should just use mine in Adobe sRGB as that is what the monitor supports up to 96% of that color spectrum and nut use their color profile which may be sRGB?

        • Murray Foote
          December 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm

          You’re confusing display profiles with printer profiles. You need to read up about soft proofing. The printer has a colour space that differs from your monitor. By soft proofing to a printer profile (ie a profile for a specific printer and paper) you can get a pretty accurate preview of what a print will look like for most images and adjust the appearance of the image before printing. If you have an aRGB monitor, that is good because you will see more of the printer colour space. Printer profiles are likely to be mainly inside aRGB but may contain some colours that are outside. In some extreme examples with highly saturated out of gamut colours (live music, flowers), soft proofing will not work and you are back to trial and error. Accurate soft proofing requires a good monitor profile and a good monitor. You can soft proof in either Lightroom or Photoshop but I much prefer the implementation in Lightroom.

  4. 4) CC
    July 10, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Whats the use of these bits, if only You can see the difference. You print Your image – gamut is gone. Share it – You give only problems to Your customers because of poor support in popular software.

    • July 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      CC, looks like you are a bit confused about the subject. First, color gamut is not gone when you print – most printers have a different color gamut than sRGB, so if you work with someone that understands colors, you can get very desirable results. Second, you would be extracting images in sRGB for your customers anyway, unless they want to get images printed through a professional lab. I think you are confusing color depth with gamut here. Either way, the advantage of being able to see more colors translates to more accurate editing. If you can see so many different shades of black and white, along with colors, you can get better results during post-processing when working with highlight and shadow details, etc. A similar argument can be made about 14-bit RAW. What’s the point of shooting in 14-bit RAW if the end result is only 8-bit? Well, there are many advantages – you can clearly see them yourself if you process an 8-bit JPEG file vs a 14-bit RAW file!

  5. 5) James Kern
    July 10, 2014 at 11:26 am

    So, call me an idiot, but I gotta ask. Unless I misunderstand, printers work within the SRGB color space which has a fairly small gamut – browsers only support 8 bits – so sure, YOU (the user of a 30 bit workflow) can see more colors, but so what? How does using a 30 bit workflow translate into a benefit in the real world of a) internet display or b) printed work? I have a high end color calibrated monitor and the colors it displays are amazing, but what often takes place is, I process an image that looks great, then when it posts it looks different. Why would this kind of thing not happen with a 30 bit workflow – just trying to understand if it really is worth doing. Thanks – as always your posts are great!

    • 5.1) Murray Foote
      July 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Just a comment rather than an answer. Printers have a small gamut but not necessarily within sRGB; some parts of the gamut of some printers can be outside aRGB. I remember reading an article by Michael Reichmann that demonstrated this a few years ago.

      So a wider gamut than aRGB will have some benefit in printing though it may be marginal and you will be preparing images to an appropriate standard should printers improve.

    • 5.2) Sergey Nikitin
      July 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      James Kern, do you shot in “wide-gamut” RAW or 8-bit JPEG?
      I think everyone who tested RAW do not use JPEG anymore. Same with the workflow.
      The 30bit colors will grant you more freedom. Since you can see more color… It’s more relative as audio 64kbps mp3 and 320kbps – no matter on which speaker it will be then listened :)
      But I want to ask – I heard that windows has modified drivers for nVidia like GTX460 to working on 30bit colors. Has anybody heard about it?

      • 5.2.1) James Kern
        July 10, 2014 at 2:41 pm

        I only shoot raw and I have Bridge and LR set up to bring them into PS as s16 bit images. I do all my editing in 16 bit, and only when I have a final image do I convert to an 8 bit image. Haven’t heard about modified drivers but if that’s so i would be interested. Not opposed to a 30 bit workflow – in fact it is quite attractive and I am thinking about going that way – just weighing the pros and cons. Thanks for the input Sergey

        • Sergey Nikitin
          July 10, 2014 at 3:31 pm

          NVIDIA Geforce graphics cards have offered 10-bit per color out to a full screen Direct X surface since the Geforce 200 series GPUs. Due to the way most applications use traditional Windows API functions to create the application UI and viewport display, this method is not used for professional applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Photoshop.

