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Not All Bits Are Created Equal

Tatiana A. Sedova, Bio-Rad Laboratories,
2000 Alfred Nobel Drive, Hercules, CA 94547 USA


Manipulating Bits A Gray Area
Scientific data collected with an imaging device can be true or altered. Alteration of imaged data is used to create an impression of more data retrieved than is actually collected. Altered data can be accomplished either through software or through digitization. Both methods are able to compress or spread out true data, but the bottom line is that the true data is not accurately represented after alteration.

In a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, bits represent the range of quantitative data obtained from an image. The data is recorded in distinct shades of gray ranging from absolute white to absolute black. The number of shades of gray is denoted by the bit number of a camera; an 8-bit camera has 28, or 256, distinct shades of gray, a 12-bit camera has 4,096 (212) shades of gray, and a 16-bit camera has 65,536 (216) shades of gray. Thus, a 16-bit camera is said to have a greater dynamic range than the 12- or 8-bit camera. For reference, the human eye is capable of distinguishing 64 levels of gray (that is, 26 ), whereas the computer monitor screen displays 256 levels (28 ); in other words, any image displayed by a computer will be 8-bit, but even though more data is available, we can only distinguish a quarter of it (Figure 1).

A higher-bit system is able to distinguish minute diff e rences in imaged data better than a lower-bit system. A 16-bit digital image is much deeper than a 12-bit and is there f o re more beneficial for quantitative analysis. This ability corresp
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