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Not All Bits Are Created Equal

onds to the ratio of the number of gray levels between the two systems.

In a 12-bit camera, a change of 1 level of gray would correspond to a change of 16 (216/212=24) levels of gray in a 16-bit camera. Obviously a higher-bit system is more desirable, since the data output is much more sensitive to subtle differences within an image.


Alteration By Software with File Generation
The first and simplest way in which imaged data can be boosted is via software, which takes lower-bit data and converts it to a higher-bit file, and is known as x-bit file generation. Creating a higher-bit file distorts the actual data obtained. For example, in an image acquired with a 12-bit camera, one of the pixels might have a value of 2,000 on the gray-level scale with its range of 0 to 4,095. Converting that pixel into a 16-bit file would convert its value to 32,000 in a range of 0 to 65,535. This newly created image is read out as an impressive 16-bit file, but the data is falsely represented the file cannot contain any more information than the capacity of the 12-bit camera (Figure 2).


CCD Collection and Transfer
Another manner in which larger-bit images are generated is dependent on the way a CCD camera collects and transfers data. A CCD chip measures light intensity by generating and collecting electrons. The best analogy for a CCD chip is an array of electron-filled buckets called pixels (Figure 3). Each bucket has a certain depth; some are shallow and hold 15,000 electrons, others are able to contain 40,000 electrons, and some, up to 300,000 electrons. This capacity is the well depth of the chip.

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