What specs are important for a photographer?

ArisaemaDracont

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 7, 2008
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Madison
I'm looking to get one of these fabled 16" MBP's when they come out. Looking at the current 15", they get pretty pricy pretty quick when you start upgrading.

So I started wondering, what do I really need to manage my photographs? Do I need a fancy graphics card if I'm not doing video editing or playing games? How much RAM do I need to work with a bunch of 24 MP photos? How much do I gain my a faster clock speed and more cores? What specs should I try to 'max out' (within the restraints of my budget) and which can I save money on?
 
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mmomega

macrumors 68040
Dec 30, 2009
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DFW, TX
Important for me?
84MB per photo so internal storage and LOTS of external storage if the most important.
So I have a 1TB internal minimum on each machine and 30TB of external at home.
I also have 3 - 1TB Samsung T5 drives in my photography bag just in case I'm on a long trip and need to dump files from my laptop.

I have edited on many machines and storage is always number 1 for myself.

All the other specs are "fun specs" for myself.

Now on video work, storage is still my number 1 but CPU cores are my #2.
 

shaunp

macrumors 68000
Nov 5, 2010
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Think of your workflow and whether you are intending to keep all of your images with you. Personally I would look to keep just my current projects with me, and then archive older work onto an external disk or a NAS and probably back that up to some cloud storage.

With that in mind I would still look to have 1TB SSD (don't even bother with HDD's any more) as once you have the OS and apps installed you very quickly fill up the remaining space with RAW files depending upon the resolution of the sensor and if you plan to upgrade your camera any time soon. For example I have two cameras one 24MP one 42MP, both full-frame. The lower resolution creates images of around 40MB, while the higher resolution is over 80MB per image. If you do any form of photography where you take bursts of photos (wildlife, sports, events, etc) then you will quickly fill up 100GB+ when importing a project. You will delete quite a few, but you will need the space before you cull them.

You don't need a ton of cores, but you also want to future proof your purchase. Try to balance that with cooling requirements as current products show extra cores don't always result in faster performance. I have a 6-core desktop and during imports to LR building 1:1 previews does max out the CPU so you will need work out how much time you have for this.

I wouldn't go with any less than 16GB RAM simply because cameras keep increasing in resolution and I change bodies more frequently than I change laptops. And while you may not do video now, you will have clients that will ask for it at some point so use 16GB as a starting point.

Screen is probably the most important point, but Macs always have excellent screens so I've put less emphasis on it here.
 
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ArisaemaDracont

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 7, 2008
47
35
Madison
I am pretty good at culling the obviously out-of-focus or otherwise unsuitable photos on the camera, then go through a second round of deleting poor, or effectively duplicated images on the computer. Currently both my cameras are 16MP and I shoot mostly JPEG for various reasons, but I'm looking to upgrade my SLR to a 24MP model soon, and probably move towards using RAW for most images once I find a suitable replacement for Aperture.

So my storage needs are not as great as some people might have. 1TB will probably be suitable for now. Portability is important to me since I use my images for work and personal projects.

I don't do a lot of image manipulation, usually just exposure, contrast, highlight/shadow saturation, cropping... that sort of thing. But I have always wondered how much of that work is put on the CPU and how much is on the GPU (if any).
 
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iluvmacs99

macrumors 6502
Apr 9, 2019
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I'm looking to get one of these fabled 16" MBP's when they come out. Looking at the current 15", they get pretty pricy pretty quick when you start upgrading.

So I started wondering, what do I really need to manage my photographs? Do I need a fancy graphics card if I'm not doing video editing or playing games? How much RAM do I need to work with a bunch of 24 MP photos? How much do I gain my a faster clock speed and more cores? What specs should I try to 'max out' (within the restraints of my budget) and which can I save money on?
Disk I/O is more important than more cores and GPU when dealing with a bunch of 24MP photos. You can have a lot of cores and a Vega GPU, but if your photo storage disk i/O is slow, then those cores and GPU will have to wait for the disk to finish loading the image data into computer memory. If you want fast, you need to have a Thunderbolt 3 disk array; preferably a RAID setup to load and catalog those photos very quickly. If you want portability, a single Thunderbolt 3 1Tb SSD would suffice, while allocating a cache partition of your boot drive. In terms of cores; most photo software will take advantage of more cores, but they are only useful for processing RAW files into TIFF or JPEG. For manipulating layers, single core performance is more useful as it does not fit well into parallel processes as RAW decoding would so it depends on what you want to do most. If processing speed of RAW files into TIFF is important to you, then more cores the better. If editing a single image and adding layers, then faster single core performance is better.

In terms of GPU performance, Photoshop and Lightroom do not take advantage of most of the powerful GPUs available and most of the rudimentary editing options are CPU intensive. Having said that, if you are using Topaz Labs AI products like Gigapixel AI, Sharpen AI etc.., then having a faster GPU with lots of video RAM (like 6Gb or 8Gb VRAM) would speed things up.

In terms of RAM; 16Gb would be a good start and would probably be sufficient for what you are doing, providing you have at least 256GB SSD space. But if you're doing layers with 24MP images which can grow, then 32Gb of RAM with a reasonable SSD space for paging would be good enough.
 
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ArisaemaDracont

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 7, 2008
47
35
Madison
Thanks for the detailed reply Iluvmacs.

So it sounds like fewer cores but a higher clock speed would be most economical, I shouldn't bother to penny up for more than the stock GPU, and I might just go with 32GB RAM to future-proof it a bit. And also, if I'm using more than about 700GB of a 1TB SDD, I should start to store some of my photos on a fast external drive. Sound about right?

Funny I/O speed story: We have a relatively small photo library for my business, but sharing it over the network was becoming problematic. So I bought a 128GB USB3 thumb drive and put the Photos library on it. Oddly, it will transfer the entire 80GB library in less than four minutes, but it seems to take 15 seconds to load any single image in Photos. Seeing as how portable SSD drives are so inexpensive these days, I'm guessing going with one of those would have served me better?
 

iluvmacs99

macrumors 6502
Apr 9, 2019
382
182
USB3 thumb drives usually don't offer the best speed performance mainly due to its poor thermal management abilities. You may have probably seen a number of those thumb drives melting away due to overheating caused by overusage. And USB 3 transfers at around 5Gbps, whereas Thunderbolt 3 around 40Gbps. With modern SSDs using dynamic provisioning and ram buffering, you'll have very low latency rates. I mean, it really shouldn't take 15 seconds to load a single 24MP file if that's what you were trying to achieve. I mean on my Mac Pro 5,1 with RAID 0 7200 RPM spinning platters, 24MP TIFF loading is instant while 80MP TIFF (80 Megapixels) took a few seconds. A large image library should be placed on an external HD, preferably a drive that is connected to the widest pipeline; ie Thunderbolt 3 and either SSD or RAIDed spinning platters to reduce drive latency and push high sustained xfer speeds. Which is why my Mac Mini, which is both my image and video server is connected permanently to a RAID 5 storage unit and can push out what a 1Gigagbit Ethernet network could possibly push. The newer Mini has the option for 10Gigabit Ethernet which is better. Still with my slower Ethernet, 24MP images are fast to load. Which is why I said Disk I/O is really important for photo image editing.