Completing My System

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by kent_staubus, May 7, 2009.

  1. I look at my photo gear as a system. It's not a camera with some "other stuff," it's not a bag full of pieces. Over the past four years I've been carefully assembling a modest pro level photography system. I see four "parts" to my system and all must work together efficiently to give me the results I want. The first part of the system are the lenses. I have what I need. Second part is what I call "supporting pieces"--filters, tripod/head, camera bags, etc., and I have that. Third part is my portable lighting system, which gives me an extensive ability to photo when very few others can: outdoors at night. I am weak on the fourth and final part though. Some of you may be thinking I'm now getting to cameras, but I'm not. I see them as disposable since they come & go. (Currently using D300.) What I don't have is a good software/processing system. I've come to think it's possible that software etc. just might have become the single most important segment of the total photography system.
    I don't plan on printing my own photos since I don't make that many. I've been concentrating on sales to calendar companies and smaller (circ. <100K) magazines etc. I just bought CS4, plan on getting Nikon Capture (free) to use as a NEF converter, and may buy DxO if CS4 doesn't do well with high ISO noise. LightRoom is a possiblity too, although I'm not sure how it would fit my needs. I generally don't process large batches of photos at a time. I'm open to ideas on software, but keep in mind I'm not a computer guy at heart. For a monitor, I'm thinking of something like a 22 inch HP lcd. Something simple and can be calibrated with a Spyder 3 etc.. For a computer, I want PC/Windows platform, maybe Vista 64 bit. I'm thinking of maybe a dual core, 4 gb DDR, and decent system speed. I don't really need a big hard drive, but want a faster one. I'm open to the idea of putting one together from parts if it will save money. I'm trying to keep monitor & computer under $1,000. I'm looking at a computer & software system that should be useful for at least the next three years. The key words are: value for the money, versatility, decent quality, and not excessively difficult to learn/use. Output will be for my own family photos, small to medium circulation magazines, and specialty calendar companies. Image storage will be to DVD and external hard drive. So, what are some good options? Am I on the right track? This is the area I'm weakest in and need to upgrade.
    Kent in SD
  2. Windows 7 will be coming out later this year. That might be a little faster than Vista 64 although I'm running Vista 64 with SP1 and it's very stable. Get all the memory you can afford--up to 8 gigs because everything runs faster and when you computer gets older expanding the memory costs more. I have a 24-inch HP LCD and in retrospect 22-inches would have been plenty. And Huey does a good job of calibrating it.
    Just make sure you are going into it with your eyes wide open. Thirty-five years ago when I was doing some free lancing, they was almost always a place you could sell a photo. There were literally hundreds of magazines--from the big boys like LIFE to house organs and even for things like electrical coops. Actually I made a lot more money selling to the little guys than to the big ones.
    Unfortunately print magazines and daily newspapers are dying. In addition, digital photography has brought a lot more competition into the freelance field. I'm not saying it has brought more GOOD photographers into the game but there are a lot more of them.
    The people who are making a good living with their cameras these days aren't necessarily shooting what they want to shoot. They are shooting what the customer wants and many times that's really hard to swallow--but it's how you pay the bill. And the successful photographers likely spend as much time marketing as they do shooting.
    Knowing what I know about the past and what I see today, frankly there is no way I would try to make a living off photography today--especially in this economy. I certainly wouldn't go out on any financial limb to buy equipment believing it will pay for itself.
    Get equipment you can afford, shoot lots of pictures and have fun. If you sell something along the way that's great. But don't but the ranch on it.
  3. Wayne--
    Thanks for the info. I am a salesrep and have no intention of quitting my "day job" and doing photography full time. I am aware of the competition out there since I've been selling stock for local/regional use for some time now. Just the past few years I've been getting the consistent image quality needed for some calendar and magazine sales. I'm thinking I would be even more competitive if I improved my software skills & capability. I'm not the type to go out on a limb buying stuff either. I shop very carefully, and always pay cash. I'm after niche markets that I have some knowledge and experience with. I only buy something once I'm convinced it will do what I want and is a good value.
    Kent in SD
  4. This is how I do it:
    1) Cam gear. I use them as tools, still have myD70 cos I just do still objects and I just print A4 and few at A3 but overall a year I may not print more than 5 enlargements, they basically go on my wall in my room or just to my photog club. I would just get what you need. I a range of portable primes/zooms for my style and a fast zoom but seldom use it.
