The Nikon D3400 DSLR has two color space options in its settings that you can choose from: sRGB and Adobe RGB.
These are the most common two color spaces that most digital cameras have these days, from better point and shoots, mirrorless cameras, and DSLRs. And there’s nothing distinctive about the way the D3400 handles them, so the explanation here applies to any other camera where you get the option to set the color space.
Color spaces are a key part of digital photography color management, which is itself an endlessly complicated topic which can, quite literally, fill a book. But the very, very short version is that color spaces refer to the range of colors that can be interpreted when taking the digital file and displaying it. That process might happen with a monitor, a printer, a print, a projector, a phone’s screen, or basically anywhere that a digital image can be displayed. The color space itself is a definition of the subset of visible colors (or gamut) that are available and tells the device how to read and display the color data.
There can potentially be an almost infinite number of different color spaces, and you can even make your own if you profile your monitor or printer, but there are some that have become widely adopted. And amongst those, sRGB and Adobe RGB are the most common.
sRGB vs Adobe RGB Color Spaces
These are the two options you get on the Nikon D3400. These options are available on the camera’s back screen menu under the camera icon.
Of them, sRGB is by far the most common and the safest to use. Nearly all display devices know what to do with the sRGB color space, whether that’s a web browser, a smartphone screen, or a social media service. sRGB is by far the best color space to use when posting photos on the web or emailing them to someone else. So if you want to post images on the web straight out of the camera, without post-processing them in something like Lightroom, setting the camera to sRGB is a versatile and safe option.
That’s not the same things as the best option, though. The downside of sRGB is that it’s a lowest common denominator option. It has a more limited range of colors in it than Adobe RGB, so you might end up clipping some colors or seeing slight color shifts.
Adobe RGB (also often written as Adobe RGB (1998)) has a much broader range of colors–it covers a much wider swath of the visible spectrum. So it gives you a bigger box of crayons to play with, as it were. The problem is that not every place you want to display your photos knows what to do with the Adobe RGB color space. It’s problematic to use Adobe RGB images on the web, for instance, which you can see in the examples further down this page. Some browsers have color management built in, but some don’t. If you’re sending files to a fellow photographer, a magazine editor, or a print lab, they’ll almost certainly be set up with a color managed workflow. But if you try to share those images with social media or post on your website you’ll likely end up with mixed results.
Which to Use on a Nikon D3400?
The Nikon D3400 is set by default to use the sRGB color space. That’s a safe compromise.
If you want simplicity and convenience and aren’t too concerned about maximum image quality, go with sRGB.
If you plan to edit the files in Lightroom or something similar or are looking to preserve the best possible quality, you’ll be better off using Adobe RGB and then using that editing software to convert back to sRGB when you want to share the images.
Because post-processing the images is a standard part of my workflow, one of the first things I change when picking up a new camera is the color space setting to Adobe RGB. In fact, I’d prefer an even wider gamut color space like ProPhotoRGB if it was available.
RAW and JPG
The color space setting is most important for JPG images. Whatever color space setting you choose in the camera will be applied to the JPGs that come out of the camera.
The color space setting matters less if you have your camera set to shoot in RAW format in the image quality settings. It doesn’t have any effect on the RAW file image data itself, but when the camera saves a RAW file it also saves an embedded JPG version that’s used as the image preview. The color space setting does affect that embedded preview image.
Why Do My Photos Look Flat on Other Displays?
If you find that your photos look great on your computer but look flat and washed out on other computers or displays, the color space setting of the image file is a common culprit. It’s often the result of trying to display a file embedded with an Adobe RGB color space with a browser or app that doesn’t have color management. Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox, for instance, do have color management features and the photo will display as it should. But others, like Chrome, don’t yet have full support for color management and the photos will probably look washed out.
Here are some examples. In each case, the top version is with the sRGB and the lower one in Adobe RGB. Nothing else about the images have been altered–there’s no difference in contrast, brightness, or saturation–it’s entirely a matter of a different color space.
As you can see, the Adobe RGB versions tend to be less saturated, flatter, and more washed out. But the effect varies depending on the part of the spectrum–blues, for instance can shift in color, while reds and oranges get less saturated.