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01-08-2010, 10:40 PM   #1
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Regarding Adobe RGB

The K-7 is my first DSLR. I've always been fascinated with photography, and recently started learning more about it. I eased into it with my previous compact super zoom (Canon S3 IS), and figured I was finally ready to take the plunge into a real camera system. Things were going well, my skills have been improving, and I continue to learn every day. I've taken thousands of pictures with my K-7 over the last month alone, and I feel like I'm getting a better eye for composition and such. But one thing kept bugging me about my pictures. I'd look at the shots taken by other people on this forum, and many of them took my breath away. By comparison, my pictures felt bland and lifeless. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get scenes to "pop" properly. At first I blamed my inexperience, I figured I must not have the camera set right, but nothing I did helped. My pictures continued to come out bland and lifeless despite the awesome things I was trying to capture.

What was I doing wrong?

When I first got my K-7, the first thing I did while wading through the menu was switch the color space from sRGB to Adobe RGB. Years and years of reading about the "larger color space" provided by Adobe RGB conditioned me into thinking that anything else would be inferior. Since all the applications I use are color management-aware, I figured I would benefit from this wider color space by preserving it throughout my workflow, right up until the printing process. Even the K-7 manual brags about the "expanded color space" provided by Adobe RGB.

What the heck was I thinking? I feel like such an idiot now!

I finally did some reading into what exactly Adobe RGB does. Turns out it's not as simple as all the articles I read led me to believe. It's not just an expanded color space, it's a compressed color space meant to fit within the constraints of the standard method used by computers to interpret color. It's intended to provide closer compatibility with the final output of a professional photograph: the 4-color printer. While Adobe RGB does contain a wider range of color information, that wider range is completely useless for mere mortals like me. And since most applications can't take advantage of it, it results in bland, washed-out colors when displayed on a screen. 99% of the pictures I take get displayed on a screen.

On top of that, the difference in printed output (if one manages to maintain the Adobe RGB profile throughout the workflow) is minimal at best. I can't actually tell the difference by looking. Most places that print pictures don't even care, they use sRGB too. And when those places try to print a picture with an Adobe RGB profile, the picture comes out as bland and lifeless as it does on the monitor.

So last night I changed my camera's setting back to sRGB, and it was like magic. All of a sudden, the bland lifelessness was gone. My pictures POPPED, everything looked great! I'm not suddenly a better photographer, but I feel much more encouraged to continue learning. It's like I broke down a barrier that was preventing me from progressing.

I'm not saying Adobe RGB is useless. It has its place in the professional world where the workflow and equipment can support it, and where the tiny improvement in final result is desired. But for me? It's a completely useless complication. It is NOT like the difference between shooting RAW and JPG. Not even close.

After learning this, I decided to go out and take pictures of the same scenes I got last week. Here are some comparison shots:

This is with Adobe RGB:


And this is one week later with sRGB (and slightly different white balance):


This if with Adobe RGB:


And this is one week later with sRGB:


This is with Adobe RGB:


And this is one week later with sRGB:


And this is probably most telling of all. I just took these shots in my basement with a tripod. The camera was set to Manual mode. White balance was set manually with a white card. Aperture is F4.0, shutter speed is 1/4, ISO is 100. Focal length is 58mm using a DA* 50-135mm. Both pictures use the EXACT same settings with one difference. The first is in Adobe RGB color space, the second is in sRGB.




And here are some 100% crops of details that really struck me:

The sRGB shot is on the left, and the Adobe RGB shot on the right. Notice the brilliance of the green. The orange of the pool table looks bright and colorful on the left, but drab and boring on the right. The sRGB one is much closer to the real thing, I'd even say identical.


Again, sRGB on left, Adobe RGB on right. Notice how the dummy's skin tone is much deeper in the sRGB version. It's all washed out and pale on the Adobe RGB side. Again, the sRGB version is closer to the real-life view.


And finally, notice how green the pine needles are on the left (sRGB) compared to the right (Adobe RGB). The red also stands out more, and really shows off the light that's shining on it. The red on the Adobe RGB side looks darker, but not very eye-catching.


I realize this post is rather long and already has a lot of pictures, but I've got one last example to show. This is another "studio" shot in my basement. One half of the picture is in Adobe RGB, the other in sRGB. Can you tell which is which? There's a straight vertical line near the middle, it goes right through the polar bear badge near the bottom of the bag.


Again, I'm not dismissing Adobe RGB's usefulness for professionals. But for the vast majority of us, it's nothing but a hindrance.

edit: You can easily see these same results for yourself on your camera, especially with the VGA screen on the K-7. Just take two shots of the same thing, one with sRGB and one with Adobe RGB, and flip between them to see the difference. The camera's display cannot take advantage of Adobe RGB at all.