      • July 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

        Sergey, it sucks that NVIDIA refuses to enable 10-bit output on its GTX hardware. The thing is, both consumer-grade GTX and QUADRO series share the same hardware capabilities. NVIDIA simply disables it in the driver software, so that they can make more money selling the much more expensive QUADRO hardware… I wish there was a way to hack the drivers to make them output 10 bit / channel or 30 bit colors!

    • July 10, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      James, looks like you already got some answers to your question. It does not matter if your image ends up in 8 bit – being able to see more colors allows for better post-processing and gives you far more options. Just like a 14-bit RAW image does vs JPEG. When you work on a typical 8-bit display within Photoshop, you still work in 16-bit or 32-bit color mode. You cannot see colors, but you know they are there and give you more options for shadow/highlight recovery and for working with color gradients such as the sky.

      Now in regards to your problem of having a wide gamut calibrated monitor vs posting / printing. If the output looks vastly different in terms of colors, something is not right in your workflow. Either your calibration is off, or the printer is not utilizing color profiles properly. If the output to the web looks wrong, then you are probably not converting the image right…

  6. 6) Murray Foote
    July 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    A very interesting post Nasim, that addresses issues I have been wondering about since I heard recently of the 4K monitors.

    An obvious conclusion is that Epson is working on 4K printers unless there is some technological reason why this is either not possible or uneconomic. It would be interesting to hear something of this though if it is going to happen, an announcement would probably be the first indication.

    There’s one obvious limitation for printers and that’s that there is no point having resolution greater than the human eye can resolve. I’m not sure where they are with that at the moment.

    There are certainly gamut improvements that might be useful for printers though for most images there may be little difference. I recently tried to print am image that looked great on screen but proved impossible to print. It was a silhouette of a bass guitarist against a bright blue haze of dry ice fog. For some images a 4K printer would make a huge improvement but I wonder whether there would be sufficient improvements for enough images to justify the costs of development and marketing.

    Still, an extension of gamut would imply an extension of tonal range and that alone might make such a printer desirable if possible.

    • July 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Murray, to be honest, I don’t understand what “4k printer” truly means. 4K is simply the resolution of an image – my monitors output 1920 x 1200 resolution and 4K would be four times the resolution. When printing, the printer itself does not care about the resolution – you decide how many dots per inch you will be printing at. You could make a small print from a 36 MP image at very high DPI or you could make a ginormous, billboard size print with the same resolution, but different DPI :) So please don’t confuse bit depth with DPI – those are totally different things!

      • 6.1.1) Murray Foote
        July 11, 2014 at 2:07 am

        Quite right, I got quite confused there. Thanks for that, Nasim.

  7. 7) skeptical 1
    July 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    This “obsession” with higher resolution or, in this case, greater color display depth leaves me a bit cold. Photos evoke emotion and are used to capture memories or tell stories. When I see a well told story in pictures I am feeling this, not wondering about the technical details. I am not looking at corner sharpness or how much color banding I detect.
    Many photographers are fixated on those issues. I am not one of them. I don’t want technical details to get in the way of the desired impact, but beyond that I am not terribly concerned. When 10 bit displays and 4k resolution is the norm I am sure I will move to it, but I am certainly in no rush. I doubt my customers or audience will even know the difference.

    • 7.1) Sergey Nikitin
      July 10, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      Some likes music, some likes lyrics… :)

    • July 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm

      True, for most people this type of workflow would not apply or make sense. Just like the question of JPEG vs RAW – a person shooting with a point and shoot camera probably does not care about RAW output. However, if I am working on producing the best quality image for printing or showcasing on the web, I want to work with as much information as possible. This means shooting in 14-bit RAW and using a 10-bit per channel workflow to see as many colors as possible without banding / posterization issues.

      • 7.2.1) sceptical 1
        July 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm

        I really appreciate your feelings about working with the most information, but I don’t think it makes much qualitative difference for clients. None of the stock agencies or 1.com don’t seem to care.
        I don’t ignore things like raw processing or using high quality monitors (use Spyder 4 calibrator) etc. I want the prints to turn out great and don’t want any distractions because of poor quality, but I doubt I am missing much by not embracing the cutting edge in this regard.
        If this type of processing becomes the standard I will use it to keep in step with expectations, but this is not an area I feel is in great need of improvement. I would be much more interested if this directly translated to visibly better prints…

  8. 8) Global
    July 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Hi. Big time fan of this site.

