Imaging Computers

While much of the emphasis in discussions of digital photography hardware revolves around camera bodies and lenses, the computer component is critically important too, at least if you value your time as part of the equation.  It’s the combination of all the tools that has evolved into the richest capture-to-output image creation platform ever.

As is always the case, new technology is continually pushed into the chain, sometimes causing minor ripples, and at other times causing big waves.  The current breaking wave on the computing end of the spectrum is a new family of central processors coupled with advanced graphics card capabilities which are being leveraged by ever more sophisticated software like the Mercury Graphics Engine in Adobe’s latest Creative Suite.  Intel’s “Ivy Bridge” processors (and upgraded workstation CPUs with a different family lineage) are just entering the product stream at the same time Nvidia’s CUDA parallel graphics computing platform continues to raise the bar on the GPU side.  All this is good news for those stepping up to really large image files (perhaps out of a Nikon D800?), or producing more video along with stills.

Some of the first upgraded packages are showing up in laptops.  Lenovo has just announced their new lineup (with Windows OS), and very strong rumors suggest Apple will be unveil a new 15 inch MacBook Pro at their Worldwide Developers Conference on June 11.  And there’s much more to come with OS upgrades soon from both camps.  No doubt it will take a while for all the dust to settle and clear choices to become evident, but the options to expand your creative suite will be broader than ever, and commensurately, might deserve a bit more study than in the past to make the best picks for future acquisitions.

If you use Photoshop, here is Adobe’s list of suggestions for optimizing performance.  Notice how much more important the GPU has become in the overall mix.  Add 64-bit processors, solid state drives, and large amounts of RAM and the performance improvement of a state-of-the-art system over one just a few years old can be mind-boggling.  Take a look at one reviewer’s perception of the quantum leap in usability afforded by a new variety of SSD that runs in a PCIe slot on the desktop system’s motherboard.

Most photographers would rather be in the field making pictures than doing post-production work on a computer, and making some astute choices on end-game hardware and software can save a lot of time to help you do just that.  2012 is rapidly shaping up as a banner year for technology improvements on both ends of the imaging spectrum.

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