After reviewing Microsoft’s Surface machines, a number of our readers requested us to also review other competing products that sport enough processing power to run photo applications like Lightroom and Photoshop. Since in my past corporate life I spent quite a bit of time with Dell PCs and servers, it was my first natural selection. Having previously owned a Dell XPS 13 (when it was first introduced a while back), I wanted to take a look at the newest-generation version to see how well it would do for photography needs. Although a more direct competitor to Microsoft’s Surface Pro line would be the XPS 12, once I found out that it was maxed out at 8 GB of RAM and only 256 GB of storage, I had to move up in size. And since my goal was to find something light and compact to travel with, I did not consider the Dell XPS 15, which boasts the most power among the three models and comes with a dedicated GPU. When the Dell XPS 13 finally arrived, I got ready to put it through some tests to see how it would do. After a two-week trip to California and four more weeks of heavy work on the XPS 13, I decided to share my thoughts on the machine with our readers in a detailed review.
Courtesy of Dell, I received the latest version of the Dell XPS 13 Notebook a couple of days ago. Although I have not spent much time with the machine yet to be able to write my initial thoughts, I have already installed the latest versions of both Lightroom and Photoshop. Both ran just fine together, something I have not been able to do very successfully with my Surface Pro 3. The main reason is RAM – my Surface Pro 3 only has 8 GB of RAM, whereas the XPS 13 has 16 GB. In addition, the XPS 13 has the latest generation Skylake CPU (mine came with a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU), which also sports a faster Intel GPU, so I expect it to be faster at doing everything. Lastly, the machine has a whopping 1 TB of fast PCIe storage, which means that I don’t have to constantly carry an external hard drive with me, since its local storage is sufficient for most of my needs when traveling. Hence, I expect the XPS 13 to be a much superior machine for post-processing work when working in the field.
The first issue I have noticed so far is the power plug – unfortunately, Dell has not changed it for a while now, so it is still the same old power plug that goes on the side of the machine. I wish Dell engineers came up with a better designed power plug, so that it could attach to the machine simpler, perhaps with a magnetic connection like on the Surface Pro. This way, if one were to unintentionally stomp on the cable, it does not bring the machine down with it. In fact, it would be even sweeter if someone came up with a way to charge laptops from each side! How many times do you catch yourself moving around just to accommodate the direction of the power cable? I know such a design would take more space, but it would be really convenient. Another potential issue is lack of an HDMI output. Looks like Dell wants its XPS 13 users to purchase an optional accessory to be able to output HDMI from the laptop, which is not that big of a deal, as long as the accessory works well. Still, some people might not like the idea of carrying another accessory and cables in their bags.
A definite plus I see is the availability of two USB ports and a Thunderbolt port. Yes, you heard that right – this little puppy has a Thunderbolt port on its side! I have not seen many PCs with it, which is definitely new, but welcome, since the number of Thunderbolt devices on the market is increasing dramatically. With the ability to transfer up to 40 Gbps, Thunderbolt is a pretty sweet option to put on any machine, let alone a compact travel laptop. And by the way, if you have a monitor with a Thunderbolt port, you should be able to output video without the third party accessory. I cannot verify this 100% yet, but hoping to be able to find out by the time I do the review.
I am planning to travel with the XPS 13 extensively in the next 3-4 months, so expect a review fairly soon. As before, I will be providing benchmark data and comparisons with a number of Microsoft Surface Pro alternatives, as requested by our readers.
Having been using the Microsoft Surface Pro for several years now, I was psyched to see the launch of the Surface Book, along with the Surface Pro 4. When I first heard about the Surface Book, I thought “here goes another laptop again”…until I saw the screen detach from the keyboard, revealing that it was a two-in-one hybrid machine. That was certainly unexpected. A laptop and a touchscreen tablet hybrid with a powerful 6th generation dual core Intel CPU, dedicated NVIDIA GPU, up to 1 TB of SSD memory and up to 16 GB of RAM. A true powerhouse in a very compact form factor, ideal for traveling and photo editing on the go. I knew it was something I had to test and review.
We are continuing our series on how to choose and buy computer hardware for photography needs and today we will be providing suggestions on what Apple laptops are worth looking into. First, we will do a quick overview of the Apple line of MacBooks, then we will provide our top recommendations for doing post-processing work. This article has been written in collaboration with our team members who use Apple’s MacBook products exclusively and extensively for their photography work.
When it comes to photo editing, both PC and Mac platforms can be very powerful and highly capable, with each having its own list of pros and cons. Choosing one platform over the other can be a difficult choice, because there are so many different aspects and variables to consider. Hardware, software, operating system, cost, design / aesthetics, simplicity, ease of use, stability, upgrade options, resale value, size and weight are some of the factors one might look into on both PCs and Macs to make the ultimate choice. And what makes it even tougher, is that some of these factors can carry very different weights. For example, cost and hardware are often the two major factors that influence purchasing decisions the most. So let’s take a look at a number of above-mentioned factors and see which platform is potentially a better choice for photography needs.