    2) I have two tripods and these are stuff I buy just once. A tripod is a tripod. I have one that is home and one that is travel based. Gitzo 1228 then a Feisol 3402 which is more portable fits in a daypack on travel abroad, soon be upgraded to a Gitzo traveler 5 section with ballhead Markins Q3. At the moment I have a BH-3 Kirk. L bracket on my D70 the others are pending. I will note that while they are useful many people don't use them and flop them to the side and are v successful in photography. I may not ge the universal L bracket for my small cams cos they don't have a custom fit one and the universal one just makes the cam too big. Filters same, I get what I need and that is it, for digital may require less thou. Bags, this evolves I think, I hate bags, if I am local I will use a shoulder bag, I hate backpacks. If I travel I put a small cam and prime lens in my jacket and that is it without a neck strap or a slow zoom, a tripod in my back pack only accessed at early AM and late PM.
    3) Not sure cos I don't use flash as lot, I may get myself some studio lights doing portraiture in the future but that is about it.
    4) Computer. I really think any comptuer will be fine. Esp when you are not doing batches. I think it comes down to streamlining. If it isn't then you won't use it much. I would caution on getting too much software cos then your process becomes too winded. I use Lightroom just because it is a catalog system how I can download all, view all and choose them and edit the few I like and can export and print if need be. I use Photoshop for a few of the pictures. I have tried Nikon Capture but don't use it cos I have LR and PS which I think does a great job already and the thing is Adobe may not read Nikon's edits in RAW unless you export into TIF and finish off in Adobe, unless something in development has really changed.
    Sure get a monitor calibrator. Not tried 64bit but Quad Core are pretty cheap now. Eight cores are out which might be cheaper in the USA - Intel iCore. In my country I got a 2.33Ghz Quad Core for around $200US.
    For me it is really just pickup a body and a lens or two, dump it in my pocket, a tripod in backpack, photograph what I enjoy, come back download into LR, edit the few and print the few.
  5. Kent,
    With online sources, you can get some really good stuff and build a computer to suit YOUR needs. I prefer this to buying from a name brand company because I can customize what features I want. Here are some points that may save you money...
    Hard drives: SATA 3.0 Gig are probably fine. Just get the 7200 rpm style, not the 5400 rpm ones. To get higher speeds, like 10,000 rpm means going to a SCSI interface and a LOT more money. You can get 640 Gigs at 7200 rpm for $69.
    RAM: Even though is SOUNDS good, DDR3 is really no much faster at all, in real world tests, than DDR2 ram modules. DDR2 is older and cheaper. For what you want, get as much as you can stick in the mother board. Right now, DDR2 800 speed is going for 4 Gig for about $40.
    Video Cards: This industry is driver by gamers. You don't NEED what they need. Don't spend a boat load on a video card. They get cheaper faster than a DSLR ! I would buy from a well known manufacturer and get a 512Mb version of a card. I try to buy last years stuff. You probably DON'T need a SLI type card, so save your money and get one designed to be the only card in your computer. Check the suggested video card specs on the software you are considering.
    CPU: Don't go crazy on the number of cores, if your software can't make use of them. If you spend more on a quad core, and the software you select can't SEE anything beyond the first core, the others parts will be idle. Check the specs on the software. Vista 64 may help that.
    Windows: I may vote for waiting for Windows 7 as well.
  6. The time you will need to devote to item 4 alone will cause items 1-3 to collect a lot of dust and resale value. You migh have time to eat & sleep.....but to Build a computer, then research, install, debug (those PC apps), then learn high end photo software, then integrate it with whatever graphic/web/ productive apps you're normally using? ... when will you take pictures?
    My 1st suggestion: 24' imac, a graphic & creative dream, that comes with lots of graphic/ web/ photo/ production apps besides a very accurate LCD. Its operation, & apps are easy, & not intimidating, and there are thousands of websites like this to help you with them, where the focus is on the app, your question, & what the fix is... quick & to the point. because the apps are highly refined, and running on a standard configuration of hardware. On PC sites, every post starts with a 30 minute listing (bragging) of every component in the PC, and the 1st 100 answers always suggest to blame some combo of put together components...(sound familiar when you want to build one?). The question might get answered 100 threads later.
