I have lost count of the number of PC’s and Mac’s I have used over the years for photo editing, and the choice of which one and my recommendation to others has changed over the years.
Just to introduce myself, I have been a user of Photoshop for 20 years, used to teach it as part of a consultancy job I had at the beginning of my career, then on Macs. I am now a CIO of a major company – all PC’s no Macs.
I used Macs up till Windows 2000 – which was far better than Mac OS9 eg, it included multi-tasking, in those days if one application crashed the whole Mac would crash too. The Apple hardware was based on PowerPC chips in the early and mid 2000′ was very slow compared to PC’s of the time.
I used PC’s on Windows 2000 and then XP but I then had so many problems with hardware incompatibilities, I updated the firmware on a motherboard and it then refused to work at all, inability to get support from the motherboard manufacturer drove me in the direction of Apple as they at least support the whole system. I was so frustrated with all the problems with my PC’s that I decided to buy an Apple Laptop to try out the Mac again in 2007.
Incidentally I bought mine from Dixons Tax free at the airport, which was the cheapest place I could find even compared to US pricing.
Here is an article in PC magazine 2007 that rated Mac OSX Leopard – as being “better than Windows Vista for most consumers”
My conclusion was much the same, easier and more fun to use, lots of useful features – particularly automatic backup and so far much more stable.
But what about now!
I think that Apple OSX Snow Leopard is currently the best OS for photo editing.
It is simpler to use,
Has features like automatic backup
Requires less fiddling under the hood
Really good at connecting to external devices
64Bit on modern hardware
Potential to really make the most of multicore processors.
And the Mac OS can be booted from an external drive – That’s right, you can easily create a bootable external backup of your entire computer and just go and boot another Mac from your drive! This has saved me several times. Say your system becomes corrupt, (which happens often on a PC) – to recover the PC, you have to reinstall Windows on the C drive, and this wipes all of your content from that drive.
On a Mac you boot the machine from an external drive, and repair the corrupt files using a utility.
However – don’t think that switching is all plain sailing, there are new things to learn and don’t believe that Macs never crash or that you won’t have to read a manual again.
New software will also be required though all the big name Photo products work in the same way. Lightroom licenses work on both PC and Mac and the disk – if you bought it has a install for both, so that is at least one software item tat you won’t have to buy.
After 3 years experience using a MacBook Pro for work and photo editing.
The MacBook Pro’s I have are 2007 vintage, 17″ and 15.4″ 2.4 Ghz Intel Core2 Duo 6GB RAM and have 500GB 7200RPM drives. These I gradually upgraded over the years. the 17″ machine I bought second hand on ebay.
Apple’s key advantage is that they control hardware and software making their machines more reliable, less hassle to use and much better at connecting to external devices. The Apple’s operating system is based on Unix and is much more robust than Windows. There are also less viruses and malware for the Mac.
My hands on experiences.
The MacBook has been a wonderful travelling companion. I use it for my normal job, travelling the world, running meetings, Powerpoint presentations, and writing documents in Word. I use it for at least 12 hours a day, plugged into an external Eizo monitor with separate wireless keyboard at home or just on my lap on the move. The simple aircraft power cable enables me to work on long flights. So it does everything you would expect of a standard business PC laptop. I never get any negative comments from other business types, but do get a bit of jealousy!
I visited Microsoft Seattle this year. At the beginning of the meeting the presenter issued us with a password to access their wireless network. I logged straight into it (it is very easy after all) . There then followed 15 minutes of tutorials to get the PC’s logged in – some never manged it even with MS tech support guys. Smug wasn’t the half of it I should say that I am not anti Microsoft. I use MS Office 2008 on the Mac – it is fantastic. I have tried “Open Office” which is free – but I couldn’t earn my living with it. Word, Excel and Powerpoint are great on the Mac, and completely inter-operable with the PC. Unfortunately there is no MS Project which has caused me a few problems I use a Project file viewer called “Steelray”. I could have course run windows on the Mac – but although I am told it runs better on the Mac than a PC – especially Vista I have not tried it myself.
I run Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 at the same time and they worked quickly up until the point that I bought a 5D mk2 with 21MP raw files. Lightroom is now very sluggish.
I would say the Mac is about 10x as reliable as any of my PC’s – crashes are very rare, I have never seen the equivalent of a Blue Screen of Death (which was a common site on my PC laptop). Backups on the Mac are also easy – just connect a hard drive choose “Time Machine” from menu and Mac will automatically incrementally backup every hour.
