Best Computer For Digital Photography

Okay, I’ll admit it… I’m a self-proclaimed computer geek. When it comes to digital photography and computers, one question that I am often asked is, “What would be the best computer to use for digital photography?” There are many answers to that very question and the tough part is, many of them are the right answer. My advice to those that ask that question is use and/or buy a computer that meets your specific needs and works well with your workflow. A photographer that is using Photoshop Elements to edit their images won’t need as much memory or processing power as another photographer who uses the full version of Photoshop.

Mac vs. PC – I’m a HUGE fan of Apple and Macs. They are touted as being the best of the best when it comes to multimedia and graphics. I agree. PCs also have their advantages. For the most part, they are more common among everyday users and most businesses. Personally, I would choose a Mac over a PC any day, no matter what I was using it for. I have also used Lightroom and Photoshop on Windows XP and Windows Vista Ultimate. Vista has it’s quirks, but I haven’t had any major problems with it. Most notably, I have yet to experience the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Although it’s VERY memory hungry, Photoshop and Lightroom still run quite fast on my Windows box. There are a lot of variables that come into play with both platforms, like hardware specs, other installed programs, configurations, etc.

A Note On Hardware – One of the biggest pitfalls users fall into are the sales gimmicks. Ads convince people that the new “all-in-one” computer will do everything for them. What most people don’t know, is that brand spankin’ new 512MB video card that all the gamers are raving about could actually bog down Photoshop. Hard to believe I know, but it’s true. If you’re in the market for a new computer for digital photography, your best bet is to call the manufacturer and speak to a sales person and let them know your unique needs. Most of the sales people at major retail electronics stores are clueless. You can also call my friends at B&H Photo as they sell both Mac and PC systems and can set you up with more of what you need and less of what you don’t, saving you money in the end.

I could go on and on forever on this subject, but there is too much to write about at one time. The big things to consider when purchasing that new computer for your digital photography workflow are your budget, your needs, and what you are comfortable with. If you’re open and willing to learn new things, switching to a new platform could be just the thing for you. But keep in mind that crossing over will require purchasing new software and when you’re talking Photoshop that can cost you a bundle by itself. Feel free to contact me with any specific questions that you may have, and I’ll do my best to answer them for you. That’s it for today!

Take care! :-)

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42 thoughts on “Best Computer For Digital Photography

  1. Just got finished reading your article Dec 6 2007 on best computer for digital photography. Being an amateur photographer who specializes in outdoor photography (landscapes, nature including animals, racing, night photography etc. I found it interesting if not all that specific. I can attest to the need to have the proper computer as at the present time my HP Pavilion ze4630us notebook with it’s 40GB Hard drive (thank God for the external hardrive) is way under what I need. Hopefully sometime this year I will know what PC to buy. I do agree that the local Best Buy sales people actually know less than I do. Although I have bought high end lenses for my Canon from B & H I hesitate to buy a laptop from them. When I need a check on my laptop it is simple to drop off,go to lunch and come back later and pick up. Thank you for serving our Country.
    Bill

  2. I have to switch from slides. (I know it’s a little late in the game.) I don’t know what kind of computer to buy. I am currently using a laptop for my job as news reporter and for personal use; but if I’m going to have some fun with digital (ugh, I hate that word), I need to make a move. I have traveled to about sixty countries and have oodles of travel slides. I also present travel programs, and compete in a highly competitive camera club. I recently bought a Nikon D-80. But there are so many things I don’t know. Just the terms give me a headache. Help!

  3. I was using a PC with Windows XP and Photoshop Elements to print photos, and was getting the best photos I’ve ever had.

    I now have a Mac and find that printing good photos is a lot harder with a Mac. The print dialog on the PC gave me a properties button where I could select paper type, print quality, landscape or portrait, and other options. The print dialog you get with a Mac is worthless and gives you no control over the printer. Photoshop Elements for Mac keeps asking my if I have enabled color management in the “printer preferences dialog.” I’d love to find this phantom printer preferences dialog. It’s not anywhere to be found, as far as I can tell. I think there is a way to get some control over the printer with a Mac but it is only through a lot of manipulations of system preferences and utilities and is a huge pain in the ass compared to Windows.

    If I am missing something I’d really appreciate someone telling me.

