Macworld ’s $5,000 Photo Challenge

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The good news for Mac users bitten by the photo bug: thanks to powerful hardware and user-friendly software, it’s easier than ever to pursue photography as a hobby or even a profession. And the bad news? That powerful hardware and user-friendly software doesn’t always come cheaply.

But just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you can’t choose wisely. To prove it, we asked two digital photographers, Derrick Story and Ben Long, to show us how they would outfit themselves if given $5,000. But we added a twist: We told Derrick to shop as a professional photographer, while we asked Ben to make his purchases as if he were an enthusiastic (and deep-pocketed) amateur.

Derrick and Ben each began with a $5,000 budget and a 17-inch iMac with a 1.6GHz G5 processor, a Combo drive, 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, and the iMac’s bundled software. We gave them the option of selling the iMac for $1,299—the going price for that system on—and adding the profits to the budget. Because buying just one pro-level camera could blow the entire $5,000, we assumed that our photographers already owned their cameras.

Here are the products they picked and the places where they picked up their equipment.

Derrick Story: Professional on a Budget

Derrick’s Purchases

17-inch PowerBook G4/1.5 GHz with 80GB drive and 512 MB RAM $2,799 Apple Store
512 MB RAM upgrade $96 Crucial Technology
23-inch Cinema Display $1,999 Apple Store
iPhoto Library Manager $0 Brian Webster
QuickTime Pro upgrade $30 Apple
Adobe Photoshop CS (used) $240
Boinx FotoMagico $79 Boinx Software
Belkin 15 AND 1 Media Reader/Writer $35
Canon i9900 Inkjet printer $439 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
Canon CP-220 Dye Sub printer $140 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
LaCie 400GB Ext Hard Drive 7200rpm $399 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
BetterHTMLExport for iPhoto 4 $20
QuickImageCM $0 Pixture Studio

Click on product name to find best current price.

My Strategy: My radical departure was choosing a PowerBook as my sole computer. The computer side of my digital photography work had to be as nimble and powerful as the picture-taking side.

Most Essential Purchases: Aside from the camera, the PowerBook is my most important tool. Next are Photoshop, iPhoto, and the LaCie FireWire drives.

Most Expendable Purchase: I would reluctantly give up one of the auxiliary imaging apps.

If I Had More Money, I’d…: Upgrade the dye-sub printer to the Canon CP-330, buy a second 400GB hard drive for backups in a separate location, upgrade to 1.5GB of RAM, and add two .Mac accounts (one with a password and one without) for client previews of shoots. And I’d love a quality film scanner for digitizing my slide collection.

Ben’s Reaction: All users should consider Derrick’s portable approach (though the PowerBook and Cinema Display are a pricey combo). His combination of hardware and software is ideal for the workflow that a professional photographer needs.

Ben Long: Affluent Amateur

Ben’s Purchases

20-inch iMac G5/1.8GHz with Super Drive, 160GB drive, and 256MB RAM $1,899 Apple Store
Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 is $417
Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 USM $799 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
Adobe Photoshop CS $589 Small Dog Electronics
iView MediaPro 2.6 $119 iView Multimedia
Epson P-2000 multimedia Storage Viewer - 40gb $499
2 Lexar 1gb 80x CompactFlash cards $180
Canon i9900 printer $405
Tamrac Velocity 7 Compact Sling Camera Pack $50
2 extra batteries $60
Noise Ninja Pro license bundle $80 PictureCode
flash - speedlite 580ex $450
1 GB RAM upgrade $171 DealRAM
Belkin 15 and 1 Media Reader/Writer $35
Tiffen 58mm Photo Essentials Kit (UV filter, Color Warming, Circular Polarizer) $60 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
Wacom Graphire 4x5 Tablet $79 MacMall
.Mac subscription $99 Apple
Benbo Trekker Mk2 Tripod kit with Ballhead and case $180 B&H Photo Video Pro Audio

Click on product name to find best current price.

My Strategy: The goal was to get the best gear for the money. The trick was to intelligently define best. For this market, it’s a combination of good image quality, intermediate performance, and broad feature set.

Most Essential Purchases: Photoshop CS; the RAM upgrade; the extra storage device; a 75mm-300mm or 10mm-22mm lens, depending on the type of shooting you like to do; and the Canon i9900 printer.

Most Expendable Purchases: The Epson P-2000, the Belkin media reader, the circular polarizer, the .Mac subscription, and Noise Ninja Pro.

If I Had More Money, I’d…: Upgrade to a Canon EOS 20D camera, for its improved shooting rate and lower noise levels; add a PowerBook for field viewing and editing (but never playing Halo—nope, never); and buy more lenses—always more lenses.

Derrick’s Reaction: The Epson P-2000 multimedia-storage and -viewing device is a great choice. I’ve played with one and really liked it. Maybe Ben will lend me his!

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