Should I Shoot in the Adobe RGB or sRGB Color Space?

Categories:

A lot of digital cameras offer the option of shooting in the sRGB or Adobe RGB color space; many also offer other variants such as "Natural sRGB" and "vivid sRGB." What's the difference? Perhaps more imporantly, which should you use?

I pondered over this for a few days and came to the conclusion it's really as simple as I first thought it was!

A Few Facts

  • Adobe RGB and sRGB are two differently-sized and -shaped color spaces. Think of sRGB like a 3-gallon bucket and Adobe RGB as a 4-gallon bucket; simply, Adobe RGB is larger and can hold more varied and different colors than sRGB.
  • If you shoot in the Raw file format, it doesn't matter what color space you set the camera to use. This gets overridden by the Raw conversion software, just like white balance does.
  • Adobe RGB will only be interpretted correctly by software that is color management-aware, such as Adobe Photoshop. If your image-editing or viewing software isn't color management-aware, shoot in sRGB so that colors are interpretted correctly.
  • File size is unaffected by color space choice.

Really, this is the only information you need to base a color space/shooting decision on. The Raw format should be the first choice, but sometimes (sports, for example) shooting JPEG is a better option. So if you shoot JPEG and use color management-aware software, shoot in the Adobe RGB color space. If your software isn't color management-aware, shoot in sRGB.

But, if you want some real-world proof to back up the facts, keep reading.

Comparisons with Raw Capture

This gamut plot from GretagMacbeth ProfileEditor shows that the blue ProPhoto RGB color space can hold more color information than Adobe RGB (yellow) or sRGB (white) can. Similarly, Adobe RGB can hold more color than sRGB.

How do results from each color space differ? I used Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw to convert Canon 20D Raw captures a few different ways. I opened an image using the ProPhoto RGB color space--a space notably larger than either sRGB or Adobe RGB--then used Photoshop's proofing and gamut-warning tools to create the below shots. Out-of-gamut colors are shown in bright green. "Out-of-gamut" means the color/detail wouldn't be captured or would be degraded from what it could be if recorded in that color space.

Below is a Raw-captured photo from the Klondike. On the left is the Adobe RGB soft-proofed image; on the right is the sRGB soft-proofed image. This photo contains colors that could not be captured by either sRGB or Adobe RGB, as evidenced by the bright-green out-of-gamut areas. The Raw file format was capable of capturing it, though, and thanks to the ProPhoto RGB space, I can extract that detail. It's obvious, however, that the sRGB space holds less color detail than the Adobe RGB image.

Below is an example from the Red-Tailed Hawks gallery. Obviously, this photo has much fewer colors, but that doesn't much affect the results: the Raw capture contains more information than the Adobe RGB space can handle (on the left), which contains more information than the sRGB space can handle (on the right).

These examples show that there are some colors that Adobe RGB can't capture and even more that sRGB can't capture; shooting Raw and using a larger color space is the only way to retain that detail. However, the number of colors affected are obviously very small. The purpose of these color spaces is not to determine what colors can be printed--whether your photo's purpose is to upload to the web, print a 4 × 6-inch snapshot, or even make a 16 × 20-inch framed print, the reason for using a larger color space is to capture the detail and have the ability to massage that detail into useful data. Simply printing an sRGB and Adobe RGB photo may yield little or no difference, but small Curves adjustments could bring out some extra detail to the Adobe RGB photo that isn't in the sRGB photo.

Working with a larger-gamut file incurs a little "penalty," however, for those who upload images to the web and make prints on the local Fuji Frontier (or similar) minilab printer: converting to the smaller sRGB space can result in a little color shifting. Using the Convert to Profile... option in the Image|Mode menu will let you preview the result and switching rendering intents between Perceptual and Relative Colorimetric often takes care of the problem easily; make an Action to do it for you even quicker.

And with all that said, my Canon 20D is set to use the Adobe RGB color space.