  4. I have a dell that is dieing(usb hubs suddenly don’t recognize my attached stuff) and I’m looking at what is available. My main needs are a lot of memory – both L2 and RAM (to help while using Photo shop CS3 for my photography needs), fast cpu (for same reason as for memory), PCI Express video card, wireless for use of a laptop from other rooms, and that’s it. I currently run MS Windows XP Media Center and all my software is Windows based so I am not interested going to a MAC. I don’t do any gaming or such. I use my computer every day for e-mail (mozilla mail), internet (mozilla firefox) I was looking at theDell Studio Mini but what would you suggest/recommend that would meet my needs. Regards,
    David

    • Hi David,

      Thanks for the question. I don’t know what your budget is exactly, but if you are looking for a desktop to replace your current Dell than this is a great buy. The specs are great and it has all the features that you’re looking for in a Windows machine. It’s the HP Pavilion Elite m9402f. This machine packs an AMD Phenom Quad Core CPU at 2.3GHz, 7GB of RAM, 640GB Serial ATA hard drive, DVD burner with LightScribe, and an nVidia GeForce 6150SE graphics card. It also has installed 802.11 b/g/n wireless and comes with Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit). For input/output, it has 2 FireWire ports, 6 USB 2.0 ports, a 15-in-one card reader, as well as a gigabit (RJ-45) port. And all of this for $779.95 from B&H Photo!

      Here’s the link to check it out.

      If you want/need something in a different price range, let me know and I’ll be happy to recommend something else.

      Best regards,

      Stephen

  5. LOL I have a Dimension 2400 with photshop SC4 Extended plus elments acrobat 9 pro Ext autacad 09 its slow but is runnig I cant; run many programs at the same time, my poor Dimension its pushing really hard time to buy a new pc Im thinking to build by my own i7 proscesor is my man and yes bestbuy guys are clueless my little sis know more.

  6. Pingback: My World of Photography and Computer

  7. Stephen,

    I read your response to David and it seems like an incredible computer. My only problem is… It is a desktop. I am mobile quite often and would like to find a nice valued laptop computer. I am graduating college in 6 months, and will begin a life of photography–hopefully.

  8. Hi Stephen,
    I looked at the link you left for David on the HP Pavilion Elite, B&H website says that it has been discontinued. I am looking for a new computer, My Dell Laptop crashed a few months ago, eating all of my memory, I was lucky that a friend of mine was able to get most of the memory out, now my desktop, also a dell, runs slower than molasses on a cold day and just makes working frustrating. I need speed, I do have an external hard drive where i keep all my files, I have photoshop elements currently I usually work on 10 -15 photos at a time on photoshop, the modem sounds like it is going to blow up, the fan starts going and the computer starts running even slower.
    It has gone to the Blue Screen of Death you talked about a few times, so, I am scared that my desktop will be crashing soon. I just bought Photoshop cs4 extended & light room but i won’t be able to enjoy the programs until I buy a new computer, which after buying those programs won’t be for a while. I am sure the minute I try to load the programs the hard drive will die. I figure my screen is good enough, so I just need the hard drive/modem. Do you recommend Dell? Honestly after both my computers crashing (both Dells) I don’t recommend it, but I do have an account and credit to purchase a Dell computer for now, so I guess I am desperate. Please let me know.
    Thanks.
    Flower

    • Hi Flower,

      One thing to keep in mind is that Dell doesn’t make a single component
      inside of their computers. They are all made by an Original Equipment
      Manufacturer (OEM) who supplies the parts for the computers. Dell
      simply designs, assembles, sells, packs, and ships. Hardware wears
      out over time and one of the biggest problem for PCs is that there are
      a lot of folks who make hardware for them and getting a combination
      that works perfectly and lasts a long time can be quite a quest.

      Since you just spent quite a bit of your hard earned money on
      Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom (I’m guessing for a PC) I certainly
      wouldn’t recommend a platform switch. If you don’t mind purchasing a
      computer on credit and that is your only available option, it looks
      like Dell is your ticket. The best advice I can give you is back up
      everything you need right after you read this and then order your new
      computer. I would also suggest getting one that utilizes Firewire 800
      and purchasing an external drive that has a Firewire 800 connection.
      This will give you really good transfer speeds and will help keep
      things moving along in your workflow. Also, when you’re working with
      images on your computer, make sure you are working on images stored on
      your computer’s hard drive and not an external one unless it’s fast
      (Firewire 800). That will also slow things down as your computer is
      trying to fetch information off the external drive.

      If you have any other questions, please reply in the comments and I’ll
      do whatever I can to help you out.

