Alright, so there are two instances in which a computer has to be performant for product or studio photography: the actual production and post-production. My MacBook Pro isn’t new; it’s a late 2013, core i5 with 8GB of RAM and Intel Iris graphics machine. It is by no means the fastest Mac.
Anyways, one may wonder whether or not he has to have the best of the best in order to make it work for photography. Here’s what I think.
For the actual production part (in studio, shooting tethered to the laptop), I think my computer is enough. I use Phase One’s Capture One Pro 8 as my RAW processor/tethering engine and it’s running not that badly. In fact, the only place I could see more RAM being useful is while quickly zooming in the shots (it takes a few moments (~2.5 secs.) to de-pixelate) and moving from one image to another using the arrow keys. Since there are only 8GB of RAM, and that I’m at least running Chrome and Mail on top of Capture One, the pictures can’t get stored into memory. It’s full, so it takes a bit of time to bring the images from the SSD. By the way, I am almost always using 99% of my RAM, even when Photoshop nor Capture One is running. Chrome is memory hungry. Now, making adjustments to the files isn’t bad at all; in fact, it’s pretty much lag-less. Of course, that depends on the size of your files and how much you are changing. Mine are 24.3MP, 12-bit RAW, ~24MB picture files. I don’t do too much colour work in Capture One, mostly just fixing the white balance or other such issues and that’s mostly it. Finally, exporting TIFF images can take a few moments and the fan will definitely start spinning, especially if you have several dozen shots to pump out of the program. So, overall, for the production side of things, I don’t think you necessarily have to have a ridiculously fast computer.
For the post-production side of things, it is a bit different. Using Zerene Stacker to focus ~10 + images can easily take over 2 minutes, in my experience. With Helicon Focus, which is what I’m using right now, the time required to get a result is not as high. In both cases, the fan will start humming. The real question is what happens in Photoshop. Well, for that, a faster quad-core machine with more memory and better graphics will not hurt. When you start having more than 15 layers, applying filters can be not as instantaneous as wished or designed and turning on and off an adjustment layer is laggy. The program renders the new image a portion of it at a time and this is really noticeable (by having the image broken up into squares and one appearing after the other). Moving around the shot is not as snappy as wished, though it is not so bad. Also, if you try to put several Spot Healing brushstrokes down in a rapid succession, Photoshop will not be able to keep up and will take some time to render one after the other. Well, ok, the whole time in Photoshop isn’t as bad as I may make it should like; only in large, 500MB+ files does this happen and, if you’re sticking to simpler edits or rescaled your shots to a more manageable size beforehand, than you should be golden. I think it’s manageable to Photoshop with my machine but definitely make sure you’re plugged in because you’re battery is not going to love you!
In conclusion, I think it is not unimaginable to use a computer like mine to do all of your photography work but you’d be more comfortable with a beefier one.
What computer do you use for your photo work? Do you like it? Are you a Mac or Windows user?