Frequently Asked Questions
Which computer do I need for photography?
Here are recommendations for your next computer, before or after a workshop: Apple computers are far the best for photography workflow. Even if you work with a PC for work, consider an Apple for your photography.
Generally, I recommend getting the fastest MacBook Pro available, and with the 15" Retina screen. And change it every 18-36 months to stay in the loop with the fastest technology (things change so fast that a 3 year old computer tends to be really slow).
Speed comparison - MacBook Lightroom:
Which is fastest for Lightroom? This is how big a difference there is working with Lightroom 6. This test was performed with 346 DNG files from 24MP camera (= size 20-30 MB each. I'll get into the actual speed of the new ):
If you want to work on a large screen at home, I recommend getting one or two external screens that connects to your MacBook Pro, rather than having a "large computer" at home and a "small computer" for travel. It's much easier to have just one computer and not having to sync two computers; and you can invest the money in one really fast computer.
Workspace with two 30" Apple Cinema screens run by a MacBook Pro. © 2014-2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
Always buy the fastest model available
No matter which MacBook model you buy, upgrade the processor to the fastest possible model, and upgrade the hard drive to the largest available.
In the MacBook Air series, they usually come with an i5 processor, but upgrading to the i7 will increase the speed for photography workflow 4X and only cost $100.
The MacBook 12" is cute, has a great screen, but is also the slowest model for photography workflow. My mother has one and loves it, but she's 70 years old and only uses it for e-mail and online banking.
If you visit an Apple store and compare the 13" MacBook Air with the 15" MacBook Pro, you will realize that there's not much difference in size. So why not get the computer with the largest screen and most speed?
Even I travel 49 of the years 52 weeks, I've choosen the MacBook Pro 15" every time, and I've picked the fastest model available every time. I travel with my computer, but I never really carry it around. I park it in a hotel or apartment, and when I travel to the next place I put it in my bag until I arrive in the next hotel. Only if you always (or often) carry your computer around town with you does it makes sense to get a smaller model.
Currently, the new MacBook Pro 15" (Late 2016) with 2.9 Ghz and 2TB hard drive is the choice. With it comes the pain of new Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connections and no SD-card reader built-in. You might still consider the MacBook Pro 15" (Mid 2015 as a workable alternative). New MacBook Pro 15" are expected to be announced in October 2017 with faster specifications (but still four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections). It might be 2018-2019 before the new MacBook Pro 15" is actually an advantage to get over the Mid 2015 model.
No more SD-card reader in the (Late 2016 MacBook) computer
Apple doesn't even make or sell (in the Apple Store) a SD card reader, so you have to visit Amazon or eBay to find a third party SD card reader that goes into the USB-C plug, or a traditional SD card reader with USB and use a USB-C to USB3 dongle.
USB-C is not the same as Thunderbolt 3
The plug for USB-C is the same as for Thunderbolt 3. The confusion on this is so great that the staff in the Apple Store doesn't always know. They will claim it is the same speed. It's not. Thunderbolt 3 is four times faster than USB-C, and that is important when buying a new hard drive: LaCie makes hard drives with USB-C (USB 3.1) connections and Thunderbolt 3 connections for this reason, but many portable drives have just USB-C connection. USB-C speed is rated as 10GB/sec and Thunderbolt 3 is rated as 40GB/sec. This is so little known, most will claim USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is the same connection and speed (though it was specified in the 40 page document following the release of the MacBook Late 2016).
Look at performance, don't listen to the hype
When the new MacBook Pro was announced, it was announced as "Metal on all four sides" and "17% thinner than the previous model" and so on. That's how they sold us Thunderbolt some years ago and that's how the MacBook 12" may sound great (even it is the worst for picture editing).
It's difficult to not get enthusiastic about the new, but make speed comparisons before you go get it all.
Which external hard drives do I need for photography?
You need external hard drives for storage, and you need two so one is your storage, the other is your backup of that. In other words, you always buy two, four, six or eight hard drives at a time.
Portable hard drives have a live span of 12-18 months before you want to replace them with a bigger one. You think they will last forever, but your need for storage grows faster than you think. The good news is that price of hard drive space drops with the same speed as your need more space.
This is how big (or little) a difference there is between USB and Thunderbolt:
As you can see, the extra price of Thunderbolt external hard drives (usually $100-$200 per hard drive) isn't warranted by the 6% faster speed.
With new MacBook Pro 15" (Late 2016 model) that has only four Thunderbolt 3 conncetions (which are the same as USB-C that the MacBook 12" introduced), you don't really have a choice. You can use converters for a while, but all future things you buy should be directed towards Thunderbolt 3 (when Thunderbolt came out, you could get FireWire to Thunderbolt converters, and they work; but you want clean cables without having to use converters).
