Choosing the Right Color Space

by | Jul 15, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras offer Color Space options that are completely different from their Color Balance settings that are used to adjust the camera’s color balance to match the light you’re shooting under so that it appears neutral. The Color Space options that are typically available in a DSLR or mirrorless camera’s custom settings are Adobe RGB and sRGB, so it seems simple, just pick one. But here’s the problem in a nutshell:

How I made this photo: The above photo was made at the San Diego Automotive Museum using a Canon EOS 50D and EF-S10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens with an exposure of 1/13 sec at f/4.5 and ISO 400. The Color Space used was Adobe RGB; the Color Balance setting was Auto White Balance.

sRGB (Standard RGB) was created in 1999 and its goal was producing color consistency between hardware devices. It defines a gamut* of colors that represents each color well and can be used by monitors, scanners, printers, and digital cameras. sRGB has been incorporated into most Internet browsers to make sure that the colors appearing on Web pages match the color scheme of the operating system. Because of the color consistency it creates, most hardware devices that work with images now use it as the default setting. All of which sounds very inviting, doesn’t it.

Adobe RGB is designed for photographers whose work may appear in print (or in prints) and offers a broader range of colors than sRGB. If you want to really make yourself crazy, you can Google “sRGB vs. Adobe RGB” and read opinions about these differences from a wide range of viewpoints. Being a pragmatist, I suggest that you shoot some tests, make some prints, look at some images on the web, especially your website, and then make up your mind. This is the kind of testing methodology that photographers used in the film days and it’s still valid today, even if the tools are a lot different.

*What’s a Gamut? In color reproduction, gamut represents a complete subset of colors that can be accurately represented under specific conditions, such as within a given color space or for a certain output device. Converting a digitized image to a different color space, can typically alter its gamut, i.e, some of the colors in the original will be lost in the process.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat me to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), please click here. And if you do, thanks so much.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.49 or used copies for around nine bucks from Amazon, as I write this. Kindle version, for some reason, is really expensive.