If you are assembling your own computer or searching for a ready to use system, the choices available can be quite confusing. Go by these basic rules and you can have a fairly powerful computer for your photography requirements.
The processor is the heart of a good computer and when it comes to photography, it is the main processor that does all the calculating. Each and every filter effect or even a slight change in exposure settings is done by the processor. Almost all of the image editing programs depend on the number crunching power of the processor so buy a high frequency processor. Image editing is one of the few applications where having a high specifications processor makes sense.
Graphics card should at least output the signal to match the native resolution of your monitor. If your main-board’s built in graphics, outputs the desired resolution, you can skip out on an extra graphics card. Almost none of the photo-editing applications use the graphics cards processing power. Adobe photoshop and lightroom have tried outsourcing some of the processes to the graphics processor but still the dependence on graphics card is very minimal. So, opt for a graphics card that suits your display and if you have a really high end display, do go for a good graphics card. If your digital darkroom also doubles up as a gaming system, then obviously you will have to get the best graphics card that you can afford.
High amount of fast RAM can help in storing lots of steps while photo-editing and will also enable opening multiple files. Get as much RAM as you can.
The main-board should obviously support the chosen processor and the amount of RAM. It should also have good number of USB ports as per the latest specifications and also sufficient number of internal connectivity options (like SATA) to connect the drives.
Opt for at least one SSD and a large standard hard disk. The SSD can be used for housing the operating system and the image editing programs. The hard-disk being the inexpensive storage option, can be used for storage. If the RAM is low, SSD can also be used to hold cache or as a scratch disk. This will make the working fast. Invest in a reputed brand SSD.
A good IPS monitor with high resolution and large size can be an asset while working with image files. Sometime back, I had tried using two monitors to split my work across them, with one holding the tools and settings and the other one showing the main photograph but now I have shifted to a single good quality monitor. Remember to calibrate your monitor. It is vital. (Color Management) Another important thing to look out for is the issue of banding. Many cheap monitors do not have capability of showing smooth transition between different shades of a color. This appears as ‘bands’ in areas which are supposed to have smooth transition. Stick with well known brands and you’ll be safe.
Power & Casing
Power-supply should be good enough to power up whole of the system and all your accessories with a lot of headroom still available. An ideal computer case keeps the system running cool and quiet. I prefer ones that support large sized fans which run quietly at low rpms but still provide good amount of air exchange. Liquid cooling is also fine as long as the pump and fan are quiet. For me quietness of the computer matters a lot. I do not get distracted from photographs then.
Any operating system you are comfortable with but make sure that it is 64 bit. 32 bit operating systems will not be able to make use of the full capacity of the above configuration. I presently use Windows 7 Professional and openSuSE Leap (linux). For image editing programs – Best Image-Editing Program
Keyboard, Mouse, Speakers etc
These are all personal choices. Purchase whatever you like and can afford. If you print a lot, then get a good quality photo printer and calibrate that too. If you do not print frequently, then use an online or a neighborhood photo printing service.
(Nikon Df with Zeiss 135mm lens at f/8, 1/160 sec. Processed on Affinity Photo. Photograph inserted here to break the monotony of the text)
For the geeks in you
If you already have a computer or are on the verge of getting one, and still have money to spare, then these are a few more interesting items that you can add to your wish list –
This is great for working with photo-editors. I use a Wacom Bamboo tablet. The pen is light weight and integrates very well with both Windows and Linux operating systems. The pen can be used in place of a regular mouse too. It has a right click and a left click too. When I use it with Affinity Photo, Gimp and many other popular image editing programs, the pen automatically gets configured to work as a pressure sensitive device. When I use a pen tool then with variable amount of pressure, I can change the amount of ink flow and thickness of stroke. Even the rear end of the pen gets automatically configured as eraser. This is a must buy for any photographer who wants to work extensively in post-processing or image editing. (http://www.wacom.com/en-in/products/pen-tablets)
Spyder for calibrating monitors
There are various colorimeters for calibrating the monitors. I have tried a few of them and found Datacolor’s Spyder to be the best one of the lot. The included application works well with windows. With linux, I have tried using it with dispcalGUI and the Spyder works perfectly fine. A well calibrated average quality monitor is far better than even the high-end expensive un-calibrated ones. Calibration is required even if you work exclusively with black and white images. (http://www.datacolor.com/photography-design/)
External Storage (NAS / External HDD)
Photograph files take up space and lots of space! The speed with which the drive fills up is astonishing. With new cameras and high megapixel counts the file sizes are larger than ever. To top it various high quality file formats that also save the editing history can be 10-20 times larger than the raw files themselves. Storage within the computer is required even more important is to have good external storage to back-up the files. There are good inexpensive network attached storage (NAS) available in the market that implement RAID. Use these to back-up your precious photos. If NAS is expensive, then buy a pair of external hard discs and copy all your photos every once in a while on both of them.
This has been on my shopping list for a long time but I am waiting for them to start supporting Gimp and Affinity Photo. The modular design can satisfy any photographer’s needs. It reminds me of the color sliders that I had on my enlarger back in the film days. Having physical knobs and sliders will definitely make my job easier and more fun. (https://palettegear.com/)
If you have any favourite computer accessory related to photography, that you would like to others to know about, please use the comment box below.