While useful for anyone at any level, these next three articles on “Technology for the Photographer” are geared for the semi-pro and professional photographer.

I’ve been a photographer for a few years now but an IT professional for over 20 years and I’m a specialist in desktop systems and have had my hands on many different types of tech including servers, networks, wireless and cloud. Everything from the 4-person office to corporate America. I’ve been around. Which lead me to start writing these articles since I feel most photographers who aren’t in I.T. simply don’t get good information. It’s my 2nd year I’ve written this series.

So part 1 is for many people, is a hot one and talked about often. I’ve made my decision not based on what’s the best, but what’s best for me.

Mac vs. Windows

Mac vs Windows graphic.

I’ve been a Microsoft Windows guy since the beginning I even remember being introduced to the Mac SE. I thought it was cool but largely a toy. The best games came on it! I’d play Dark Castle for hours on that toy!

So while I’ve personally and professionally used Microsoft Windows for over 20 years, I also supported Apple Macintosh for many years as well. In the earlier years, I thought the Mac made things more difficult than they had to be. Managing them on a network was not easy. It still isn’t. But I loved the seemingly simple way the way the operating system worked. Really, Microsoft copied it. I also thought they trend setters in the design of the physical systems themselves. Just how much? Well, we’d still have beige boxes for computers if Apple didn’t make computers cool looking.

Almost 5 years ago, I switched to Mac and there is one simple reason why: Microsoft Windows 8. Again, it was another attempt at Microsoft to catch up to Apple and it terrified the heck out of me. I’m pretty good at deciding if a new version of Windows is going to be a problem and Windows 8 had it written all over itself. Soon enough, I was proven right.

People make such a big fuss when they think about switching systems. I guess it’s a little easier because of my experience. But really, it still isn’t. There are some different functions and ways to get around, but get yourself a decent book and you’ll be up in no time.

Another reason why I switched is the great investment I feel Apple equipment is. Again, another misconception. Yes, it’s more expensive. I feel just about any decent Mac Book Pro is going to cost you around $2000. Where a decent Windows-based laptop will cost you around $700. While less expensive, how many 5-year old Windows laptops do you still see in operation? You’re lucky if a Windows-based laptop will last you 3 years. Macs are just built to last and if you have enough performance, they will be enough for 5 years. Seriously.

But the great thing is that with $700, you can have quite the fine photo-editing machine. Hey, I’m not wealthy! I scrounged around for the money to buy a Mac and it took a lot. But I needed to make the switch so that really wasn’t an option. But with Windows 10 out now and if I was in the same position, I might have stayed with Windows. This newest version of Windows looks to be quite good. But I’m vested in Apple and I really love that I made the change.

So, I really don’t see one system being better than the other. They both run all the apps that a photographer needs. I just find that Windows needs much more maintenance. Whether it’s downloading Windows updates or changing settings because something is running in a clunky matter. Not a big issue but it does matter. With my Macs, it’s quite rare I have to mess with anything. Some hardware tends to be more compatible with Windows. But you trade that with maintenance and reliability.

How Much Power Do You Need?
My Mac Mini computer setup image.

My Mac Mini computer setup image.

And this is where I made a mistake with my first Mac. A Mac Mini with an Intel dual-core i5 at 2.3GHz, 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive. On paper, a very decent machine.

A Windows machine can run totally fine with 8GB of RAM. I thought I could struggle along with 4GB on a Mac Mini for a little while until I can upgrade with more memory. Was I wrong. Nothing worked reliably. Forget Photoshop. I thought I was out of the woods when I upgraded to 8GB. Photoshop ran. But it was so incredibly slow and unreliable. Soon enough, I upgraded to 16GB on the Mac Mini. Now I was good. I could have Photoshop and Lightroom open at the same time and it was fine. But you try anything else, the little guy would start to heat up.

