sRGB or Adobe RGB

I shoot raw with an EOS 50D. I display my pictures pretty much exclusively on the Web as JPEGs, and almost never print them. I import, edit, and catalog raw files in Adobe Lightroom 2.4 on a Mac with OS X 10.5. Of course many people who view my pictures use Linux and Windows as well.

What color space should I choose? sRGB or Adobe RGB, and when does this make a difference?

Most of the pros I’ve consulted use Adobe RGB, but I suspect they’re mostly thinking about print. Cambridge in Colour says, “Why not use a working space with the widest gamut possible? It is generally best to use a color space which contains all colors which your final output device can render (usually the printer), but no more. Using a color space with an excessively wide gamut can increase the susceptibility of your image to posterization. This is because the bit depth is stretched over a greater area of colors, and so fewer bits are available to encode a given color gradation.” Since I’m focused on onscreen display, this suggests I should shoot sRGB. This thread at Flickr agrees.

Given that I shoot raw, does the camera setting matter at all? Or can I somehow set this when I import from Lightroom? According to Ron Bigelow, “The raw file has not had a color space assigned to it. Rather, this generally occurs at the time of the conversion. Thus, shooting in raw provides color space flexibility. The photographer can choose the color space that best matches the color space of the device that will be used to present the image. This is especially advantageous when the photograph will be used with more than one output device. In this case, the photographer can perform a separate conversion for each application, individually selecting the color space for each use.” Internally, Lightroom always uses ProphotoRGB, according to Lessons in DSLR Workflow with Lightroom and Photoshop. So it doesn’t sound like I have much choice here.

Why do photos that look great on my Mac look sort of crappy color-wise on Linux? Will this change in Snow Leopard? 10.6 is changing the gamma from 1.8 to 2.2. Does this mean all the old photos will start to look bad?

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5 Responses to “sRGB or Adobe RGB”

  1. Bob Lee Says:

    Definitely export for the web using sRGB. Firefox doesn’t support Adobe RGB, so the photos look crappy; this is probably why you think they look crappy on Linux. Ideally, all the browsers would support Adobe RGB. As an alternative, it would be cool if Flickr could re-encode your images automatically so it could serve sRGB to FF users and the nicer Adobe RGB images to Safari users.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    OK, so there’s something to think about I hadn’t even considered: what color space Lightroom chooses when it *exports* photos. Thanks.

  3. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    After checking my export presets, it seems Lightroom is exporting in sRGB, so that’s not the problem. I think maybe I need to check the gamma, or is sRGB supposed to take care of that? I.e. is a JPEG with an embedded sRGB profile supposed to look the same on any reasonable calibrated monitor regardless of gamma?

  4. Dolan Halbrook Says:

    Although it sucks, if you want the photos you edit on your Mac to appear like they will to most of the online world, calibrate your monitor (create a ColorSync profile for it) around 2.2 gamma, and use the sRGB color space. This has been my setup for quite a while, and I’ve been pretty happy with it. If you care about color and tone accuracy in printing, then you might want to check out the other options.

  5. Romain Guy Says:

    Keep Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB when editing your pictures and export in sRGB.

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