Macworld ’s $5,000 Photo Challenge

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Ben Long: The Affluent Enthusiast

I based my buying decisions on an analysis of what most hobbyist photographers need—not on what they may want. For example, an amateur doesn’t need a dual-G5 Mac to keep up with a fast-paced workflow, and portability isn’t a necessity, either. And the enthusiastic amateur probably doesn’t need extremely high-performing camera hardware or imaging software. Because I didn’t have to spend as much money chasing those extremes, I was able to spend it creatively, in other places.

System Overhaul

I sold my 17-inch iMac and upgraded to the 20-inch iMac for its larger screen (great for photo editing), bigger hard drive, slightly better performance, and built-in SuperDrive. The SuperDrive and the included iDVD software make it easy to burn DVDs that hold my archived images. DVDs are also good for sending slide shows and still images to relatives.

Improve Your Memory

Photoshop CS—my image editor of choice—needs a lot of RAM to perform well. (I recommend memory that’s at least four times as large as the size of the image you’re working on.) That’s why I increased my iMac’s RAM to 1GB.

Lenses

Enthusiast photographers can’t go wrong with the Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera. I mention the camera because the make and model determine which lenses you need and can use. (Unlike pro photographers, who have accumulated lenses in the process of becoming professional, hobbyist photographers may be purchasing lenses for the first time.) The Rebel comes with a 17mm-85mm f4-5.6 IS or 18mm-55mm AF lens; I added two Canon lenses for a total focal range of 10mm-300mm. The EF 75mm-300mm f4-5.6 IS USM and EF-S 10mm-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM lenses have a 1.6x focal multiplier, so the effective focal range of these lenses is actually 16mm-480mm.

Storage

For the best quality, I shoot in Raw mode, which produces much larger files than the JPEG mode. So I pack at least two 1GB CompactFlash cards when I’m planning a couple of days of heavy shooting.

Photos on the Road

You can store a lot of images on 2GB. But when you’re away from your Mac for a long time, you need even more storage. The Epson P-2000 gives you 40GB of space that you can dump your flash cards onto, and the P-2000’s LCD screen is handy for reviewing your images. I transfer images from card to iMac with the Belkin 15-in-1 Media Reader/Writer.

More Accessories

The Digital Rebel’s onboard flash isn’t suited to serious flash photography, so I added the Canon Speedlite 580EX flash. I like the Tiffen 58mm Photo Essentials Kit for controlling light. I also bought the Benbo Trekker Mk 2, a lightweight ball-head tripod. To lug all these accessories, I bought the Tamrac Velocity 7 Compact Sling Camera Pouch.

Image Editing

Although Photoshop Elements is less expensive than Photoshop CS, I need CS’s Curves tool, Lab mode, support for 16-bit graphics, and other advanced features. I also consider Wacom’s Graphire3 4x5 Tablet a must-have for photo retouching.

Canon’s SLR cameras are renowned for producing images with very little noise. But at high ISOs, you might find that your images get a little grungy. PictureCode’s Noise Ninja Pro is an easy-to-use noise-reduction application that quickly cleans the speckles off your images.

Image Management

One of the great advantages of shooting digital is that it’s inexpensive: no film or processing costs. The downside is that you can drown in a sea of images. iView MediaPro is an excellent cataloging tool that will quickly become a part of your everyday photo workflow.

Share Photos Online and in Print

I subscribed to a year of .Mac because it’s the easiest way to produce Web galleries you can share with friends, family, and other photo enthusiasts. But for when I want prints, I selected Canon’s i9900 printer. Though the i9900 doesn’t offer as broad a media selection as the competing Epson Stylus Photo 2200 does, it costs about $100 less, produces slightly better images, includes a built-in FireWire port, and lets you print directly from the camera.

[ Ben Long writes about digital photography for Macworld and other publications and is the author of Complete Digital Photography (Charles River Books, 2004). ]

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