Digital Photo Academy

Learn How To Use Your Digital Camera

Buying a Laptop VS Desktop; Laptops in the Field; Image Back-Up


Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston

Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston

Photo by Frank Siteman, DPA instructor Boston

The three photos of corrugated cardboard shot by Boston DPA photographer Frank Siteman are wonderful examples of how with controlled and careful lighting and some specific post processing with Photoshop and NIK software you can make anything look good. Think about it … Frank made a cardboard box look sexy.

Computers: I’m a long time Mac user to the point where Imp hesitant to comment of PC computers. With the exception of a few oddballs, every photographer, graphic designer and art director I know uses Mac computers … There must be something to this. However, the Panasonic Toughbook line is used in the field by NGOs, security personnel, police forces and the military. Obviously these computers are built to withstand punishment and knock-em-about use so if you’re looking for something to take on safari, or for an extended foray into the Amazon jungle you might check them out.

With any Laptop the considerations are size, weight, speed, memory and cost. A smaller screen and slower processor with less RAM will significantly reduce the cost but then it’s difficult to use as a primary computer. A small computer screen is really only useful as a carry around reference on location type of computer. Unfortunately one computer, much like any one camera, does not do everything. You need to weigh cost and size against portability etc. The best case scenario and the system used by many pros, including myself is a 15 inch laptop with lots of power and memory and an even larger more powerful desktop computer. I just recently bought a MacBook Pro, 4GB RAM, 500GB Hard Drive with a 2.66 GHz processor and its great, love it, although Ill probably boost the 4MB RAM up to 8 soon. As a recent alternative I’ve met a few photographers who carry an iPad in the field to preview images and show photos to clients at the shoot. The main issue here is upload speed as the interface to load images to the iPad is not nearly as fast as loading to a laptop. However if you’re not loading a large number of files it works pretty well.

This two-computer system can be pricey for a number of people. When investing in photo gear often there must be a compromise. If you’re at a point where you can only invest in one computer I would suggest a 15-inch with as much power and speed as you can afford. The 15 inch screen being large enough to edit and process on in a pinch and you always have the option of running a larger auxiliary screen with it, effectively increasing your desktop surface significantly. Alternatively Apple iMacs are a good deal for a large screen if you don’t need the portability of a laptop. You can currently buy a loaded 27-inch iMac for about the same price as a 15-inch laptop. Laptops due to the miniaturization required during manufacturing are more expensive than many desktop computers; they also must make allowance for the portability and shock effects of being portable. A desktop just sits on the desk; it doesn’t need to be (as) rugged and shockproof.

There is something most people overlook when buying a computer and that is the Scratch Disk size. Computer imaging programs like Photoshop and NIK use the empty hard drive space on your computer when processing images. With modern computer programs taking up a lot of hard drive space, simply to load the programs, but also to operate them, its very easy once you store a few thousand photos, to fill up a computer hard drive to the point where it cant run the programs quickly, or at all. The more free space on your hard drive the faster your images will process and the less danger of crashing or freezing during processing large files.

Photo by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York
The image above shot on location in Morocco for an AUDI campaign is a simple shot. The lighting was good which helped but what makes the photo interesting is the post processing applied using NIK Software. John added a film grain, boosted contrast and saturation, and increased the structure of the photo bringing out the detail. A simple shot which then works better, much better.

MacBook VS MacBook Pro: I often get this question from students wishing to move to a Mac but trying to save a little coin. The basic difference between a MacBook and a small MacBook Pro is construction, the Pro made out of aluminum, the basic MacBook made out of plastic. That said they have very similar guts is you buy the same configuration. I would recommend an upgrade to at least 4GB RAM (or even better 8MB), if you are running Photoshop and NIK Software. Either model gets more expensive of course when you add the Apple Care extended warranty, although I highly recommend this option.

Current Mac Laptop prices (Nov 2010)
MacBook 13 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB Ram, w 250 GB HD = $1100
MacBook Pro 13 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB Ram, w 250 GB HD = $1199
A similar size Toughbook is $2400 but I did notice a 50 percent off promotional deal while researching this tip so there are bargains to be found even on the good stuff.

If you want a screen larger than 13 inch you go must go for the Pro model, MacBook Pro 15 inch, 2.4 GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB Drive = $1999. Mac as every manufacture does changes the specs and configurations every year or more often thus these specs and prices are just for example. A number of people reading this may be thinking – I can get a 13-inch PC for $500 or a 15 inch for $600. My personal experience is that bargain priced PC laptop computers are not worth the trouble, my wife having burned through two of them within the same period I had my previous Mac laptop. The aforementioned Panasonic Toughbooks are more expensive than bargain PCs but significantly better quality.

Back-Up your Images: I cannot stress enough the importance of backing up your images, … multiple times. A best-case scenario is 2–3 copies plus an Off-Site back up, either online or an alternate location. I can think of three students that had not only their computers stolen but also their back-up drives. The thieves’ just swept everything into a box and hit the road … leaving the student photographers with only the low res copies they may (or may not) have uploaded to Facebook. Also see the samples below of corrupt files, thankfully I had a back-up copies but when I opened these image files they were obviously unusable. Back-Up, back-up, back-up … and back-up elsewhere!!!



Corrupt File Photos by John Bentham, DPA instructor New York


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