Welcome to my annual IT for photography blog series! Its just so big, it’s a 3-part series: desktop, storage and mobility. I have over 20 years of experience in IT including my own consulting business for over 10 years! So yes, I know a thing or two!


The Computer

I always start off the series with the most favorite of the series: the desktop and laptop. It’s the sexiest. People see it as the most important and productive piece of your photography, IT system.

While Im an Apple-based person, it really doesn’t matter whether you are or not. The principles here apply to both systems. Just to let you know, I was a PC person for a long time. But I just got frustrated with maintenance and the tinkering I always had to do with a Windows computer. The Mac, you just don’t need all the maintenance and tinkering. Sure there are issues. But its nothing like a Windows system. There is a reason why a Mac-based business doesn’t need as many techs. They just work. As long as you follow some simple and basic, IT processes, maintenance is almost zero. There! Now Im done with my evangelism! Onto the fun stuff!

Choices. The great thing these days is the number of options we have available. If you do a lot of video, even a relatively moderate laptop can do a good job. Or you can get yourself a fire-breathing desktop to get your work done ASAP!

You know what one of the worst things to have when choosing a system? Money.

I’ve seen much too often people purchasing systems that are way-over board for what they need. You know what my main computer is? A 2013 15” MacBook Pro! Its not sexy. Its not the latest and greatest. But due to my knowledge of computers and creating an efficient workflow, I do just fine.

Would it be better to have a new machine with all the bells and whistles? Yes, it would be nice. It would certainly make things faster. I would love USB-C. Would love to be able to use a 4k monitor. But because of my workflow, I do okay right now with a 7-year old system. There would be a point where I would need a new system due to workload. But my main point: you can do a lot more than you think.

My computer setup mostly for the last 7 years. If you learn how your systems work, it's surprisingly how long they will last. And you'll save money in the process by upgrading less!

My computer setup mostly for the last 7 years. If you learn how your systems work, it's surprisingly how long they will last. And you'll save money in the process by upgrading less!

PerformanceWhen deciding on a system, you should get what you really want to get without going too far. And really, its easier than you think. Talk with people who are doing what you do and see what they are using. Go to photographer groups. Maybe join a photography association. Don’t go onto forums. I wouldn’t even watch Youtubers. The latter is especially bad as they are always wanting to go with the most expensive systems or their workflows are sloppy. They don’t have professional experience most of the time.

Im going to focus on photography because as soon as I start talking about video, this column will get twice as big! So with that, I think these are the things you should focus on for photography and its related uses:

• CPU

• Video processor

• Storage

The CPU Its controversial to have this as the first option. Ill get to that later. But the main thing: processors are so amazing these days. For photography, unless you are using a 100MP camera and editing RAW files, which you should be, just a few simple, minimum guidelines should help you:

• 4-cores

• Intel Core i5

Even a slower, 4-core CPU can do quite well in photography. I may be getting a 2020 MacBook Air with the i5 and it should do okay for me. Even though this laptop uses a 1.2GHz machine, it’s only part of the equation. Comparing it to my current computer, the processor is half the speed. But the internal SSD is 1.5x faster. The RAM, 2.5x faster. Thunderbolt 3 vs Thunderbolt 2. To get a real performance boost, I'd have to spend at least an extra $500 - $800 on a higher-powered computer. Really, it could handle all the photography work I would need it while on site. Just as long as I don't need to export hundreds of images then/there. Which never happens. This machine would be more than sufficient. And do it in a sub-3lb package.

The 2020 MacBook Air. Maybe my next laptop. (Image: the guardian.com)

The 2020 MacBook Air. Maybe my next laptop. (Image: the guardian.com)

I use Panasonic G9 cameras and they have a 20MP sensor. The new MacBook Air is about the same in CPU performance than my current laptop. But with its 2.5x faster memory, 2x faster SSD and Thunderbolt 3, it should be plenty fast for just about any photography work I throw at it.

If you are only going to get one machine and you have a camera with 50MP or more in its sensor, then its certainly a good option to go with something a good deal faster. With this kind of resolution, I wouldn’t go with anything less than a high-speed, 4-core processor. Something in the 2.8GHz range and faster. The 8-core laptops you can get these days are simply amazing. No problem with those.

The Laptop and Desktop Computer? For me, I would like to get two machines. A good laptop for when Im not in the office and a fire-breathing desktop when in the office.

The thinking is: I want something light and capable when I’m mobile. Something that will allow me to process a good number of photos in a reasonable amount of time. But I want a high-end desktop when in the office for the event and video work.

While my love is fashion photography and the MacBook Air is more than capable of dealing with that, I also do lots of event work. When I do events, at the very least, I have hundreds of photos. Then, I have to create several different versions of the image to process. In total, I can have 1000+ images to create from this batch. This would take about 45 minutes to process. Not a big deal. But what if Im lucky enough to process 2 event shoots? What if Im lucky enough to do this 3 – 5 days worth? What if I have several different shooters working for me and have to process all of their photos? So yes, processing time matters. CPU matters.

The Desktop Computer. Honestly, a high-end Mac mini might do the job for me. For the same price of a MacBook Air, I would get a machine almost 2x faster than the laptop. So instead of taking approximately 30 – 45 minutes to process a big event shoot, it would take 15 – 25 minutes. Which would be more than enough. My first Mac was a Mac mini and I absolutely loved it. I only had money for the dual-core version and was by far, the biggest IT mistake I ever made. If I bought the 4-core version, I may still be using it. 9 years later… I mean, my 2013” MacBook Pro is basically a 4-core version of it.

