My new Nikon D5100 camera can be set either for sRGB or for Adobe RGB colour space. Which do you recommend?

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August 1, 2011 at 9:00 am  •  Posted in Q&A by  •  2 Comments

My new Nikon D5100 camera can be set either for sRGB or for Adobe
RGB colour space. Which do you recommend? Is the choice influenced by the editing software used? I own Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.

—Samuel R.

This is a common camera feature these days, Samuel. In fact, all current DSLR cameras and some compact digicams include a menu item that allows for selecting Adobe RGB colour space. Still, sRGB remains the default setting because this colour space is “universal”: ideal for computer monitors, Web browsers and so on. Most print-making services (including on-line photofinishers) have standardized on sRGB  because that is the colour space that 95% of their customers use. Such images are also fine—if not ideal—for making ink-jet photo prints.

For the best possible ink-jet prints, you'll definitely want to use the Adobe RGB colour space option in the camera and in your software. Readers who own professional software and a printer that supports ProPhoto RGB and 16-bit printing might want to convert images to this colour space after downloading them to a computer.

The Adobe RGB option was designed to encompass the broader range (or wider gamut) of colors that can be printed using certain printers, including the ink-jet machines. (Do note that the full term for this colour space is Adobe RGB 1998.) When printing from an image in Adobe RGB, such printers will provide slightly richer cyan-green mid tones, a bit more detail in dark green tones and more pleasing orange-magenta highlights (as in a sunset photo). For additional technical specifics, review the article here. In truth, the difference is very subtle, not likely to be noticed by the vast majority of people.

So, as you see, the choice of colour space that you select in the camera is not really based on the brand of imaging software that you use. Most programs support both, although some of the inexpensive entry level programs do not; they would automatically convert any Adobe RGB images to sRGB.

Images made in sRGB colour space are ideal for display on virtually any computer monitor. Only a few very expensive monitors for graphic arts professionals—such as the NEC PA271W-BK-SV—can display nearly the entire colour gamut available in the Adobe RGB 1998 colour space.

Note: There is another colour space, used by some serious imaging enthusiasts and professionals who own pro software. You can find additional information about this in an article entitled Understanding ProPhoto RGB.

If you often make ink-jet prints, it makes sense to set the camera to the Adobe RGB colour space. Later, if you decide to use some of the images on the Internet, you can convert them to sRGB if you prefer the very slightly different look provided by that colour space. Also, if ordering prints from a mass production lab, you may be required to make the conversion to sRGB.

2 Comments

  1. Aaron / August 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm / Reply

    I always get a little worried when people try to summarize this topic in a ‘simple’ or brief blog post as the nature of the question goes far deeper. All I will mention at this point, as a sample of the complexity, is that you’ve actually contradicted yourself in at least one spot in your post. In paragraph 1, you said in reference to sRGB “Such images are also fine—if not ideal—for making ink-jet photo prints.” Yet, in addition to a number of other references including your posted image captions, in your final paragraph you indicated that “If you often make ink-jet prints, it makes sense to set the camera to the Adobe RGB colour space.”

    In fact, your first paragraph alone is a good summary of what the general consumer needs to know about the topic – it may very well have said all that was needed for this type of a blog entry. It’s worth while pointing out that the “s” in “sRGB” stands for “screen” – it is the standardized display mode – as you indicated. Without bringing up the much more complicated discussion of soft proofing and workflow calibration, it’s safest to summarize for people that, even if one shoots in Adobe 98, they are still generally viewing their images as sRGB throughout the workflow, unless they know they are dealing with specialized equipment, workflow processes, certain high-end ink-jet printers, and high-end print labs (with high-end ink-jet and chromira-type LED photographic printers)

    Just my thoughts — hats off for trying to find a simple answer to a complex question! 🙂 I deal with this question in pretty much every Lightroom and Photoshop class I teach, and often in a lot of the shooting classes as well, and I pretty much stick to your first paragraph plus a bit more, unless I’m in a class where more advanced info is a logical part of the curriculum.

    Cheers!

  2. Richard Berry / August 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm / Reply

    It is worth noting that the colour space is only applied to JPEG files and not to RAW files. A RAW file needs to be converted in post processing and it is at this stage that a colour space is chosen.

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