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Which Computer configuration for digital Imaging




I would be interested in which computer set-up you would recommend for digital imaging.

In this forum there are threads about scanners, printers and screens, but this part is missing.

What experience did you make with your computer, what would you advise to buy (RAM, Speed, HD, Graphic card, Firewire, Calibration instruments etc.)


I have spent nearly two years now setting up a "digital darkroom", and I can summarize my experience briefly as follows:

Don't use Windows 98 because it doesn't show thumbnails in file icon displays, and doesn't offer a choice for "open with..." when you right click on files.

Don't use Windows Me because it is REALLY slow. Somehow after it has been running for a few minutes, and especially after you access the Internet, the CPU gets really busy with unknown tasks and the applications like Photoshop become REALLY slow. I wasted two months trying to work out what was wrong, and then gave up.

All my speed troubles went away when I started using Windows 2000 Professional. This is a very reliable and fast operating system. You can right click a files and select "open with.." to choose which application to use. You get thumbnails of your images in the folder display. Windows XP is probably similar but I haven't tried it yet.

Use Photoshop 6.0 or 7.0 because the other image editing programs cannot handle "colour management". I struggled for five months trying to make the printer output look like the image on the screen, and then found that all my troubles went away when I gave up on the cheaper image editing programs and started using Photoshop. There are excellent tutorials about how to use Photoshop at http://www.computer-darkroom.com .

You must use a "monitor profiling" system for your computer monitor. I use a program which came with my Samsung LCD monitor, and it works well enough for me. Search on Google for "monitor profiling" and you'll get good information about it. Monitor profiling allows your system to know how your computer's monitor shows the colours in relation to the RGB values in an image file.

You need at least one gigabyte of RAM to use Photoshop efficiently. I scan a lot of medium format images nowadays, and find that 2 GB is even better.

A fast CPU is needed to handle the "instant preview" of adjustments in Photoshop. I use a dual Pentium III 1 GHz motherboard (Asus CUV4X-D). Actually, the sheer speed of the processing doesn't increase much when using two CPUs, but the ability to run other programs concurrently with Photoshop improves a lot with two CPUs. Dual CPUs makes your PC like a truck capable of heavy loads rather than like a Ferrari with double top speed. This mother board has four slots for RAM, and with 512MB SIMM cards, I got 2 GB RAM on the board.

After a few months of scanning many photos, you'll end up with a lot of big files which would be disastrous to lose. So I use a "I Will" PCI RAID adaptor for IDE HDD. I have two 40GB HDD in parallel (mirror) RAID1 configuration on this adaptor. That way, if a hard drive fails, I don't lose all my files.

I also use special "silent" power supply and CPU fans because the noise of a PC is really disturbing when you do long hours of image editing. See http://www.quietpc.com .

I hope this information helps someone.
Craig: Your silent power supply and fan info is very helpful. My setup isn t as heavy duty as yours, but I'm not involved in heavy duty image production. I do use XP - Professional Version on one computer and Home Version on my portable. I find it far superior to earlier systems. My system uses 768 RAM and that seems sufficient for my purposes. I've tried a Mac because my older system under Windows 98 wasn't cutting it. Then a buddy showed me how to tweak the system so it would scream. XP makes it better. I still prefer my PC to the Mac because I learned on a PC and the Mac just requires commands I don't care to spend the time learning.
Jack: Thanks for the confirmation that Windows XP works well. If I build another PC, I'll try XP.
Trying XP with a new PC may be the best idea, Craig. People I know trying to install XP on an existing system have come to grief. I have seen and heard enough weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth to break the heart of a paving stone - or to cause my RTS III (ON Topic Gratuity) to become colicky and miss a frame.
Is there a software to control the contax 645 body via a computer to change settings like shutter speed, aperature, ... etc.? Thanks. Ahmed
What about a budget (non pro) system? I currently have the following:

Sony laptop (128 mb ram/celeron 650mb processor)
HP photo printer
minola scan dual III scanner

I would like my new system to improve the following:

faster image processing
larger prints (currently only 8x11)
accurate viewing on monitor

Based on preliminary research, have decided to switch to a Epson 2200 printer, but am unsure of what computer and monitor to get. I would like to get as budget of a system as will let me enjoy the digital darkroom.

>Scott, I've had similar decisions to make as yourself over the last year or so. Just a few thoughts from my experience over this time that I hope may help you...

