Watch: Bit Depth Explained in Just 3 Minutes

8 bit? 10 bit? 12 bit? What's all the fuss about?

If you're a new filmmaker, you've most likely done a little bit of homework on the ins and outs of your camera. You know what resolution is, you get the gist of dynamic range, you even understand the difference between different sensor sizes, as well as each of their advantages and disadvantages. But just when you thought you had a grasp on the fundamentals of important camera features, this little spec peaked its head out and confused the hell out of you: bit depth.

Don't worry. It's not the most complicated aspect of imaging but it is one that isn't often talked about among first-timers. So, if you're eager to learn about bit depth, this video from Videomaker explains the basics in just three minutes. Check it out below:

So, what is bit depth? Well, essentially it determines the range of possible colors your camera is capable of capturing. The higher the bit depth, the higher the number of possible colors your camera is able to capture, which means smoother gradations and less (or no) color banding. However, the higher the bit depth, the larger the files, which means a higher need for storage space and possibly a more powerful computer to handle all of the data.

Keep in mind, though, that even if you go with a camera whose file formats support higher bit depths, that doesn't necessarily automatically translate to amazing image quality. There are many other factors that play a role in both gamut and color depth, including color sampling and data rate.

If you're still confused about whether or not you need a camera that offers high bit depth, keep these things in mind. 

  1. Color banding is ugly.
  2. Can you handle all that extra data?
  3. Higher bit depth affords you more latitude during color grading.

Hopefully, this primer on bit depth gave you enough information to look into the color specifications of the cameras you're interested in purchasing, or to even understand the one you already have in a deeper way.     

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Your Comment


Nice simply overview of bit depth. I'd love to see an explanation of color sampling and bit depth combined given that 8 bit 4:2:2 is possible. How does that help compared to 8 bit 4:2:0 (or does it help at all) given the bit depth hasn't changed.

July 26, 2018 at 6:46AM

You voted '+1'.
Craig Seeman
Editor / Camera Operator

4:2:2 or 4:2:0 are about color compression, I found all the answers about that in this video tutorial
hope it helps

September 7, 2021 at 6:33AM, Edited September 7, 6:32AM

Redzinald Simek

Well done. Very nice, simple explanation...but I agree with Craig Seeman, it really kicks off more opportunities for discussion.

July 30, 2018 at 12:10PM, Edited July 30, 12:10PM

Garrett Evans
Relevant Video Design

Hard to focus on the message because of the super busy background ... either blur it much more or increase your depth of field so your eyes are continually trying to "fix" the image. Second nit pic is ... let get some soft beauty lighting in here ... those 2 distinct lights in each eye are distracting .... picky ..yes ..but i expect more from Videomaker .... you guys are better ! ... on another not ... i agree with the other guys here ..... it would be great to take this subject a bit more into the weeds.

August 25, 2018 at 5:10PM, Edited August 25, 5:10PM