When you feel the need for speed

April 18, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I have commented previously about the time spent at a computer in our world of high-resolution digital photography. When I am not out shooting, I am often in the office in Jackson, Wyoming at the computer importing, tweaking, categorizing, editing, and backing up large numbers of digital images.  One of the first things I learned was don't try to do this on your average laptop.

Today's high-end digital cameras produce raw file images that easily exceed 25 - 40 megabytes per image. Large multi-layer edits and specialized combined images, like panoramas, can easily kick the file size up to 100 or 200 megabytes or even a gigabyte in size. Handling these huge files takes some serious computing power.

My recommendation for an office / studio computer for high volume editing is a traditional tower computer - usually a high speed model designed for gaming. These gaming PCs have high power processors, lots of memory, a dedicated video processor with additional memory, and high speed peripheral ports to external devices. My office system is based around such a gaming PC and is shown on the cover photo of this post.

Let's take a look at some of the specs needed to handle today's large files and editing software. I have a CyperPower PC available from many gaming PC distributors. The heart of this monster is a 4.33 MHz dual-core processor accessing 16 GB of RAM and driving a high speed video card with an additional 2 GB of memory. This is a good kick-start but the real accelerator in the system is a solid-state drive (SSD) that houses all of the operating system and all software. The SSD is between 4 and 10 times faster than the best mechanical hard drive and the speed is evident when you are opening large files. There is a Blu-Ray DVD / CD drive for loading software and burning preview disks for clients.  The traditional 2 TB internal hard drive and 3 cooling fans completes the guts of the tower.

I have chosen USB-3 peripherals. You can use fire-wire and other proprietary connections but I like the ease of use and wide compatibility of the USB connectors. The tower has 2 USB-3s in front and 4 in back along with a few USB-2s for I/O devices like keyboards and tablets.  I chose Logitech wireless wave keyboard and wireless 4-button / wheel mouse for general input and control of the machine. Another port is used for a high speed card reader for my CF and HSSD camera cards.

Also using the USB-3 connectors are a series of external hard drives for back-up and additional archiving of images. I use a pair of 4 TB primary back-up drives, a 2 TB travel drive, and a 1T drive with the SSD image just in case this highly reliable device should fail or be corrupted. Another option is a RAID drive with automatic dual-drive back-up. It is on my wish list but the high cost and lack of higher capacity make me stick with the twin 4 TB externals. When a 16 GB RAID device is available at a reasonable cost, that will be the way to go.

The main editing interfaces are a pair of 27" ViewSonic high resolution monitors linked by HDMI to the PC. Two large monitors are almost essential to efficient editing. When I am working in Adobe LightRoom, I use the keyboard/mouse with the interface on the right-hand monitor and a full-screen image on the left-hand monitor. This saves constant switching back and forth to full-screen views after each edit. When I need to open PhotoShop for more advanced pixel-level editing, it comes up on the right-hand monitor above the Wacom Intuos-5 digital tablet.  I simply angle my chair a little to the left and pick up the stylus and I am ready to go. When I save the edited image, it drops back into LightRoom on the right-hand monitor and I am ready to move on.

In a nutshell, the keys for efficient digital editing are a high speed processor with lots of RAM and plenty of external disk space for back-ups. Meticulous cataloging and key wording of images and daily back-up of your work should allow you to stay in the field shooting and minimize your time at the computer.


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