Any obvious comments?
Out of Gamut: Stop the sRGB bandwagon
By Bruce Fraser
In a recent MacWEEK review I castigated Nikon Inc. for releasing scanner software that (among other flaws) defaulted to producing output in the sRGB color space. I still think that it's a bad idea, but I've since learned that vendors of scanners and digital cameras who want the lucrative comarketing deals that revolve around Microsoft Corp.'s "Designed for Windows 98" sticker must design their products to output sRGB.
For those of you who have missed my previous rants on sRGB, a little background: sRGB is a good idea gone wrong. It was designed as a standard default RGB space for the Internet, for nonprofessional users who find color management too difficult or too expensive, or for those users who just don't want to think about color.
Am I blue?
Philosophically, it's a laudable goal. But the problem is in the implementation of the sRGB space itself. It purports to represent the "average" PC monitor, but it's a much smaller space than that of any graphic artist's monitor I've measured. In fact, it seems to represent a typical $300 15-inch VGA monitor. There are admittedly plenty of these in the world, but should the standard be pegged so low?
That's not the only problem. A good-sized chunk of printable color -- printable on anything from an inkjet printer priced at less than $500 to an offset press -- lies outside the gamut of sRGB, particularly in the cyans, blues and greens. Encouraging camera and scanner vendors to limit their output to sRGB at the start of the reproduction chain is a terrible idea for anything but the simplest consumer-level gadget.
I believe it's also one that speaks volumes about Microsoft's commitment (or lack thereof) to ICC-based color management and to the professional publishing market.
Tyranny of the majority
It's not that sRGB is totally bad, however much we'd prefer a standard based on measured data from today's monitors than from outdated and frequently misleading vendor specifications. Beyond that, sRGB is being proposed as a solution to color problems it was never designed to address. Witness the bizarre choice of sRGB as the default RGB editing space in Adobe Photoshop 5.0, or Nikon's hobbling of a decent, if unspectacular, scanner aimed at the semiprofessional and pro markets. The sRGB bandwagon is lurching out of control, headed in directions that will almost certainly prove wrong.
I usually dismiss snide comments about Microsoft's perceived tendency to enshrine mediocrity as a standard -- it's hard to argue with success, after all. But in the case of the mad rush to outlaw all colors that lie outside sRGB's relatively small gamut, that conclusion seems inescapable.
sRGB is to good color what Kenny G is to jazz. Unfortunately, with the Microsoft juggernaut behind it, sRGB may garner as many adherents as Kenny G has loyal fans. Call me elitist if you will, but I don't believe the graphic arts world would be improved if that should happen.
Bruce Fraser welcomes comments at email@example.com.