Color depth refers to how many variations of color the camera can capture, it is expressed in bits, with large values like 24 bits being excellent, and small values like 16bits being poor. A typical JPEG image can store up to 24bits of color variation (8 bits for each of red, green and blue), which is 16.7 million different colors (2^24).
Its important for a camera to have good color depth to get the richest possible color rendition in your images, which is often important for portraits or shooting products.
Snapsort uses measurements from DxOMark for color depth. DxOMark refers to the color depth score as color sensitivity. These measurements are only available for cameras that shoot RAW which includes all DSLRs and a few high-end point and shoots.
Great color depth
A beautiful macro shot captured using a Nikon D3X
DSLR. Photography by liber
via Flickr. f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 800, 50mm.
Color depth is measured by DxOMark based on the RAW images produced by the camera, not the final JPEG images. If you normally shoot in RAW, then you can be confident that these measurements will affect the color depth you'll see in your images. If you shoot JPEG though, there is further processing done by the camera once the image has been captured, which is not measured by these numbers, which may mean some cameras JPEG images are slightly worse or better than you'd expect.
12 bit and 14 bit RAW
Cameras are often advertised as capturing 12 bit or 14 bit RAW images. You might wonder how do these values correlate with the color depth of a camera. The 12 bit and 14 bit values are per-color values, e.g. 12 bits for each of red, green and blue, resulting in a possible 36 bits total, whereas color depth is measured in bits for each pixel (made up of the three colors). According to DxOMark's measurements though, even the best cameras only capture about 22 bits out of the possible 36 or 48 bits.
Comparing Color Depths
When Snapsort compares the color depth of two cameras it compares the number of colors captured, not the bits. Each additional bit doubles the number of colors.
Digital Cameras with Great Color Depth
The following compact cameras the best color depth we've seen, keep in mind that only a few compact cameras are measured.
Mirrorless Interchangeable-lens Cameras
The following mirrorless interchangable lens cameras have the best color depth we've seen.
Entry Level DSLRs
The following entry level SLRs have the best color depth.
The following Pro SLRs have the best color depth.