    1.) Regarding print labs: There was no mention printing — are there 30-Bit printers? I can’t imagine that ink drop technology is more sophisticated than monitor technology — wouldn’t the ink blur too much, being a liquid without precise control of light (as monitors have)? What is the maximum output of print?

    2.) x-Rite & Monitors: I have a “Dell UltraSharp U2713HM” — is this true 8-bit or 10-bit? I am using the X-Right i1 Display Pro for calibration (set to a version 2 ICC type in the “ADVANCED” calibration functions, not “SIMPLE”, to avoid color change in “Windows Photo Viewer”, which for some reason is not compatible with version 4 ICC types, even though every single other program in Windows is)…. does the X-Rite automatically give me the largest color space possible? I noticed that the Dell’s software has an ability to select “sRGB” — but it is NOT the default option. Does x-Rite use this or not? How can I get the widest color space possible using x-Rite? (I am even confused about the “65” vs. other profiles). Is there an ideal set of settings I should be choosing on the x-Rite, considering my particular monitor? Considering my monitor’s limitations, does this mean I should limit my RAW to 12-bit, because it is impossible for me to work with any more benefit of 14-bit?

    3.) Finally, if most monitors are 6-bit smoothed, and few are 8-bit, and less are 10-bit, and even less systems could support “30-bit,” then does it actually make sense to make images with this much depth? Won’t they become banded when viewed by others or printed on systems that cannot support it? Doesn’t this diminish the quality of the images and experience? Thus, should users output .JPEGS in a certain way for modern browsers (I guess each printer needs its own profile, but browsers only handle .jpegs primarily)?

    • 8.1) Sergey Nikitin
      July 10, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      For color management in browser check this article: http://www.gballard.net/psd/go_live_page_profile/embeddedJPEGprofiles.html#
      And also there are more interesting links inside

      • 8.1.1) Global
        July 11, 2014 at 12:35 am


    • 8.2) Sergey Nikitin
      July 10, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      >does this mean I should limit my RAW to 12-bit, because it is impossible for me to work with any more benefit of 14-bit?

      Certainly not! 14bit vs 12bit means that it has wider dynamic range.
      For RAW-conversion I may advice to look at http://rawtherapee.com/
      They have 96-bit (floating point) processing engine. It is freeware, but works slower and may crash sometimes. And they are the only (as I know) support lo0seless conversion between RGBLAB color models.

      • 8.2.1) Global
        July 11, 2014 at 12:34 am

        Thanks for the link!

    • July 10, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Global, I think many of us are really confused about the topic of bit depth vs gamut vs DPI / printing. I will do my best to cover more of this topic soon. Addressing your questions / concerns:

      1) 30-bit refers to display output in this article, i.e. what you can physically see with your eyes. Please do not confuse this with printer output or color gamut.

      2) Your Dell UltraSharp U2713HM has a true 8-bit panel, which is good. A 10-bit panel would have cost you at least 3-5 times more! When calibrating, don’t pick sRGB as the preset – you are limiting the color output of the screen when doing that. Leave it at standard or custom and then use X-Rite for software calibration. Seeing 8 bits does not mean that you should discard 14-bit photos. You want to shoot at the highest depth possible, because the software will be able to work with those colors even though the monitor might not be capable of displaying it. More colors allow for more opportunities in post-processing.

      3) Bit depth of how you see your images during post-processing have nothing to do with people’s monitors. When showcasing your work for the web, you convert an image to flat 8-bit image in JPEG format, discarding most of the colors anyway. That’s after you have already tweaked it, recovered shadows and highlights, etc. If you were to start with a flat image, you would have no options to recover anything and your output would look far worse. This is similar to shooting JPEG vs RAW – if you shoot with a limited number of colors, you have very limited options in Lightroom / Photoshop, since all that extra information is wiped out. So even though the end result might be a flat JPEG file, the quality of that flat file will depend on what you were able to do with the RAW file in the first place. Take a very contrasty scene and shoot it in JPEG and RAW, then see what you can do with both images in post – there will be HUGE differences in the final output, especially around areas that need shadow or highlight recovery.

