Goin' With The [Work]flow - Pt 4

This will not be a terribly exciting post, at least to most of you. And, there aren't going to be any pictures. Sorry.

Last February, I started down the path of improving my photo editing workflow by looking at alternatives to Adobe's Lightroom. In late March, I compared Lightroom with Capture One Pro, and finally, mid-year, I discussed On1 Browse, which is a part of On1 Photo. You can read those commentaries by visiting this link.

It's now the beginning of a new year, and time to implement a new plan for image organization and processing. I've chosen the new On1 Photo RAW product. As important is choosing new software tools, I also need to establish a storage scheme that is as consistent as possible, considering the diverse tools I'll be using for image acquisition -- Fujifilm digital cameras, the new [to me] Bronica film system, and my iPhone.

My thought is that current projects will live on my laptop (with backup copies residing on the drobo). In the past, I've organized by camera, and then by date, with a possible notation in the directory name of the subject. I was also very lazy about any kind of meta-tagging, which made finding images difficult. I kind of had to remember when I took a picture, so I'd know which camera I used, and then, assuming my memory was working, I might find the picture. JPEGs and raw files sat side-by-side in the same directory.

With the Fujis, I've found that I use the raw files less and less, instead relying mostly on the excellent JPEG files out of the camera. So, going forward, I'll be saving the raws in a sub-folder of the JPEGs. If I need to process the raws, they'll be handy, but not intermixed with the JPEGs.

Images from the Bronica will come in as high-resolution scans from the lab, unless I decide to get a film scanner. iPhone shots will be stored in iCloud and referenced in Browse.

Once an image is completed, an export will be stored in folders based on subject, and posted to the web via this website. Finally, there will be hard output -- either individual prints or photo books, or both.

At least, that's the plan.

Choosing a New Laptop for Photo Work

There's an old adage in the computer business that says to choose your software, and let that drive your choice of computer. For a long time, that was true. And then, for a while, it wasn't -- computer hardware had gotten pretty far ahead of software, and so pretty much any computer could run almost any software you wanted.

ON1 Photo RAW, coming this fall to a computer near you...

Today, the applications are catching up again, and pushing the envelope of what hardware can do -- especially if that hardware is more than 2-3 years old or more. This is especially true with portable computers (laptops, notebooks, tablets, etc.), and doubly so when the software you want to run is graphics intensive. The newest versions of applications like Photoshop or DaVinci Resolve want, in addition to high-end Intel CPUs, specific graphics processors and the latest OpenGL drivers as well. Gone are the days when you could easily buy an off-the-shelf machine from Staples or Best Buy, or even order up a Dell and expect that it's going to last you for 5-6years. Even ON1 Software's forthcoming raw processor ups the ante on system requirements.

Which brings me to the meat of this post. My main laptop has reached the end of its useful life as a photo editing machine. It is a 5 year old Intel Core i3 machine after all, and wasn't really intended for photo editing when I bought it. It was intended to be an audio workstation. As such, I paid little attention to the graphics card, which is an integrated Intel HD Graphics chip, sharing RAM with the main system. And speaking of RAM, the old machine is limited to a max of 8GB. Anything that requires a modern graphics subsystem either complains loudly, crashes when opening images, or fails to run at all. Video editing? Forget about it!

And so, we return to the mantra of letting software choices drive hardware decisions.

In a perfect world, I'd put $3,000 or so into my pocket and head to the Apple Store to buy a fully loaded 15" MacBook Pro with the Retina display and call it a day. Although, as you'll see a little later on, even the MacBook Pro, long the "holy grail" of laptops for photo and video editors, may not be the best choice going forward. Fortunately, Microsoft have done a very good job with the Windows 10 operating system -- it's stable and efficient. For those used to Windows 7 or other previous versions, it's much different. Get used to it, though, as it's here to stay, and it really is a much better operating system than any previous version of Windows.

The Basics

There are three things that can benefit any application, so we'll cover them quickly.

All software will run best on the fastest processor you can get. For laptops, that's generally going to be something like an Intel Core i7 6700HQ Skylake, a true quad-core processor that, in laptops, seems to be available at about 2.6GHz. For most tasks, it's way overkill, and the dual-core i7 6500U is an excellent choice as well. In fact, according to CPUBoss, for in most day-to-day computing, there's no real advantage to the quad-core processor -- yet.

Generally speaking, lots of RAM is a good thing, too. But what exactly is a lot of RAM? I'm going to get some argument here, but in all honesty, most photo editing software will be happy with 8GB of system RAM, even if you are using a few plug-ins, at least for now. While some video editing software will run better with more RAM, almost all audio production software will. So, if you're planning on doing video editing, but are going to start out with 8GB RAM, make sure that you can upgrade the RAM to at least 16GB or even 32GB down the road. And, when you do expand the memory, buy from a reputable source, such as Crucial.com, or from the manufacturer of your laptop.