“It just works” is Apples advertising slogan and I pretty much agree. An example when I present to audiences I have to go into a different room each time, plug into an unknown projector or LCD screen. The Mac almost always recognises the device even when connecting with a humble VGA cable. The speakers before and after me always have trouble connecting their PC’s – I always smile as I set mine up in seconds, making the most of the resolution of the other device (the options comes up as a list) and setting it up as a two monitor setup. It is possible for PC laptops to do the same – I just never see anyone doing it as it seems to be more difficult to do. My new work laptop is a nightmare in this regard, a brand new HP needs several re-boots and switching off and on again of projector to get a sync lock. I’ve even had it working fine, switch to another colleagues machine and then not recognise my machine again when switching the VGA cable back. The two monitor setup on this machine is hopeless
I have a wireless network at home and have all my music on a network hard drive which can then be streamed to any of my PC’s or my Sonos music players. At least in theory. One of the PC’s will not connect to it, I have tried everything to make it wok and wasted hours trying. The other PC works but it’s (new) CD/DVD combo drive will not work with my ripping software (Exact Audio Copy). So I had to rip on one machine, transfer all the music files to the other machine and then upload to the server. The first time I brought my Mac home, I connected it to the wireless network, the network drive appeared without me doing anything at all (no mapping of network drive needed), I ripped losslessly and uploaded from my laptop – no problem at all.
So far then it is mostly upsides, there are some problems however, particularly if you are looking to buy a new laptop today.
My girlfriend wanted to buy a new laptop, and of course I tried to persuade her to buy a Mac. She liked the design, usability screen quality etc. We specced a MacBook like mine, it came to around £1500, for comparison we spec’d a Dell XPS identically, 2.4GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB Hard drive (double mine at the time) it was under £800 – probably even cheaper now. The performance running Photoshop was identical in the tests. She went for the Dell. (£700 is a holiday or a new DSLR after all)
Her ownership experience. The machine is an XPS laptop quite stylish, with HDMI output, firewire etc like the Mac. We haven’t got either of these interfaces to work properly yet.
I have a PC formatted (FAT32) hard drive, the Mac can read and write to it, the PC running Vista cant! True of printers, scanners and others too.
I find using Vista to be dreadful, it is like XP (which was good but cant access 4GB memory) but with a fake copy of the Mac OS grafted onto it. Oh and mostly it doesn’t really work that well, and it’s hard to find stuff, Allison is always saying “I hate Vista”. (some say you can switch all the graphics off if you want to).
To be fair to MS, Vista before the recent service pack updates was unreliable – in fact I’d say it “just doesn’t work” but then that was true of XP also and they sorted that out eventually.
The new Windows 7 OS is now much more reliable – it had to be – Windows 7 is basically “Vista done right” I say that Vista was the beta test for Windows 7!
Other advantages of the Mac Laptop over the Dell XPS.
The screen is the same size at 15.4″ and the same resolution 1400×900 but the Mac’s is LED backlight uses far less power giving much longer battery life, (hours). Also the screen quality is simply in a different league. a slight movement of the Dell screen and the colours all change – the Mac’s is more consistent – which of course is important when photo editing. And worse of all the Dell has a glossy screen which is dreadful to use in anywhere but a dark environment because of reflections. Unfortunately , offices, airports, and in fact anywhere you are likely to use a laptop won’t be dark. Glossy screens also cant be properly colour calibrated.
So personally overall I wouldn’t swap my Mac for the equivalent PC even if it is half the price. Is it worth the extra though for YOU? It depends how you value you time. Personally having a reliable machine that works when I plug into an external device, that gives me great battery life, and that causes me less hassle is worth a lot. I would unreservedly by another Mac – however there is now an important proviso.
The new MacBooks all have glossy screens. Check the forums – there are lots of complaints about this. Only some of the models are available with a matt screen option.
Other Macs – Imacs and Mac Pro’s.
The 27″ Imac would be a great machine for photo editing with two rather important provisos
1. It has only one hard drive.
2- It has a glossy screen. You can drive another monitor though – for colour accuracy and with Lightroom 2’s support for 2 monitors enabling say the grid view on the Imac screen and the Individual picture on the other I would recommend this setup. The IMac 27″ is also fast at running photoshop, Don’t be fooled into sticking some matt film on to the Imac screen – it might help reflections but not calibration. It is possible to remove the glass that sits in front of a matt monitor though – this is what I would do.
I am really annoyed that Apple don’t make a more consumer focused tower machine, that you can fit multiple hard drives and lots of memory in. It this respect say under £2000 machine I think PC hardware is more useful to photographers.
The MacPro’s are the traditional PC tower designs that can be plugged into an external monitor. They offer lots of processor cores – from 4 up to 8, but Photoshop doesn’t use more than 4 effectively so the performance gains are not worth the cost. the base machine is the one for Photo editing then.
In conclusion I have now switched completely to the Mac at home. I manage 1500+ PC’s at work!
I hope this helps if you are looking for a new machine!