Time for New Computers

As digital photographers, computers are an important part of our lives. That means keeping track of software and system updates as well as hardware compatibility. And, at some point, replacing the computer itself. That’s one of the things I’ve been working on the last few weeks, and just finished.

My first computer was a Mac Plus back in 1986. Over the next fifteen years I owned various Mac desktops and laptops. Then in 2002, our company started doing some work with Microsoft, and I had to learn Windows. That was a good experience, as I discovered there were strengths and weaknesses to each operating system, and that one wasn’t inherently better or worse than the other. It also made me a better teacher, as I could help my students regardless of what computer system they were using (except for Linux – sorry, I only have so much time).

Working back and forth between Windows and Mac can be challenging. Do I reach for the Control key or the Command key? Option or Alt? Is a hard drive formatted so I can read it on either system? So a couple of years ago I decided to commit to Windows, and do the majority of my work there. Overall it’s been a good experience. The Lenovo W510 that’s been my workhorse has performed well, and I’ve enjoyed Windows 7. But now it’s time to get intimate with Mac again, and the new features of its latest OS. And, my computers are about three years old, so they’re due for an upgrade.

The new MacBook Pro Retina Display, driving my Apple Cinema Display. Power and beauty in one reasonably sized (if not priced!) package. Photo by Reed Hoffmann

Looking at new Macs, the question came down to choosing between the MacBook Pro Retina Display, 13 or 15-inch, or the MacBook Airs (13 or 11-inch). Since this will be my primary work machine, for both serious photo work as well as video, I need power. And I also need a high resolution screen that has space for palettes and multiple windows. That meant the 15-inch Retina. With 16GB RAM, it should do a great job for the next couple of years. And at under 5-lbs., it’s a reasonable size and weight. But I do a lot of travel and assignment work where I don’t need that kind of power, or that large of a screen. Which meant I wanted one more new computer.

I’ve been eyeing the MacBook Airs since they first came out. Unfortunately, at that time, the miniscule hard drive (64GB) and weak processor made them a poor choice for photographers. But time solves most technology problems, and so the current models, with up to 256GB hard drives and faster processors, could now do the job. I decided to start shopping for a 13-inch model with 4GB RAM and 256GB hard drive. And USB 3. USB 3 is so much faster than USB 2 – I’ve had it in my Lenovo laptops the last several years – that I was unwilling to go back to USB 2. I love the huge speed increase I get when working with hard drives and downloading cards (with a USB 3 reader, of course). Apple started putting it in their laptops this summer.  So I began shopping, and something funny happened – I bought a Windows laptop instead.

My new (to me) Asus Zenbok, fitting easily – and cooly – on my lap while flying, with battery power to spare. Photo by Reed Hoffmann.

My Mac friends are always surprised when I tell them how much I’ve enjoyed working on Windows. And I want to stay current with that operating system as well. Being cheap, I first looked at refurbished MacBook Airs on the Apple Store’s website. Good prices, but still pretty expensive. So I looked on Craigslist, to see what I might find there. And listed among the Airs was an Asus Zenbook, which I’d heard and read good things about. Essentially a Windows version of the 13-inch  MacBook Air, it’s the same size, with great specs. And, a good friend of mine had one and loved it.

So here I am, off to teach Nikon School in Houston, typing this story on my new (to me) Zenbook. I’m carrying the smallest shoulder bag I’ve ever used, and it has a camera and two lenses (Nikon V1 with 10-30 and 30-11mm lenses), laptop, power supply and my usual travel stuff. It’s about the size of a large purse. I won’t have to prowl  airports looking for power – this will run 6-8 hours use without a charge. It’s incredibly light and doesn’t burn my thighs with  heat when working. And for what I paid, I won’t be sick if it gets broken or stolen during my travels.

I’m looking forward to getting up to speed again on Mac with the Retina, and taking advantage of its power. But I’m also glad to still be working in Windows, and traveling with a very lightweight and compact computer. They seem to be good choices for what I do, and I’m looking forward to getting great use out of them for the next couple of years. At which point it will be time to upgrade again. That’s just a fact of life for us now.