Bit Depth in Lightroom

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Today’s Question: Does Lightroom process RAW captures in a 16-bit per channel mode?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, RAW captures within Lightroom are processed within a 16-bit per channel workspace internally. Furthermore, the original RAW capture file is not directly modified when working within the Develop module in Lightroom.

More Detail: Lightroom provides a non-destructive workflow in the context of the Develop module, meaning your adjustments don’t affect the original image file on your hard drive. Therefore, in some respects you could say that the internal bit depth is not a significant factor, since it only really affects the preview you’re seeing in the Develop module while applying adjustments.

The effect of the higher bit depth really takes effect in the context of the final image you might share, whether that involves printing, presenting online, or simply creating a derivative image. It is at that point that the information within the original RAW capture (or other file type) is processed with the adjustment settings you’ve applied.

By using a 16-bit per channel mode internally, Lightroom helps ensure you will maintain the smoothest gradations of tone and color possible within your images. The resulting data is then used when you share your photo. If necessary, the original 16-bit per channel data may be converted to 8-bit per channel data if you have saved, for example a JPEG image. But by working in a 16-bit per channel space internally, that final image will be of the highest quality possible.