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    How to choose the right computer for photo editing

    The message How to choose the right computer for photo editing first appeared on Digital Photography School. It is written by Carl Spring.

    How to choose the right computer for photo editing

    Buying a new computer can be a minefield. There are so many models to choose from with hugely different budgets. How do you get the best performance for your budget? Where should you invest your money (and where can you save)?

    This article is simple, jargon-free advice on what to think when buying a photo editing computer. If you are looking for an in-depth analysis, you are in the wrong place. If you want to upgrade your current computer, but are not sure how to spend your money wisely, this article is a good starting point.

    Mac versus PC

    I did not want to open this with something that could turn into arguments. Instead, I thought I'd start with the only topic anyone can agree on (or not) – Mac versus PC. But seriously, I thought it was best to get rid of this first. I'm a Mac man. I've been there for years. I have invested heavily in Apple's ecosystem and it works best for me.

    However, I will record it (and hold it from today), there is very little difference between Mac and PC. Software in the modern world is platform agnostic and very few programs are only for Mac or only for PC. The price difference is not always as big as people make out, and you will generally be invested in one or the other platform.

    I know there is the old argument that most creatives use Macs via PC, but this is outdated and not strictly true. My personal theory is that Mac products usually look better (thanks to Johnny Ive) and creative people tend to surround themselves with beautiful objects. If you go to a high-end design agency, Macs often fit better with aesthetics, so we see more Macs in these situations.

    Both platforms have their peculiarities. Both are capable of great results. With a comparable specification and finish there will be a comparable price.

    I am sure there will be some discussion in the comments on this, but I really want to leave this argument here. It's boring and nobody will ever win. After all, we are on the internet.


    Yes it is expensive. Yes, the monitor standard costs more than most monitors. But if these are things that worry you, this machine (the Mac Pro) is not for you.

    Monitor first

    Before you start looking for a computer, invest in a monitor and for goodness sake calibrate it. As photographers, we are concerned with the best image quality that we can achieve. If you edit the image on a screen with a limited color range and that is way too bright, you will tend to be disappointed when you print your images. They simply do not match what you see on the screen. When you are looking for a new computer, you can easily be dragged into which processor to go to, or whether we should invest in a larger hard drive. But surprisingly, a monitor can in many cases be a side issue. It shouldn't be that.

    If you want to buy a monitor, you should really aim for a monitor with a wide color gamut and if you can afford it, choose an IPS panel.

    Finally, a 4K screen is great in terms of resolution, but it comes with a higher price tag. My advice is color over resolution. 4k is nice, but it is not nearly as important as color consistency. I edit on a 2560 x 1440 monitor as if I could not get the consistency of the color I wanted within a budget while watching in a 4K screen. I have never wanted a resolution.

    Image: a high-quality monitor, correctly calibrated, has the greatest impact on your images.

    A high-quality monitor, correctly calibrated, has the greatest impact on your images.

    Laptop or desktop

    This depends on your situation. Modern laptops are extremely powerful. The most important thing that stops them is the graphic card. With the emergence of the external graphics card, however, this is starting to be denied.

    The advantage of a laptop is of course portability. Traveling with your laptop is great because you can edit while traveling. You can also extract the images from your memory cards (always make a backup before formatting the card). For me, as a wedding photographer, it can save me time when I get home to import images into the computer while I get a break. I can also make an example for the couple on the day of the wedding. This is something that is not possible with a standard PC or iMac. When photographing multi-day music festivals, most outlets require the same-day reversal of images. A laptop is essential in this situation.

    With modern laptops, the ability to transform it into your desktop machine has never been easier. I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2018, where I simply have to connect one cable using a dock to connect and charge it to my monitor and external hard drives. I have a fully functioning desktop in seconds.

    However, this portability entails financial costs. You always pay more for a laptop than a desktop computer with comparable specifications. If you don't need the mobility benefits of a laptop, you can purchase a desktop with similar specifications for less money.

    What you have to buy depends on your requirements and your budget. If your budget is small, I would always recommend a desktop PC because you get more for your money.


    Desktop or laptop? It depends on your needs.


    The processor is the brain of your system. When you look at a photo editing computer, the processor is the place to look for your budget. The most important thing to look for in processors are the cores. A processor is divided into cores in simple terms. Each core can work on a separate task, so therefore, the more cores you have, the more multitasking the computer can do (or the better the ability to split tasks into smaller parts to complete it faster).

    Ideally, you want to look at a quad-core to a six-core processor. A quad-core processor hits this perfect combination of performance and price, but if you can afford to upgrade to a six-core processor, you will see better performance. After this, unless you are a particularly heavy user, you will see little benefit in more cores.


    A processor is what you really need to get the most out of when choosing a new computer.


    This is where you might be surprised. If you only use your computer for photo editing and you do not apply multiple layers and effects in Photoshop, you can easily get away with 8 GB of RAM. If you want to push the boat out a little, or are planning to get a camera with a huge number of megapixels, such as the new 64MP Sony, you really have to push this to 16 GB.

    RAM is usually one of the cheaper upgrades when configuring a computer. Although you may not need 16 or 32 GB at this time, as with all things related to the computer, you buy the best specifications that you can afford. This allows you to be happy with your computer for longer. RAM is one of the simple upgrade tasks that you must perform yourself. However, please note that on some computers, especially laptops (yes, I am looking at your Apple), it cannot be done after you purchase the computer.