      • 8.3.1) Global
        July 11, 2014 at 12:33 am

        Thanks for the quick lessons.

        I’ve been daunted with this issue for years and have done my best to avoid it — I work around graphic design (but I’m on the regulatory & marketing side, sometimes setting up packages and labeling, sometimes using photos to make line art or manipulating them), but all of the color and print is left to the design guys!

        Your articles are encouraging me to try going a bit further. I appreciate the synergy with articles about Monitors, Printers, Workflow, etc. Thanks for sharing!

  9. 9) Rory
    July 10, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I think we need to to clarify the difference between bit depth, dynamic range and gamut. Dynamic range and gamut define the range of available colors and tones. Bit depth defines how many steps we can show within the range. If you think of a staircase, the DR or Gamut would be the height of the staircase, while the bit depth would describe the number of stairs.

    Also, some hardware and software solutions make excellent use of dithering as Nasim mentioned. For example, the image Nasim provided for download looks smooth on my 8 bit windows 7 photoshop 2014 on the latest Dell 30″er.

    Thanks for the excellent review Nasim.

    • July 10, 2014 at 6:38 pm

      Rory, that’s a great point! Looks like a lot of people are getting confused about these. Your example with the staircase defines it really well, thank you!

  10. 10) Bill
    July 10, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    So this hilights just how convoluted color management can be. As early as Version 4.0, Lightroom has had support for 30 bit rendering. However, you can only take advantage of it in the develop module. The library module falls back to 24 bit.

    • July 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      Bill, I looked carefully at the output of Lightroom and compared it to true 10 bit output in Photoshop – they are NOT the same. In Lightroom, I see a bunch of artifacts, which are not there in Photoshop. This means that Lightroom 5.5 is still not a 10-bit application. Looks like Adobe is cheating here by applying dithering and other noise reduction techniques to smoothen those colors instead of displaying true 10-bits…

    • 10.2) Rory
      July 10, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      As I understand it, Lightroom uses dithering in the develop module. I have tested it and it works quite well. However, this is not 30 bit rendering.

      • July 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm

        Rory, yes, that’s my observation as well!

      • 10.2.2) Bill
        July 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm

        Ah. Thanks for the clarification. I picked it up on another forum but they didn’t mention dithering. I tested it out myself on LR 4 and the gradient looked very good with absolutely no artifacts. What makes things worse is that most hardware and software manufacturers either don’t tell you what they are doing or they muddy the issue by saying its 30 bits without mentioning it’s not true 30 bits (like the dell monitors).

  11. 11) Randy Foo
    July 10, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I’m running a DELL U2713H with a Quadro K600 on Windows 8.1 64-bit. Thought I was utilising 30-bit display until I downloaded your gray-scale test file, and saw the posterization on PS CS6 (it was already set to 30-bit display). That’s when it hit me in my head that I’m probably looking at a 24-bit display! I dont’ know why. A quick check on NVIDIA Quadro drivers download page revealed latest drivers updated at 10 July 2014. Downloaded and installed it, the gray-scale immediately improved.

    Direct Link: http://www.nvidia.com/download/driverResults.aspx/76996/en-us

    Earlier, I planned to blog to share about all I have learnt about the bits, color depth and etc. as it wasn’t easy to gather and digest all these information. Now that you have written something on these … but I’m very glad you did ;-)

    Thank you, Nasim.

  12. 12) Daham
    July 10, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Nasim, here’s my view if your final product is 8-bit jpeg and using a consumer grade camera ( including the pro ones like D810 and D4s ) there’s no point of using a 10 bits per color channel unless you’re using commercial ones – Hassys,Mamiyas or Phase-Ones or doing medical or other scientific imaging.

