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 EveryMac.com—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
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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
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
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!
Derrick Story: The Poor Professional
At first, I created a shopping list based on the needs of a stereotypical media person: it included a dual-processor G5, for example. But that didn’t fit with how I actually operate. I might be working at home, at the office, on a park bench, or at the beach. Wherever I am, I want to transfer photos to my Mac, process them, and get them on the Internet—all as quickly as possible. And with the amount of data I generate, I don’t want to hassle with two computers. Those needs drove my final purchases.
I’ll Take That to Go, Please
Like many other pro photographers, I take pictures on-the-go, so I need a portable setup. I considered keeping the 17-inch iMac and buying an iBook for location work, but even at home, the iMac isn’t ideal because it’s not expandable enough.
So I sold the iMac and bought a 17-inch PowerBook as my only machine. My “home computer” is really a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display (I love the large screen when I’m editing images) and a 400GB LaCie Big Disk hard drive for those all-important backups. Both attach to the PowerBook when I’m not on the road.
I may have only one Mac, but I’ve got two printers. The Canon i9900 is my choice for enlargements (up to tabloid size) and fine-art prints, but it’s too cumbersome for 4-by-6-inch output. When I need to preview a couple of pictures as prints, I just connect to the Canon CP-220 and print; because it’s a dye-sub printer, the prints have a real photographic quality to them, and the UV coating is nice for handling. The CP-220 is even small enough to go on the road.
Image Editing and Creation
Adobe Photoshop CS is essential for photographic editing. To save a bit of money, you can buy a used copy from a reputable Web site (I went to Amazon.com). For creating motion graphics and dynamic slide shows from stills, I like Boinx Software’s FotoMagico. And I got QuickTime Pro to convert file formats, apply different types of compression, apply correction filters, add titles, edit, and stitch clips together. It’s also wonderful for playback.
Pros and serious amateurs shoot lots of pictures. On its own, iPhoto isn’t flexible enough to handle the quantity and variety of images we generate. Brian Webster’s iPhoto Library Manager lets me create separate libraries for specific projects, and it makes switching between the libraries easy. Performance is always excellent, and backup is a snap.
Delivering the Goods
I prefer to deliver my digital jobs on CD or DVD, depending on the number of pictures. Some clients have Macs, but more have Windows PCs, so my discs must be cross-platform.
I create each disc’s navigation system in HTML. Clients can use any com-puter with any browser to find and download images off the disc. Since I use iPhoto to catalog my images, creating the HTML directly out of this application is handy. iPhoto lets you export HTML, but its control is limited. Drooling Cat Software’s BetterHTMLExport is more sophisticated and gives me the options I need. iPhoto also lets me send a job to iDVD, where I can add even more production value and burn a disc that clients can play on their set-top DVD players.
I can also post this code on my Web site—a good site is critical for photographers. Clients can find me via my Internet storefront; look at my previous work; review my pricing; and, after their shoot, look at the images.
Faster than Photoshop
Even with a fast computer, Photoshop is slow. I don’t want to launch it just to view a file. With Pixture Studio’s QuickImageCM, I can simply control-click on the file and instantly view the picture. It’s a huge time-saver.
Cameras and Lenses
Although I assumed that a serious photographer would already have a camera and lenses, I’ll recommend a few for people who may be in purchasing mode: the Nikon D70 and the Canon EOS 20D. Out of the box, they aren’t designed to produce great wide-angle shots, so it’s important to get a quality wide-angle lens. I like the Canon EF 17mm- 40mm f4 L USM ultrawide zoom lens. When I don’t need that lens’s breadth, my lens of choice is the Canon EF 28mm- 135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom lens. Its image stabilizer makes handheld shots in dim lighting possible.
Derrick Story is a professional
Ben Long: The Affluent Enthusiast
I based my buying decisions on an analysis of what most hobbyist photographers need—not on what they may
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 4×5 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.
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
and other publications and is the author of
Complete Digital Photography
(Charles River Books, 2004).