Instagram are breaking out of sRGB to introduce wide colour display for iPhones

Jan 10, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Instagram are breaking out of sRGB to introduce wide colour display for iPhones

Jan 10, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Last year, Apple announced the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus with displays offering a wider colour range. They also announced that the cameras built into these phones would be able to take advantage of that. Most image sharing platforms however, do not. They typically convert the images to sRGB upon upload. Worse, some even strip out colour profiles completely.

Instagram, though, have just updated Instagram to now support the wide colour range the new devices can offer. While it may seem that this move is heavily Apple-focused, it’s really not. It’s just that Apple are the first manufacturer to really take advantage of the DCI-P3 colour space for mobile devices. It’s the standard for digital movie projection in the USA. And it’s the colour space Apple chose to go with for their wide gamut displays in 2015 over AdobeRGB.

https://twitter.com/mikeyk/status/817117008630190082

Like AdobeRGB, the P3 colour space completely covers sRGB and then some. Then why go with P3 instead of the more accepted AdobeRGB? Well, it is the standard for cinema projection. The capability to display at least 90% of the DCI-P3 colour space is now a requirement for “Ultra HD Premium“. With video being so pervasive in our lives today, it makes sense to shift towards that standard.

For many years, sRGB was just fine, for the most part, for mass consumers. But as cameras and display technology has developed, sRGB is finding it hard to keep up. But what do all these different colour gamuts mean in the real world to normal people? Well, Instagram posted up a couple of example images of their “photo room” at Instagram HQ. One image was captured by an iPhone 7 Plus, and the other shows how much of the captured image falls outside of the sRGB colour space.

The areas in light blue fall outside of the sRGB colour space. So, you’re just never going to be able to represent them accurately if your camera only shoots sRGB. Likewise, a screen that’s only capable of sRGB is also never going to be able to display them accurately, either.

In order to help users determine whether their display is wide gamut or not, Instagram have offered up a “canary image“. No, not a photo of a cute little bird, it’s an image that on an sRGB display looks like a simple solid block of colour. On a wide gamut display, the instagram logo “magically” appears.

With the PC on which I’m writing this post, one of my displays is wide gamut (HP LP2475w) and the other is not (a cheap generic 22″ widescreen), and when dragging the same image between two monitors, the difference is immediately obvious.

But simply adding support for wide colour isn’t enough for Instagram. They’ve also offered up a bunch of information to help other iOS developers to add wide colour support to their own iPhone apps. After all, if Instagram’s going to start supporting it, they’ll want to make sure users that process their image in other applications can take advantage.

You can read more about it and get technical on the Instagram Engineering Blog.

Working with images on wider gamut desktop displays is always a joy, especially as printers can often produce colours not found in the sRGB colour space. It always makes me a little sad when I have to convert down to sRGB for display on the web.

Hopefully, others will follow Instagram and Apple’s lead. More companies releasing wide gamut compatible hardware and software can only be a good thing. Yes, it’ll take some users time to adapt, but increased competition in the market and compatibility will only help to drive prices down.

Are you an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus user? Have you seen the benefits of wide colour gamuts on a mobile display first hand? Or does your phone look about the same as it always did? Are you a developer working on wide gamut software for the iPhone? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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5 responses to “Instagram are breaking out of sRGB to introduce wide colour display for iPhones”

  1. Jens Unger Avatar
    Jens Unger

    Thanks for the article.
    AFAIK, Samsung Galaxy S7 even has Adobe RGB Coverage.
    source: http://www.displaymate.com/Galaxy_S7_ShootOut_1.htm

  2. Chris Halbach Avatar
    Chris Halbach

    Glad they did this, but I still wish they would offer non-compressed images. Tired of seeing my photographs diminish in quality after they upload..

  3. Daniel R. Chang Acat Avatar
    Daniel R. Chang Acat

    Arnold Loli

  4. Joshooa Jernigan Avatar
    Joshooa Jernigan

    What about ProRGB coming from a computer?

  5. Ondřej Konopásek Avatar
    Ondřej Konopásek

    Should I even care? Would this change be visible on 740x920px pictures? Cmmon folks… its just instagram, not fuckimg auction hall…