  13. 13) Thierry
    July 11, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Hi Nasim,

    Nice article and probably very usefull for those using photophop.
    The thing is, I have the same video card (NVDIA GATRO K2000) and the same screen (DEL U2413) you have, but I still use Capture NX2 and I am not shure that I will shift to photophop.
    It would be very interesting for those who are in the same situation than I am to gain knowledge on the properly using our screen and video card…
    Would you be willing to do this ?


    • July 11, 2014 at 4:04 am

      Absolutely! I will write a post on how to properly calibrate the U2413 and use the right settings for the graphics card :)

  14. 14) Carmelo
    July 11, 2014 at 4:59 am

    Thank you very very much for this article, Nasim!
    I’m extremely disappointed with Apple. With my Mac mini (i7, 2.6GHz Quad-Core, Intel HD Graphics 4000), my Dell U2410 display (calibrated with i1Profiler), my Mini DisplayPort connection and my Mac Os X 10.9.4 (Mavericks) I’m not able to see all black and white gradients from your sample.

  15. 15) Sebastiano
    July 11, 2014 at 5:26 am

    IMHO, in general, when the signal-to-“noise” ratio is good every piece of information we add more may be trasparent to our human vision.
    We shouldn’t forget our eyes, our brain (so our perceived vision) adapt to the light.
    Except you have an excellent eye and your target is a great size print I think many of us cannot distinguish still a 40x60cm “8-bit per channel” depth processed good photograph than the same RAW processed via a 30bit workflow.

    But information (so bit depth, and the bit we use in the workflow) is a plus when the scene concentrates the light and colors in a narrow range. Let’s think to a low key, low light captured, portrait.
    If you want to process the RAW the more information you keep in the file the more benefits it gives to the final result.
    And even if a 30bit depth workflow affect only the way we see colors (neither the color space “depth” nor the precision used by a post processing software to make calculations – that is, we all use 16bit per channel TIFFs to view them when open RAW with camera RAW) I think its a good benefit to look closely how the changes we are applying to the image we are processing impact.

    Let me use an example to better clarify what I want to say. Let’s think a 2 floors building; at the ground floor we have things we can see only through “holes” on the first floor. The more “holes” we have the more we can see of what’s on the ground floor.
    This is the same when using a 8-bit-per-channel only workflow and a wide Color space + 16bit-per-channel file. 8 bit only means we can distinguish only “raw” variation (like having only a few holes on the first floor); adding a 4times “inspection” factor allows us to have “more holes on the first floor”, and appreciate finer vatiations when post processing.

    I hope I haven’t said wrong things :) :)

  16. 16) Sergey Nikitin
    July 11, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Here are test for nec owners: http://www.necdisplay.com/monitor-software
    10 bit Color Depth Demo Application
    This Windows application tests the capabilities of the video graphics system for 10-bit color support. It also generates images that demonstrate the benefits of 10-bit color depth on NEC MultiSync PA Series displays when using a DisplayPort video connection and a compatible video graphics card.

  17. 17) Jay
    July 11, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Nasim, I hope you have read my questions from your last article on using the i1 colorimeter with your U2413. Your article prompted me to buy the i1 and the U2413. Previously I had a Spyder4Pro and had set my Dell TFT screen up with it. So now I am sitting here with both colorimeters scratching my head and not really knowing how to check the i1 with the Spyder to see if there really is a difference. The confusement comes with using the Dell software rather than the X-Rite software. I believe the Dell software calibrates the monitor and the X-Rite software calibrates the video card? Anyway I’m sitting on an investment of colorimeters and a new U2413 and still not sure if I’m getting the best colors. Your strip test shows just slight graduations ( I have a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 video card). I am also seeing lots of recommendations from the Dell monitor forum that everyone should use the ArgyllCMS open source color management system along with the colorimeter? So please look at my questions from your other article and the ones here, and incorporate into your future calibration article.

  18. 18) Sergey Nikitin
    July 15, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Can anyone give advice about profiling/calibrating and reconfiguring monitor ‘s (not viedeocard) hardware LUT table using X-Rite i1 Display (monitor ASUS Pro Art PA279) on windows 7?

  19. 19) Carsten
    July 29, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Let’s view it from another perspective: if mainly LR5 is used with an Nvidia GTX graphics card — i.e. the workflow is limited to be 8bit –, what kind (or model) of monitor would you recommend?
    Would you recommend a 10bit monitor like a Dell U2413 or an Eizo CX240 anyway?