But ran it did. And really, if you’re editing photos, there isn’t much more you should be doing on the computer. For a couple of years, it was fine. Once Photoshop is up and running, you don’t need much power to process. What you do need power is when batch processing images. Especially when they are RAW images. It was really getting to be an issue with all the event photography I was doing. Batch processing images would take a couple of hours. If I had to redo them, another couple of hours. If it weren’t for batch processing hundreds of files, I’d still have that Mac Mini. When I finally upgraded it with a good SSD, it was fantastic though batch processing speed still wasn’t satisfactory.

Macbook Pro Retina Computer Setup

Macbook Pro Retina Computer Setup

I got lucky. Sold my Mac Mini and got some decent money for it. That’s one thing about Mac. Resale value is very good. Try selling a two-year old Windows machine. I found a person selling a brand new Macbook Pro Retina with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. No it wasn’t stolen! He works for Apple and he got the laptop as part of a bonus. The computer also came with 3-year Apple Care! So with the money I used for the Mini sale, I really came out ahead in a big way.

But really, if I had another $400 or so, I could’ve gotten a quad-core CPU and 16GB of RAM when I initially bought the Mac Mini. I would still be using that Mac Mini today. It’s that good. Except for the SSD, it’s the same as my Macbook Pro and I am plenty happy with it. But these days, you can’t get a quad-core CPU as an option for the Mac Mini. Which is horrible. They want you to buy an iMac. Not a bad option. But you’ll spend a few hundred dollars more even with a decent monitor attached to the Mac Mini. Or go refurbished and get a quad-core Mac Mini at a bargain! That’s if they have them in stock!

In a perfect world, having both a laptop and desktop for a photographer would be optimum. But we don’t always have that choice. I know plenty of full-time pros who do one or the other as well. Yes, it’s business and it’s about making a profit. And buying more gear cuts into that. Only if it really makes a difference.

And a difference it made. The laptop cut processing time from 2 hours down to about 45 minutes. It was those extra 2 cores in the processor. Except for the number of cores, the processors are the same type and speed. So for event photos, instead of getting them done sometime the next day, I can get them done the same night. Unless I have some agreement with the client, I would not promise all photos from an event that night. But it gives me breathing room.

Buy the Best Quality You Can Afford

Not all computers are built the same. Mac is top of the line quality. But other manufacturers put more into their systems than others. Cheap computers and gear are built with the bare minimum. As soon as a software update comes out, something stops working. And then you have to pay someone to fix it. There goes your cost savings. And it’s going to cost more in the long run. Like most things. And every time, every time a person complains about a hard drive going bad, they usually bought a cheap brand or model and on sale. And the thing that burns me: they can afford to buy something better. They are usually the know-it-alls who want to brag how much they saved. They never tell anyone when they have to pay someone to fix their systems.

More expensive doesn’t guarantee quality. Do the research. And be very weary of Internet experts.  There are good ones out there. But most are wannabe professionals. I got a story for you…

I worked at a media company that published many magazines. One of them was a magazine that talked about new computer equipment. This magazine had a ‘Technical Writer’ who specifically tested and used the equipment. I tell ‘ya, I couldn’t tell you how many times this writer called us, the internal IT support team, to help him figure out how something worked. And this was an ‘expert’ whose words in a magazine could mean the life or death of a product.

Here’s what I say you. If you are going to buy a hard drive that cost $150 and it has X number of operational hours, and another unit is $40 more and double the operational hours, if you can afford it, buy the more expensive model. It’s not only about lasting twice as long, it’s about being built to a higher quality and being able to take more abuse if it happens. You’ll be wishing you spent that extra $40 when that drive topples over on your desk and now you can’t read data from it.

So there you have it. Part 1. It’s lots of information. But this is it:

  • Mac vs. Windows? Doesn’t matter as much as you think.
  • Power: You don’t need as much to run a functional system. But get as much as you can.
  • There’s frugal and there’s cheap. Don’t be the latter.

Next week: Part 2 – Storage and Backup.

About the author

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

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

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