The Digital Darkroom…P1

Getting started and selecting hardware.

For most of us who value the improvements that post processing can make to your images, and who want something a little better than what the inbuilt editing software can do in your camera or phone, soon come to realise that some form of computer and software is going to be necessary.

This is no different than what you would do in an analogue darkroom when processing your film negatives or printing your images. No doubt you have found software either free, free trial or paid versions, or have seen adverts for these packages, but whats right for you?

Before selecting a package you need to decide what computer operating system you are going to use, and this is a little more complex than you may initially think. To get a better grasp on the situation I will break this topic into segments as follows:

  • PC Hardware
  • Monitors
  • Operating Systems
  • Software Packages/file storage
  • Usability/File types
  • Costs / Printing / Extras

PC Hardware

Typically your Hardware consists of a PC or Mac computer,a laptop of some description, possibly a tablet, as well as a portable hard drive or something similar to store your images locally, large data USB sticks and SD cards with a SD Card reader also come into this category.

More recently however is the ability for the higher end phones to be used as a fully functional desktop computer, complete with all the necessary apps to run on it. This is the case with my wife, who opted for the new Samsung Note9 which runs the DEX (desktop experience), by using a small dongle for wireless keyboard and mouse, that also charges the phone and outputs HDMI to a Samsung 27 inch monitor.

A short overview of how our Dex setup would look.

Dont be fooled into thinking these phones dont have the power to do complex editing, far from it. There are some excellent options to choose from for iPhone and Android users, and there are some very good advantages to working this way. This link outlines some of the best currently available to the Android user.  Android Apps For Photo Editing.  and this link takes you to the iPhone Photography School ( yes there is such a thing !! ) and provides 10 choices for you to choose from. While we all know that our modern smartphones can do some pretty neat stuff, for the sake of this discussion we will stick to the more expensive and better quality units.

So what sort of specs do you need for a PC or Mac computer? While I dont own a Mac and have no desire to do so, for the sake of this discussion I will simply say that if one matches the specs I mention here you should be fine.

No matter your flavour, be it PC or Mac you really need a 3.0 GHz quad core CPU to run most modern editing suites, especially the likes of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop which are both memory and processor intensive. A minimum of eights Gigs of Ram is a starting point ( although I have used machines with only 4 gig of ram), however I would recommend 16 to 32 gig of Ram for high quality RAW file editing. If your machine can take more than 32 Gig of ram and you can afford it, then go for something like 64 Gig, so that when you are video editing you have got plenty of work-space in the computers system, video editing is memory hungry.

Up date your system .. .how to.

Having dealt with the CPU & Rams issues we come to our preferred storage devices. If you own a slightly older machine ( 5 years or older for example ) you may want to procure a good SSD Hard Drive. SSD stands for Solid State Hard Drive and as the name infers has no moving parts, hence they are considerably smaller and lighter than the standard 3.5 inch mechanical hard drive. Whats the difference? In essence, speed!! Lots of speed. An SSD drive took my boot up time from over 30 seconds to just under 5 seconds ( and yes I timed it. )

Applications run & load almost instantly, with read and write times too fast to time. In comparison even my best mechanical hard drives take seconds to do the same operation and while that doesn’t seem so bad, when you are editing and writing large video files to disk, which can take many minutes or longer generally, it only takes a few seconds using SSD’s. In the professional world especially this is very important hence you see SSD drives with 2000 megabyte write times that cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

The beauty of SSD drives is that they are now comparatively cheap. $37.00 NZD gets you a 128 Gig SSD that you can install your operating system and software onto, the result being a huge jump in performance for those using older machines, or machines running their OS on mechanical drives.

Standard 3.5 inch mechanical hard drive

The benefit of the mechanical drive now is when additional storage is needed. For example a 500 Gig mechanical hard drive will cost $31.00 NZD. As it isn’t required to run the software or OS off this drive it makes it an excellent choice for data storage. The only time the drive will operate is when a file is used and re written back to the drive, therefore the write time is faster as only a single file is used. Writing video data in this manner is also faster but not nearly as fast as using a large capacity SSD. The choice for data storage is easy though. A two terabyte mechanical drive ( 2000 gigabyte approx ) costs $116.00 NZD whilst a 480 Gig SSD will cost $115.00 NZD. Therefore for the same price as a large storage capacity mechanical hard drive you only get a quarter of the capacity when selecting SSD. Mind you a 480 gig SSD would certainly suffice for most of us amateur/hobbyist photographers.

At the end of the day there are plenty of options and they are comparably cheap when weighed against the necessity of having good long term data storage. In the recent past 5-10 years ago, the cost of SSD’s was prohibitive and even a mid/large capacity mechanical hard drive held eye watering prices. I’m happy to say I no longer cringe when I start thinking about replacing or updating my system storage.

So what do I use? My current system is:

  • Intel i5 @ 3.50Ghz On a Gigabyte GA-z97m-d3h motherboard.
  • 12 gig DDR3 Ram
  • Sapphire Radeon HD 7850 2 gig DDR5 video card
  • System drive is a Samsung SSD EVO 128GB
  • Storage drive is a Western Digital 320 GB mechanical drive.
  • Wireless Logitech MK 345 Keyboard
  • Wireless Logitech MX Master mouse.
  • Operating system is Kubuntu ( Linux) 18.10 running Plasma 5.13.5 desktop.

Photo-editing Software:

 

Follow the links for more info on these editors. I will cover each of them in following articles. So how does your setup compare, better , worse, similar. For those with Samsung S8, S8+, S9, S9+, Note 8 & Note 9, check out YouTube to find out more about using your phone as a replacement desktop. 

I will be doing a in depth article on using the Note9 as a photographic tool and as a replacement for your desktop computer. Until then

Happy Snappin’