about this Mac thing ..
Until recently, I’ve been a PC user. I didn’t have much interest in using a Mac, although I dearly loooove my iPhone and iPod. I also have a high appreciation for Apple’s minimalist design and aesthetics. Macs do look very cool.
Yet I didn’t feel the need or desire for a Mac. PCs run fast. It’s a stable platform with a wide choice of programs. On top of that, there were some things which put me off the Mac. The thing I found most annoying was the fanboyism of the Mac enthusiasts. Any problem you’d encounter on a PC, you’d get a gloating chorus of, “just use a Mac.” Equally aggravating was the assertion that Macs are sooo intuitive. You know what? If Macs were so intuitive you wouldn’t have to explain their operation to me, would you?
I was a happy PC user, until the middle of last year. Then without prior intention, I decided to get a fully kitted 17″ MacBook Pro Notebook Computer, with 8 Gb RAM.
Initially I was a little under-whelmed with the Mac experience, but then a few things fell into place for me in terms of software and hardware options … and then I switched my main computer that I work on (ie the laptop), over to the MacBook Pro. Suddenly it all made sense!
All of this will be old news to Mac lovers. When I was gushing about my new setup to a friend of mine last week, she just laughed, “Where have you been all this time?”.
The things that fell into place for me had a big impact on my post-production workflow and efficiency, and I’d like to share some of my observations and new experience …
Where the cracks started to show …
During the course of 2009, I decided that I would like to create video clips for this site. I inquired on some photography forums about my options, and ended up buying Adobe Premiere Elements 7 as the software to edit the video footage. Then problems hit me. Adobe Premiere Elements 7 proved unusable. The footage shot with the Canon HFS10 videocam that I had bought, was stuttery and slow. It probably needed a specific codec. In the meantime, my assistant with a little MacBook had no problem editing the video clips in iMovie. His MacBook had less RAM and slower processing, yet worked fluently with the software which comes standard with the Mac – iMovie. Ouch!
Life is too short to waste time on looking for codecs and trying to solve these minuscule hurdles that block you … so I bought a big-ass, ie. fully kitted, 17″ MacBook Pro .. and that was the slide into using Mac now as my primary computer. As my main laptop, it is actually my primary computer since I travel a lot.
Initially I kept the MacBook Pro as the machine to edit video clips with and do initial edits with of the weddings I photographed. I still worked primarily off two PC computers – one a desktop and one a laptop. Then even more calamities hit me at the end of 2009 – multiple hard drive failures, and my desktop PC died on me, and a few weeks later the screen of my PC laptop went black. I had to work off an additional monitor just to keep running.
I now had to juggle the decisions as to whether I should repair my PC laptop, or make the jump and go with my under-used fully kitted MacBook Pro. In the end common sense prevailed and I made the jump to Mac.
First, a few things had to fall into place …
Somehow, no one had ever explained to me at the start how a MacBook Pro can fit into a ‘system’. When I finally put together the (logical) pieces of the hardware puzzle, it all just seemed so … well, logical.
(The links in the following article are all B&H affiliate links to the various items.)
The first piece of hardware that I added to my Mac laptop that made all the difference, was the 24″ LCD Cinema display. The breakthrough for me was when I realized I could keep the MacBook Pro closed while powered on, and then use this large dedicated display to work with the computer. With this, my laptop essentially became a desktop computer.
With a PC there are always issues running a secondary display – the resolution and aspect ratio don’t match what your computer has. With the Mac, the display is … well, just perfect. Except for it being a glossy screen.
A bonus with the Cinema display is that it feeds power to the laptop. So it reduces the number of power cables running along the back of the desk. Even better, the Cinema display has three USB ports. I can now connect a portable hard drive or any other USB device directly to the screen itself … which means I can now keep my MacBook Pro out of the way.
Using this desktop stand as a cradle, I can keep my laptop upright under my desk. Less clutter on my desk. This in itself makes a difference to my efficiency – I have more room on my desk to work with.
Of course, with the laptop closed, I need the wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse.
Very sweet and elegant.
I had problems with the Mac mouse though. Both the wired and wireless mouse had this itsy-bitsy scroll wheel that I couldn’t adapt to. My solution? A Microsoft mouse. It works well, and is large enough not to cramp my hand.
While seeing how the clutter on my desk gave me an elated sense of freedom, I was seduced into getting this adjustable shelf that hangs from the Cinema Display’s stand.
A nice little shelf to place a portable hard drive or anything else that needs to be out of the way.
I have to mention again how neat this setup is. ‘Neat’ as in looking great, but more importantly, ‘neat’ as in clean and uncluttered. There’s just a monitor / cinema display on my desk, along with a small wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse.
You would have no idea it is a laptop I am working on, instead of a desktop … but the moment I need to go somewhere, I just unhook it, and I have everything ready to go. In my honest opinion, THIS is the way for photographers who do any kind of traveling to meet clients, or traveling for their photography work. I have all my data with me at all times, whether working at my desk, or on the road.
Now we get to another piece of hardware that completely changed my workflow.
(And again, it will be old news for most photographers who carefully follow developments in computer hardware. )
During a lunchtime meeting with another friend, Michael Gatlin, I described my post-processing workflow. While describing how I manually kept a mirror of whatever I was working, he stopped me and told me emphatically what I should be investigating. Instead of manually copying files over to duplicate hard-drives, he suggested I look into getting a Drobo. He described how this RAID-array would simplify my workflow. With the error-checking and redundancy built into the system, there would be less need for me to meticulously copy everything I work on … or fear losing something along the way with a hard drive crash.
After reading up more about it, and guided by Michael’s advice, I bought a Data Robotics 8TB Drobo Storage Array.
This RAID-array connects with a FireWire-800 cable to the MacBook Pro. Access time is fast, and data is secure. Of course, I am still paranoid about my digital workflow – a good thing in itself – so I still make DVD copies of my final edits. I also don’t erase my CF cards until the edit is complete and backed-up onto DVD.
For backing up my actual MacBook Pro, I use Time Machine.
Quite an ingenious bit of built-in Mac software!
In a follow-up post I’ll go over some of my software choices, as well as how I had to adapt to the (sometimes frustrating) Mac system. Since there is so much that I don’t know and still have to discover, I look forward to the advice from Mac users here.
So there is my new computer system – fast and elegant. Devoid of clutter. Ready to rock’n’roll!
[ edited to add this note (Feb 02, 2010) :
I want to underline that my desktop computer is a PC and runs on Windows 7, and I am *very* happy with it. It's a top-of-the-line off-the-shelf HP unit. And I have a 23" HP screen with it. It's a fast & stable machine. In other words, this post is not a slight against Windows-based machines, or against PCs in general. This post really is more about my new-found admiration for Mac. ]