Last edited by GoremanX; 01-09-2010 at 12:22 AM.
01-08-2010, 11:02 PM   #2
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Indeed, if you look at pictures on the screen, aRGB is the wrong setting.
I guess what most people would recommend is shooting RAW, then export as sRGB jpg for the screen, and aRGB jpg for advanced printers who can handle it.
Some of us, though, have become very accustomed to the limited range of sRGB (which includes most colours anyway) and do not see a huge advantage in using aRGB. You trade off wideness of the gamut for spacing of the colours.
01-09-2010, 01:56 AM   #3
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Frank, that is a seriously interesting series of comparisons and horrifying example of the difference in colour tones.
I am about to try the same experiment with my cameras, I can't remember what they are set to but it might explain why my other half complains her colours look dull compared to mine.
the other setting to look at that make a huge difference is the image tone setting,
a test using the 2 rgb and tone settings will I think throw up some interesting differences in colour rendition.
BTW while in all the other test shots I can see a differnce in the last rucksack one I can't see any thing, is it my old eyes??
Alistair
in a snowy and very cold Bristol

Last edited by adwb; 01-09-2010 at 11:02 AM.
01-09-2010, 08:09 AM   #4
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did you change what color space your monitor was displaying between pictures too? How can you compare sRGB in sRGB color space to aRGB in sRGB color space. That hardly seems fair! You should really compare prints. Print in sRGB and aRGB with a printer that can handle both color spaces. You will have to set and calibrate the printer inbetween prints

01-09-2010, 08:59 AM   #5
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Simply put, AdobeRGB is meant to capture a fuller range of colors so you have more room to maneuver when you retouch. Its like RGB vs. CMYK in that regard except this time its the capture of colors instead of the printing of them.

The downside is that web browsers and some image viewers only display in sRGB. What's worse, if you view an AdobeRGB pic in a browser it'll try to "guess" where the colors fall or give you the least saturated range of colors just to fall in range.

You're better off using sRGB in most cases. If you get your prints sent off to labs they'll ask for sRGB most of the time too. The "save for web" function in Photoshop can convert them for you safely. You'll see the "pop" in your images that you were looking for.

I'm glad you at least tried out AdobeRGB to see how it works for you. It may become more practical in your future.
01-09-2010, 09:24 AM   #6
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I keep sayin goit but no one listends, aRGB is useless (even worse) unless you have an argb capable display, argb capable printer, argb capable paper etc etc etc and then you STILL need to ensure the image you create for web display is set to sRGB because most browsers don't support aRGB.

People keep saying I am nuts but again, it's about the workflow.
01-09-2010, 09:54 AM   #7
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This thread should be a sticky. Thanks for the comparison! I came to the same conclusion after about 3000 clicks.

Worse still, I only just realized the saturation setting on my camera was set two notches below centre. Luckily I work mostly in RAW.
01-09-2010, 11:47 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by enoeske Quote
did you change what color space your monitor was displaying between pictures too? How can you compare sRGB in sRGB color space to aRGB in sRGB color space. That hardly seems fair! You should really compare prints. Print in sRGB and aRGB with a printer that can handle both color spaces. You will have to set and calibrate the printer inbetween prints
a) Very few monitors can actually display in Adobe RGB, and those that do tend to cost a fortune. Regardless, if the application you're viewing the image with is not Adobe RGB aware (like most web browsers at their default setting), then an Adobe RGB monitor doesn't do squat.

b) Why should I compare prints? I almost never print my pictures! Even if I did, all the local picture printers print in sRGB anyways, so any Adobe RGB pictures I give them would come out like the comparison shots above. WalMart, Costco, even the local photography store that sells Pentax equipment, none of them print using Adobe RGB.

c) Having said that, I HAVE compared the difference. I've opened an Adobe RGB picture directly in Photoshop CS2 and printed it on an Adobe RGB-capable printer. Then I did the same thing with an sRGB picture using the same printer. This was on an HP Photosmart Pro B8800, which supports both color spaces. The result? Practically identical. There was a minute difference in the greens on the cap of the bottle, but I couldn't tell you which one looked "better". One was just a slightly different shade.

01-09-2010, 11:55 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by adwb Quote
BTW while in all the other test shots I can see a differnce in the last rucksack one I can't see any thing, is it my old eyes??
in a snowy and very cold Bristol
It could be your eyes, or it could be the monitor settings you use. The right half is in sRGB. Remember, the separation line is perfectly vertical across the picture, but the bag sits at a slight angle. If you look just to the left of the upper strap at the top of the bag, you should see a difference in the blues there. The right side looks more vibrant than the left. Also, the polar-bear medallion is split right down the middle. At higher resolutions (like my original pictures), the right side of the medallion looks bright and colorful, but the left side looks bland. But it's not as obvious in this 800px wide picture.

edit: here's a 100% crop of that bag picture again, but just the polar bear medallion this time. The differences might be more obvious this way. The right side is sRGB, and the left side is Adobe RGB.

