Ideal computing setup?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Droid13, Mar 27, 2012.

  1. Droid13 macrumors regular

    Jul 22, 2009
    United Kingdom
    Dear All,

    Please accept my apologies if this is in the wrong forum.

    I am a keen photographer and make heavy use of my Nikon D300, with file output being either 12-bit lossless compressed or 14-bit NEF. I have noticed over the last year that editing these images on my May 2007 MacBook has become a pain - in particular, it takes quite a while for a change I make to be reflected on screen. It really has taken a lot of the fun out of the hobby and while I have changed the way I use my camera to minimise the need for a digital darkroom, I cannot eliminate the need entirely.

    What I would like is a desktop system that can effortlessly process images - at some point in the future I expect to upgrade to a higher resolution body and acquire the upcoming edition of photoshop, so I would like a system that could handle quite a bit.

    There is no particular budget in mind and I am in no hurry to buy anything. I was thinking along the lines of a 27" iMac but would appreciate further advice and recommendations, particularly on things like displays and storage solutions.

    Thank you for your help.

  2. WRP macrumors 6502a

    Jul 20, 2011
    You have a 5 year old consumer laptop. You could get pretty much anything new and be fine dealing with images from your D300 and even something with a bigger sensor.

    A MBP will be fine if you want the portability, just up the RAM. A iMac will be fine for a "desktop" just up the RAM. A Mac Pro is overkill but don't let me stop you from getting one.

    My ex used to process medium format which is much bigger than anything you will shoot on a MBP with zero problems.
  3. driftless macrumors 65816


    Sep 2, 2011
    I happen to use an iMac. I just want to echo the previous post and make sure you have 8 GB of RAM or more.

    - David
  4. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    Current iMacs are very, very fast machines, comparable to the Mac Pros in many tasks. I second the recommendation to have at least 8 GB RAM. Then Aperture or Lightroom should fly on your machine. I recommend you switch to one of them to manage and edit your photos.
  5. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    I will repeat the RAM mantra....

    The reason is that Photoshop will claim about x7 the RAM as the image file size for working on the image, on top of whatever RAM it has claimed for itself (as an application), plus the RAM for the OS and any other applications that are open.

    For each image you open, ~ x7 the RAM... so if you are opening several images to work on or to compare....

    When Photoshop runs out of RAM for its scratch files it starts moving those files to the HDD, and that then creates a massively slow bottleneck. Using a faster HDD can improve things... but all you are doing is making a marginal difference to what is still a bottleneck. More RAM can eliminate that bottleneck almost entirely.

    Hope this helps.
  6. spacedcadet macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Lloyd Chambers

    Have a look around in the articles and reviews section on this website, very useful for maximising photography workflow.
  7. jabbott macrumors 6502

    Nov 23, 2009
    I have a 2.8 GHz quad-core i7 27" iMac with a 2TB hard drive and 12 GB of RAM and sometimes the system still gets bogged down when doing heavy photo editing using Aperture. I have 10,000+ RAW photos @ 18 megapixels each. My ideal setup would be a system with even more RAM, plus an SSD instead of a regular hard drive.
  8. Ruahrc macrumors 65816

    Jun 9, 2009
    What editing software do you use?

    IMHO, the big problem with the iMac is the display. If you're going to invest in a high end editing setup, don't forget that you also need/want a high-end display.

    the iMac screen is nice no doubt. 27", IPS. But the three major flaws with it are:
    a) glossy (a matter of opinion I suppose but most serious editors prefer matte)
    b) no wide gamut (huge drawback for such an expensive setup)
    c) non-upgradeable- it's tied to the computer chassis

    Also using the iMac screen can be awkward in a multi-monitor setup because the only choice for getting a matching set is to get the 27" cinema display (which comes with 2 of the 3 drawbacks of the iMac screen).