    Graphics Card

    Your graphics card (or GPU) is something that fools some people. For photography you really do not need a very powerful graphic card. It is something that has one main purpose, namely running your monitor. If you are now planning to use a 4K setup with two monitors, it is worth investing a little in your graphics card, but unless you plan to play hardcore, you will The advantage of the high-end graphics cards is not really noticeable in almost all photo editing situations.

    When using certain photo editing tools, the graphics card will speed things up a bit, but the price / performance ratio of a higher graphics card is not as beneficial as spending money elsewhere, such as an upgrade to your processor.

    If you now perform both video editing and photo editing, you will see the advantage of a good quality graphic card here. If you do any kind of motion graphics on your ' s, you will see an even bigger boost. Here graphic cards will make the difference. If you do (or plan to do) video work, then you must allow some budget for a special graphics card, or GPU if you are on your way to the laptop.

    Hard Drive

    There are two types of hard drives: Solid State (also known as SSD) and a hard drive (known as HDD). They work in different ways, both have advantages and disadvantages.

    Hard disks have been around for years. Data is stored on a rotating tray, which is then accessed by a read / write head to access or write the data. Most hard drives run at 5400 or 7200 rpm. Simply put, the faster the speed, the faster the disc can read / write data. Because they have been around for so long, the costs are much lower than a Solid State Drive. This makes this type of disc ideal if you are looking for a large amount of storage. It also means that computers with hard drives are usually cheaper.

    Solid State Drives are much newer technology. You will be most used to it as storage in your phone and tablet. They work via a built-in processor, a controller that performs the tasks of reading and writing data. The better the quality of the controller, the faster the disk. They are much faster than hard drives, but have a major drawback – the price.

    The cost per gigabyte of storage is much higher on SSD disks. On average it is up to five times more expensive. However, that is the only drawback. SSD drives are much faster, less noisy (an SSD drive has no moving parts, unlike an HDD) and generally a bit more difficult (the head on an HDD doesn't like to be afraid).

    How much faster? Well, on an average computer, the boot time will generally be four times faster with an SSD. Programs ' s load much faster and the whole experience just feels faster.

    This is one of those speed boosters that you will not necessarily miss until you use an SSD-based system. Once you have experienced it, I guarantee that you will not want to return. Upgrading to an SSD on your current computer gives you a great upgrade for relatively little money.

    I would always recommend an SSD as your main hard drive and then use larger HDD drives for your storage, internal or external. This way you have the best of both worlds. If you can afford it, I would suggest a 1 TB SSD drive because it means you can continue the current work on the SSD drive to feel the benefits. Your archive can then be saved on HDD to gain access when you need it.

    You also need a backup strategy. Otherwise, do a favor and read how to back up your photos. I would hate the thought that one of you would cry for lost photos.

    Image: possibly the most boring photo ever posted on DPS. Although they are not much to watch, an SSD is ...

    Perhaps the most boring photo ever posted on DPS. Although they are not much to look at, an SSD drive gives you a big speed boost.


    I could now name a number of machines that are currently considered the best for photo editing. If you use the phrase "best photo editing computer 2019" Google, you will find different lists. However, I do not want to do that. Not least because if you read this 6 months after I wrote it, it is already outdated. Instead, I thought I'd leave you with the top 6 to think about when choosing the right computer.

    1. Buy the best processor that you can afford. The majority of the photo editing work is highly dependent on the processor. Depending on the machine you buy, you can upgrade RAM cheaply in the future. If you can pay 16 GB, go for it. Make sure that before you stay at 8GB to save some budget, you can upgrade it later.
    2. Go for an SSD, but don't go crazy. Try using a 1 TB drive or, if you have a smaller budget, a 512 GB drive. Then invest in a larger external drive of 7200 RPM for more space. In this way you can take advantage of the speed benefits of an SSD for your current operation and save your work on a still fast but cheaper external drive. And please, with a cherry on the cake, invest in a backup!
    3. Do not buy a laptop if you are not going to use your computer. You can get much better value from a desktop. So if you only work at home, you get the most capital for your money.
    4. Invest in a decent monitor. Then invest in a calibration device. Then invest in your computer. A good calibrated monitor not only lasts longer, it also ensures that your photos look better. Not only for you, but also for everyone.
    5. Keep your eyes open for deals. These are usually the highest when new models come out. If you like to spend some time searching, you can find great bargains.
    6. Finally, don't be afraid of second-hand or renovation, especially if you have a limited budget. I have refurbished most of my equipment through Apple (and saved a lot of money). You can also save huge amounts of money by buying second hand. You can buy older equipment that is perfectly suited for a fraction of the price. For example, many gamers often update their graphics cards. You can then pick it up to give your computer a boost for a fraction of the selling price. This method is of course not without any risks. However, it is a way to get great value for money if you have a limited budget.

    Finally to go back to the beginning, Mac or PC? It really doesn't matter! Unless you can afford to buy a Mac. In that case you always have to buy a Mac! (Sorry PC fanboys and girls, I couldn't resist. I'm waiting for my roasting in the comments 🙂


    The message How to choose the right computer for photo editing first appeared on Digital Photography School. It is written by Carl Spring.

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