Share Your Thoughts ( Comments Already)

Older Comments (18)

Dan & Sherree & Patrick currently uses Facebook for comments. Older comments are still here for readers, though. Read old comments »

Hi, I like ur comment about Adobe and sRGB. until now , I still have doubt bout them but for me I find that sRGB is better than Adobe RGB. maybe my camera setting is wrong. I'm not to sure bout that.
good luck

I'm not going to make the mistake of saying one setting is better than another, but I believe that your bucket analogy is wrong.
AdobeRGB and sRGB actually have the same number of colors. The difference is that AdobeRGB has a wider, more spread out array of colors. The advantage to this is that there are some colors that AdobeRGB can display on the outside of the array which sRGB clips. But there is also an advantage to sRGB's tighter array of colors in that there is more subtle changes between it's colors.
A more appropriate analogy would be two boxes of crayons, each having let's say 64 crayons for simplification. AdobeRGB's box of crayons includes a larger variety of colors, including some neat ones like neon green that aren't in the sRGB box. But with the sRGB box, you get more variations in it's colors such as red, light-red, light-light-red, medium-light-red, etc., which aren't all present in Adobe's box of crayons.

Craig's comment is absolutely correct. AdobeRGB and sRGB have the same number of colors - they are just arranged differently. sRGB has finer graduation of the colors while aRGB offers a slightly wider selection of colors.

In virtually all cases sRGB is the only choice for web or email use. Also, most 1 hour photo labs assume all digital submittals are in the sRGB colorspace. Converting from one color space to another does result in a loss of quality. If you plan to use your photos only on the web or only print at Wal-mart (or similar) you should shoot in sRGB.

aRGB does have its place ... but that isn't in everyday photography.

I was taught the difference is simply this: Use sRGB for viewing and Adobe RGB for printing.
Neither is a problem for me as I always shoot Raw.

I've a pro photographer of over 30 years, I teach portraiture online at portranet.com.
Like so many things "digital" it's all numbers and really means very little. The proof is in the images and ease of getting great images.
I shoot with my Canon's set to sRGB - I teach my students the same, though we are shooting portraiture. (were more subtle varitions of the same colors are more important than "more colors". I teach workflow and color to pro photographers around the world and huge labs have asked me to teach their clients the simplicity of my workflow. Bottom line - use sRGB - edit and post sRGB. (wider, or narrower space?) you'll not see any difference in a print.

What happens when you use 16 bit adobe RGB instead of 8 bit sRGB? Wouldn't that give you a lot more crayons in the box AND more variations in its colors?
And a reaction on Charles Hubbard: why wouldn't this issue concern you when shooting RAW? RAW is just core-data, but to view/edit/print the picture, there has to be some form of conversion to one of the meantioned colorspaces. When you view a 'RAW-picture', it's always in a converted form. Never the mosiaced, linairgamma picture.

From all the reading I have done, I have also set my camera (Nikon D200) to the Adobe RGB settings. I normally shoot and then edit in Photoshop CS2-or 3. I get most of my prints (12x18 enlargments) at my local Costco. I have been getting GREAT results but here is what confuses me. While reading the specs from Costco for Professional Photographers they actually request that uploaded photos are send int sRGB. I havn't tried it yet but I can't imagine getting better results. Can you figure out why they want sRGB?

Both images are bleeding green, but for the RGB version it bleeds less.

i have done a lot of reading on this topic, & pretty much have felt i resolved the matter. at least for myself. but recently, the topic has surfaced again for me, cuz it has been brought to my attention that people like bryan peterson & many others recommend RGB.

the problem i have with this, while reading on the topic it was brought to my attention that ALL commercial printers can only read an sRGB file. so no matter what, an RGB file is converted previous to being printed. so while you can view the wider gamut available while working/viewing in PS (etc) all that is lost once converted to sRGB for printing.

the exception to this is if a printer is using offset printing for the print.

this point never seems to be addressed by any of these people & i would be very curious as to just what the response would be.

Well after reading all your comments I leave not feeling any less confused as to which color spacing to use... SIGH... I am finding this to be so with just about every digital photo question this newbie has had.. Very frustrating!