    Sad as it was, I decided against getting an iMac and got a mac mini server instead. It moves along quite well for my D80 RAW files, and even does just fine with some recent mosaics I made (I've worked with up to 200MP stitches, once the image is loaded manipulating the file is fine). Because of the display issue, it was either that or the Mac Pro, which was way out of budget and I also didn't want the huge tower.
  9. Mr.Noisy, Mar 27, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2012

    Mr.Noisy macrumors 65816


    May 5, 2007
    Depending which version of photoshop your running cs4 & 5 in 32bit use upto 3gb, but cs5 in 64 bit will use as much RAM as can be thrown at it, using a scratch disk is good and well but the slowdown is caused when the system/boot hdd is used, the scratch disk should be just the scratch and not shared with anything,then there wont be a bottleneck - I run a Mac Pro in the studio with 12gb of RAM, internally a 1tb f1 system hdd, 320gb scratch disk in bay 2 and 2 x 1tb hdd's in raid 01, and externally 4tb in raid 01, it runs aperture 3, photoshop cs4 and dpp usually all running at the same time with no slowing issue or bottlenecking, with a 30" dell monitor for editing the work, files are all from a Canon 5D2 at full 21.1mp's, but I have a friend with an iMac with 8gb of RAM and it is very slow in comparison, he uses the system hdd as his scratch causing a bottleneck.


  10. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    I always thought the iMac to be a much better value than the Mac mini.
    True enough, but as someone who has used a mobile Mac + external screen for years, it's certainly a solution you can more than live with. The asymmetry is even more significant there, since in addition to a stark difference in image quality, there is the difference in physical size. I think the iMac

    If I were in the OP's shoes, I'd wait for the Ivybridge upgrade, though which should be just around the corner (Ivybridge will be released in April).


    With SSDs becoming standard, there is no longer a need for scratch disks.
  11. admwright macrumors regular

    Sep 11, 2008
    I presume you have been using this camera with the same laptop for a number of years. So if the laptop was good enough then it should be good enough now. How full is the hard disk, all those NEFs must be taking up a lot of space? The biggest change I made to our Mac was moving all the data off onto an external firewire hard disk. Was like having a new computer again.

    All the best
    Andrew W.
  12. Artful Dodger macrumors 68020

    Artful Dodger

    May 28, 2004
    In a false sense of reality...My Mind!
    I think the ideal setup is the one used to it's fullest with the budget you have on hand. If you look at my setup, 27" iMac, 3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB HDD + 256GB SSD, AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB; Quad G-Drive external; 12" Wacom Cintiq, many people might post back and tell me my colors are off or whatever they feel at the time.

    In the now though my colors print for me as a match to my iMac's screen, so it can be done and I'm not going to argue or debate about this. Is it better than say a Mac Mini & a Eizo LCD, maybe but it will be a 6 of one half dozen of another. Are there better displays out there, sure like everything else in life and that will also add money in the end. I also think by buying a good display calibrating unit it cuts this debate down to a conversation over coffee and not the ones we read in other threads but again better ones cost more too.

    Shutter Bug, April Issue, has an article about the Mac Mini as an affordable dream computer for photographers and I would agree for the most point. I was looking at the same things, an iMac 27" almost maxed out or a Mac Mini with a NEC 24/27" LCD/LED or the Eizo SX2262W, maxed out.

    I went with the 27" iMac since my main use is for digital art, then photography and last mild video editing. I also bought about a year ago the Canon 9000 MKII printer so I have a good handle on prints being color quality and the choice of paper used but that is just me ;)

    I can say that the SSD is a dream so if you can go that route then make that 1b after the display choice.

    As far as what you can or can't do for the future or now of either is really the same, the RAM can go higher in the iMac 32GB, the Mini is 16GB as of now but updates to either of these can change that this year. Hard Drives, the same as you can have the SSD as your boot/main drive and a regular drive as a second in either with the point of the iMac can have the larger secondary drive (2GB) at this time because it's a 3.5" drive.
    I think with the use of ThunderBolt this makes either of these Mac's equal as to what or how much storage you can add. Of course the MacPro is easy by sliding in more drives but again that is different than the topic here a bit. I think the last time I looked I had 6-8 HDD's for storage/backup. It's nicer to just plug one in and then another if needed so there is always room per se.

    Either Macs are what they are, small (Mac Mini), only the display area (iMac) and both have limits compared to the MP. I agree to some degree with OreoCookie "I always thought the iMac to be a much better value than the Mac mini." I think this way now because of the size of the drives, more RAM can be added and a better graphics card (this is just my take though after having my iMac since October). When it comes down to it though both are great and depend on ones needs now and in the future. The end game for me was also price to what you get at an equal package of needs. The iMac has a display and to add an LCD to the Mini the prices were close at the end of the day so the iMac got the check list + for me.

    I will mention that I was going to get the Mac Mini Server, Dual drives with the SSD as the Boot/Main drive and max out the RAM. I also wanted a 27" screen so my choices were NEC or the Apple and I did consider the LaCie but the cost was $1000-1900 depending and that was understood during the whole thought process. Also I needed to make sure I had a port for my Cintiq or it would be a waste of a great setup.