      Best regards,

      Stephen

  9. Hi Stephen. I am currently looking for a computer for my mom. She prefers pcs (althourght I am a huge mac fan), specially HP. She does a lot of photography, mostly landscape. She uses ligthroom and photoshop a lot. She love very fast computers. She gave me the task to find her the perfect computer for photography, but I aren’t able to find it. Budget isn’t much of an issue.
    Thank you very much for your help.

  10. My wife has been using Windows for years, and is now seriously considering moving to Mac due to the constant problems with the OS. What Mac would you reccommend for a Professional Photographer. She uses all of the expected applications (Photoshop CS3, Gem Pro, Nik Sharpener Pro, PhotoFrame Pro, Auto Fx, etc.

    Your recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

    Thanks,

    • Hi Mike,

      I’d be glad to help and make some recommendations. My recommendations below are based a few things: power, portability, and price. As I’m sure you know, today’s digital photographers require machines that will easily handle graphics tasks and provide plenty or memory for running programs like Photoshop and hard drive space for storage.

      If you’re not concerned about portability, then I would go with the 3.06GHz 24″ iMac priced at $2199.00 at Apple.com.

      If you want portability and power, then the 2.8GHz 15″ MacBook Pro priced at $2299.00 at Apple.com.

      The Mac Pro is nice and fast, but it’s REALLY expensive and it’s a bit of overkill unless your wife plans on editing major motion pictures on it. :-)

      Keep in mind that ANY of the iMacs or 15″ MacBook Pro notebooks will do great, but the above would be my two personal choices. I hope that helps out some in your decision making process and if you have any further questions, please feel free to ask.

      Cheers!

      Stephen

  11. I am thinking about getting a HP with a I7 3.30 Precessor
    Do you think that would be good for my Photographic files
    I shoot with A nikon D3 and use Photoshop c4

    How much memory would you get with it? it will hold up to 24 ddr3
    I was thinking of getting 6 or maybe 12 dont mine speding the money
    but dont want to waste it on a over kill

    reason i am getting a hp is I work for the US Postal Service and the gave me a big disscount

    please respond to me at PuglisiDigitalPhoto@twcny.rr.com

    • The HP I7 would make an excellent computer. It will easily handle files from the D3. 6GB of RAM would be plenty for Photoshop and Lightroom tasks.

      If you have any other questions, just let me know.

      Cheers!

      Stephen

      • thanks for your answer and just one more question

        If I got an I7 processor which one would be the best for me with out being an overkill. there are three models of the Intel I7
        2.66 3.0 or the 3.33 I am asking becasue if i got the 3.0 instead of the 3.33 there is about a $400 savings. MY files can be as big as a 100mb I use Raw and i use 14 bit not 12 bit.
        any help you gave me would be apreciated
        thank you
        George

      • George,

        I would put the extra $400.00 toward a bigger hard drive and go with the 3.0GHz processor. It will be plenty fast and you wouldn’t see a very noticeable performance increase with the 3.33GHz chip.

        Hope that helps.

        Cheers!

        Stephen

  12. Hi Stephen;
    I spent years working in film with my own darkroom and am overwhelmed with the idea of moving totally into digital. I want to purchase a full end to end system that will not be obsolete within a year or two of purchasing with an operating system that does not require pricey upgrades to keep functioning. I am a serious amateur. I shoot with a nikon d300 and nikon d100 and process with photoshop lightroom. I currently work with Vista OS but not locked into that even if it means converting current software to new version if it is best in long run. I also have a number of 35mm slides and B&W negatives which need to scanned and edited. I am also technology challenged, so “creative workarounds” or “jury-rigging systems” is not a good option for me. What do you recommend in terms of:
    1. CPU (would prefer laptop but not locked into that)
    2. Monitor
    3. Scanner
    4. Printer
    5. External Storage
    6. Processing software
    7. Calibration software (so that what I see on monitor is what comes out of printer)
    Any help would be greatly appreciated, as this is a significant purchase (budget around $5,000+) and would like to try and get it right the first time around.
    Thanks,
    Richard

    • Hi Richard,

      If you’re not opposed to switch operating systems, then I would highly recommend moving to an Apple computer. Drivers are still supported for your Nikon LS-2000 scanner and Apple systems seem to last longer (in terms of technology) than your average PC does. Here’s what I would recommend for all the items you listed below:

      1. Apple 15″ MacBook Pro: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, 500GB Hard Drive, nVidia GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT 512MB Video Card – $2299.00 2. Apple 24″ LED Cinema Display – $899.00 3. Use current Nikon LS-2000 4. Epson Stylus Photo R2880 Printer – $799.99 ($200.00 mail-in rebate available from B&H Photo) 5. Drobo 2TB Bundle – $599.00 http://www.drobo.com 6. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom & Adobe Photoshop CS4 7. Datacolor Sypder3 Pro monitor calibrator and software bundle – $150.00

      I hope that helps out with your equipment choices. If you have any questions or would like to change things up, just let me know.

