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Apple’s DCI(P3) Color Gamut Improves Upon Longstanding Marginal Gamut, Yet Makes Little Sense in Context for Amateurs or Pros

Apple has blown its own horn loudly on support for the new DCI(P3) color gamut in the new iMac 5K. That is, the display in the late 2015 iMac 5K can reproduce all or nearly all of the DCI(P3) color gamut. I applaud Apple for finally improving the dismal color gamut of one of its products (the late 2015 iMac 5K). More to follow I hope, particularly in the laptop lineup.

Does DCI(P3) really benefit consumers? Consider the actual state of affairs for the masses, who have never heard of color gamut or raw images or ProPhotoRGB:

  • iPhone and ipad shoot in sRGB*, so DCI(P3) means nothing for iPhone photos. Those photos taken by iPhone/iPad that have a gamut beyond sRGB are already permanently mangled.
  • 99% of the world shoots (heavily compressed) JPEG in sRGB. Which is 8-bit with all settings baked into the JPEG.
  • Facebook and its ilk often mangle images and force to sRGB.
  • Many programs still ignore color space, thus display anything but sRGB incorrectly.

Which means that DCI(P3) offers absolutely no value to 99% of the market. At least for now. Still, I’m very glad that Apple has implemented a display with a better gamut (hopefully more of the same to follow in laptops too), because it means that my readers will see my images more true to life than before.

Will an iOS update let my iPhone shoot in DCI(P3) color space? Better yet, choose the color space dynamically for the tightest fit to the actual subject matter**?

Another theory: DCI(P3) is also known as “Digital Cinema”. Might the DCI(P3) change, which is meaningless to the 99%, in fact be related to a forthcoming Apple move towards something bigger in VIDEO?

* AKA “sad rgb” for its severely truncated gamut (range of colors).

** sRGB can actually be an excellent choice so long as everything is in gamut, because it gives finer gradations of color (smaller range for 8 bits to cover). The idea is to use the smallest/tightest color space that contains the gamut in the actual subject matter, on a per-image basis.

DCI(P3) is better than sRGB, but it is not a wide gamut

In my DAP publication, see material on why color space matters for photographers.

The rest of this discussion is aimed at professionals and those who take color seriously in their photography. DCI(P3) is a good thing, because it means that more and more users will be able to see color properly on the internet (60% of my photography blog readers are on Macs). I’ve long published my photographs on the web in the AdobeRGB color space, because I cater to professional photographers.

Modern digital cameras can deliver images with colors well beyond the gamut of AdobeRGB or DCI(P3), that is, for certain subject matter. Images with wide gamut suffer mightily from inappropriate color space and bit-depth choices, because detail and nuance are squashed right out of the image.

That said, one might shoot all day and never make an image that is out of gamut even in sRGB. But you might also shoot all day with intensely saturated flowers or fabrics or whatever, and be out of gamut on every image. It all depends on subject matter: the gamut required for proper color rendition depends on the subject matter.

Then there is viewing the image. As shown below, I calibrated my NEC PA302W today. The gamut plot shows that the calibrated PA302W greatly exceeds the gamut of the DCI(P3) color space aka “Digital Cinema (DCI)”. In other words, working in DCI(P3) means chopping off a big chunk of greens and red and blues*. Colors of intensity that add extra pop to an image when present. This is why I do all my work in 16-bit ProPhotoRGB: its gamut is even larger than that of the NEC PA302W, thus letting me see everything the display is capable of (because the image has not been mashed and mangled to fit into a smaller range of color).

Examples with wide gamut images would be best, but I have yet to obtain the DCI(P3) ICC Profile to show an example vs sRGB and ProPhotoRGB.

BTW, the NEC PA302W is a fabulous wide gamut display currently discounted.

* The color area below is the gamut of the NEC PA302W, as calibrated. The outlined triangle overlay is the DCI(P3) gamut. The PA302W can’t fully reproduce a small portion of the green/yellow area of the DCI(P3) gamut, but it substantially exceeds DCI(P3) in greens, reds, blues, magentas and cyans.

Color gamut of NEC PA302W is far larger than DCI(P3)
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