Why not a Mac Pro? The cost/performance ratio isn't as high as Mac mini. Plus, it's simply 4 times the cost. It's that big initial investment. But speed is speed as I've demonstrated. Even the base Mac Pro is 3x - 4x faster than a MacBook Air. Iit really depends on how business is doing. I'd rather have the Mac Pro for multiple reasons:

• Longevity. I'd be set for 10 years. Quite easily. I've had my own MacBook Pro for 7 years and it's been fantastic. In 4 - 5 years, I can get a top-shelf processor for $500 or less and double the CPU performance. Parts should be widely available and relatively inexpensive in the years to come. It's a big initial investment. But $6000 for 10 years? That's $50/month. That's half my cell phone bill. Can you make an extra $50 profit/month on a shoot?

• Workflow Bottleneck. There wouldn't be any with a Mac Pro. Even a base Mac Pro would be incredibly powerful for just me. However, throw in video production. I calculated once for a 12-core Mac Pro on the daily workload it could handle: 500 images from 24 photographers and 1-hour video rendering by 3 videographers. Yes, even the 8-core version will handle anything I throw at it in the foreseeable future. And this is without any of the other performance-enhancing accessories already available for it. I mean, to be able to process 500 to create 1500 images from a shoot in 2 minutes?

• Multitasking. One of the big problems I have with my current machine is working on a set of images while the computer is exporting a separate batch. Usability is just so bad. The system comes to a crawl and if I attempt to edit images, I risk crashing the app. If I can keep on working while the system exports images, the time savings would be huge.

• My Inner Geek. The design of the Mac Pro is a bit of a throwback. It reminds me of machines I used to use when I first started my career. Almost completely upgradeable. A big box full of tech. I loved those machines.

• Symbolism. I heard a Youtuber who bought one say "When I walk into my office and see my new Mac Pro, it reminds me of my success and hard work it took to get it". I totally get it. I mean, it's certainly more useful and less expensive than a Rolex, Ferrari or Gucci shoes. Isn't it?

We'll see what happens. It's a business expense after all. I could lease it or get a business loan and the payments would be a tax write-off. I could easily put $1000 down on the lease and then make $90/payments a month. See? But money is still money. So we'll see when the time comes.

Check out the upper-left hand corner: my first Mac the mini! This was a fantastic machine. Loved it!

Check out the upper-left hand corner: my first Mac the mini! This was a fantastic machine. Loved it!

Just by chance, I went onto YouTube and found these two great videos. One by the incredibly popular MBKHD and the other from 9to5Mac. My respect for MBKHD went up quite a bit. He's been using a 13" MBP and said, he may switch over to the Air for when he's out of the office. He's a guy who uses top of the line everything and he's using an Air for his mobile needs. Smart.9to5Mac talks about how he's using his 2018 Mac mini for his everyday work and video editing. Yes, he's upgraded the machine with about $1000 worth improvements. But then, I'm still $1000 under a base Mac Pro and have two great machines to show for it.


MBKHD and his 2020 MacBook Air

9to5Mac Video Editing on a Mac mini

Video Processors. For photography, the video processor for a computer doesn’t make as much difference as you might think.

Many less-experienced people would switch the first two items in my list between CPU and video processor. Well, maybe 5 years ago, that was the case. These days, CPUs are so fast. And with photography, there are only times when a fantastic video processor is going to benefit you: when you import and exporting images. And there are so many other factors that go into render speed. With photographs, the amount of time using a cheaper card to a more expensive one isn’t going to matter as much. You need a much faster video card to see a real difference.

Funny story… How a video processor can hurt you. I was experimenting with performance tuning on my laptop and Capture One software. The software by default had hardware acceleration enabled by default as my laptop has dedicated graphics. But I thought, how would performance be impacted if I disabled acceleration.

Well, it actually improved processing speed. A good deal! It was pretty funny. So yes, hardware acceleration doesn’t always help and in this case, hurt performance. But if your system is relatively new, it should help if even a little. So I wouldn’t worry about video as much. If you can get better video for a good price, then go for it.

Storage. Storage is so fast and cheap, its more about optimizing what you get.

The SSD for your internal boot drive, this is the storage your computer uses for its operating system to start. Solid State Drive (SSD). Without question. The performance difference and reliability between this technology and a traditional hard drive is huge. 

My 512GB SSD in my laptop has been more than enough for photography work for the last 7 years. It's not big. Though as soon as I’m done with a project, I offload it onto my external hard drive. A decent 512GB SSD starts at a reasonable $79. Yes. Replace your traditional internal boot drive with an SSD and be amazed with the performance boost.

The Old, Cheap and Huge Standard – The Hard Drive. Really, this should be your archive solution and not your direct-work drive. As inexpensive as SSDs are, you can get a nicely sized SSD boot drive for work and then archive it when done. Keep it lean.

Next Article: External and Advanced Storage and Backup Solutions. Storage is much bigger and more complicated story than many more people think. Of course, you don’t want to lose images with a poor storage system either. 

With the next article, I will be focusing on storage systems and what is available. Were getting really into geekville here! I’ll be talking about larger, faster and more advanced storage systems. Backup solutions for your storage. Next Thursday!

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Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in fashion, beauty and commercial photography.
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