Re: Faster image processing...assume you'll continue with PC (see you're a Sony user); get as much Ram as you can afford (512mb-1GB); P3 is actually quicker than P4 even if processor speed appears slower (more comps per cycle ie just like the Mac) so you can save money by getting older P3 which should be more than enough for Photoshop.

Re: Larger prints...Epson 2200 is an excellent printer allowing up to 13" widths, however it does get some negative press concerning prints on glossy paper. If all you're printing to is matte then it doesn't get much better for the money but if you like glossy prints then it may disappoint you. An alternative could be the Epson 1280 which also handles paper up to 13" but will give you top results on glossy paper as well as matte. I think sticking to Epson in general is a good idea as the selection of inkjet papers in sizes up to 13x19" (which I assume you're looking for) made by Epson themselves will save you loads of time in getting the best results from your printer.

Re: Accurate viewing on monitor...CRT still better than LCD/TFT flat panels but you'll probably want to save space like everyone else!? The trick is calibrating your monitor so that what you see is what you get...one possibility is to get something like the "Spyder" by Colorvision, it looks like a mouse with legs that dangles over your monitor and then helps you to calibrate the display. (Try www.colorvision.com) I'm sure there are other co's that produce a similar product but I'm not familiar with them I'm afraid!?

Hope some of this helps and good luck building your digi-darkroom!

I'm a long-time PC user. For that reason, if I was considering a system for digital photography/graphics purposes I would buy... MAC! That's right, Macintosh. That's because:

a) All pro labs understand Photoshop and Mac. They don't understand PC and Windows
b) It works faster, is much more stable system, UNIX-like in many ways and has quite long lifespan and very reliable.
c) Because color-control, profiles, etc are all well controlled from within OS itself, you don't need a bunch of third party tools to do it
d) Mac is designed to be a good desktop publishing system, thus almost all the basic stuff you need for graphics processing or digital photography is already there
e) Support and warranty terms are great
f) Leasing available
g) G5 is 64bit processor

So, if I was on tight budget, I would probably start saving some money for Mac instead of spending any money on PC. Then, I would need about $4500 to set up a decent system with everything I need (excluding software).
Here is what I would probably get:
Dual 1.8Ghz Mac G5 with 1GB of RAM, 160GB Hard Drive, SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW),
NVIDIA GeForce FX 5200 w/64MB. Monitor - Apple 17" Studio LCD or some 19" Sony Trinitron CRT based monitor or one of newer Planar 17" monitors.
That would come to about $3000-$3200. The rest of money will be used to buy film scanner such as Elite 5400 or one of announced new Nikons, hardware color calibration tool (Spyder) and maybe later on photo printer. Plus about $700 for photoshop or JASC PaintShopPro if it's available for Mac (not sure about it).

However, most likely I wouldn't buy inkjet photo printer, because inkjets haven't yet reached the quality of output that I would like. So, I would scan my pictures, do little editing and then "pre-flight" them for printing at West Coast Imaging, Calypso, Holland Photo or A&I using LightJet, Chromira or whatever I like

Scott, I would guess you'd feel most comfortable staying with PC's since that is what you are using now. If this is a NON-pro system, then please don't panic over Mike L's extraordinarily expensive solution for a home use budget computer from the Mac line-up. IF you are considering a Mac at all, you can get quite good speed from the eMac, which several designer friends of mine use for photoshop work for their clients. The eMac was originally released for use in schools, but designers and agencies caught news of what was inside this modest looking little thing and started making fine use of them. It contains the G4 as it's powerbase, and that makes it slightly behind the ultimate pro machines that have a new G5. If you aren't doing video work, I really doubt you need the speed and extreme cost of the G5. The eMac has the advantage of having a CRT screen which is best for photographic editing (photoshop) work. The iMac is nice, but I don't care for those screens as much. You can click on Apple.com and choose "store" and find the eMac goes for as little as $799 including a Combo drive (read and write CD's, Read DVD's) ($699 if you get a refurb from Apple). Then add about $150 from another reseller like MacZone to get you up to a 1GB of Ram and you're pretty much ready to add software and roll. My only reason for posting all this Mac info is to counter the very frighteningly high numbers Mike referenced for someone who is just looking for home use on a budget. Don't be afraid to stay with a PC if that's where your comfort zone is. Best regards, -Lynn L. (A Mac User)