The nature of nanocrystalline inclusions and dopant distribution in bismuth-doped silicate fibers and preforms are studied by scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and energy and wavelength-dispersive X-ray microanalysis. The core compositions are Bi:SiO2, Bi:Al2O3–SiO2, Bi:GeO2–SiO2, Bi:Al2O3–GeO2–SiO2, and Bi:P2O5–Al2O3–GeO2–SiO2. Nanocrystals of metallic Bi, Bi2O3, SiO2, GeO2, and Bi4(GeO4)3 are observed in these glasses. These inclusions can be the reason for the background optical loss in bismuth-doped optical fibers. The bismuth concentration of 0.0048±0.0006 at% is directly measured in aluminosilicate optical fibers with effective laser generation (slope efficiency of 27% at room temperature).