The Best Computer For Digital Photography, Part II

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I posted last week about the best computer for digital photography, and I wanted to follow up with a little more detail about hardware and software. I didn’t want to have a long, endless post on the first go around so here’s some more gouge to help you with your decision.

  • Hardware – Macs and PCs now use virtually the same hardware. The major difference that set Macs apart from PCs was the fact that Macs used Power PC processors vice the Intel and AMD processors used by Windows machines. Well, Apple has since changed that. Now Macs use Intel processors which allows them to also run Windows on Mac hardware as well at Apple’s operating system OS X (ten). There are other, more subtle differences in memory types and OEM hardware manufacturers, but Windows and Mac machines both use nVidia and ATI video cards. When Apple made the switch to Intel, a lot of Windows users started to sit up straight and pay more attention to Apple. And it was no surprise to Apple when their sales increased after making the switch. Combine Intel chips with the ability to run Windows and more and more people considered moving to the Mac. Macs are also capable of burning CDs and DVDs, building spreadsheets, word processing, and creating presentations just like PCs can. Most Macs come with an Apple Remote, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi as well as the usual USB 2.0, Firewire 400 & 800, audio in and out, and Mini DVI or DVI out. Price wise, if you compare a Mac and a PC with the same specs you can bet that the price is just about the same too. Apple was able to bring down prices with the switch to Intel.
  • Windows – Mac and PC have been competing for years via their operating systems… OS X and Windows. It has been rumored that when Microsoft went back to the drawing board for Vista, the project manager put a Mac in front of the design team and said to “make it look like this”. It was also rumored that the same project manager sent an e-mail to Microsoft’s CEO and Bill Gates that said if it weren’t for the fact that he worked for Microsoft that he would buy a Mac. Personally, I have worked on both OS X and Windows XP and Vista. XP was a much more reliable OS than 2000, ME, NT, 98, or 95. However, XP would still crash. I have been running Vista Ultimate for a while now, and still have yet to crash it. Now, I don’t try to intentionally crash the OS, as that wouldn’t be fair. But running normal apps like Office, Photoshop CS3, and Lightroom 1.3, I still have yet to crash it. Now, Vista is VERY RAM hungry. When I was running XP Pro on my same PC, I only had 512MB of RAM in it. When I upgraded to Vista Ultimate, I had to upgrade my RAM to 2GB (my motherboard’s max) in order to get it to really run smoothly. I also don’t run any of the super graphics intensive features to help conserve on RAM. I also have an nVidia 256MB video card in there, and Vista still sucks up system RAM using it’s fancy eye candy. You still have a lot of hassle to go through with installing and uninstalling program with Vista as well. I would have thought that Microsoft would have caught on by now. Vista also warns you just about anytime you want to do ANYTHING with a file or installing a program. “Cancel or Allow” is no joke! I think Vista is the best OS that Microsoft has put out so far, but I still wouldn’t trade an old Mac for it.
  • OS X – This is where Apple and Macs really excel! Macs are very easy to use and are also user friendly. When you install a program, all you have to do is drag the program icon into the applications folder and it’s installed! How easy is that??? Want to uninstall a program, just move the program icon from the Applications folder to the Trash and you’re done! WOW! Macs also have really great graphics which make them an unbeatable choice for digital photography. I have no idea exactly how Apple does it, but OS X is just awesome at handling graphics. OS X is also very secure. You won’t have all the problems with worms and viruses that you run into on Windows machines. Not to say that you shouldn’t protect yourself (because you should always do so), but a lot of people have a beef with Microsoft and they are a bigger target. I think charging $400.00 for an operating system and another $250.00 for an office suite has something to do with it, but I’m just speculating here. Speaking of price, OS X is ALWAYS $130.00 for whatever release is current. OS X 10.4 Tiger was $130.00 and so is OS X 10.5 Leopard. And there is only one version. No personal, business, professional, or ultimate versions at Apple. Just one. OS X doesn’t crash, there’s no blue screen of death, it boots fast, it’s secure, and it’s simple to use. It’s my personal favorite and the choice of many of the top pros in the photography industry as well as a lot of other photographers, both amateur and professional.
  • Photoshop & Lightroom – Both of these digital photography apps run very well on both systems. The more memory and processing power you have, the better they will run. There’s no doubt about that whether on a Windows or Mac machine. They are universal apps so all the features are the same in both programs. You can’t do anything more in Photoshop or Lightroom on a Mac than you can on a PC. The only difference is some of the keystroke commands that vary from the Mac to the PC. Instead of Ctrl – S to save a file on a PC, you will hit Command – S on a Mac. That’s the only difference in the apps between the two operating systems.