We have written quite a bit about building PCs here at Photography Life, but sadly, we have not given nearly as much attention to Macs. Part of the reason is the platform of choice – a few of the PL’s team members have been using PCs for many years, including myself, and as a result, we have not had a chance to write much about Apple products. But things will hopefully change going forward. Earlier this year, I purchased my first iMac Retina and I have been exploring the Mac world ever since. While I am planning to write a separate article on my thoughts about Mac vs PC and some of my personal experiences with potentially switching to a different platform, in this particular article I want to focus on one topic, which is purchasing an iMac for photography needs. I have had quite a few requests from our readers on this topic and many wonder what type of an iMac would suffice for photography work without breaking the bank. After doing quite a bit of research before purchasing my iMac and consulting with other Mac experts, I believe I found a couple of configuration options that are optimal for photography work for the next few years.
Data loss is a very painful experience that unfortunately many of us go through at some point of our lives. In my workshops, lectures and this website, I spend quite a bit of time advocating the need for a well-established workflow that incorporates solid backup strategies to prevent data loss. And during this process, I came across many different backup routines practiced by other photographers, some of which I found to be downright scary. You have probably heard of horror stories of professional photographers losing their life’s work, or wedding photographers losing images of weddings that they were not able to deliver to their clients yet. It sure happens, and it usually happens at the worst possible time too! It is one thing when you lose your personal data / photos and totally another when you are dealing with a client who paid you money. I cannot imagine how one could even handle a situation with lost wedding photos, as it would be impossible to recreate those precious moments. Sadly, for many of us, it seems like data loss has to take place in order for us to seriously consider a solid backup strategy and workflow. But it does not have to! In this article, I will walk you through two scenarios for establishing a good photography backup workflow: a low-cost and painless workflow for hobbyists, and a much more serious workflow for enthusiasts and professionals. For the second scenario, I will reveal my own backup strategy.
It has been a while since I published my first article on an Ultimate PC Build for Photography Needs. With close to 300 comments, it surely attracted many of our PC readers, who have been contemplating about upgrading their current machines to something incredibly fast. At the time of publishing the article, Intel had not yet announced the Skylake microarchitecture with its sixth generation processors. After looking at all the available options at the time, I decided to go with the Haswell system using a powerful and proven CPU, Intel Core i7-4790K (a.k.a. Devil’s Canyon). But since then, most of the hardware has been discontinued, Skylake and some new hardware came out, so I decided to refresh the article, this time focusing on a very powerful Skylake build. Now if you have already built a PC using my previous guide, you have nothing to worry about – your machine is still a speed demon and you are set for a while. However, if you have not yet built one, my recommendation would be to go with Skylake and the hardware I recommend below. This machine should be able to handle anything you throw at it, including processing of 4K video.
Along with the new Surface Book, Microsoft also revealed a highly anticipated update to the Surface Pro line – the Surface Pro 4. Being a huge fan of the SP 3, I have been patiently waiting to see what Microsoft would bring in the SP 4. Although the Surface Book sounds like a dream come true for serious work, it is both heavier and larger than the Surface Pro 3 once you add up the keyboard shell (which is what hosts an additional battery, external connectors and an optional GPU). My Surface Pro 3 is always with me and it fits nicely in the front compartment of my Think Tank Airport Commuter backpack (the best camera backpack I have used to date), so I will have to evaluate the size differences between the two to decide which one would suit my needs the best. Thankfully, Microsoft kept the Surface Pro 4 nice and compact. In fact, compared to its predecessor, the SP 4 is both thinner and slightly lighter at 8.45mm and 1.73 pounds (high-end models), vs 9.14mm and 1.76 pounds on the SP 3.
Today is a big day at Microsoft, because the company revealed the Surface Book, Microsoft’s first ever laptop. With its 13.5 inch display packing 3,000 x 2,000 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio, which is great for photography) the screen is very impressive with 267 pixels per inch. And since this machine just like the Surface Pro and Surface 3 can run the full version of Windows 10, you can run any calibration software to get the color precision you need. The cool thing about the Surface Book is that you can use it both as a tablet and a laptop – something Apple MacBook Pro cannot compete with. That’s a neat feature, because some tasks, like online browsing do not require a keyboard, so the ability to disconnect the screen from the keyboard is amazing. The keyboard module is not just a keyboard – it is actually another shell that hosts another battery and an optional NVIDIA graphics card (GPU), which is something I did not expect to see. This means that the Surface Book will be perfectly usable not only for gaming, but also for many challenging tasks, including 3D modeling. GPU speed was the weakness of the Surface Pro line and a lot of people have been asking for a way to hook up an external GPU. Looks like Microsoft listened and delivered. There is, however, a caveat with the tablet vs full laptop mode: since the larger capacity battery sits in the keyboard shell, the battery life is greatly diminished, with the tablet only being able to run for up to 3 hours. Still, that’s pretty darn impressive for such a small powerhouse. And speaking of battery life, once you hook up the keyboard, you will be able to get up to 12 hours of battery life!