    The iMac will run all your PC apps at the same time or booted in Windows.I even read that Windows runs faster on a Mac, should you still have that need after a few months!
    $1500 well spent! is all the computer that you will need for years, & as a bonus, doesn't freeze, crash, require support, or refuse to work when things are plugged into it. My 2nd sugg: Mini Mac. 3rd Suggestion: Some cheap Dell special, but buy aftermarket upgrades to max it, dells options $'s are obscene.... but, don't forget to set aside lots of hours and days, (that you could be using with your camera, computer & software), to talk to dell, & then to the software co.s, to make it work!
    Photo software: the Mac versions have the same attributes as the iMac. The Best PC apps have Mac versions, so that line doesn't work anymore. Good Luck.
  7. maybe i'm old school but i would consider the camera body as the first part of the photographic system of any kind. and lens(es), the second part. but a lot of good thoughts above, i must admit.
  8. Hmm, your priorities are not right in my opinion. First your post production skills using whatever software will have a much bigger impact than any of the "stuff" you buy.
    Secondly, the monitor is to the computer what the lens is to the camera. You should put the money on a great pro monitor and good calibration first. Something like an Eizo Coloredge or high end NEC.
    For low volume shooting, computer specs are not really important. You could easily go low end here with Windows XP, 4GB RAM and possibly two harddrives in it (one scratch disc for PS).
  9. I would still go Quad Core processor, a motherboard that will hold 6-8G of memory, a PCI video card with at least 1G of memory, and a SATA hard drive-7200rpm 500G (formatted into 3 drives). You need the power/speed for processing in PP or whatever you will use.
    Add a PCI card with firewire & USB connects, and a Wireless card.. you are ready to go.
  10. Some good info is coming here. It's true I want to avoid the hassles of putting together parts that don't like each other. I'm not crazy about Vista and have avoided it so far, but I'm not sure how many months out the new OS is. I want to get moving on this project. The iMac option is one I haven't considered and it does sound interesting. I do have other computers around to run other "general purpose" Windows programs. My computer needs are pretty basic. I don't want to spend $1,500 though, trying to stay under $1,000 for computer + monitor (software extra.)
    Ramon--cameras just aren't that important. They are all pretty similar. Besides, I've been getting a new one every couple of years anyway. Usually I pick one that is middle grade such as F100/D80/D300. I think people waste a LOT of money on cameras. They are now disposable, like photo printers.
    Pete S.--I actually agree with you. The "stuff" is just the starting point. The whole thing is learning how to use it to get what you want. It's clear to me that photo software has become central to what photography is now. If I want to remain competitive, that's the area that will give me the biggest increase for the money/time spent. I've been limping by just using PSE v4.0. I drive hundreds of miles a day for my sales job, and that's when I take most photos. In the winter I take my photos after dark. Now that it's summer and staying light until 10 PM, I will have the time to learn CS4 and I think that will make the biggest difference in my photos than any lens, camera, or whatever. I want to learn how to merge photos, use layers, reduce high ISO noise, photo-stitching, and use perspective control. The computer system I'm looking for will be cost effective, somewhat "future proof" out to three years, and not be so slow it's frustrating to use when doing bigger files on CS4.
    Kent in SD
  11. Currently I use XP with Bibble Lite on a modest workstation with 2G memory. I batch process Raw to jpeg about 150 shots at a time and fast enough for me. I then process the keepers. I use three hard drives, one for backup only. My video card is enough to run the one sim I have. I have had very good luck with NEC monitors although mine is a bit small at 19". I would get lots of memory and harddrives with an excellent monitor. I believe CS4 is resource hungry for memory. I have no desire to build workstations I just get something reasonable with a good power supply. My last Dell is still running for my father inlaw, its about eight years old. I did some research on software. Downloaded trial versions then purchased the one I wanted.
  12. Kent, maybe you are making this too hard. I think any modern OS would do OK, whether it is XP, Vista, or even OS-X (max memory use might dictate your choice). I believe the key is to externalize your data on a storage system that you mount across a network anf to put the data on a fast network, if you are starting out go Gigabit Ethernet. Then as long as you use photo-related applications that run on any platform, you can use whatever machine you want: inside the applications, they work remarkably similar no matter what OS you are using. I put no data on my hard-drives and I can mix and match laptops/desktops running different OSs, and I uprgade OSs all the time without ever having to worry about backing up a particular machine. In other words, start with Vista now, and upgrade to Win-7 when it comes out, it shouldn't affect your external data.
