Tech and the Photographer: The Desktop

Welcome to my 3rd annual “Tech and the Photographer”!

It’s funny how this has grown. I still remember my first time where it was part evaluation part wish list!  It’s still a bit like that as I’m an Apple shop and my analysis comes largely from that perspective. Much of my analysis can certainly be used on the PC side as well especially when I talk about the storage and mobile systems.

Let’s get some disclosure out of the way: I don’t make any money or gain any benefits with these analysis’ other than to share my knowledge to help others. And by writing about this, it also helps me better reflect on why I like these systems. And as I mentioned, it’s a sort of wish list too!

The Mac Desktop

MacBook Pro - Image 9to5Mac.com

MacBook Pro – Image 9to5Mac.com

I try to write the series shortly after Apple’s Fall announcements and they certainly didn’t disappoint! I am extremely happy with the Macbook Pro upgrades they did! Even without the refresh this year, they’ve been improving the internals and really, how much horsepower do you need to use Photoshop, Capture One or Lightroom?

There are several ways in which I think the new Macbook Pro really nailed it:

  • Thunderbolt 3
  • Internal SSD Performance
  • Display Quality
  • Ergonomics

Thunderbolt 3

Okay, so there are only Thunderbolt(TB) ports and you’ll have to buy dongles for certain connectivity options. Yes, dongles get lost. But honestly, how often do I need to carry anything other than an AC adapter? And if I’m very mobile, I have a pouch (which is sometimes just zip-lock bag!) to keep everything. So it’s not a big deal.

Now, you can use a 5K monitor using just one cable! I know with TB2, that was an issue and I wonder what Apple is going to do with the Mac Pro? Even though the MBP 13” only has two full-speed TB3 ports and two partial speed, that really should be more than enough. If portability is that much an issue that you choose the 13” size, you don’t need 4 full-speed TB3 ports. No, you don’t. The 13” MBP is only dual-core. You’d have to have one massive RAID (to be discussed in the next article) to saturate a TB2 port. And you certainly wouldn’t be using a 13” MBP for anything requiring that kind of setup.

Before this MBP release, I thought for sure I was going to get a Mac Pro. Only the top two-level Mac Pros will still be Kings of the Hill. If you’re doing lots of video editing, maybe it’s worth it. I’m thinking if your job is 50% or more video, it might be worth it. And mine certainly isn’t.

At least for the immediate future, TB3 is about video and connecting to those fantastic LG/Apple monitors that were also released. Finally, some kick-ass TB monitors! Okay, so they aren’t pretty like Apple’s Cinema displays. For $900 for the 27” 5K model, I’m totally fine with that! I personally prefer this style monitor too. If Apple truly thought it important, they would’ve made them prettier. I only hope LG/Apple come out with a 32” model Other than the size, the monitor checks all the boxes.

Internal SSD

For the past several years, the internal SSD on the MBPs have seen dramatic improvements. My gosh! My 2013 15” MBP was the first of these performance upgrades. The newest version is a good 4x fast than mine! The speed boost comes in handy when configured for use as Photoshop’s scratch disk, processing Lightroom files and most of all, editing high-detail video. Even the puny first generation Macbook can process 4K video in Final Cut Pro because of it’s blazing fast internal SSD.

Samsung SSD - Image Samsung.com

Samsung SSD – Image Samsung.com

As far as 7 years ago when the tech was becoming somewhat affordable, I was configuring new machines for my IT clients with them. No more turning on the computer, get a cup of coffee and come back to your desk. There is no reason whatsoever to still be using regular spindle-based hard drives to boot your computer. None.

Display Quality

Retina displays are fantastic. I still remember when I went from my Mac mini using a decent Viewsonic monitor to my MBP. It’s an amazing difference. So when Apple improved upon it even further, I was quite skeptical and does it really make a difference. I haven’t seen it yet. But it should especially help when working in a sun-lit room. That’s the only place where even a current, bright retina display still doesn’t quite do so well. Not a huge plus but it will make a difference.