A large, fast hard disk is never a bad thing. 1TB should be considered a minimum, and while not included on many laptops, a 7,200RPM spindle speed is preferable. If you can find a machine with an M.2 128GB or 256GB SSD, that's better. Putting the OS and software (and your Lightroom library, if you're using it) on the SSD will make a positive impact on performance. Of course, if all the storage is SSD, that's even better. Modern SSD drives are pricey, but they're blazing fast. The only drawback to SSDs for all of the storage is that an flash memory can only be written to a finite number of times. Fortunately, current SSDs will last for many years of continuous use. Again, choose a well-respected brand, like Crucial, Samsung, PNY, or SanDisk.

Screen and Graphics

With the basics out of the way, we need to turn our attention to the display. This is where, frankly, things get tricky. Just a few years ago, most photo and video software would work very well with almost any "better" graphics processor. Intel Iris or Intel HD, AMD, or NVIDIAgraphics processors were all well supported. Over the past couple of years, however, there seems to have been a shift to supporting NVIDIA, with support for Intel and HD graphics lagging behind. In fact, some modern video software won't work with anything except NVIDIA. This is where my earlier comment about the MacBook Pro comes into play -- the MacBook Pro currently uses either Intel or AMD graphics. In most laptops out today, your choices will probably be the GeForce GTX 940M, 950M, 960M, 970M and, most recently, the 980M. For most users, the 960M will be plenty of power.

The graphics processor support is crucial for newer software to perform well, as it hands off certain image processing tasks to the graphics chip, and uses the main CPU for control, memory and disk management, and some other tasks. If the software you want to use doesn't support the graphics chip in your computer, it can't pass the graphics processing off. At best, this will negatively affect performance, or certain functions won't work. At worst, the software won't run at all.

Along with the graphics chip, screen type, resolution, and video RAM is an important consideration. Most newer software requires a minimum 1920x1080, or Full HD resolution, otherwise known as FHD or Full HD. That's plenty for any photo editing, but "4K" or UHD resolution may be better for video. The amount of graphics memory is also important. To a point, again, the more the merrier. Realistically, however, 2-4GB of video RAM is fine for most image processing. For HD video editing, 4GB video RAM is generally okay, though 8GB is better. UHD video editing really requires 8GB or better.

Other screen considerations include the screen surface. A matte finish shows less glare and reflection, but reduces contrast and is more prone to color shifts when viewed off-axis. Glossy displays have better contrast and generally can be seen at a wider viewing angle, but reflections and glare are more prevalent, and they show fingerprints more. Touchscreens can also be convenient, but are most often only available with glossy screens.

There are three common laptop screen sizes for Windows laptops today: 13.1", 15.6", and 17.3". Each have their obvious advantages and disadvantages. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to see what you're doing. But, of course, a larger screen makes for a larger computer to lug around.

Form Factor

As long as there have been portable computers, there have been different "form factors". The first portables resembled portable sewing machines. These machines quickly gave way to various folding designs. The now ubiquitous "clamshell" style laptop was actually patented by a company called GRiD Systems in the mid-1980s.

Today, most portable computers are clamshell designs or possibly tablet computers, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro. Lately, a new brand of computer called a 2-in-1 or convertible combines the laptop and tablet into a single machine. The price is, of course, higher than either a laptop or tablet. While they also tend to be a little less powerful than a laptop, they can be quite convenient.

The Final Analysis

So, what's the bottom line? Is there a best laptop for photo and video editing? Honestly, no. But I have found a couple of machines that run a close "second best".

ASUS Zenbook Pro UX501VW-DS71T 15.6" Laptop Computer - $1499.99

The Asus Zenbook Pro features include:

  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ Processor 2.6GHz
  • Microsoft Windows 10 64-bit
  • 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • 512GB Solid State Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M 2GB GDDR5
  • Memory Card Reader
  • 802.11ac Wireless
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 15.6" 4K UHD IPS Glossy Display
  • SD card reader
  • USB3 ports
  • HDMI port

In addition to very good specs, the Asus Zenbook has a great keyboard and a large, responsive trackpad. Of all of the laptops I've looked at, this was the most usable. There are, however, a three compromises. The dedicated graphics memory is limited to 2GB, and while there is 16GB of main memory, it's not expandable beyond that. And, while the storage is a speedy SSD drive, it's limited to 512GB. Of these compromises, the 2GB of graphics memory is biggest limitation. Photo editing will probably not be adversely affected, but video editing will be limited to only a few streams of HD video, and 4K video editing will probably not be possible. With all that said, it's not an inexpensive machine, but of all the machines I've seen, it is my favorite.

Toshiba Satellite S55T-C5166 15.6" Laptop Computer - $899.99

The Toshiba Satellite features include:

  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ Processor 2.6GHz
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit
  • 16GB DDR3L-1600 RAM
  • 1TB 5,400RPM Hard Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950M 4GB DDR3
  • Memory Card Reader
  • Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7265
  • Bluetooth
  • 15.6" Full HD TruBrite LED-backlit Touchscreen Display
  • 3 USB3 ports
  • RJ45 10/100/1000 LAN port
  • HDMI port

Technically, this is a better computer than the Asus, but it gets my vote as "second best" for three reasons. First, the keyboard isn't great, and the trackpad is comparatively terrible. Mostly, "clicking" is difficult. Pointer control is fine. Second, the hard drive, while spacious at 1TB, it's a slow 5,400 rpm drive. The drive, of course, can be replaced with a faster drive, or an SSD if desired. The third concern is that rumor has it that Toshiba is pulling out of the US computer market. If true, this could make future servicing an issue. If this were a desktop computer, I wouldn't give this a second thought, but it's much harder to service laptops as you can't just drop in a generic replacement part for a major component. With all this said, I still think this machine offers an excellent value. When I looked at the computers this past weekend, I would have purchased this machine if I had the funds immediately available.

