Computers and Photography. A three-part article describing a beginning, my own current setup and a bigger, more established future system for my fashion photography.
Part II – My Current Photography-Computer Setup
With my previous article you saw what I was using as my first photo-editing system I used. Considering what I was doing with it, I was quite impressed with it. But the busier I became, the more the limitations became apparent. Though no fault of it’s own, Lightroom was crashing even with the smaller event-photography venue images I was processing. When you can’t export more than 10 images, there is definitely a problem!
My Information Technology background has given me many side-benefits in life. One of them is being able to switch back and forth Windows and Macintosh systems with relative ease. I wouldn’t consider myself a Macintosh expert, but certainly more advanced than most graphics professionals who use the equipment on a regular basis. Which lead me to my next system upgrade: The Mac!
One big reason why I switched to Apple: Windows 8.
I’m quite fearless when it comes to computer systems. I’ll just jump in. But Windows 8 really got me nervous. While I don’t consider the underpinnings of the system to have changed much, the interface was massive. Probably the biggest change since the move from Windows 98 to Windows 2000. And even that wasn’t a huge change. But considering the problems Windows was having recently, I really didn’t want to deal with problems. Windows ME was a nightmare with Vista taking second place. It wasn’t that bad but definitely had its growing pains. Windows 8 was going to dwarf these two systems. And it did with the disaster when thousands of hard drives died when Microsoft issued an ‘upgrade’ from Windows 8 to 8.1! Yes, it really happened!
While I had been a fan of Apple Macintosh systems, they always lagged in available software. And to some degree, still do. I’m writing this article using Microsoft Word 2011 because there hasn’t been a new release for the Mac since! I can understand Microsoft treating the Mac as the un-wanted child. In their minds, Apple is their rival. But it doesn’t have to be. And as big as Microsoft is, they can release new versions for both Windows and Mac at the same time. If Adobe can release Photoshop for both Windows and Mac at the same time, Microsoft can!
There are other reasons why I had been hesitating the Windows to Mac switch. But that’s for another article. Possibly. In the end, I simply love the hardware design and quality. The user-interface really hasn’t changed much since it’s inception either. Which speaks volumes about its simplicity and hidden sophistication. The Mac OS wasn’t going anywhere! Now the big decision: Which Mac?
Budget sent me over to a Mac mini. Price and being stuck with a monitor kept me away from the iMac. It’s a fantastic value. I was going to use my Viewsonic monitor with the mini so that wasn’t an issue. I bought an Apple mouse and keyboard and I was set. But being cheap now was going to cost me later.
I bought the least expensive Mac mini which only had a dual core Intel i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. The way I figured, this was already twice the machine I was migrating from. This surely had to be enough to run all the apps I needed. Right?
The problem was that while apps ran, the system wasn’t very stable. When apps ran, they stuttered sometimes to point where they weren’t useable. Photoshop ran. Barely. Lightroom ran. But it was so incredibly slow. Over the next few months, I upgraded RAM to 8GB then finally to 16GB. It wasn’t until I got to this final configuration where the system was stable and truly useable. Though even I upgraded the RAM two separate times, it was probably still cheaper than if I bought the 16GB initially from Apple! It’s really bad how much Apple charges for memory. They should be able to charge less than what you buy online.
This system ran satisfactorily for a couple of years. I could run Photoshop and Lightroom at the same time and no issues would occur. If I wanted to have some fun, I would run Netflix and soon the fan in the mini would start! Near the end of the two years, I upgraded the hard drive to an SSD and the performance increase was amazing! In my IT work I purchased systems for clients that had SSD systems. But my clients mostly used your typical office applications and didn’t really shine unless you were running big applications. Fast boot-up times are nice. But that’s only 1% of your day…
During the last year having my Mac mini, I was doing a lot of shooting: Lots of portfolio building and event photography. I was processing two different spectrums of photography: A few and enormous Photoshop files and hundreds of small ones in Lightroom. Photoshop ran well enough. But exporting hundreds of images in Lightroom took hours! God forbid I find a mistake and re-process! With all the photography I was doing, I was concerned. I really couldn’t upgrade the system any more. It was maxed out.
I started looking around for a new system. Instead of a desktop system, I started looking at a laptop. There are times when I know a client wants images asap and I would want to give them a few teasers before the end of the evening. Or if it were going to be a while before I got back home I’d want to process. And I certainly wanted a speed increase especially when exporting event photos. Lastly, I knew new Mac models were coming out soon and wanted to get as much money for the mini before the price dropped.
After much thought and research, I decided a Macbook Pro would be the best choice. It had to be a quad-core processor with an SSD internal drive. I didn’t want to mess around this time and wanted the full 16GB of RAM. This was going to be a long-term solution. I knew while this was going to be my primary system for a year or two, I knew was going to get a Mac Pro in the future and then use this system for studio work and on-location.
I think divine-intervention had a say in this solution. I was looking on Craigslist.org and saw someone selling his Macbook Pro w/Retina that was within my budget. I thought it had to be a scam. The machine was exactly what I wanted and in my budget. I had waited weeks to see a system like this. I contacted the person and we agreed to meet at a coffee shop.
Did I mention divine intervention? Well, the guy turned out to be an Apple employee who got this BRAND NEW Macbook Pro w/Retina at an annual Apple dinner. In fact, everybody who attended that dinner got a free MBP! God, It must be nice working for a company like that! The computer was spotless and all the boxes were in place. It looked as though it was never opened. Beautiful. Once I transferred all necessary data from my mini, I sold the mini for a very decent price. I miss it. It was a cute and capable computer!
It’s been a little over a year with this MBP and I couldn’t be happier with it. Seriously, this may be the best computer I’ve ever owned. Any negatives? Well, I don’t like Apple keyboards. Keys are a bit small for me. Would be nice if it were cheaper… But with this MBP, I feel I got my money’s worth. I bought a protective case for it and I was set.
Performance has been fantastic. But honestly, it’s a quad-core version of the CPU I had on my mini. It’s literally twice as fast when exporting photos from Lightroom. I think if I had been able to purchase the quad-core version of the mini, I probably wouldn’t have sold it. I would’ve waited a bit longer until I could afford the MBP as a second and portable computer. Maybe a 13″ version would’ve been my choice. But I’m very happy with my laptop and will be keeping it for years to come.
Soon after the MBP purchase, I bought an Asus 24″ PA248 monitor. My Viewsonic monitor was having serious problems and there is no way I could use the MBP Retina for long-term Photoshop work. While this new monitor is a huge improvement to the Viewsonic, I’m still not very happy with it. I did much research and many said a 24″ was a good balance between size and price. I thought since the screen pivots, it would be great to rotate for portrait-oriented work. It’s not. It’s a hassle moving the monitor around and the way cables get moved around. I really wanted a 27″ sized monitor, but the price is prohibitive. Twice as much money. My Asus monitor is just too small for fashion work. It’s not a long-term solution and will most likely replace it next year.
Last but not least: data storage. This was a tough one. There is lots to talk about and decided to create a “Part 2.5” of the series. I had been delayed on moving forward on this portion of my new setup and it looks like it will work out for the better.