sRGB vs Adobe RGB
Which One Should You Shoot With?
Like most topics in digital photography or digital image printing, there are always a few "experts" who try to set the record straight and tell you how you should do things... or else they think you are just wrong or missing out on achieving top quality images. First Off, I will say that when you have to tell me you are an "expert" at something.. I already take off "coolness points", since you are basically saying you are doing things as right-as-possible and thus have superior work to show from it.

Finally I heard one-too-many experts the other day talking about sRGB (standard RGB) and Adobe RGB in your camera and printing. And he pretty well stood in front of the seminar attendees and dismissed any ideas that you should ever shoot in Adobe RGB. Thus claiming he could look at your images and tell you if you were using Adobe RGB since your reds would not be as vivid. Sure maybe in an unprocessed JPEG, but I add so much noise and custom saturation levels that I can't even tell which camera I used much less the color space.

In fact there is no 1 color space that is absolutely correct to shoot in. More of what color space you should shoot will depend on what you do with your work after you have captured the image. Especially if you are targeting your images for the web, commercial lab prints or for Giclée printing.

One big fact to consider is that sRGB is a standard RGB color space created cooperatively by HP and Microsoft in 1996 for use on monitors, printers and the Internet. Yes, that date is correct, in 1996 when we didn't have anything nearly as good as the output devices we now have. Even most all consumer ink-jet printers now have 6 colors and much finer print resolutions, than even the printers from 2006.
The overall assumption in the sRGB camp is that if you can't print that many colors, then why capture them. (or something like that)

One major misrepresented idea in this debate is that the Adobe RGB has "more colors" than sRGB. First off that is not possible mathematically but just seems that way visually. Digital is only zeros and ones and creates the illusion of a full spectrum of colors. AdobeRGB represents a wider range of colors. How much better is this? AdobeRGB is able to represent about 35% more color ranges than sRGB is able to. Does that make it the best for photography? Not exactly, as the world works with sRGB far more places than it does with people & places using the AdobeRGB color space.

The Math Says It All
There are only so many combinations of number mixing, but in the end you still get 256/256/256. In "8-bit depth" with just 256 possible values in each channel, multiplied the possibilities of all three channels together, and on any calculator you should get 16.7 million total colors. In fact possibly more than the human eye can differentiate.

Different color spaces allows for you to use a broader or narrower range of those 16.7 million colors used in an image. The difference lies within what is considered wider and narrower color spaces. Adobe RGB colors are further apart from one another than are those in sRGB. The colors are more widely spaced, since the quantity available is the same as in sRGB but they have to cover a wider gamut.

To save on feeding you more data about the differences in the two color spaces, you can summarize the difference as being: sRGB having a slightly more saturated and higher contrast appearance. You will see a faster change of color shades in sRGB and so the whites will seem a bit whiter and the darks a bit darker resulting in a lesser amount of possible shades than sRGB is able to capture.

Since images shown on the web, TV or other type display that almost solely use sRGB color space, you will not get as vivid (mostly saturation & contrast) of an image in Adobe RGB on the web. In my case however, my first priority when I even snap the shutter is that the image will go to print using wide gamut inks in my Giclée printer.

As for image preparation, I would prefer to have to larger color gamut originally and can always downgrade the image for use on the web or computer screen. Sometimes I don't always go through the steps to convert my Adobe RGB images to sRGB in an more accurate conversion since my main purpose is to have the image captured for print.

You may be Converting Color Spaces 3 or 4 times before it hits the web.
As I began to study this debate, I needed to first capture sets of shots (using a tripod preferably) using both color spaces so that the RAW file in the camera was assigned sRGB and a duplicate image I captured again in Adobe RGB.

I then realized what would happen in either way I open the file. The main reason is that many products may default to converting the file to Adobe RGB, especially if you open your RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw. You will need to go into the preferences and turn off any conversion or color space operations. If you have never looked at what your digital darkroom programs color settings are, well then you might want to have a look.