Both of these machines are available at Micro Center, and if the location I visited is any indication of the company as a whole, I can whole-heartedly recommend buying from them -- I certainly plan to once I get the funds together for this upgrade.

So, there you have it. My take on buying a new laptop for photo and some video editing. As always, your mileage may vary.

Too Late for Fall Color? Catoctin Furnace, Thurmont, Maryland

I've been in a slump and a funk for quite some time because, other than my recent trip to New York for PhotoPlus Expo, I haven't made a photograph in months. I've barely even taken a picture! So it was decided that, no matter that I played a gig last night and didn't get home until after three, I would be getting up early to go make some photographs. I decided, too, that the direction headed would be west, to the area around Thurmont, Maryland, and one of my subject choices would be pretty uncharacteristic for me: fall color, assuming there was any left. The other "target" was to try to shoot some of the waterfalls in the area.

I managed to get up by 7:00, with surprisingly little difficulty. After I got myself ready to go, I dragged Donna out of bed, informed her that she would be "kidnapped," and that she needed to get ready to go. And, we were out the door by around 9AM. We stopped a couple times along the way to Thurmont, but once there, we spent our time at the Catoctin Furnace, and on the nearby walking trail.

Here are my results from the day:

A few shots are of particular interest:

First, it seems to be a requirement of nature/landscape photographers to get a picture of a yellow leaf. Maybe it's even the law. I don't know. At any rate, here's a yellow(wish) leaf:

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It's heavily backlit, so it looks more orange than yellow. But orange contains yellow. So there it is. Really, though, I think that being limited to only yellow leaves is somehow discriminatory against other-colored leaves. So, in the interest of at least a little bit of equality, I felt it important to include a red one:

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For the purists, it should be known that I did not place the red leaf. That's just how I found it.

Seriously, though, we saw a gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker at work on a dead tree. Of course, neither of us had the correct lens at the ready, and by the time I even got my bag open, the bird had ducked into a hole in the tree. Apparently, Sunday is interior decorating day for woodpeckers, because he/she/it commenced to banging away inside the tree. When we held our hand on the side of the tree, we could feel the banging! Very cool, and something we'd never experienced before!

After leaving the furnace, we took the road up around the State Park in search of places to shoot waterfalls. While we saw a couple of likely candidates, there were no places to pull over. So, we decided to head into Cunningham Falls State Park. Apparently, everyone else in the area had the same idea, because the place was mobbed! We decided that we'd save waterfalls for another day, and started home, sorta, by way of Blue Ridge Summit and Gettysburg, PA. We had a nice drive, but didn't stop anywhere else to shoot. And, by the time we got close to home, I was beat! Getting only three-and-a-half hours of sleep and finally caught up with me.

For the techies: Of course, everything was taken with my Fujifilm X-E1. For most of the shots, I used the excellent XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens, although I did use the old Mamiya-Sekor 55mm f/1.8 on a few. For a lens made in 1968, there's still a lot of magic there! Everything here was processed in Lightroom CC 2015.

Gettysburg Grunge

We went up to Gettysburg last night. Gettysburg is one of my least favorite places, because I have less than no interest in the Civil War, and really, Gettysburg is one big Civil War tourist trap. And yet, there we were. Before we go any further, I think that there's a law that requires anyone going to Gettysburg to take a picture of a cannon. So, to keep from being arrested or fined or something, here's a picture of a cannon. Gettysburg_May 31, 2014_02

Okay, with that out of the way, we wandered around looking for a couple of specific patches of battlefield. I know we found one; I'm not certain about the other. Anyway, I took a bunch of pictures, some of which almost qualified as photographs, and then I trashed them though Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects. Have a look at the results. As usual, click a thumbnail to see bigger pictures. But, you knew that...

Seriously, we did have a very nice time. It was a gorgeous evening, and a really nice night for a drive 'round the battlefield. We only collected two ticks and the odd mosquito bite.

As I mentioned at the top, I pre-processed all the pictures in Lightroom before subjecting them to my OnOne Perfect Effects torture. For those interested, here's the output from Lightroom.

Now, I'm off to clean up my hard drive before the laptop crashes completely....

Autumn Colors 1 -- In Our Back Yard

I meant to get up early this morning and go out on a little journey and make some photographs. I didn't get as far as I intended. In fact, I never even made it to the car. Instead, I walked around the yard. I got distracted by the red maple tree I saw out the kitchen window, with the sunlight behind it. So, I grabbed the Fuji X10, popped the flash on for good measure, and headed outside. Damn. Cold.

All images made with the Fujifilm X10 Some have a little fill flash from the Fujifilm EF-20 flash Editing in Lightroom 5.2.