All this said, I would look for a few key things when buying a new computer for digital photography use. Many PCs have built in media readers for SD, CF, Memory Stick, and other types of removable media. While this doesn’t save you a lot of cash, it’s certainly convenient having it right there on your computer and not having to worry about an external device. Get as much processing power for your money. Look for a computer that features an a dual core or quad core processor. The two cores act as two (or four) separate processors when handling instructions and thus greatly speed up the computing experience. More memory will certainly help out as well. Memory stores frequently used instructions to be referenced by the computer again, thus saving time. Again, speeding up the computing experience. Most higher end Mac and PCs include at least 2GB of RAM (memory). Beyond that, the rest of the features are just bells and whistles. Go to the Apple Store and play with a Mac. Then go to Best Buy and play with a Vista machine and get a feel for what you would like best. Hardware is very similar, so you can’t go wrong with either choice really. Although buying a Mac will make you a better photographer. (Just kidding, kind of.) Again, if you have questions feel free to drop me a line via my Contact page or call the manufacturer and tell them what you are looking for and what you want to do with it. You can also call my friend’s at B&H Photo and you can speak to an actual photographer who will point you in the right direction as well. I have found that most major electronics retailers aren’t really that knowledgeable and can often be confusing. Good luck on your quest to find the ultimate computer for your digital photography workflow! 🙂

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24 thoughts on “The Best Computer For Digital Photography, Part II

  1. I am using a mac as we speak. I mac 2gh intel coe duo

    mem 2 gb 667 mhz ddrr sdram mac 0sx 10.4

    its slow as can be for photoshop. I want to switch to a p.c help me

  2. Hi Mike,

    Sorry to hear that you’re having problems with your Mac. You shouldn’t be given the hardware specs, but there are a couple of things to take a look at.

    – Unlike a PC, when you close a window on a Mac it doesn’t close the program, just the window that was open. To ensure that you are completely quitting the program you are using, you can use the following keyboard combination: Command-Q Having many programs running while also using Photoshop will greatly increase the use of your Mac’s memory and will slow down your Photoshop experience.

    – Another trick to help speed up Photoshop is to go into Performance settings in Photoshop and increase the amount of RAM (memory) that Photoshop is allowed to use. To do so, just go to: Edit > Preferences > Performance. This will open the Performance dialog window. Adjust the Memory Usage slider to increase the amount of memory used by Photoshop to 75%. I don’t recommend setting it higher than 75%. Click Ok and you are all set.

    Try those two things out and see if that doesn’t help your Mac experience using Photoshop.

    Warm regards,

    Stephen

  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 question,

    I am studying digital photography, but I’d wish that someone would tell me what computer to buy, since I don’t know anything of computers so I would apreciate if you help me.

    Thanks.

  5. Pingback: My World of Photography and Computer

  6. Within the next week or two, I am going to buy PSCS4 and Lightroom 2 and would like a little direction on computers. I have a PC with Windows Vista. I hear there have been a lot of problems with Vista and that a new Windows 7 is coming out in Oct. Are the problems with Vista just personal choices like layout, etc… or are there actual problems, problems. I am an aspiring photographer that is in the intial phases of starting my own business. Can you please help? If I have the ability to get a Mac, should I do that and then get the PSCS4+LR2 and just give the PC to my husband? I hear Macs are awesome with graphics. Or would it be just as simple to use what I have, upgrade to Windows 7 in Oct.? What will that do to PSCS4+LR2 if I upgrade to Windows 7 after uploading the programs through Vista? Will I have to pay some sort of upgrade for PSCS4+LR2 to work in Windows 7? Thnaks for your help!