      All the best,

      Stephen

      • Stephen;
        Thanks so much for the sppedy and helpful reply. Sorry to bother, but one last question. If I decided to not stick with the Nikon LS-2000 scanner (might involve workarounds over my head) any scanner you would recommend for both 35mm color slides and 35mm B&W negatives.
        Thanks Again for your help!!!!!!

      • Hi Richard,

        I would recommend the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED scanner. It will handle your slides and film negatives easily and has great resolution and bit depth.

        Glad I could help out!

        Stephen

  13. PS. I currently have a nikon ls-2000 scanner in my inventory of equipment. Unfortunately it is not vista compatible but would love to use it if still a good choice as a scanner with a different OS system.

  14. Hi Stephen, what would you recommend as a PC? Because I’m a full time student and Pc’s are way easier to do papers and all the things I need to than a mac. I’ve heard a lot about Hp’s but don’t want to get sucked into somethin crappy. Thanks

  15. Hello Stephen, I would like to know your opinion about this.
    I’m a professional photographer and I own a Nikon D3X (24 Mp). I work with PC’s with XP and Vista(bad thing) with my previous Nikon D300. Now I must have a computer just to work with the big files of the D3X (140Mb, 16 bits)the fastest possible way.
    I am thinking of OS Windows Seven 64 bits with just 3 programs that I own and with which I’m used to: Photoshop CS4, Nikon Capture NX2 (64bits?) and View NX, with a Lacie 320 monitor and Datacolor Pro 3 Elite.My other peripherals, such like the Nikon scanner 9000 ED will work with the other computer with Vista.
    What do you recommend about Processor, motherboard and graphics card (and anything else)to work the fastest possible way ? Budget? 1000 – 1500 euros.
    Thank you for an opinion,
    Mauricio Abreu – Portugal

    • Hi Mauricio,

      I would have to say that your best bet is to go with an Intel motherboard that supports an Intel Core i7 processor. That’s the fastest processor out on the market (at least for now), and I would highly recommend it. In the new 27″ iMac, it actually out performs an 8-core Mac Pro because it’s so amazingly fast. I would grab a graphics card with at least 512MB of dedicated memory or more. Photoshop CS4 has done a great job of utilizing Open GL (which is what most games use) so graphics cards don’t bog down Photoshop CS4 the way they used to.

      If you have any other questions, just let me know. I know it’s not the most definitive answer, but these days Adobe is doing a much better job of making their applications play nicer with hardware. But without a doubt, the Intel Core i7 processor is the way go to!

      All the best,

      Stephen

  16. Hello Stephen.

    I am a student coming to the end of my Photography course, and i need to purchase a new computer system. I am drawn to the 27″ imac simply because the college i studied in uses mac. Plus a friend of mine recently purchased one, and the ability to work on a life size A4 image is very appealing. The problem is I am a PC person at heart, and i believe that you can get more for you money with a PC. I will be looking to run Photoshop, Lightroom and Bridge as well as Flash, Dreamweaver etc. I am aware that the speed of workflow is probably the most important advantage between either system. So which would you say would be the easiest to work with, with the best large monitor. Price isnt to much of an issue, but if you imagine the 27″ imac is as far as i would like to go with money.

    • Hi Garry,

      Without question, I would go with the 27″ iMac. Being a PC person at heart is not as big of a challenge as it may seem. The iMac will be faster and the display is absolutely gorgeous! The huge advantage that Macs have over PCs is that OS X is a Unix-based operating system and therefore all processes run independently and aren’t dependent on any other process. What this translates to is that if you have a program that hangs up and won’t respond, you can force quit the application but your operating system is still available to do whatever tasks you need.