    I use the 12" Cintiq along with my 27" iMac and things are fine but it is a personal preference here. My work still gets done in an efficient, fun and creative way, display sizes different and all :cool:

    In the end you are looking at the display, using a keyboard/mouse/track pad and sitting. That is the order I mention to people about the real needs so if you haven't looked at or really stayed in front of an iMacs display for more than 5 minutes, make a trip to an Apple Store if you can and play around on one for about 30 minutes. That should give you a good idea if you are liking the display or feel it isn't going to cut it. The screen is fine for me but my Art Room is in my finished basement and any light coming in is controlled at all times. Just something to think about. Since you can wait, I'd wait and see what April brings in way of announcements or updates to the lines.

    Good luck :D
  13. TheDrift- macrumors 6502a


    Mar 8, 2010

    How about this???

    You can play chess on it too ;):):):):)
  14. Phrasikleia macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2008
    Over there------->
    If you don't already have a display, then that may be true. The OP hasn't said what display he was using. What were you using, Droid13? If it's not a good one, then perhaps an iMac will be a good choice. Then again, do you really want a glossy monitor--and do you really want it permanently connected to your computer?

    I just had a glance at the specs of an iMac. So the standard configurations include i5 chips, whereas you can get i7 with the Mac Mini. You get a single hard drive instead of two that can be set up as an array. Two are better anyway so you can have one be your scratch disk. And you're stuck with a glossy screen.

    I bought a Mac Mini Server a few months ago and put 16GB of RAM in it. I use a pair of Dell IPS displays, so I have lots of screen real estate. One of the internal hard drives is a dedicated scratch disk--I have no other files on it. Then I have a 2TB external for working files. This set-up works beautifully for editing my 5D Mark II files (and now 5D Mark III, though I've edited very few of them so far). I often work with big PSD files (weighing in at about 1GB or more), and the Mini makes easy work of them.

    I really like that the mini is very small, which is a requirement for me because I travel between two offices (each of which has all of the necessary peripherals ready and waiting). But beyond that, it's highly capable, and I get to choose which monitors to use (I HATE glossy monitors with a passion).

    The bottom line: don't dismiss the Mini Server because of performance issues. Put 16GB of RAM in one, and you'll be one happy photographer. :)
  15. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    The iMac uses desktop cpus while the Mac mini uses much slower notebook cpus. I blame Intel for coming up with such a confusing naming scheme, though ;) So the high-end quad core Mac mini uses a Core i7 that is nominally clocked at 2.0 GHz while the entry-level iMac uses a 2.5 GHz Core i5. Both chips feature the same architecture. The higher-end iMacs clock at 2.7 and 3.1 GHz and you have the option to go all out with a 3.4 GHz Core i7 cpu. The latter is about as fast as a still-current Mac Pro in many applications (which cannot make use of the additional cores).

    So the higher-end iMacs will be substantially faster than a Mac mini. In addition to faster CPU, they also have much faster graphics: unless you take a dual core Mac mini, you only have an integrated graphics (which is fine for Photoshop CS5 and such, although I don't know if CS6 changes this part of the equation) while the iMac has a decent dedicated graphics card (a Radeon HD 6750-6790, depending on the model).
  16. Droid13 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 22, 2009
    United Kingdom
    Thank you all very much for your responses so far.

    A few have asked what other things I am using - I am really quite basic as I found that my MacBook refused to run Photoshop at anything like an acceptable pace and had to uninstall. I think the software has gradually changed and my machine has moved from middling to low end over the course of the 5 years I have had it.

    For software I use Aperture 3 and occasional plug-ins like Noise Ninja, which covers most of what I do. I have been known to use Pixelmator from time to time.

    I have a Dell SX2210 display and have also calibrated my MacBook display. Few of my images make it past the screen and onto print, though I occasionally go for large posters.

    From what I am hearing the key thing seems to be as much RAM as I can afford with 8Gb as a minimum - to do that realistically I would need to go for a Mac Mini or an iMac, the Mac Pro would be pushing my ideal setup towards fantasy.

    With regards to displays, I was interested to hear about the issues with the iMac screen. My Dell display isn't perfect by any means and also has a glossy display, which I hate. I work in a darkened room and use the same lighting for each edit to keep the appearance of images on my display identical to when it was calibrated to get around it as much as I can.