Ergonomics

Weight savings, display quality, keyboard change, larger trackpad and the touch bar. Let’s do a quickie on these:

  • Weight Savings. Did they make compromises to shave half a pound off each of the MBPs? Sure they did. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m totally fine with that. Try carrying a 15” MBP in any bag with other gear for an hour or more. And if you’re working a fashion show or trekking to a shoot location, it makes a difference. And I’m built like a tank so…
  • Display Quality. Read above. Bad displays are actually harmful to your eyes. Yes.. It’s all about refresh rate. So the better the better!
  • Keyboard Change. I love the Macbook keyboard! The version on the new MBPs is supposed to be an even improved version of it too! If I disliked anything about Mac it’s been the keyboards. Sorry, not all of us have skeleton hands. The lack of travel with the older keyboards have always bothered me too.
  • Larger Trackpad. I thought this would get in the way. But from all reports I’ve read and watched, there has been no issue with your palm resting on it. It’s the newer style with the force-touch mechanism. If you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty nice. It may not be a big deal.
  • Touch Bar. This is just the beginning. I think it’s super-cool that the touch bar will change according to what application you’re using. Sure it is. No more having to memorize what keys perform what functions. This has serious potential to improve workflow.

Individually, all the ergonomics improvements may not be a big deal. However together, it just improves the user-experience so much more.

iMac

A fantastic machine if you want an all-in-one solution. Pricing and performance can’t be beat. If you’re really working, most of us Photoshop users can totally get by on this.

Mac mini

Really? Yes really. I started out with a 2011 2.3GHz dual-core i5, 16GB and 256GB SSD model and it ran Photoshop plus Lightroom perfectly fine. Mind you, I started with the base and upgraded to these specs.

My Mac Mini and First Mac

My Mac Mini and First Mac

While none of the models support 4K adequately, you can get a damn fine 2560×1600 resolution monitor for cheap. I’ll give you a tip: Get a used or refurbished Mac mini that still has the quad-core i7 processor, upgrade it to 16GB, 256GB SSD, huge external drive for archiving or temporary storage, a fine 2560×1600 monitor and you got yourself one damn-fine editing machine for less than $1000.

Honestly, I’d still have my 2011 machine if mobility wasn’t so important to me. If I knew what what Apple was doing, I’d keep this machine and buy the refreshed first-gen Macbook. Or even have held out for this new 2016 MBP.

Mac Summary

That leaves a question for me: How relevant is a Mac Pro to me?

At this point, not much. Even the current 15” MBP beats all Mac Pros in single-core functions and is hot on the heels of the 6-core model for multi-core functions. I anticipate the 15” 2016 MBP to beat the 6-core Mac Pro. Again, if you’re editing massive video files, the top-end Mac Pros will still offer an advantage. But I think for the 98% out there, they are completely overkill. If power is that important and you want a bargain, get the old-style cheese-shredder Macs and wait for the Mac Pro refresh. Seriously

PC Desktop and Laptops

I’m not going to go into great detail as this article would take even more hours to complete! But I’ll point you in the right direction.

PC Laptops

Lenovo. Don’t even think about it. The best. Especially within the last year. I’ve used them for years and their quality and performance is unmatched. I worked on their latest offering for my IT job and I feel they are really going for top of the hill. Their packaging was even better than Apple’s! It was beautiful. And when you go for their ThinkPads, 3rd party software and hardware just works. Much less fuss. While their support pales in comparison with Apple’s, it may be the best in the PC arena.

I think the higher-end Dell laptops would take 2nd. They have some winners over Lenovo too. But support and quality is definitely a notch below Lenovo.

PC Desktop

I have a bit more flexibility and in would recommend in no particular order: Lenovo, HP and Dell. I especially like their all-in-one systems like the iMac.

The Desktop Summary

The important thing when buying a system, especially with the usually non-upgradeable Mac, is to purchase as much performance as you can. Performance issues will really hurt you. Especially if you’re getting paid for your work. If you’re on a budget, try to get a system that you can upgrade later. Get the best base you can.