    • Hi Stephanie,

      There is no doubt about it, Macs are the way to go when it comes to graphics. They cannot be beat. A lot of people don’t like some of the new features Windows Vista brought to the table as they saw them as annoying. Windows Vista is also a RAM hog and if you really want it to run smooth you need at least 4GB of RAM (memory). Windows Vista still crashes, hangs up, and runs slow. There were quite a few users that went back to Windows XP because they were so disgusted with Vista. Mac OS X is built on UNIX, which is very stable and secure. If a program locks up, you can still do other things on your Mac without having to restart, including stopping the process that’s hanging up. Macs are easy to use and include a lot of programs with the OS so that you don’t have to buy others. If you decide to keep your Windows machine, there shouldn’t be any issues with upgrading to Windows 7 this fall as far as Photoshop and Lightroom go. I can’t say the same for issues that may come up with Windows 7 itself.

      If you can swing it, I would recommend a Mac and buy PS CS4 and LR2 for Mac.

      I hope that helps you out and if you have any other questions please feel free to ask!

      Cheers!

      Stephen

  7. Hi Stephen,

    I’m one of those who heavily invested in PC hardware and software products for business applications. Now, my move is to digital photograpy and fine arts.

    I would like to know the best 24 inch LCD and or CRT monitor for high resolution photos. What is the best color graphics card to use with the monitor(s)? I plan to move to new equipment after Windows 7 becomes available.

    Thanks,

    Tom

  8. Hi Stephen,

    I’ve been shopping for a camera and a new computer as I would like to take much of my digital photography knowledge and pursue a career in photography as a side business. Many of my friends in the business have Mac’s. I’ve never owned a Mac, though I’ve used one here and there. Would a Mac be your recommendation and which camera would you recommend for wedding photography? The style of photography that I’m mostly interested in is that of Steve Gemmell.

    Thank you!

  9. Hi Leslie,

    If you’re looking for a a great computer, I highly recommend a Mac. If you don’t need to have it with you all the time, then a 24″ iMac is a great way to go. It’s got plenty of power and hard drive space to accomodate any photographer and you can even customize it to add a larger hard drive or more memory if you so desire. If you need portability, then I would go with a 15″ or 17″ MacBook Pro. They give you desktop power in a smaller, portable package.

    As far as cameras go, I’m a Nikon shooter and I will recommend their cameras. The D700 is the best Nikon out there for portraits and weddings. It performs superbly at high ISO settings, keeping noise low. Keep in mind that a camera is nothing more than a box that traps light. Good glass (lenses) are extremely important, especially to wedding photogs who are constantly shooting in low-light situations. If the D700 is a stretch in price, then you could also look at the D90 or D300s. Both cameras incorporate HD 720p video which is a cool feature to have.

    I hope those suggestions help with your decisions and if you have any other questions, feel free to ask away!

    Cheers!

    Stephen

  10. Stephen,

    I am looking at buying the new imac that just came out. I’m trying to decide if it would be better to upgrade to the quad core or up my ram and hard drive space instead. I have so many pictures that are such huge files that they just eat up my computer processing time and my computer is constantly freezing. I asked the guys at the mac store but they were no help of course. I guess I’m just not sure which spec (quad core, ram, hard drive space) most contributes to the speed of my computer when working on my photos in photoshop.

    • Hi Alex,

      Here’s the 411 on the issue your facing: spend the extra money on RAM and a larger hard drive, and an external hard drive. The Quad Core chip is great, but Photoshop relies very heavily on RAM as opposed to the CPU.

