Gear Recommendations

Apple 27" iMac: The Best Computer for Photographers

A few weeks ago I wrote about my plans to order a new 27" iMac. You can read all of those details here. But a few things have changed since that post and I want to update you on what I've found. 

First of all, it's official, I've ordered my iMac. But it's a bit different than I originally imagined. Here are the changes:

1. Go with Fusion: You can see in my original post that I ignored the Fusion drive because I felt like it was only relevant for a general consumer who wanted a little SSD (Solid State Drive) on top of raw storage. Turns out I was wrong. It has broader appeal which I'll explain in the next paragraph. I went with the 1TB Fusion drive instead of the 3TB. My bulk storage will still reside on the external Drobo 5D which is filled with 20TB's of drive space so there's zero reason for me to spring for a 3TB Fusion drive.

2. Speedy: I originally thought the Fusion drive would suffer speed problems compared to a straight solid state drive. In fact my discussions with Apple told me as much. But the benchmark tests are out and the difference between the Fusion and a SSD is negligible. For my photography workflow I won't notice any drop at all and in some areas it's faster. The Fusion drive is a genius piece of hardware because you really do get all of the benefits of a full SSD drive without the cost. 

3. The Cost Savings: Apple is only offering a 768GB solid state drive configuration in the 27" iMac. I didn't know that at the time. I assumed they'd offer up a variety of options, perhaps starting at 256GB. The cost is significant for the 768GB configuration, a whopping $1,300 more than the 1TB Fusion drive. No thanks. After reading all the benchmark tests the decision was an easy one for me.

4. Extra RAM: I didn't mention it at the time but decided to spring for the extra RAM. You can grab 8, 16, or 32GB of RAM. With the savings on the SSD I decided to go for the big boy and grab the 32GB of RAM. This will let me run a whole slew of apps with speed and efficiency. 

In the end here is my configuration:

  • Processor: 3.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
  • Memory: 32GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 4x8GB
  • Storage: 1TB Fusion Drive + external Drobo 5D expandable up to 20TB
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5

I'm convinced this is the best possible configuration for photographers.

Drobo Mini unboxing

I ordered the brand new Drobo Mini and it arrived today. I did a little unboxing for your enjoyment.

A few months ago I played with the prototype and the fit and finish is nearly identical. I'm excited to put it through its paces. I think it'll be an essential tool for the traveling photographer or videographer with its compact design and mini SSD's.

Will you order one?

Best iMac for Photographers

Apple finally answered my calls for a new iMac. I just returned for Apple's iPad mini event where they announced two new beautifully designed, wafer thin iMacs. I spent some quality time with the new 27 inch iMac and I'll share my thoughts below. 

First it's important for me to tell you about my current set up. My 2009 iMac is long in the tooth. It's a core i5 27 inch iMac. All of my media is backed up to an original 4 bay Drobo over FireWire. The computer is fast enough when browsing the web but trying to access my photos on my Drobo is just painfully slow. For instance, importing 70 raw photos to Lightroom is so slow that I can start the process and go eat dinner. 

I spent a bunch of time talking to Apple engineers about the best set up for photographers and here's what I walked away with: Get the 27 inch iMac and spring for the for the 1GB graphics card instead of the base 512MB. With future versions of Photoshop you're going to want that additional graphics power. 

Avoid the Fusion Drive. Apple describes it this way:

It combines 128GB of flash with a standard 1TB or 3TB hard drive to create a single storage volume that intelligently manages files to optimize read and write performance. Fusion Drive adapts to the way you use your iMac and automatically moves the files and apps you use most often to flash storage to enable faster performance and quicker access.

That's great but it doesn't make sense for professional photographers. The fastest possible set up is to stick with a pure SSD configuration and run a Drobo via Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 to house your photos (I'll explain more about the Drobo in a second). Apple confirmed that this is the fastest way to go. The base level is 128GB and is expandable up to 768GB. Really you just want enough space to run the OS and the apps you'll need. I will probably bump it up to 356GB of flash, that'll give it enough breathing room to run some of the big apps.

The new Drobo's are out and they are fantastic. I'm getting the Drobo 5D. It's blazing fast now with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. They house up to 5 regular spinning hard drives or SSD's. I have a bunch of 3 TB drives that I'm going to put inside. With Thunderbolt connection I don't see the need to have SSD's in the Drobo just yet. You might feel differently if you're working with a lot of video. Once the cost drops a bit I might spring for them. For now I'm sticking with the old spinning drives. Drobo works by keeping your data spread across multiple drives so if one drive fails you don't have to worry about it. Simply swap out the drive with a new one and you're good to go.

Another bonus is the screen. While it's not Retina, the new iMac screen is 75% less reflective because the pixels lay just under the glass like the iPhone and Retina iPad.

The 21 inch iMacs came out in November and the 27 inch model shipped in December. I think with the new 27 inch iMacs Apple is saying forget about the Mac Pro.

A great SD card holder for traveling photographers

I'm heading to Germany next week and I really wanted to be organized this time around. I do struggle with travel organization. SD cards are a problem because they're so small and they tend to fall down into the cracks of bags. And let's be honest if you're shooting raw photos a 32 GB SD card can fill up pretty darn fast so you need a couple of them for a long trip. I don't plan on bringing a laptop so my only method of holding these photos will be an abundance of SD cards.

I found a great SD card holder that I highly recommen. It's from a company called Link Depot. It's small, it holds a ton of cards, it zips up and it's unbelievably cheap. Ordered in on Amazon and it was here the next day.