The Mac Choice

Now, why do I choose Mac? I work in IT in systems management and support capacity. For decades. I switched to Mac in 2011 because I just saw Windows 8 as a disaster. And I was right. But with my newest position and really working on them much more than in my freelance capacity, Macs are so much less hassle everything less than enterprise level businesses. They really are.

Macs may cost more initially. But just now in a Starbucks, there was a person sitting next to me using a 2013 Mac. I have many of these at my IT work and they are still completely useable machines. Try using a 3-year old PC. They are usually falling apart.

Lost the operating system DVD’s? Good luck getting them from the manufacturer. On the Mac, simply download the latest or older OS from Apple’s website. No problem. It’s so much easier to setup peripherals and networking on the Mac. Oh yes, you get completely free OS upgrades with the Mac. Every year.

What you save in money on the PC, you lose in productivity. The maintenance required on a PC is several times greater than a Mac. Good luck getting a decent price on your PC if you ever want to sell it in 2 – 3 years. Drop a PC and Apple laptop and see which one shatters into a million pieces. And Apple support is the best. Period. They truly stand behind their products.

Displays

Displays are so personal. Everyone has an opinion. I’ll just say this: Quality & Size

While my monitor has served me well, an Asus PA249Q, it’s still too small at 24″. I should say, it’s too small for fashion photography in which many images are portrait in orientation. Sure you can swivel the monitor, but it’s a hassle. I think the size is totally fine if you photograph landscape, wildlife and anything else thats primarily in landscape mode. But you need that extra height for people photography.

But at just a nudge under $400, this is a super monitor with a great color gamut with both sRGB and AdobeRGB. I paid about 50% more a couple of years ago.

The next step up at 27″ would be the start of the perfect size. But it was almost double the price at the time. With my budget, I just couldn’t swing it. Though now, I would have no temptation at all to buy a new monitor.

But the moral of the story is: Buy the best you can for your needs. You’ll keep it for years if you do. Dependable brands: Dell, Asus, LG. And speaking of LG…

Asus PA249Q - Image Consumer Reports

Asus PA249Q – Image Consumer Reports

LG UltraFine 5K Display

I still remember the first time I saw the Sharp 4k 32″ monitor displayed at the Apple Store. It was impressive. Colors and sharpness. But at $3,000, there was no way it was gong to happen. Come 2016…

LG UltraFine 4K & 5K Displays - Image from AandTech.com

LG UltraFine 4K & 5K Displays – Image from AandTech.com

The LG UltraFine 5K display. While great, what turns me on about it is that it’s Thunderbolt 3 connected. Finally! Unfortunately, on the Mac side, you need a new MacBook Pro to run it. I think you can get an adapter to connect to Thunderbolt ports to drive a monitor. Maybe. But it’s just not worth it. 4K is more than enough for photography work. 5K is just icing on the cake.

27″ and $900 too much? How about the smaller brother at 4K, 21.5″ and $500? Too small for my needs. But again, if that size works for you? Sweet deal.

But really, if I had bought the 27″ Asus years ago, and no where near 4k, I’d still be fine with that monitor for at least a couple more years. Easy. Excellent ROI.

In Short

Don’t believe the hype, take what you read and watch on the Internet with a grain of salt. Test out the tech if you can. I’m extremely weary of Youtube and Facebook photographers. Most tend to be quite clueless about tech and seem to regurgitate what others have said about the products they are talking about.

Remember what I said about the Mac mini? You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to have a quality rig. But get the best you can get. You’ll be much less tempted to buy new gear in the near future. And if you’re a pro, make more profit!

Next Week: Storage

About the author

Ricardo Gomez is a Fashion Photographer based in New York City.

  • Technology: Tech and the Photographer-Desktop
  • Technology: Tech and the Photographer-The Intro
  • Tech and the Photographer: Mobility
  • Tech and the Photographer: Storage

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