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Laptops for Digital Photographers

August 19, 2008 - Dave Hecei
Digital cameras have definitely changed photography. Without the added time and expense of film and processing, a photographer can spend more time on making images. For the serious photographer, having a computer on location has many advantages. This means a laptop computer, but how do you decide which one is best?

The first thing you need to look at is the software. What software you use at home is what you will use on location. It doesn’t make any sense learning a new program because you have a new laptop.

If you have a Mac at home, then you need to look at the Mac laptops. There are two models of Macs, the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The MacBook is an entry level Mac with a 13.1-inch LCD screen and more than enough power to handle any software you throw at it. The MacBook starts just under $1100. The MacBook Pro, as its name implies, has more ‘pro’ level features. One is that the screen is available in either 15.4 or 17-inches plus it has better video support.

For Windows users there is much more of a selection to choose from. You can even, if you have ever been tempted to see what all the fuss is about Macs, choose a Mac, which can run both OS X, Apple’s Mac operating system, and Windows. In choosing a Windows laptop you need to look at key features, but also at the reliability or build quality. Traveling is tough on equipment and you want to get something that will hold up over time.

Some brands to look at include Dell, Gateway, Sony, Panasonic, and Lenovo (formerly IBM). There are others, like HP/Compaq, Acer, and Toshiba, which are fine, but have been know to be less of a ‘road warrior’.

Once you have decided on a brand, the next thing to think about is size. Laptops come in all shapes and sizes. Laptop screens can be as small as 7-inches and as big as 20-inches. With size comes weight so you need to decide on what is more important to you.

If you plan on editing and retouching photos on the laptop, instead of just previewing and storing, then you will want to get the largest screen that you can carry. A 17-inch screen is ideal for digital photography. It’s as close to a desktop setup as you are going to get in a 6 to 9 pound package. If you are working in a studio setting you will probably have carts to help carry stuff. If you are out in the wilderness shooting nature, that 9-pounds will feel like 20 after you’ve been carrying it for several miles.

If weight is a more important concern, then smaller is definitely the way to go. Here you can choose a laptop with a screen that is anywhere from 12 to 15 inches and the weight can be as low as 0.71 pounds, which is the new MacBook Air. A typically configured 13-inch laptop is about 4 to 5 pounds, while a 15-inch laptop is 5 to 6 pounds. Ultra-light laptops are in vogue right now, but these tend to remove important features to reduce weight. Some ultra-lights, like the Fujitsu, Lenovo, Sony, and MacBook Air, don’t have built in optical drives so you can’t burn CD/DVDs without having an external attachment. If this is an important feature, then steer clear of the ultra-lights.

The following is a feature recommendation list for a digital photographer’s laptop: 1. Processor should be dual processor, preferably Intel Core 2 Duo, but AMD X2 is fine. Speed isn’t as important but for the new Intels, 1.6Ghz or faster. 2. At least 1GB RAM for Windows XP or OS X 10.4. At least 2GB RAM for Vista or OS X Leopard. For programs like Photoshop, RAM is more important than processor speed, most of the time. You will eventually max the RAM out in the machine. 3. At least a 160GB hard drive. 4. CD burner, preferably a DVD burner. 5. Glossy screen. This is more of a personal preference thing here, but the new glossy type LCD screens have better sharpness and better contrast.

No matter what model or brand you choose, a computer is just another tool in your gadget bag. It won’t make you a better photographer, but it can make you a much more efficient one.


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Lenovo photographer's laptop with built-in graphics tablet.