I get the impression that you will get a better result if you use adobeRGB in 16 bit format printed by a pro photo lab. If you going to post on the web or print at Walmart just use sRGB in 8 bit mode.

Actually, sRGB does NOT appear as intended in Firefox, so your statement that "if your image-editing or viewing software isn't color management-aware, shoot in sRGB so that colors are interpretted correctly" isn't quite accurate. However, Firefox 3 will be color-managed. I just wish older versions would simply evaporate when the new version is released so my photos would look the way I want them to when people view them. Ugh...

I got this to this article thru a google search today. After reading the article and all the opinions, I was no better off than the newby who wrote earlier. Then I did another google search and found this article at: http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/adobe-rgb.htm. I found it tremendously helpful (and I will no longer be using Adobe RGB)!

Nate,

Ken Rockwell is highly respected so I too visited the page you mention. The trouble is Ken takes takes too simplistic a view (he only considers fully saturated colours, for example) and puts across his therefore biased view in too patronising a manner. Shame on you Ken. I tried e-mailing him but received no reply.

I've used Adobe RGB and it gives better results if I do my own printing. However, in general sRGB is better if you send your file to be printed commercially.

I've standardised on shooting in RAW mode, which gives me a choice because none of the in camera processing, including the allocation of a colour profile, is applied to the RAW file. I archive away my RAW "digital negatives" and when I extract TIFF files from them I can choose either 8-bit sRGB or 16-bit Adobe RGB (16-bit per R, G and B to avoid the quantising errors Ken mentions). If I need a JPEG I always make sure it's sRGB.

My latest camera allows both RAW and JPEG files. Since Compact Flash cards are the cheapest they've ever been I make use of the facility to store a RAW file and a super-fine JPEG at maximum resolution with sRGB profile. That way I have even more choices. If I'm happy with the in camera processing and don't have the time to make adjustments I can use the sRGB JPEG. If I want to do any tweaking I have the RAW file and can choose either Adobe RGB or sRGB, depending on whether I'm going to do my own printing or not.

Hope this helps.

I suggest doing a google on Andrew Rodney.

I never knew anything about sRGB or ARGB until I spoke to a pro photographer. He makes a living of the wonderful photos in his gallery. I told him I couldn't get the colors he got with out adjust them heavily with my computer. He stated that my problem was I was shooting in sRGB. He set my camera at RAW ARGB making the camera make all the adjustments rather having to do it in the computer. Than a lessen on my histogram and how the scale should balance the exposer. I was shocked at the results. I always have said listen to the one who make a living at this. Greg

Thank you Dan/Sherree and John (02/23/09) and Greg (07/26/10)for your information/comments. My brain has been racked by so much grossly exhausting and ever-so-technical information trying to answer this digitally 'age-old' question. With all else I have found, read and tried to 'grok' - this (you three) sum it up the best for me! Thank you, thank you. PS: Ken Rockwell's info is great 99.3% of the time when one is tackling a camera/lens/concept for the first time. Simplistic though he may be, he really does fill a much needed niche out there...I'll give him that. IMHO.

I agree with John, above. Many people think it's crazy to shoot Adobe RGB Raw and jpg-Fine. If I get an opportunity to shoot some amazing Famous celebrity shots or unique event, I want to have all the color adjustment lattitude available. Depends on the kind of photography you're doing. Journalism, Sports, Models, Landscapes. Is the action moving fast and less predictably or are you in full control and set the pace and create the scene. My Monitor, video Adapter Card, Photoshop CS5, support Adobe RGB 1998 and so does my Epson 2880 Printer. So it is exactly "WYSYWIG", but only on my printer, for special, small quantity prints. Quality ink and paper is costly. Most everywhere else I have to convert to sRGB. I'm sure some large format comercial printing services do offer Adobe RGB, at a high price, which is the best for Art Gallery prints.

« Close old comments

Recommendations

Powered by the Patrick theme and Movable Type Pro!