Howdy! I hope your Christmas Shopping rush is going well. I’m going to try and give you a bit of a break. The digital darkroom for a topic is typically one that Photography Educators avoid like the plague and I do not blame them! There are so many variables… However! I’m gonna dive in anyways. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and being a bit different. Sorry this post is a bit long, but necessary, to explain it all to you. The good part about that is it’s here to refer to if you’re a bit busy.
Digital Photography Means Computers…
For a lot of people if you say “computer” that word can send shivers up and down their spine! My teaching style has always been to try and make the complicated simple… so here goes.
The very first thing to realize is that there is no way to spec out the perfect computer because there are so many options and individual needs. However it’s my hope that some of this information will assist you in your choices and maybe keep you from regretting your decisions.
Photography Will Require Top of the Line Computer Systems
The first thing to realize is that it does not matter which Photography Editing system you use, (Adobe, Capture One, Topaz, etc…) all of these programs will stretch your computers operating systems to the max. ANY Photo Editing Application will put your computer operating system on its ear. You will be in the one percent of advanced computer users.
These programs are nothing compared to your normal word processing, email, or web browsers. You will require the most power that can be obtained in Computer Systems. You can start with less… but at some time in your future, you will either stop editing your images, or you will want to move up to more powerful equipment.
You could even say, “but Garrett I’m not having difficulties at all.” I am not trying to scare you but as your skills grow your computer needs will escalate. Especially if you delve into the large mega-pixel cameras out there.
I’M GOING TO PUT THIS STATEMENT RIGHT OUT THERE! You can have a LOT less camera than the top of the line pro cameras out there; and get a LOT more out of the images from that camera, with editing than you can imagine! Or? If you like I can also show you how to get awesome images with no editing! But you’ll have to learn even more about your camera and Photography.
When editing images the cornerstone of your editing will be the computer in front of you. This means that if I’m personally stuck with the decision between new computer systems and camera gear? I’m going with the new computer first.
Desktop, Laptop, or Tablet?
Which of those three would you like to have? If you absolutely need portability then many choose the laptop. However the trade-off here is that a laptop will most of the time, never be as fast as a desktop, or as upgradeable, for a comparable budget point.
For my personal needs I use both a desktop iMac 27″, that is a 2019 model, and a MacMini that is a 2018 model. Why such old computers you might say? These two systems are the very last totally upgradeable units that Apple produced.
Everything that Apple currently produces now has all of the internal components soldered to the motherboard. My family is still using a 2012 Mac mini without issue. And guess what? Apple still uses the 2012 Mac Mini as servers!
If you have witnessed any of my classes at B&C Camera then you’ve seen me make my 27″ iMac very portable. Yes, when I travel all summer long in my 32 foot travel trailer both of these computers go with me, so I’d say that’s pretty portable. If I did fly, (which I don’t) they can both easily fly with me.
A tablet? Yes I carry an iPad Pro 12.9″ model as well. But I do not use the tablet for editing unless it’s with Snapseed. This could be changing soon… I’m testing some things. More on that later.
ALSO IMPORTANT! YOU DO NOT “NEED” THE LATEST AND GREATEST COMPUTER OR THE LATEST AND GREATEST CAMERA! DO NOT BELIEVE ALL OF THE HYPE!
Windows or Apple?
Man this topic can stir the pot can’t it? I’m personally an Apple user. There are many very good Photographers out there that are Windows users. Properly set up a Windows computer will be just as fast as an Apple computer EXCEPT when it comes to all the vulnerabilities inherent in the Windows operating system.
If you are tech savvy and wish to stay up on the attacks? No problem. I personally do not wish to tweak my computer that much.
I’m an Apple user because I like the experience I get with this equipment. Plus? That very famous guy Steve Jobs was all about making very complicated systems simple.
Thunderbolt 4 external drives are just as fast as your internal operating system. Windows recently added Thunderbolt 4 to their systems. But they are only available on their most expensive systems.
If you are more comfortable with a Windows System by all means stick with it. Configured properly both will work just fine.
Alright Now The Specs
Ok here’s where there can be LOTS of confusion! Remember! I personally NEVER upgrade anything until it’s been well tested. Today I just updated the operating system on one of my computers. Why one? Because I need to know it works flawlessly with everything in my workflow or I’m outta business.
PROCESSORS: There are lots of choices here. i5, i7, i9, m1, m2, m3… multi core, multi threading, multi headaches. I’ve seen a properly set up i5 run circles around other computers. This part generally matters for the overall speed of your system so it pays to go all the way if you can afford it. Understand this point though… Apple my beloved Apple, had all kinds of problems with the m1, and the m2, so if given the choice, go with the m3. Personally I’m still using a six core i7 and an eight core i9 with zero incidents. I do not see me updating these systems anytime in the near future.
RAM: (Random Access Memory) The very minimum you will find is generally 8 gigs of Ram. With the very minimum of anything you get minimal performance. I would suggest at least 32 gig of Ram. If you walk into most computer stores they will tell you nobody needs more than 16 gig. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! Also make sure your computer is upgradeable to more Ram later if possible. If the Ram is soldered to the motherboard, and you wish to upgrade it? Or replace it if it goes bad? (and it can) You get to throw away that computer and buy a new one.
When I bought my 2019 iMac I ordered it with the top of the line internal components except the Ram, which I ordered 8 Gigs. Then on the open market I installed 128 Gigs of Ram. It took me about three minutes to do this. It’s easy. This alone saved me $2500.00 on that computer at the time.