    It's looking like Mac Mini Vs iMac, with a purchase to be made after the next refresh depending on what is on the market. A new display is also on the cards regardless.

    Storage solutions is one area I probably need much more advice on if at all possible. I was planning on having an SSD + HDD setup and I appreciate from the thread so far that having a disk dedicated to image processing is the way to go.

    Thank you again for all your help.
  17. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    I'm going to second Phrasikleia's recommendation... a Mini may be suitable for your needs. It will certainly run circles around your current set-up. If you are not going into photography professionally, then the slight performance hit is not really going to affect you.

    Two other benefits of a Mini not mentioned.
    1) Cheap. Especially if you wait for a good deal on the refurb store. The money you save on a Mini can go towards better camera gear. Which - as a photographer - should be the priority. Plus... in a year or so the Mini can be sold for at least half the purchase price, should you decide to move to something else...
    2) If you think ahead to what you might like to be using in 3 years, and purchase your peripherals accordingly, then anything attached to the Mini can just move over when it's time to upgrade. Whether it's to a Mac Pro or an iMac or something else we don't know about yet.

    The Mini will keep you happy for a few years, and is the most flexible for moving to a better system when the Mini won't cope anymore.

    The two big factors for photography is RAM and storage. Photoshop hardly touches the CPU, and it doesn't need fancy graphics cards. (Unless you plan to get into audio and video.... that's different.) So get a Mini with Thunderbolt... and you should be good for few years.
  18. Artful Dodger macrumors 68020

    Artful Dodger

    May 28, 2004
    In a false sense of reality...My Mind!
    For your #1/3) This would seem to include the 3rd as well as you have your display but don't love it correct? If the display is key which most likely is, the other displays mentioned other than the Apple are not glossy and I forgot to mention there was a fantastic HP monitor either 24 or 27" that some folks in the photo forum here have and love, not glossy and good on price.

    If you are working in a controlled environment then it is how you feel your current setup is going. If the glossy is making you nuts from time to time then change might be factored into the upgrades. Just keep in mind or open mind, if you look around there are again people out there that like you have been doing, are able to work with a glossy, semi-glossy or whatever they wish to label it and are getting great colors without complaints. Case in point was (not sure if he still has one, an iMac) Doylem, if you look at his photographic posts meaning his colors, they are very nice, even when I look at them on my fiancées MacBook which doesn't have the screen calibrated. This statement is just for the color purpose, not which computer is better.

    It seems again like you are not fully happy with any gloss/glare and even a hood screen for an iMac might not give you a full smile at the end of the day.

    For 2) I don't think for what you mention you can't go wrong with either Mini or iMac and yes at least 8GB RAM would be nice. And as mentioned before who knows how much memory the new (when that will be who knows) lines will be able to max out at. Of course that also comes in with $$$. Bumping my iMac up to 16GB was about $100, to get the max of 32GB is still well over $450 and can wait at that price.

    You already summed up in #4 for really the display issue and maybe even which Mac to get down the road.

    The last one, #5 is again, the way I went and was going with with either one, the SSD & HDD plus I would have bought a ThunderBolt external for editing purposes as well. Like mentioned above if really needed the HDD would make a nice scratch disk and the SSD is the main drive. I do a similar thing with my iMac only I use an external as the scratch disk.

    I will add that the church I belong to has a 17" MBP for streaming all of their open seminars and then this year they will be buying/using the Mac Mini Server (I suggested this to them) for the video editing portion (they only need to use iMovie) of those events because it is a great little power house and can become travel ready very easy in my opinion. This was a much better route for them than getting another 17" or 15" MBP since they have a monitor, KB, mouse and so on.

    All points in this thread have been good and it's really hard to pick one because most have had to do this already and based on the posts you can see which went with either, laughs :D I think if the iMac had the option like the MacBook Pro's of a non glossy display this question would be super easy to answer but for some "insanely great" reason they don't. If they did I would have went with the no-gloss but in the end it is what it is :cool:

    What storage questions did you have with the setups? A good way to use two internal drives or the best editing/storage method? Will you also invest in an external drive as well?
    Just asking to help out as TB drives are coming out from more vendors this spring/summer to choose from.
  19. Ruahrc macrumors 65816

    Jun 9, 2009
    Honest question, have you considered moving to different software? Aperture 3 runs like molasses compared to some alternatives like Lightroom on the same hardware. If you like the Aperture workflow and output, then by all means, but remember that poorly written software can factor in too. This is one of the big reasons I went with Lightroom over Aperture. At the time I had a really old and really slow laptop (Powerbook G4) and when I tried both Aperture and LR, LR ran so much faster and was much more responsive.