Last edited by GoremanX; 01-09-2010 at 12:39 PM.
01-09-2010, 03:33 PM   #10
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You do know that if you take shots in Adobe RGB, then upload them to the web and view them in a browser they will look terrible and washed out? Be careful that this isn't the effect you're seeing in your original post, browsers will ignore the Adobe RGB embedded profile and display a washed out, pale and desatured shot. What happens when you take your Adobe RBG shots, convert them to sRGB then view them?

I shoot everything in Adobe RGB as it has a wider colourspace, however when I upload my shots to the web or send them off for printing then I convert the colour profile within Adobe Photoshop to sRGB. It really depends if you can be bothered doing that, I'd prefer to capture the widest gamut then convert down when required.
01-09-2010, 04:37 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Big G Quote
You do know that if you take shots in Adobe RGB, then upload them to the web and view them in a browser they will look terrible and washed out? Be careful that this isn't the effect you're seeing in your original post, browsers will ignore the Adobe RGB embedded profile and display a washed out, pale and desatured shot.
Well... yeah... that's kinda the whole point. That's exactly what this post is about, the result of taking pictures in Adobe RGB and viewing them with an application that doesn't support color management (like most web browsers). As a prime example, your camera's LCD screen doesn't support Adobe RGB. Your computer monitor probably doesn't either.

QuoteOriginally posted by Big G Quote
What happens when you take your Adobe RBG shots, convert them to sRGB then view them?
Then the picture looks like I took it in sRGB to begin with. Again, that's the whole point. Most monitors cannot display in Adobe RGB color space. So even if the picture was taken in Adobe RGB to begin with, when I view it in Photoshop CS2, it looks the same as the picture shot in sRGB.

QuoteOriginally posted by Big G Quote
I shoot everything in Adobe RGB as it has a wider colourspace, however when I upload my shots to the web or send them off for printing then I convert the colour profile within Adobe Photoshop to sRGB. It really depends if you can be bothered doing that, I'd prefer to capture the widest gamut then convert down when required.
Now tell me; since the result of all your pictures is always sRGB anyways (you stated so yourself), then what exactly does "working" in Adobe RGB gain you? I keep hearing about the expanded colorspace it provides, but I see no results. I just spent an hour working on my 2 Dummy Santa pictures in Photoshop CS2. I made the exact same adjustments to saturation, contrast, brightness, levels and all kinds of other things. I made a total of 10 adjustments to each picture. In both cases, each picture responded the same way. The end results were exactly the same. One didn't have a better tonal gradient than the other. Neither showed more color than the other. And when I printed the edited pictures, I couldn't spot any differences. So what did I gain by wasting my time doing this? The expanded colorspace did not make my pictures look better. It did not give my adjustments better results. It did not preserve or enhance any of the colors. Photoshop processes color internally with the WHOLE colorspace anyways, it doesn't limit itself to the document's colorspace.

Not only that, but converting from Adobe RGB to sRGB introduces chroma noise into the picture that would not be there if the picture was shot in sRGB to begin with. Adobe RGB is a compressed colorspace format, and making it fit into the sRGB space instead tends to drop some information.
01-09-2010, 04:42 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by jboyde Quote
The "save for web" function in Photoshop can convert them for you safely. You'll see the "pop" in your images that you were looking for.
Actually I just tried this in Photoshop CS2 and it does not work. The exported picture from an Adobe RGB document ends up looking bland. The exported picture from an sRGB document retained all its color.
01-10-2010, 09:04 AM   #13
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I thought colour space was assigned in JPG or TIFF but not in RAW images? If so, how can you 'work' in aRGB or sRGB? It's surely just a matter of what you convert your image to after working on the RAW file yes?
01-10-2010, 09:30 AM   #14
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I feel your pain, Frank. When I first started with my digital camera in 2007 I read the plethora of topics in various places praising using Adobe RGB or (also Adobe) ProPhoto RGB, and I had very similar experiences to what you were having. I was confused why I was getting great results when I was using slide film, but now that I had gone to digital my stuff looked blah.

I finally realized excactly what you did after a few months: I print online, otherwise my final images are viewed on the screen or the web, and most of the printers want sRGB anyway, it's easier to stick with sRGB. Less confusion in the end, since I don't use or plan on buying my own CMYK printer capable of taking advantage of aRGB gamut. Incidentally I have never felt "limited" by the range of colors.
01-10-2010, 09:46 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by Alfisti Quote
I thought colour space was assigned in JPG or TIFF but not in RAW images? If so, how can you 'work' in aRGB or sRGB? It's surely just a matter of what you convert your image to after working on the RAW file yes?
Colourspace is assigned as part of raw conversion.
The OP has become aware that he doesn't know very much about colour management, but he doesn't yet understand how very little he understands, and so he is blaming the wrong thing.
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