On my Mac Mini? I’m running 64 Gigs of Ram with no issues.
HARD DRIVE: When I built my first PC back in the day (4 decades ago! Holy shit Batman) all the guru’s of the time told me to get at least a one gig hard drive. Within less than a year that was no where near enough! Programs keep getting better and with that, they take up more room. Now a days I’d opt for at least a One Terabyte SSD but it’s usually not that much more for a Two Terabyte so I’d recommend that. Programs are not going to get any smaller. SSD’s are definitely better than the old fashioned Sata Drives. Your internal drive is only for operating programs! Not your Photos! You’ll use external drives for those. More on that later. Read on.
GRAPHICS CARD or VIDEO CARD: For photography this is huge. For video even more taxing. If possible I’d go with a card that has at least 8gig of ram. (or vRAM) what ever they call it. A lot of photo editing programs use the video card a lot! If you can get one with 16 or 32 gigs of ram on the video card grab it! Bottom line, buy the best video card available. Below are a couple of images of video cards. The one on left is pretty good. The one on the right? A monster video card for a gaming computer! Notice all those fans? That’s because it rocks and heat is a computers Achilles heel.
WHEN RESEARCHING THIS: I did a google search for minimum computer specs for LightRoom and PhotoShop… when I read those I say quintuple them! Why? Because they say minimum… they do not wish to scare you away from buying their software, so they are stating the bare minimum to turn it on. When you call in because you’re having performance issues, they’ll tell you it’s your computer, not their software. Marketing 101. They keep making improvements… your computer will last longer.
MONITORS: Here’s another loaded subject. Most PC monitors are terrible. I said most, not all. However when ever possible I personally would use an Adobe RGB 1998 Monitor and I would calibrate that often. Now there are some very expensive options when it comes to monitors. Ezio comes to mind here. They have an RGB monitor that costs twenty thousand dollars! Don’t you dare buy it! That’s very overkill. You can get a very good RGB monitor from BenQ. I have that one personally. The model number SW272Q. It’s a 27″ Adobe RGB 1998 monitor and very reasonably priced at $799.00. Of course I’m also using the iMac 27″ 5K Retina Display. In the picture below the Ben Q is on the left and My iMac 27″ on the right.
External Hard Drives
This is one of the most important topics here believe it or not. This is also where Apple really shines with Thunderbolt 4 Technology. Why? Because it’s easier to buy a Mac with Thunderbolt 4 than it is to buy a PC with it. I went looking for a PC tonight as I typed this article. I searched MANY websites and still did not find a compatible PC to what I’m using at any price. For this you would have to go to the top of the line gaming computer guys for a lot more money, or chance having a geek build you one. The Image below compares Thunderbolt 3 speeds to USB. Thunderbolt 4 is not any faster but allows more high definition monitors to be attached to one system.
Thunderbolt 4 is NOT the same as USB C even though the connector looks the same. You will appreciate Thunderbolt 4 technology when it comes to operating LR or PS from an external drive, or moving images from one drive to another. The speed vs old fashioned usb will astonish you! Move data in minutes instead of a whole day or in the case usb 2.0? Weeks!
The drives I’m currently using are pictured below, external view and internal view. I build them myself. You can too! It’s easy! The enclosure holds two drives and is TB4. A sata drive and a MVMe m.2. Currently this is the least expensive option I have found for replaceable by the user, TB4 drives.
Data you say? Garrett I don’t have a lot of data. Trust me Photography and especially Video will consume hard drives like no tomorrow.
I highly recommend having at least two backups of your images, and specifically the DNG’s backed up. If anything fails the DNG back up will save your bacon. That information also stores all of your editing. I recently had a 264 terabyte raid fail. I lost all of that data. I had my raws backed up but not the DNG’s. So now I get to go in and re-edit all of my work. Isn’t that fun!
In Closing I know This Is A Lot Of Information
However your digital darkroom and how it’s set up can add years to your life, or take years off of it. This is supposed to be fun. A good, properly set up digital darkroom will make things a LOT smoother and faster. This gives us more time to be out there composing our next masterpiece!
As I stated above you do not need the latest and greatest Camera or Computer. But you do need the latest and greatest education. I pride myself in trying to offer that. Do I know it all? No I do not. But I do know more than most, and I try and keep up with what’s important for my work, and still keep things simple. I know… some of the information in this post will make your head hurt. But once you buy or upgrade your system properly, you’re home free.
If you are working fine with your current system? Great! No problem! But if you need to do something in the future? The information is here, and very few educators will jump off the cliff to give it to you. I can guarantee you a lot of people out there will argue with my statements above. I’m glad I will not be able to hear them ^_^
I’ve told you exactly what I’m using in my daily workflow above. A 2018 and a 2019 system. They are not the latest and the greatest. But? They are exceptionally fast, reasonably priced, and VERY fixable without having to start over completely!
Thanks For Reading! You’ll be getting this newsletter about a week before Christmas. I wish you all the most joyous and safe holiday season!
After The First Of The Year
I’ll be offering an online community of learning. Most everything I’ll be doing after New Years will be through video. I’m working on that infrastructure now. (Aren’t ya glad, shorter posts! ^_* ) If you would really like to learn the secrets of setting yourself and your Photography apart this will be the place! You can still take advantage of my Holiday special by clicking the link below.