9 Dec 2016

Photography Experiment: Gamut Doesn't Seem to Matter

Many Apple devices released in the last year or so support wide color. They can display colors that most other devices don't. This is part of the reason why the iMac 5K's screen looks so amazing — not just its huge size and super high resolution (5120 pixels wide).

Here's a test image that tells you whether the device you're reading this on supports any color outside sRGB. If it does, you can see a logo in it. If not, you see a solid block of red:

Indeed, I can see the logo on my iMac 5K and iPhone 7 Plus. And, interestingly, on my old Nexus 5, which supports 105% of sRGB. That 5% makes all the difference. But I can't see the logo on my 13-inch iPad or iPad Air 2, which are limited to sRGB.

This is all good, but how do you make use of wide gamuts in your photography? When you export photos, export them to the P3 gamut. But does it make any difference in practice?

To find out, I exported a photo to P3:

And again to sRGB:

I couldn't find any difference between the two, even zoomed in. I opened them in two tabs in Chrome, zoomed and panned exactly to the same place, and switched back and forth between them. This generally makes small differences stand out, but there were none. To verify that this isn't caused by a color management bug in Chrome, I repeated the test in Safari, and again there was no difference. I then tried other gamuts like Adobe RGB. And ProPhoto RGB, which is an extremely wide color space, wider than P3 or Adobe RGB.

Might I have chosen the wrong test photo for this experiment? I choose one that has a lot of greens. Green is where the P3 gamut excels the most compared to sRGB:

Look at this gallery that lets you compare P3 with sRGB for many images, and you'll find that most photos look exactly the same in both gamuts.

The conclusion is that gamut doesn't matter, for most photos. Don't worry about it.

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