    I wouldn't necessarily call the mini "cheap", when you compare value-for-dollar of the mini server against the iMac, the iMac wins hands down. And for the amount of computer you buy, the mini is actually somewhat expensive. However, the freedom of being liberated from the built-in display and also the compact form factor was worth the cost for me.

    One other benefit of the mini's size is that when it gets too old to be a "working" computer, it can become a great low power and very compact server... like the name implies :). When my mini gets too old for practical use I can easily employ it in an HTPC, or file/web server type role. It consumes relatively little power, and since it does not have a giant display attached to it, I can put it anywhere, and simply access it remotely over screensharing or VNC.

    Oh finally, I know it's kind of anathema to suggest this, but have you considered building a PC? I know we all love macs and it's all great and happy rainbows but when you get down to it, a custom built PC is the king of value, customization, and performance. And if it is going to be for photo editing only, the software is essentially the same (well except Aperture of course, which means this may be a non-starter for you). Keep doing daily tasks on a mac, but use a PC for photo editing? It's sad I have to bring this up, but frankly Apple's selection in the desktop market can really be lacking at times.
  20. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    Huh? An SSD has nothing to do with RAM. If you run out of memory Photoshop is going to want to write to a scratch file somewhere.
  21. gnd macrumors 6502a


    Jun 2, 2008
    At my cat's house
    Or a hackintosh ...
  22. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    Re-read the post I was replying to more carefully: Mr. Noisy was writing about setups with multiple hard drives, not RAM. There, a scratch disk is a fast hard drive dedicated to storing only current projects and stuff. Access to system and application files do not compete with access to project files. Even if you have enough RAM, at one point, you need to load files from disk or write them back to disk.

    The main benefit of SSDs is that their access times are an order of magnitude faster than those of even the best hard drives. Their throughput is also significantly higher (my SSD manages up 500+ MB/s). This removes the need for a dedicated scratch disk if you can afford an SSD of sufficient capacity.
  23. Droid13 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 22, 2009
    United Kingdom
    Reading through responses again and having a look at a few other resources, I think what I will go for is a 27" iMac with SSD (which I will then upgrade with RAM and a better HDD+SSD).

    Back in the days when I was a heavy PC gamer, I used to tinker around and put together a couple of rigs and I did think about trying again for photography. I think I like using Aperture too much though.

    For the additional display, I will likely purchase an NEC MultiSync PA27W at a later stage.

    While all this does mean that I have to put a planned lens purchase on hold - I was aiming for the Nikon 14-24/2.8 - I have no complaints. I need to be able to comfortably view and edit my images. My current main travel kit, D300 + 24-70/2.8, will most certainly suffice.

    Thank you again for all your help.

    Attached screenshot of one of my photographs, Trevi Fountain in the early hours, Nikon D300, 24mm f/8, 0.8s, ISO 200. Total time to edit: the 85 seconds it took to export a JPEG.

    I look forward to properly tinkering with this image at some point!

    Attached Files:

  24. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    Ah, missing a key word there: dedicated. That makes all the difference in the world. ;) Yes, I would agree with that. I'm hoping my new SSD showed up today so I can reconfigure everything. I'll have striped SSDs for my boot/application disk in addition to a dedicated SSD scratch disk. :D


    You say you want to buy the iMac with an SSD that you are going to upgrade. Why not get just the HD and save the cash for the SSD you are going to replace?

    Unless you are planning on going full frame take a look at the Tokina 11-16mm in addition to the Nikon 14-24mm. It has had some favorable reviews and I have been more than pleased with its performance.
  25. Droid13 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 22, 2009
    United Kingdom
    My understanding was that if I wanted a two-disk iMac solution I had to order it from Apple with both an HDD and SSD as the space for the SSD would be blocked off otherwise - I remember this being an issue when the SSD first appeared in the iMac, has this changed?

    It's a tough one - though I am very pleased with my D300 I have consistently missed film and full-frame. Having said that the reviews of the Tokina 11-16 are quite good and I could satisfy the wide-angle need with it and sell when I move to full frame.

    Photography has turned out to be one hobby in which budgeting is critical!

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