      Another little trick you can do to help speed up your PS experience is go to Preferences > Performance and change your Memory Usage to allow PS to use up to 75% of your RAM. Don’t go above that though, as doing so may cause your system to become a little unstable. PS also uses free hard drive space as virtual memory, so having plenty of hard drive space is key to good PS performance. Lastly, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP!!! Get an external drive to back up your system and store extra copies of your images.

      I hope those little tips help out, as I have had great success with them. Good luck with your purchase and congrats on going for the new iMac… I’m maybe just a tad bit envious. 🙂

      Cheers!

      Stephen

  11. Hey Stephen. I am looking for someone with an non-bias fact on this.. I am getting ready to attend the Art Institute of Indianapolis for a career in Photography. One of the things other than a camera that I am looking to buy is a new laptop. In particular, the MacBook Pro 15″ has caught my eye. I understand that it has snow leopard, and (so far only one site) has said that photoshop and lightroom were only there to crash… I have never used either of the two programs for lack of funds, nor have I ever owned a mac. I have used a PC all my life, and have just heard that Mac was the way to go for a photography career. Does the latest photoshop and lightroom work well on the MacBook pro with snow leopard? Can you share some insight into this please? Thank you

    • Hi Christopher,

      What you had read on that site about Photoshop and Lightroom not working with Snow Leopard was partly true, kind of. When Snow Leopard was first released, Adobe had not had time to release any software updates to accommodate Snow Leopard so users reported problems, which is to be expected.

      You will find that your user experience on a Mac will be less stressful and more enjoyable. It take a little time to get used to the differences, but the stability differences are huge. Macs are inherently more stable than PCs and it’s very noticeable. Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom run exceptionally well on a Mac and find themselves right at home. Photoshop CS4 takes advantage of a lot of the Open GL features from the graphics card and therefore runs extremely quick.

      I hope that helps you in your decision and if you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

      All the best,

      Stephen

      • Just one more question about size. As I AM financing this purchase, it would still be helpful to be able to pay less. I will be doing heavy photo editing and other things with this, while still wanting it to remain as portable as I can get it. Would you suggest the 13″ for such work? I don’t have a way to compare them at this time, as I don’t live in a city with a best buy or any such store.

      • The 13″ will work fine, however it will run a little slower because the 13″ model doesn’t contain a separate video card with dedicated video memory. Just something to keep in mind.

  12. Stephen: I am looking to invest in a new computer for digital photography. You have recommended power, speed, RAM, and hard drive as the main things to consider, but can you give me specifics, like how much of each. I want to stick to a PC since that is what I am used to (HP). I eventually want to upload some photo editing software (Photoshop, Lightroom). What graphics card do you recommend? What about storage of your photos?

    • Hi Vera,

      Currently, for CPU and RAM recommendations I would purchase a computer with an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor and at least 4GB of RAM. With regards to hard drive space, you can get most notebooks and desktops with a 1TB hard drive and you will find that 500GB is probably a little more common among notebooks. You will want to store files that you aren’t actively working with onto an external hard drive, which will free up your hard drive space to be used as a scratch disk (virtual RAM) for applications like Photoshop and Lightroom. Most graphics cards these days handle Photoshop and Lightroom very well, but ensure that you are getting a dedicated graphics card and not one that is integrated into the computer’s motherboard and shares system RAM to use as video memory. You definitely want dedicated video memory and at least 256MB of it – if not 512MB. As far as an external hard drive goes, I highly recommend spending a little extra money and getting a drive that has two physical hard drives in it that can be configured to RAID1. This appears as one drive to your computer, but it mirrors one physical hard drive onto the other so there is an exact copy of your data on each drive. If one physical drive fails, your data is safe on the other drive and is easily recovered.

      Since you like HP machines, here are a couple of recommendations:

      Desktop: HP Pavilion Elite HPE-450f Notebook: HP Pavilion Laptop dv7-4190us

      If you have any questions, just let me know!

      All the best,

      Stephen

  13. Thsi page is quite interesting but Im still unsure whether to go a Mac or PC. Im just starting my phtotgraphy business and have been told the Mac is the way to go.

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