  20. 20) Maxim Dupliy
    August 6, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Hi All.
    I just want to ask if my viewpoint of the HDMI vs Displayport is right.
    If my monitor is 10 bit (Dell2413) and HDMI port supports 12 bit vs 10 bit for Display port , does it matter if i connect one of two HDMI or Displayport ?
    At the end, the bottleneck is the monitor/Displayport which is 10 bit right? and hence there will be no advantage of HDMI.
    Am i right?

  21. 21) Don Eklund
    August 31, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Hello Nassim,

    Thanks for creating this timely article on 30 bit. From doing my own research, I know there is precious little reliable information on this topic.

    FYI I have a 30 bit tested card and display (Firepro / Dell U3014) and I struggled to learn how to make it work with PS. It turned out that it worked as expected with CS6, but not does not work with CC 2014. I also downloaded a trial of Zoner and enabled the option in the setup, but that also is not working. I’ve emailed them for advice, but I thought you or your readers may want to know. FYI, there is a very useful program developed and hosted by NEC: ‘NEC_10_bit_video_Windows_demo.zip’ which is invaluable for verifying that a system is working at a full 10 bits and it can even help identify when dither is being implemented (this is the case with older monitor connected with HDMI)



  22. Profile photo of Don Eklund 22) Don Eklund
    September 8, 2014 at 10:03 am

    In my previous comment, I said that PS CC 2014 does not support 10 bit color, this is incorrect. There is an important setting that must be turned on that is not documented. Under ‘View’ options you must select ‘Proof Colors’. This was not the case with CS6, so it is confusing and was a bit hard to find.

  23. 23) John
    October 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Great article thanks. I just spend time on the phone yesterday confirming with Adobe that Photoshop CC 2014 supports 10 bit, but Lightroom does not.
    My question after all the technical machinations is, is it worth it?

    It seems like it costs a minimum of $800 for a true 10 bit monitor, the Nvidia Quadro K2200 is about $500 and then Photoshop and a few other applications like resolve will actually use the 10 bit space.

    I’m the point where I need a new video card and monitor and looking at a minimum investment of $1300 and likely more if I don’t buy the absolute cheapest option on video card and monitor.

  24. 24) Willy
    November 20, 2014 at 4:31 am

    Sorry to be nit picking but IMHO the reference to 12 or 14 bit raw is completely irrelevant here. As suggested in one of the posts, this has only to do with dynamic range of the camera sensor.
    A bayer sensor records “color mediated luminance” aka ONLY levels of grey ! Ergo, a “raw” file only consists of sensel values, being a number with an amplitude of 12 or 14 bits and defining a grey scale value for each photo cell in the sensor ! (+ some metadata)
    The bayer demosaic algorithm will convert this into “color” values and produce an “image” the way we expect it.
    Full advantage of this dynamic range can only be gained by using an image format in 16 bit (48 bit color depth). Scaling down to 10 or 8 bits will throw away info.

  25. November 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Hello there Nasim, I shoot astrophotography and colorful landscapes (see what I shoot http://www.jimabels.com) for the most part and I want to take advantage of the wide gamut at my disposal. I shoot 14 bit raw with my D800 in Adobe RGB and print on my 24″ Canon IPF6400 (love it!) My current monitor is an old Samsung 27″ tn panel. I calibrate with a Color Munki Photo. I’m on the verge of building a new system(X99 based ) and color accuracy is a high priority. I was looking at a Geforce series card for future 4k timelapse renders. But to get 30 bit, I would need a Quadro or possibly Fire Pro series card. This is just a side business fueled by passion but funded minimally through print sales and portrait photo shoots. Do you suggest a 30 bit workflow for me? I was told that for rendering video, cuda cores were important and some Geforce cards will fill the needs at a far lower price then Quadro cards. Now I may need the cheapest Quadro at 30 bit and a Geforce with a large amount of Cuda cores at the best price. Do you have any experience with rendering video on your Quadro or do you only use for photo editing? Also, will I need a new calibration system for wide gamut color space editing workflow? Ahh!!! PS. I appreciate the info that you have shared over the years. Thank you for all of the advice.