And for the least chance of Adobe interference I opened the images using the Nikon NX 2 software with color space management turned off so that the file would open in the color space it was captured at. I then saved a .tiff file of the subsequent images keeping the same color space (which is now technically a profile) of the original. And of course, don't forget that your monitor also displays from a profile that could also be quite different than the numbers you originally captured.

So you can see already what train wreck is still ahead for your images original color space. You shot it in sRGB, then it opened in Photoshop or Light Room into Adobe RGB without realizing it, then you save it as a jpeg converting it back to sRGB, then you upload to FaceBook... and OMG you know what happens then.

Both of these shots captured at ISO 400 - f/25 - 1/50th
Click Here to see images at 100% pixel size
sRGB Adobe RGB

I chose not to exaggerate the sample images to try and show you the difference. If you don't see it here I will tell you that the only noticeable difference in looking at the images in Photoshop side by side is in the image on the left shot in sRGB. As it seems to have just a tiny bit more saturation and due to its less possible colors, it has more contrast and the highlights are more noticeable, therefore making the image seem to "pop" a little more.

Already to mix things up... your monitor, brand of web browser and seating position in front of the monitor probably caused you to view these images in a color space they were not even close to actually being in. So don't just take in the details you know about a color space, also look at the conditions you view that space in.

As in the Adobe RGB image shown on the right, you see a much smoother gradation of colors. A fact that really plays heavy into printing or just viewing. You would always want to be able to have more of a color gamut available to print, why throw limits on the file before you even print it.

You can also see example images at 100% pixel size by clicking here.

Don't Give The Color All The Credit
Even though you are most likely not going to see a color space difference in these two images on the screen, you can in fact see from the smoother gradients in the Adobe RGB image, that it tends to look a little sharper but yet is a little bit "flatter" due to the need to display more colors in the gamut and that just leaves less amount of space alloted to the whites.

I also captured a scene in some very harsh light with a slow shutter speed of 1/8 second. With the idea in mind of having a rather short dynamic range and over hot highlights with super dense shadow in the same scene to see how the two different color spaces render the scene. Mostly it is the smoother transitions in the grays and shadow areas that you see the Adobe RGB has a much smoother range of colors.
sRGB Adobe RGB
Click Here to see images at 100% pixel size
Confused Now?
Well... you should be, because the color space on your image you captured sure is confused, now that you have it open in LR or PS. Fortunately for me, I have found that the work-flow I have been using since first going to digital capture in 2003 is consistent and I usually am pleased with results I get from the time I open my RAW file till the time it comes rolling out of the Giclée printer.

But even if I had also shot with sRGB from the beginning, and been consistent in all my color management , then I would also have consistent results. Although it may be slightly more difficult to print, since sRGB can produce colors that most printing devices except "hifi" printers can not print.

I capture in RAW - Adobe RGB Color Space.
Open the File with Adobe Camera RAW - into Adobe RGB.
From that point on it stays a Photoshop File (PSD).
I print from Photoshop and save off different versions for web use for sRGB.
All printing and processes to output onto canvas or fine art paper, It still remains in Adobe RGB Color Space.

It is imperative to me that what I see on the monitor is the exact colors I get out of the printer and thats what I like about a consistent work-flow, know matter what someone else thinks you should do. And to sum it all up you can pretty well assume to use sRGB if your primary use will be web or TV and Adobe RGB if your intent is for print. Since my intent is for making gallery prints, then I capture in the Adobe RGB Color Space. Which means I have to tweak the same image to display on the web as well. But it is a easier task to make a great sRGB image from an Adobe RGB image. But no so if you try to make a Adobe RGB image from an sRGB original.

On the other side, you could also always capture in sRGB and keep that color space throughout the process. It is more about the consistency that will get you pixels you want and not settle for pixels you get.

To finalize this entire debate.. we can say that if you develop for the web or screen production, then sRGB will suit you better. If you want to primarily print your images then you would want to use Adobe RGB. But in the end... neither one is more correct than the other.

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