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.
Within the next few weeks, Microsoft will be releasing the new generation model of its successful laptop for professionals, the Surface Pro 4. Having been using the Surface Pro 3 since it came out, I have taken it all over – from the dusty Race Track playa of Death Valley to the red sands of Wadi Rum in Jordan. Being light and portable, it has been in my camera bag pretty much everywhere I go. I have always been a PC guy (although I recently bought an iMac), so I have had quite a bit of experience using all kinds of PCs for my needs. And although I have never had issues with PCs, my biggest struggle has always been laptops. Having tried everything from expensive Dell Precision models to lightweight ultrabooks, I pretty much hated them all for one reason – the amount of heat they generate, particularly when using them on my lap.
As some of our readers have found out, there is an issue with the high-resolution, high-density screen of the Surface Pro 3. You see, the more resolution you pack into a small screen, the smaller the elements then appear – buttons, text, just about any content on the Internet. I am certain that the issue is temporary – as high-density screens spread and become common technology, these issues are bound to be resolved at some point. Still, if you are using Lightroom with the Surface Pro 3 now, waiting is not really an option. And I have some good news – there is no need to wait. An issue is only an issue if you can’t solve it. Luckily, there are at least two ways to make the user interface of Adobe’s popular RAW converter more friendly to both mouse and touch input, and both are as easy to set up.
Before we start, thought, let’s see what the issue is all about.
Just like Romanas, I love my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (in fact, I was the one who convinced Romanas to get one after my experience with the Surface Pro 2 and eventually 3rd generation). Although Romanas has already put a lot of great information in his excellent in-depth review, there is one big reason why I personally strongly prefer the Surface Pro over a laptop – I can work with it on my lap and it does not make me uncomfortable, as it does not generate any heat. But despite all the good things about the Surface Pro 3, there is one issue that can be particularly problematic for photographers: to extend battery life, Microsoft actually modified Intel’s graphics card drivers and reduced the number of colors that can be displayed by the device. For most people this might not be a problem, but for us photo geeks, this “hack” is actually quite a big issue, as it introduces banding / posterization to images. It also makes it hard to distinguish between some shades of colors, which is rather sad, since the high resolution screen is the number one selling point of this device (turns out Apple employs a similar trick on its MacBook Air machines). Another inquiry we have received from our readers is on calibration – is it possible to calibrate the Surface Pro 3 screen? In this article, I will provide detailed information on how to fix the banding issue and provide detailed instructions on how to properly calibrate the Surface Pro 3 screen.
In my original review of the Surface, I mentioned it suits my needs very well when it comes to portability and writing. The Type Cover keyboard is exceptionally comfortable and the whole package fits very neatly into the tablet compartment of my Think Tank Retrospective bag. However, I did not yet have the time to thoroughly test the Surface’s performance with Lightroom and Photoshop, the two most popular editing programs among photographers. Since so many of you asked, I decided not to wait for the next time I was shooting out in the city to process new photographs “in the field” (not the best weather for street photography), but to turn off my PC at home for a while and instead work on images I’ve taken during my trip to NYC on the Surface. In this article, I will talk you through my experience from importing the RAW files to the Surface in Lightroom, to exporting them, all (hopefully) on a single charge of battery. Let’s see if it will manage.
Here I am, sitting at a cozy coffee house. Not just some coffee house, too, but a place where a lot of young people hang out – students, mostly. They come here for a cup of coffee much like people do at Starbucks overseas. Like me, they also come here to work – I’ve seen more MacBooks here than I did in iDeal (official Apple product distributor in Lithuania, similar to iStore / Apple Store). But I don’t have a MacBook. Perhaps that is why through the corner of my eye I notice a young girl looking my way. Now, my Julie has no reason to worry. The girl is not interested in me whatsoever. What caught her eye is the computer on my lap. She notices me noticing her and immediately says – “What sort of computer is that? It’s pretty.” Right. So this might not help my self esteem, but the girl is indeed correct. I appreciate a good design and, well, this thing looks the part. Coupled with the bright blue keyboard, certainly good enough to attract attention.
Whether you want it to attract attention or not is a different matter. More importantly, though, it’s not all looks and no substance. Quite the contrary, in fact – Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is ready to give someone a bloody nose.