  26. December 9, 2014 at 8:53 am

    >>What many do not realize, is that their actual workflow is most likely limited to just 16.7 million colors due to software and hardware limitations.

    Actually far, far less. And the number of colors you are discussing is all so theoretical and I’ll explain why (it’s a pet peeve of mine and I see this kind of misunderstanding all the time on the web).

    Does Adobe RGB (1998) have more colors than sRGB? Does a 12-bit capture device have more colors than one that captures 10-bits? It’s the wrong question but no it doesn’t. But to uncover why, we have to look at a few facts about color spaces, specifically RGB working spaces like sRGB, Adobe RGB (1998), ProPhoto RGB and encoding of numbers that go into said color spaces.

    Adobe RGB (1998) and sRGB, ProPhoto RGB are just color spaces, containers. They don’t inherently have any information other than specifications for primaries, white point, and gamma. Until we actually have a pixel, they don’t contain any information. The pixel has what is called an encoding which can provide a number of possible device values. For example, 24 bit color, (three channels, 8-bit each) can mathematically define 16.7 million device values. Can we see 16.7 million colors? No. Far less. Depending on who’s figures you examine, the range is said to be “more than 100,000 to 10 million”. The number is up to debate but the point is, we can use math to produce a value that has no actual relationship to what we can see. All the RGB working spaces have exactly the same number of addressable device values and the total number is set by the bit depth of the image file used for encoding, i.e., 8-bit, 16-bit.

    More bits does NOT equate to a wider dynamic range any more than they do more colors. Think of my old staircase analogy here: The dynamic range is the length of the staircase (16 feet). The bit depth is the number of steps in that staircase. Could be 16, could be 32. The length of the staircase (dynamic range) doesn’t change, just the distance between the steps!

    Before we can define a number of colors, we have to define: What is color? Color isn’t a wavelength or property of light. Color, is a perceptual property, something that occurs deep inside our brains. So if you can’t see it, it’s not a color. As such, colors are defined based on perceptual experiments. Color is not a particular wavelength of light, It is a cognitive perception. Another term is Color Value, which refer to human perception and specifically to colorimetry. Lab, Luv, XYZ, Yxy, etc are all color values. We can use math and a metric called deltaE to define when one set of color values which are imperceptible (indistinguishable) from another set of numbers (color values). delta-E refers to differences in color values. For sake of argument, let’s say in one color space, sRGB, it isn’t possible to see a difference between 2/255/240 and 1/255/240 as they have the same Lab values (90/-54/-8). As such, we can’t count that example as being two colors, we can’t see any difference between them, they look identical. A deltaE of less than 1 between two color values is said to be imperceptible but to complicate matters, there are several formulas for calculating this metric. Further the ability of the eye distinguish two colors as different and is more limited for yellows but is better for greens and blues. This just adds even more difficulty in assigning a meaningful and accurate number of colors to these colors spaces.

    Now we have to look at color spaces like ProPhoto RGB. If you examine a plot of this synthetic color space on top of the gamut of human vision (the CIE chromaticity diagram), part of it falls outside the plot. It can define device values, numbers, which represent “colors” we can’t see. So these “imagery colors” can’t be counted when we ask, does ProPhoto RGB have more colors than sRGB or another color space. One of the best explanations of why it is folly to even attempt to put a number (of colors) on top of a color space comes from Graeme Gill the creator of the Argyll Color Management System: “Colorspaces are conceptually continuous, not discrete, therefore it’s wrong to talk about number of colors”. Just examining ProPhoto RGB further illustrates it’s impossible to define the number of colors it can contain as it can defines color values that we can’t see as colors. Parts of ProPhoto RGB’s gamut lies outside human vision! Much like 24 bit color can define more device values than colors we can see. Encoding is however a useful attribute when editing our images so the point isn’t to dismiss it but rather point out, it provides values for something that isn’t a color, it’s just a number, a device value. As an analogy, if you were to purchase a ruler to measure something, it is possible the tiny lines that divide up the unit of measure could be finer than you can see. What would be the point of giving you a 1 foot long ruler where the individual lines that defined the distance between each was a micron apart instead of a 1/16 of an inch? The micron unit is valid. You just can’t see it or use it with your naked eye to measure anything. Think of the encoding of a pixel value the same way with respect to color expect unlike a micron that does exist, a device value defining a color you can’t see doesn’t exist; it’s not a color.