My portable hard drives are currently 4TB LaCie Rugged (USB3) and 2TB Western Digital (USB3).
Remember, you will buy a new one anyways in 12-18 months. Go with USB 3if you can, and don't spend much time reconsidering this decision until portable SSD hard drives come down into a reasonable price range. (There will be coming a new type of SSD hard drives that you can expand unlimited - e-mail me for more info on this so you get a notice when they are available).
Make sure to avoid portable hard drives that require external power supply! Not much compactness in having a small drive that needs a power supply. A portable hard drive should be powered by the USB or Thunderbolt cable.
I use Western Digital 2TB portable hard drives (BH Photo / Amazon) and LaCie 4TB USB3 hard drives (BH Photo / Amazon).
Desktop hard drives are a little different in that they last for 3-5 years. Then you want to upgrade them to larger ones because you need more space and the connections becomes obsolete. FireWire 400 (invented 1995) and FireWire 800 (introduced 2009) have died out. Again, time works for you, the price of a top-of-the-line 120 GB hard drive in 2000 was $400 back then, and a 6,000 GB hard drive today costs $400 as well.
This is how big (or small) a difference there is between FireWire 800 and USB3:
|Read/write/copy speed *
The lesson on FireWire, USB, Thunderbolt and the new Apple USB-C Port is that it's the size of the connections that change dramatically, not so much the speed. But the hype with each new type makes you buy new equipment, and that's the main feature.
Some of my external hard drives. FireWire/Thunderbolt in the background, USB backup drives on the front, and USB3 portable hard drives for travel.
USB desktop hard drives vs
Thunderbolt desktop hard drives
You can set up several USB 3 external hard drives via an $18 USB 3.1 Hub so they are all connected at the same time. As the Hub provides power as well, you can actually go with portable drives instead of the Desktop hard drives (that all requires a separate power supply). If you don't depend on speed but use the connected hard drives for archiving (and photo editing, video editing, etc. on the much faster internal SSD/Flash Memory), this is actually worth considering. The USB hub also can charge iPhones and stuff.
Thunderbolt hard drives can be connected in "daiseychain" which means you have one cable going out of the Mac to the first hard drive, then a Thunderbolt from that to the next and from that to the next. They are all connected this way, although it requires that the desktop hard drive needs two Thunderbolt connections (one in and one out).
One of the problems with Thunderbolt is that the cables go black for no reason. They simply stop working. Some times, after some weeks of rest they may work normally again. If you have a rather complicated setup of drives it's annoying to locate the faulty cable and replace it. Others have reported that Thunderbolt cables caused errors that wiped their hard drives. All in all, it's an easy technology but not a very stable one. We all got into it because "Thunderbolt" sounds so cool, and it's the future (and who doesn't want to be in that?).
||Sanho 5-in-1 hub for MacBook USB-C is necessary in order to plug in more than one thing. It's a mess..!
Next thing will be USB-C which was introduced on the MacBook 12" in 2015 and that's also what is on the new redesigned MacBook Pro (Late 2016), wich they call Thunderbolt 3 on that one. (It has 4 Thunderbolt 3 connections and nothing else).
Thunderbolt 3 read/write 4X faster than USB-C even they plugs look the same. If you connect a USB hard drive via the USB>USB-C dongle, the speed will obviously be that of the slowest cable.
In the MacBook 12" it's very unpractical as it is the one and only connection for power, hard drives, scanners, phones and all. "Be careful what you wish for", as the Apple CEO said about that feature.
I have Thunderbolt desktop hard drives and USB 3 backup hard drives. The most recent desktop hard drives I've bought have been the LaCie 6TB Thunderbolt model and the most recent backup hard drives I bought was four 5TB hard drives with USB.
Do what seems most practical. As long as you have backup of your hard drives, the problems will never be bigger than what you can overcome. I very much buy hard drives the same way I buy Xerox paper: the price per pack for 500 sheets of Xerox paper, and the price for a 1TB hard drive. I simply make a piece of paper where I list and compare the current models: Speed, Connections, price per TB). If I had smaller storage needs, I would use portable hard drives only. Nice, easy and compact.
As I don't expect any of my desktop hard drives to be with me for more than 3-5 years, I don't invest in one large system or one large 30TB hard drive. I buy a hard drive that will keep me going for a while; and in 6-9 months when I need more space, I compare and get the next one.
Price comparison of hard drives (July 2016):