So you have brought your new shiny camera, an assortment of lenses, the huge memory card is unpacked and ready to fill with beautiful images and you realise the laptop you bought in 1984 simply isn’t going to cut it any more. How do we choose an excellent windows based laptop to use for digital photography?
There are a number of things we need to consider when choosing a new computer for digital photography, and since most of us want our new computer to last as long as possible, we want to get it right the first time.
- Screen (display)
Considering that we are using our machine to look at and edit photos, it would seem obvious that a good screen would be the most important feature to look for.
The dot pitch or density of pixels on the screen determines how clear, crisp and sharp our images appear when viewing them. This is expressed in tech speak as the “resolution” of the screen and higher is better.
Although you can get by with a 1920x1080 resolution, (or Full HD/FHD display), it’s better to aim for a display that offers at least 2560 x 1440 resolution. This will give you an excellent dot pitch and ensure your pictures clear and easy to see fine detail. There are laptops available today with screens up to as high as 3840 x 2160 resolution (referred to as UHD or Ultra High Definition), so try to get the best you can within your budget. Size is important too, generally it is recommended to aim for at least a 15.6” screen to get the screen space you need for photo editing. A 13.3” screen on a laptop can work, and is certainly a good choice if you need portability, as those computers are a lot smaller and lighter than 15.6” laptops. Remember though, working on a smaller screen for long periods of time can get a bit frustrating…
When rendering, stacking and editing images, speed is very important. No one wants to sit around watching an hourglass for hours on end, so make sure your new computer has at least an Intel i3 CPU, preferably an Intel i5 or better. Also it is critical that you have a Solid State Drive installed in the laptop, as these drive are over 500% faster than a traditional Mechanical drive.
- Dedicated Graphics Card
A dedicated good graphics card will speed up the processing of images and should definitely be built into your new rig. You’re not gaming, so don’t worry too much about specs on this, just make sure you have a dedicated graphics card of some kind.
- Aftersales Service and Warranty
Computers do break sometimes. It is just how it is. What’s going to happen if your pride and joy has an issue? Are you going to be without it for weeks (or even months!) while it gets repaired in Malaysia? It is a good idea to choose a laptop that comes with an ONSITE warranty. This means that should you ever have a serious issue; a tech will come out to your house and repair it on the spot for you. This is also a good indicator of quality as manufacturers do not offer onsite warranties on poor quality computers, as it costs them a lot to send guys out all day fixing stuff. Most often you will find “Business grade” laptops will offer an onsite warranty as standard, and this should be high on your list of criteria when choosing a new computer.
- Storage space
If possible get a laptop that allows for the installation of an extra hard drive inside it, or already includes a large storage drive. The reason is that Solid State Drives (SSD's) are costly for larger sizes. Having two drives will allow you to have your super-fast (but relatively small) SSD drive for the running system of your computer, whilst the larger slower hard drive can give you massive storage for your extensive collection of beautiful photos.
Make sure you set a reasonable budget for your new baby. You can’t expect a $600 computer to give you anywhere near the same experience as a nice $4,000 machine. Screen quality is a massive factor in pricing, with UHD laptops generally being around the $3,500+ mark whilst the more common FHD units can be half the price.
- BACKUP SYSTEM
Imagine spending all that time and effort to produce outstanding photos only to suddenly lose them all due to hardware failure or virus infection. It happens all the time, and a backup system is critical to prevent data loss. All your files should be stored in at least two places. The most popular backup system is coupling a 1 or 2 TB external drive with a backup program called Acronis True Image which does a full image backup of your computer every day. Since it is automatic, you don’t have to remember to do it, and the backup gets everything; programs, settings, documents, email, photos etcetera and is VERY reliable. This is the simplest and easiest way to back up properly and is essential for amateur and professional photographers alike.
Traps and mistakes to avoid!
The most common mistakes that new photographers make when choosing their new computers include:
- Choosing a standard mechanical drive over a solid state drive: You’re in the shop and the salesman shows you a machine with a 1 TB Drive instead of the tiny 250GB one that the machine next to it has. Sounds like that the good choice right? No way! The 1TB drive is slow, prone to failure and is only going to cost you time and energy in the long run. Insist on an SSD or leave the store.
- Looks over quality: Wow this computer looks sexy, it must be good ,right? Wrong! Choosing beautiful aesthetics is important in our photography work, but should play absolutely no role in choosing a new laptop. The prettiest computers are often the worst quality ones, as they are targeting and audience that values looks over performance.
- A cheap laptop with be “good enough”: Don’t cut corners when choosing your new computer. It is a far better choice to budget and save for the perfect laptop, than to waste money on a cheap, slow computer which will cost you time and in the end, be a waste of money.