Apple’s September 7 event saw a lot of interesting announcements and reveals, but one of the most interesting ones has to be the display. Apple has chosen to retain the existing resolution on both the iPhones, but changed the nature of the display itself to something they call “wide colour gamut.” An exciting phrase, if you’re a professional photographer or a filmmaker, but to the common person, it is bound to spell more issues than expected for many. As exciting as it may be to hear claims of “brighter screens and better, richer colours,” we break down the terminology and how this new change in the iPhone 7 could have an impact on your interaction with the digital world.
What is Colour Space
In the simplest terms, colour space refers to the number of colours that can be represented in a single photo. Think of it like having a box of crayons, one with only 10 colours and the other having 40. The colours are the same in each box (red, green, blue etc) but the transition between the colours is a lot finer in the box that contains 40 crayons vs the one that contains 10.
Of the colours that make up the visible spectrum, the sRGB space includes the least number of colours, roughly 16.7 of them. In the colour spectrum graph, the centre is supposed to be pure white and as we move towards the edge of the colour plot, the saturation is supposed to keep increasing. This means sRGB colour space didn’t have all the necessary saturation values, and hence we created AdobeRGB (35 per cent more colours) and ProPhotoRGB (higher colour inclusion than the visible spectrum).
Why Colour Space Matters
All digital devices must conform to some standard way of representing colour, so that what is a particular shade of red on my screen, is the same shade of red on your screen and across any screen. Since sRGB was the first colour space created, all our digital devices conform to that standard. It’s not just that almost every screen is designed to display sRGB most effectively, it’s also the fact that all content being created today conforms to that colour standard as well. This ensures content is being viewed the way it was created. If you open an image created in the AdobeRGB space on an sRGB monitor (which can at most only display 76% of the AdobeRGB colour space) you will notice that there is not only a slight change in the colour but also patchiness in the gradient. That’s because a smaller colour space cannot show the contents of a larger colour space. As such AdobeRGB has been considered the standard in of “wide gamut”and monitors capable of displaying the entire wide gamut tend to cost a lot.
If you open an image created in the AdobeRGB space on an sRGB monitor (which can at most only display 76 per cent of the AdobeRGB colour space) you will notice that there is not only a slight change in the colour, but also patchiness in the gradient. That’s because a smaller colour space cannot show the contents of a larger colour space. As such AdobeRGB has been considered the standard in of “wide gamut”and monitors capable of displaying the entire wide gamut tend to cost a lot.
What Apple’s Wide Gamut is About
Apple’s Wide Gamut on the iPhone 7 isn’t the AdobeRGB colour space, but a cinematic colour profile called DCI-P3. Technically the P3 colour profile incorporates the same number of colours, but the AdobeRGB profile is a little more to the centre as compared to P3. Apple’s choice of profile leans towards the reds and the oranges on the visual spectrum while shifting ever so slightly away from the blues. This essentially means you’re going to get very deep reds, yellows and oranges, but the blues might suffer a little.
What this means is that you’ll get deeper and richer oranges and reds and yellows (amazing sunset photos) but you might see your blues suffer a little (unless Apple compensates with software).
What’s the Potential Problem
While wide gamut displays are great (richer colours and what not), there is a slight problem when it comes to content creation. If the iPhone’s camera is now shooting images in the P3 colour space, they will not be displayed right on a standard sRGB screen, which is pretty much every screen and printer in the world at this point.
Unless content is being created within the higher colour space, viewing it on wide gamut screens is just overkill. However, if content is created in the higher colour space, then viewing it on a screen incapable of displaying that entire gamut will significantly take away from the viewing experience. For example, the colour value 0,255,0 represents a particular shade of green, but the shade is different in both the AdobeRGB and the sRGB space. With P3, we’ve now got a third contender in the colour space.
If the iPhone cameras are shooting images in the P3 or even the AdobeRGB colour space (since we now have RAW output), the wide gamut screen is a great feature, but these images and videos may not translate the colours over to your computer or even the older iPhone the same way. If the camera is shooting content in the standard sRGB space (so that it looks uniform across all screen) then viewing it on a wide gamut screen should technical not enhance it, unless Apple is working some software magic on it. Regardless of the situation, there still will be software re-calibration of the image to convert it from one colour space to another, so as to keep the content’s viewing experience consistent.
Wide Gamut displays at the moment are extremely expensive monitors, only afforded by serious professionals who are in the multimedia business. Apple’s introduction of a wide-gamut screen into a device that is so commonplace is bound to drive innovation to a point where such screens may end up becoming cheaper, but an industry-wide revolution is still only a far-fetched dream. For now, we cannot wait to get our hands on the new iPhone 7 and actually figure out what it is that Apple is doing with the screen and the camera.