    CAVEAT: Lightroom, in this day and age, still hasn't figured out how to lock catalogs on networked drives for concurrent access, so it forces you to have catalogs on local drives only. But if moving across machines, it's easy to export/import catalogs.
  13. Less than $1000 system cost is unrealistic if it includes the monitor and you want quality gear. You need a S-IPS or PVA panel unless you buy smaller than 19" and even then TN is not good for color work. 21" is cheaper than 23/24, but the latter is better.
    For software PS CS4 is good and handles almost everything, but Capture NX2 might be better for high ISO noise. There's a number of software that can be useful, but it depends on what you want to do.
    Vista is a joke, I've been running it in one laptop for a while and the performance and instability are both bad. Get Windows XP if you actual want to get work done most of the time, or even OS X.
    4 GB memory is good, buy a 750 GB HD. Plan what to do for backups.
  14. Hmmm. What about buying the "box" and monitor separately? I'm starting to think that I should be concentrating on the monitor and then buying the computer part with what's left over. Image storage will be on external hard drive and gold DVD. Really important images will be made into archival prints. I'm still considering NX2, but will first see how the free version works, mainly as a NEF converter. What is a medium quality graphics capable monitor? I'd like to stay around that 20 inch size. A 19 inch is a bit small, and 24 inch is more than I likely want to spend. I heard on NPR today that the Windows 7 will likely be released in October, and computer sellers will be putting upgrade coupons with systems sold starting in July. I could wait a couple of months for that, but really for me time is more valuable than a hundred or so bucks. Summer is when I have more time to learn CS4 etc.
    Kent in SD
  15. That is pretty much what I do. I have a decent NEC monitor that was more than half the cost of the computer system. If you are not using Vista or CS4 then the amount of RAM needed is less. I don't use either. Last fall I purchased my new computer on sale for $400 and just added a few items. The monitor can last many years, the computer will get replaced just like a camera body.
  16. Yes, you should absolutely buy the "box" and the monitor separately. A good monitor will easily outlast your computer.
    Low end of the pro monitors seems to be around $1000. I have invested in two Eizo Coloredge CG19 and I've been very satisfied but now Eizo have a CG222W that is supposedly really good and price is $1250 at B&H.
    When it comes to choosing operating system there is really no need to go to vista unless you need 64 bit and you only need that when you are fitting your computer with more than 4GB. Just to give you a baseline I run CS2 and I have no problem editing 16 bit multilayered TIFFs in the 500MB range (on disc) with only 2.5GB RAM. HDR, stiching of panoramas etc may require more RAW, I don't know for sure.
    More information on optimizing photoshop cs4 here:
    Photoshop cs4 also puts have some special hardware requirements regarding the graphic display card so you want to check compatability with that on your computer especially if you intend to run 64 bit vista.
    Same goes with vista 64 bit compatability for software calibration of monitor (Eize is bundled with software but without calibration "puck") and any other hardware (printers, scanners etc) or software you intend to run.
  17. I just bought CS4, and may buy DxO at some point. HDR, pano-stitching, and Helicon Focus are on my list of things I want to get into. Are there any decent monitors in the $500 to $800 range? I'm certainly not averse to buying something used on E Bay. Just don't want a CRT though. I may not need 64 bit right now, but do want a computer that would be compatible with it. Things change.
    Kent in SD
  18. I got a Ultrasharp 24" widescreen Dell and I pretty much like it. I just don't see the point for people who don't shoot heaps and heaps and those who don't batch process, why get a muscle system. Re: software I would stick to one set and that is it. LR and PS or Nikon and PS. I find that LR and Nikon don't get together cos LR cannot read Nikon's edits embedded in RAW unless you edit with Nikon and export in TIF and essentially take it out of the RAW format.
    With the computer thing, due to the above I would just buy what you need, computer always updates overtime, I find myself that I use a computer for a few years and then may upgrade a few parts myself cos I am in the know how but I find that I still have a D70 since 2004 cos I just photog static images, action and low light and portraiture has not been what I done.