      I was a die hard PC user before switching to Macs and I have never looked back. I used to argue that PCs were a better value and that Macs were overpriced. I ate those words a long time ago. Unlike Windows, Mac OS X is designed around the hardware that Apple puts into their machines. Therefore it only has to meet the needs of the few instead of the needs of many like Windows does. This streamlines the OS and makes for a very pleasant user experience. Example: “Oh, you would like to uninstall an application? Simply drag the application icon from the Applications folder to the Trash and it’s uninstalled.”

      Photoshop, Lightroom, and Bridge were all designed/programmed on Macs first. They run extremely well on a Mac and they run well on Windows. Now that OS X Snow Leopard is out, you can run Lightroom 2 in 64-bit mode and I am sure that the next version of Photoshop will support 64-bit too.

      You won’t regret the iMac one bit, especially since you have been working with Macs in your college class. The transition will be quite simple and you’ll know your way around the Mac in a matter of days. I recommend checking out Macwold’s website as they have a lot of great articles and information pertaining to tips and tricks. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!

      All the best,

      Stephen

  17. Hi Stephen,

    I am a high school junior, i love photography and graphic design and i’m looking to buy a laptop for photography using photoshop, illustrator, etc. I really want a mac, i’m just not sure about the specifications and I can tell you know what you’re talking about…suggestions? Price isn’t a huge issue.

    Thanks so much.

    • Hi Reilly,

      If you’re looking for a killer laptop for photography and you want a Mac, there are two recommendations that I will make.

      The best bang for your buck is going to be the 15″ MacBook Pro with the Intel Core i7 Processor. Price is $2199.00 as configured on Apple’s website and it’s about as fast as you can get in a Mac notebook with a 15″ form factor.

      Second, the MacBook Pro 17″ with the Intel Core i5 Processor is going to be your second best bet. It gives you a little more viewing real estate and starts at $2299.00 from Apple. You can also configure it with the i7 processor as well.

      Both models come with a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and nVidia graphics with 512MB of dedicated video memory. Also, both are customizable and can be configured however you like if price is not a concern.

      I hope that helps with your decision and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

      All the best,

      Stephen

  18. Hi Stephen, We travel a lot and I love taking pictures.(FYI… I use a great program to do videos of our trips -Photodex – Prow show Professional) and I am quite good but when it comes to working just with the images I am lost.

    First, I am in the market for a new computer. I think I still want a desk top since I can get more bang for the buck and I really don’t want to travel with a laptop…but I am open to suggestions.

    Second, I also need a new monitor.
    I enjoy creating photobooks (I use photobookAmerica) and have had some issues with calibrating. There program is a little mjore advanced then some of the others. I truly don’t think what I have is up to par with what I am trying to do with my photography.

    and third, photography software. I will say user friendliness is one of my key priorities!!!I am not dumb but not a techno geek!

    Sorry to have asked you so much but I really need this sorted out!
    Oh, price range – I’d like to keep it no more then about $1000 for the computer. Not sure what I need to spend on the monitor? Don’t need speakers etc…
    Janet

    I just bought a Nikon Coolpix P100. We just got back from Switerland and want to get set up before I start working with my photo files. All I have done so far is download to my currect computer and delete some of the really bad shots – still have some 1500!!!

    • Hi Janet,

      I will compile a list of equipment that meets your requirements for both budget and desires and send them in an e-mail to you. It will probably take a couple of days to do so, and I appreciate your patience.

      Thanks for taking the time to ask and I hope I am able to help!

      All the best,

      Stephen

  19. I still don’t know. I’m a new photographer on a tight budget. I’m thinking about a dell ? Is that good? PLEASE HELP. I’m completely lost D:

    • Hi Justine,

      Almost any computer is good these days for digital photography purposes. Dell’s are good PCs, as well as HPs and Toshibas. I would recommend that you steer clear of a netbook because of it’s limited graphics capabilities, but nearly any laptop will be sufficient.

      If you have any other questions, please let me know.

      All the best,

      Stephen

  20. Thanks for any other informative website. Where else may just I am getting that type of info written in such a perfect way? I’ve a project that I’m just now working on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

  21. Hi,

    I’m looking for open up a small photography and video filming business in my house. I have two laptops and working together with those two.

    I’m really would like to expand and implement the right networked based. Because we are three people working together and would like to store and share everything on the server and buying three pc shouldn’t be a problem, but buying photoshop cs6 is very expensive for three pc. So could you please anyone help me to choose, or implement what is the server do I have to buy? Can I install photoshop on the server and share among those three pcs? Do I have to purchase individual keys for CS6?

    Any good advice please

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