    The difference in color gamuts is their range and the scale of colors, not the number of colors values. This confuses many people because they see a larger gamut plot, a larger volume, and assume larger means more colors. But one has nothing to do with the other. ProPhoto RGB covers a larger range of chroma (what some call Saturation) than Adobe RGB (1998). Adobe RGB (1998) covers a larger range of chroma than sRGB. This has nothing to do with the number of device values, that’s an attribute of how we encode the pixel values. And we can use finer ways to divide up this data. For example, in 16-bit color, the math allows us to define billion’s of color values, but that doesn’t change the fact we still can’t see 16.7 million colors in the 24 bit encoding of these pixels. As such, it’s best to talk about encoding having a potential to define millions or billions of numbers, device values, that could be associated to a color value thus color, if we could see them. But if we can’t differentiae them visibly, it is kind of silly to suggest they are indeed colors. Don’t confuse a color number, a device value, for a color, a color you can see!

  27. 27) Tomas
    December 27, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I work in
    30 bit color for a while. Currently on nVidia Quadro 4000 + 2x DELL U3011 + PS
    CC 2014. It is successful at the point of viewing images. But when you go a
    little bit beyond that you will soon discover that Photoshop has lack of
    support for 30 bit editing tools. Lot of edit tools supports only 8
    bit channel process. Just open Adobe color picker. Considering 16 bit channel picture – can you see 0-32768 ranges for each
    channel? Unfortunately NOT. At least informational window (F8) shows proper numbers. I did a gradient which starts on grey 100-100-100 and finishes some thousand pixels far away with grey 101-101-101. There is really thousand
    different colors between. But i am not sure about other important tools like curves, levels, color balance, all the
    filters and so on. I am going to do some deep research on it because Adobe itself is calm about it.

    • 27.1) Sebastiano Rametta
      December 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Thank for your comment, Tomas.

      Well, I think if PS doesn’t fully support a 30bit choice in any tool/correction it’s like we can’t see with a 30-bit “depth”. Only the starting view is so a 30-bit depth, but changes move by steps of 8-bit x channel. So, what the benefit of a 30-bit workflow if we are not supported by a fully 30-bit “thinking tool” (that is workflow)? :S

    • 27.2) Bob
      February 9, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Do you recommend 10bit?

  28. 28) chkchkboom
    February 6, 2015 at 5:21 am

    With 0.3 noise added to that ramp test it looks smooth :D

  29. 29) Andre Joanisse
    June 27, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Hi Nasim,
    sorry to resurrect an “old” article but I am trying to ascertain if Apple finally has 10-bit support in Yosemite 10.10.3. So far, I haven’t been able to really find a conclusive answer :( – Very informative article.

  30. 30) Discoveryellow
    August 5, 2015 at 11:35 am

    On my new U2515H I can see the difference between the two gradients while my laptop screen is showing the upper one almost the same way as lower image. Using built in Intel graphics card, DP cable, and Win7x64Pro.

    Now does that mean I can benefit from shotting 14-bit Nikon RAW or I can still save the trouble at 12-bit?

  31. 31) Michal
    August 7, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Hallo and thank you for this article.
    But, am I missing something or are you talking about 10bit display-output as wide gamut?
    I ask you because these are two different things (and while reading I had the impression that one can think 10bit and wg is the same).
    There are 10bit sRGB limited (>WLED-Backlit) panels that have the ability to display over 1 billion colors. As well as there could be a wide gamut displays (even 100% aRGB and more) using a 8bit panel. The benefit of 10bit is the possibility to displaye more colors WITHIN a color space, not to expand it, while of course displaying 10bit per chanel and wide gamut ideally should go hand in hand.
    Hope I did not missunderstand you, as my english is not perfect ;)
    btw and unlike NVIDIA, AMD consumer/gaming Graphiccards do support 10bit color output.

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