It seems like the past year or so has been the year of the Bit. 8 Bit vs 10 Bit. Which new drone can shoot in 10 Bit, etc., etc.
For some, it might feel like a fad. For others, it might be essential. Whereas for most folks just getting into drones, 8-Bit or 10-Bit might be a foreign concept.
To the delight of many, the Mini 3 Pro (with a recent firmware release) joins an exclusive list of DJI Prosumer drones that can shoot in 10-bit:
- Mavic 3 Pro
- Mavic 2 Pro
- Air 2S
In the simplest terms, 10-bit color displays over a billion colors. We’ll be discussing what 10-Bit color actually is and why it might be a big deal for individuals looking to purchase a new DJI Mini 3 Pro.
What is Bit Depth (aka Color Depth)?
Bit depth, in this case, is applicable when shooting video. In film or video, bit depth (or color depth) is simply the amount of color and the variety of shades a camera can record in.
The higher the bit depth, the more colors can be used to enhance a video’s detail and visual quality. With this comes better and more realistically color-graded footage.
All digital cameras, whether a DSLR, Mirrorless, or Drone Camera, record color as RGB (Red, Blue, and Green). The differences between how much of this information is recorded boil down to that particular camera’s bit depth.
Videos recorded in 8-Bit utilize RGB using 256 colors per channel, meaning 8-Bit can display a little over 16 Million colors (16.7 Million to be exact).
In comparison, videos recorded in 10-Bit use 1024 color levels per channel, displaying over 1 billion colors (1.07 Billion). With all of this access to color and shades, footage can be more true to life.
Looking at the color comparison above between 8-bit and 10-bit, it is a bit easier (no pun intended) to visualize how shooting at a higher bit rate would make video footage look smoother and more color-realistic.
Is 10-bit color necessary?
As it stands now, most TVs and Monitors, Laptops, Tablets, and Smartphones have 8-Bit displays. This means that even if a video is shot in 10-Bit color depth, not all of those billion colors are being displayed on these devices.
As a matter of fact, the human eye can’t make a distinction between 8-bit and 10-bit images.
Regardless of whether our devices can display 10-bit or our eyes can differentiate between the two, shooting in 10-bit has its obvious advantages, to a very particular group of individuals, these being video editors and colorists.
Why Shoot in 10-bit Color?
If you are just planning on shooting in the Mini 3 Pro’s regular color profile and doing minimal to no color grading, then shooting in 8-bit is perfectly fine.
However, If you are a person that loves to edit video and color-grade video, or are providing professional video services, shooting in 10-bit is essential.
As a drone operator that provides an equal share of video and photos for our clients, I shoot everything in 10-bit, simply because of what was stated earlier, that higher bit rates make video footage look smoother and more color-realistic.
How is this so?
We’ll compare 8-bit footage to JPEG files and 10-bit to RAW files.
When a person takes JPEG photos on their smartphone (or digital camera or drone), they pretty much get their shot, and either do some minor adjustments in Lightroom, on their phone’s standard image editor, or even just in Instagram, and then post the picture to social media.
The files that are produced are decent sized, however, there isn’t much wiggle room to, say, bring back the details in the shadows or really manipulate the colors as much, without pretty much destroying the image.
Now, say the same person is shooting professional pictures, maybe headshots, real estate or landscapes to sell locally, then they would shoot in RAW format.
These files are at least 4+ times the size of JPEG files but contain a lot more information.
With this information, you can adjust everything about the photo, including bringing back the details in shadows and an array of color manipulation, providing a much more pleasing photo.
The same goes for shooting and editing either 8-bit or 10-bit color video.
While 8-bit does allow you to do some color grading, when you push the colors in the footage too much (especially in under-exposed clips, like those containing sunsets) noticeable banding and color artifacts are introduced.
On the other hand, shooting in 10-bit allows you to really push the color grading a bit further than 8-bit, without ruining the footage.
The benefit to shooting in 8-bit is that the file sizes are manageable and aren’t very taxing for the computers used to edit them. Shooting in 10-bit, however, will require a fair bit more storage and also computer processing power.
So, a good question to ask is whether the footage is going to be used casually for online media (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), or will it be used as a professional end product?
If you really want the best quality, however, shooting 10-bit is the way to go, regardless of where you are posting the videos.
Note: While 10-bit color-graded footage can look great, a lot more effort has to go into grading the footage for it to look that way.
10-bit on the Mini 3 Pro
We’ve seen what 10-bit color is and why it would be used. Now we will walk through the steps of enabling it on the Mini 3 Pro, as there is only one way to access it currently.
Like shooting in 10-bit on the Air 2S, in order to access this color depth on the Mini 3 Pro, you will need to be in the correct color mode or profile.
The Mini 3 Pro has 2 color profiles: Normal and D-Cinelike.
Normal color mode is just as it says. It is the normal (common) color mode where things recorded look pretty close to what you see at the time of flying.
Of course, there are some color nuances and color casts, however, this is based on the color science of the Mini 3’s camera. Different cameras have different color science, even among DJI’s line of drones.
One can generally shoot video, then, with minimal effort in a video editor, adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation, and white balance to taste.
D-Cinelike, on the other hand, is a fairly flat video color profile that is specific to higher-end DJI consumer/prosumer drones.
The D-Cinelike profile contains more information that can be modified and adjusted, along with being able to apply Cinema LUTs (lookup tables), for a more cinematic appearance.
It is when D-Cinelike is chosen, that the footage will be recorded in 10-bit. In addition to recording in D-Cinelike, you can choose either the h264 or h265 codec (high-efficiency video coding).
How to Record Video in 10-Bit D-Cinelike
- To shoot in 10-bit, ensure you are in video mode.
- Then click on the ellipsis (the 3-dot menu in the upper right-hand corner).
- Navigate to the Camera tab and scroll down to the Color section.
- There simply choose D-Cinelike and you are now all set to record in 10-bit color.
Areas of Caution
There are two areas of caution that I thought I’d specifically bring up, although mentioned in the article prior.
When speaking of color grading, we are referring to the process of bringing color and life to the fairly flat footage represented by the D-Cinelike 10-bit color profile.
Unlike the Normal color profile, the D-Cinelike profile takes quite a bit of work to get color and contrast back into. For some colorists, this could take hours to do on one video. Although it is a time-consuming job, the final product looks very nice.
Below is a screen capture of a clip of a Gulf Coast beach I shot with the Air 2S in the D-Log color profile (similar to the Mini 3 Pro’s D-Cinelike).
This color profile is also a flat, 10-bit color profile. Notice the amount of color that was pulled into the clip, without banding and artifacts.
If I had shot the above footage in the Normal color profile, I most likely would only have had to spend a 3rd of the time grading. Even though it takes longer to color grade, I shoot everything in D-Log, 10-bit, whether for client projects or just personal.
An often overlooked aspect of filming in 10-bit is processing power.
Filming in such a high color depth not only takes up added space on hard drives and SD Cards but also causes both PCs and Macs to work a little harder when processing the footage.
If you throw in shooting in the h265 codec, then that processing power and time go up slightly more.
If you have an older computer or if space/storage constraints are in place on said machine, you will most likely fare better shooting in the normal color profile, until you are able to get a faster and more powerful machine.
The inclusion of 10-bit color on the Mini 3 Pro is a huge deal for many.
This new color depth makes it even more possible to shoot and edit higher-end footage for clients, in a pinch or as a backup to a more powerful system, like the Mavic 3 Pro.
It’ll be interesting to see what creators will be able to produce with the Mini 3 Pro as it matures.