Why I am ditching the MacBook Pro Line

Those of you who follow my blog will be aware that I am currently in Kaikoura in the south Island of New Zealand on a seven day photographic assignment. What you are probably not aware (unless you also follow my Facebook Page) is that I am also currently suffering from Pneumonia and have been laid up in bed for the last few days as I try to get over this horrible virus. As yet, I have not even had the opportunity to get my cameras out of the bag. This unexpected turn of events has provided me a lot of thinking time about how I manage various aspects of my photography and I have spent some time pondering everything from office furniture to I.T infrastructure in an effort to improve the way I do things.

I will shortly be moving into a much larger studio space than I currently use (roughly twice the space) which is a move well overdue. My current studio space is bursting at the seems with ‘stuff’ that I need and use in my photography on a daily basis. Everything from computers, printers, and cameras to books, paper and pens all takes up valuable space and I am looking forward to having more room and specifically more desk space. I am actually going to put in all new desks with more room for creating profiles, my print viewing station and print evaluation. I am also going to put in a speed matt for matting prints as well as more storage for things like printer paper and ink. It never ceases to amaze me how much ‘stuff’ is required as a photographer and how much room all this stuff takes up. The irony is that it takes a larger space to de-clutter the studio.

The downtime has also got me thinking about how I have been managing my I.T infrastructure. Currently I run a pimped out 2008 Mac Pro Desktop computer. It has 32 gigabytes of RAM and is fitted out with Apple Hardware RAID and 4 Western Digital 3TB Red Caviar Drives in a RAID 0+1 Array. This gives me both speed and redundancy. The Mac Pro also has the OWC Mercury Accelsior striped 480 gigabyte SSD drive as its boot drive for the Operating System and Applications. This card is blazingly fast and brings the Mac Pro well up to speed with current SSD machines. Attached to the Mac Pro is a 27″ NEC Adobe RGB Wide Gamut SpectraView monitor. This is my current system for all my image processing. Also attached to this Mac Pro is a Drobo Pro 8 bay NAS Chasis hooked up via Firewire 800 that backs up the Mac Pro’s RAID array every night. I have another external Hard drive hooked up via USB for Time Machine which backs up my Mac Pro’s boot SSD.  This system (other than the Drobo being painfully slow) works extremely well.

I also run a MacBook Pro 15″ laptop (the model before the Retina) which I use for email, web browsing and teaching when I am in the field on workshop.  I do not use it for any serious image processing as I just find the screen woefully inadequate compared to the SpectraView monitor in my studio. I often start processing files in the field on the MacBook Pro but frequently find I have to re-set them and start from scratch when I get back to my studio as the laptop screen just does not display color to my satisfaction and has very poor tonal relationships.  The new retina line does a better job of making images ‘look’ better; but its still light years behind a quality wide gamut display when it comes to color display and accuracy. The Macbook Pro was purchased with a 250 gig SSD drive as well as the maximum 8 gigabytes of RAM. The laptop backs up to small Lacie Firewire 800 drive using Time Machine when I am in my studio. On top of this I am juggling an iPad mini which I use for reading when travelling. The iPad mini takes up almost no space and is very light so its not a bother to lug around. Of course, I also have the mandatory iPhone 5S.

What I have come to realise is that the Macbook Pro has become virtually superfluous in my workflow. When shooting in the field I am downloading into Lightroom for the express purpose of backing up my files only. Since I do not process when I am in the field (but when I get back to my studio) it is major overkill to use a top end laptop for this purpose. Currently I manage Lightroom and Photoshop (as well as a myriad of other apps) on both my Macbook Pro and Mac Pro and this has become tiresome. Having to keep two machines up-to-date is actually a royal PITA. I also currently use my Macbook Pro extensively for email and web browsing. Both of these tasks can be accomplished on the MacPro when I am at home in my studio or on my iPad when travelling.  Now I know what you are probably thinking at this point “Hey! Ditch the Mac Pro and just use the MacBook Pro for everything hooked up to your external monitor” Well, the truth is I did consider this option briefly. However, when it comes to image and video processing there is simply no substitute for cubic inches. RAM and CPU Cores matter (and they matter a lot) – The more the better. Bring em on! Even a top end MacBook Pro cannot compete with multi-Core XEON processors and 32 Gigabytes+ of RAM. Not to mention RAID systems and external storage arrays hooked up via Firewire or Thunderbolt. There are many other shortcomings as well such as the inability to run dual monitors from the laptop with proper color management and long term scalability. Suffice to say speed matters and that the desktop delivers it in spades.

This all got me thinking about the possibility of ditching my laptop entirely and simply using my iPad when I travel for email and web browsing and backing up my files with another method such as an Epson Viewer. As romantic and appealing as this option is it simply isn’t practical for me. I do need to be able to teach image processing when I am on workshop and I also need to be able to give presentations in the field. I could do presentations via the iPad with keynote but its not quite as slick as a laptop. And when it comes to teaching Lightroom and Photoshop an iPad simply doesn’t cut it. As an adjunct I also need to be able to update my blog when I am in the field and although I could do this with the iPad and an attached keyboard its again not quite as slick or easy as a laptop. The reality is I will have to continue to maintain two machines for the foreseeable future. I had been ready to pull the pin and drop nearly $4000 on a new Mac Book Pro 15″ Retina when they are announced next month. However, after much thought I have decided to abstain will instead purchase  a much lower spec. MacBook Air only when my current laptop reaches the end of its useful life – which, realistically is probably another two years away if I stretch it out. A lower specification Mac Book Air will more than suffice for presentations and teaching – yet offer me substantial weight and cost savings over the Pro Line of Mac Books.Weight is a big consideration for me these days given I spend five-six months of the year travelling internationally. In terms of cost at current prices a fully pimped out MacBook Air is around $2000 AUD or half the price of the MacBook Pro line. I will continue to look forward to the day when I can fully ditch the laptop line as I see this as significant simplification of my I.T Infrastructure.

If this seems like a long post to state a very small change then I apologise. It wasn’t 100% crystal in my mind when I began this thought process and subsequent post what the correct course of action was moving forward. I needed to get it down on paper for my thoughts to congeal and to really make the correct decision.

So what about the new Mac Pro? If you have been following the rumors you will be aware that Apple is scheduled to release the new Mac Pro this fall. This all new design is a significant departure from the previous iterations and I am looking forward to reading some reviews when it is released. Will I upgrade to the new model? The inevitable answer is yes. However, I will wait until there are firm reviews in the field and the options for external Thunderbolt spec.two storage are clear. Since a departure from the current model means significant re-investment in not only the new Mac Pro, but also an external storage chassis with Thunderbolt 2 the investment is reasonably significant.

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