    As for backing up, I use a 2nd HDD cos DVDs get to messy. Therefore I have 2 copies at anytime. I use sync software end of each day and after any key software or hardware updated I do a image of the HDD using Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image. Saves you time to reinstall the software.
  19. Are there any decent monitors in the $500 to $800 range?​
    Yes. Actually you can get a very nice monitor for right around $500. Check newegg.

    As far as a new computer, I recommend you find a geek friend, order all of the components separate, and have this friend help you put it together. You'll feel like you're getting burned on the OS, but that is just how it goes. You should be able to build a very nice machine for a little over $1000. Stay away from AMD.

    As far as backing up goes. Just get a raid card, and two identical hard drives. Run in Raid 1 and you'll have two drives that are exact duplicates of eachother (mirrors). If one fails, you just replace it and lose nothing. HHDs are cheap, so there is no excuse for not running in raid.
  20. Kent, CS4 does a very nice job of focus stacking. I don't know that Helicon Focus will add anything.
    Kent in MI
  21. Thanks for the tip about Helicon. I don't like spending money when I don't need to. SO, back to monitors. Since I'm not shooting fashion where color correction is extremely crucial, will any decent monitor such as ViewSonic, HP, Acer work for me? I will of course calibrate it, probably with Spyder 3 (but still open on that point.) Still thinking of 22 inch wide format as the best compromise. Suggestions on brands & models? My brother-n-law has a PhD in computer science and keeps up on what's available. He could advise me. At this point I'm thinking Quad-core, DDR2 4gb with some open slots available.
    There is one other thing I forgot to mention. I have thousands and thousands of 35mm slides. Some of them are saleable. I plan to scan those using my Coolscan V and digitize them. That will be a big project. I only have the software that came with the Coolscan V when I bought it about three years ago. I want to put together a searchable base of images that I can quickly access and send to potential buyers.

    Kent in SD
  22. CS4 has a v good panorama utility - photomerge.
  23. I wouldn't suggest a 2 drive RAID system. That is just mirroring and that means bad data will be written to both drives, if one gets messed up.
    Oh, one more bit of advice... don't go too cheap an the power supply, if you decide to build a PC. the CPU and video cards all take more power than before and you need CLEAN power to keep things from giving you hick-ups. As of today, your looking at about $90 for a good and efficent one, in the 400-500 watt range.
    I think you could easily get a monitor ,that size, in that price range. I would check and find any recent LCD reviews to help decide who is good, these days.
  24. Yeah for that reason that is why I don't use RAID. I just sync them manually each day and I do a image file every now and then. One backups my own files and the other backups the system (non data) so I don't need to redo the software.
    If you are interested in DXO, then maybe DXO and PS. DXO can be your RAW converter. Pointless having more than one converter that will jsut confuse your setup althou not impossible, IMO stick to one and keep at it. Some use Nikon and PS, others just use LR and PS or LR or PS cos each is a converter but LR and PS are compatible together.
  25. I would spend more on a good power supply and less on the processor. I have dealt with cheap power supplies and never again. I think 4G memory for 32 bit XP is more than enough. At least double that for 64 bit. Mirror backup is OK but I would rather have an OS drive and data drive and a seperate backup drive stored elsewhere. Keep your CD's and a rebuild is not that bad. Keep your data on a second drive and you may not have to deal with it. I have way to many Samsung monitor failures at work and many old NEC's still going strong which made my monitor choice easy. Do get the best monitor you can afford just like your lens a lasting tool. When 64 bit settles in I will just replace the PC and software.
  26. I'm thinking very, very hard about buying a LaCie 324 monitor. Looks like it's a lower end pro model, and that's sort of what I'm aiming for. As you guys were saying, I could go cheap on the computer and just get a quad-core with 4gigs DDR2 (plus expansion slots). Just as the lens is more important than the camera, I can clearly see that the monitor is more important than the box. Is the LaCie 324 overkill? I found a deal on a used one (about $700) in a photo studio that is going out of business.
    Kent in SD
  27. It seems like a good budget choice.
    But a new one seems to be only $150-$200 more. Don't know if $700 is a good deal but I guess it depends on how much the used one has been used (monitors age) and how much you value warranty etc.

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