BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Ellen A. Crownover

Laptops for your digital photography

Courious if anyone has a laptop they like or one they are looking at. I want to designate a lap top to my photography so I dont bog down my home cd burner here, so in my laptop I am planning a cd burner...but anyway just wondering what you all would choose give the laptop option.

To love this question, log in above
2/17/2004 11:55:26 AM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hi Ellen,

Hmm... well, offhand, any decent laptop with good ram and processing power will serve well as a photography laptop.

Some thoughts:

USB and Firewire ports on a laptop for interfacing with scanners and card readers.

USB 1.0/2.0 ports are typically powered if you connect a USB device directly to the port on the laptop. This works great for card readers and USB powered scanners.

Firewire ports are powered ports only if they are the full sized connectors. The mini-firewire connectors are not powered. This is important if you plan on hooking up a firewire card reader, external drive which uses laptop power, or a cd/dvd burner.

Windows based laptopss will have PCMCIA/PCCARD slots for reading memory cards or for attaching external devices. This is often in addition to USB ports and micro-firewire ports.

Apple based laptops will typically not have a PCMCIA/PCCARD slot and favor a USB and full sized Firewire port.

Both types of laptops will have CD burners and the Apple Powerbooks will have DVD/CD burners.

For things like Scanning, Raw file conversion, Photoshop, web, email, etc. Both laptops types are comparable as the same programs tend to be available on both. The only issue with the Windows based ones are virii, worms, and freqeuent security issues.

So from a functionality point of view, you have about the same regardless of whether you go with a Windows based laptop or a MacOSX based laptop.

The real difference is price. Apple based products will tend to be more expensive, but the form and function of the laptop will be simpler and more minimalistic. Windows based laptops are cheaper in price, but the form of the laptop is what I would call confused: doesn't know if it should be a big walkman/cd player/movie player/laptop.

If you're looking for a simple and concise piece of equipment you can use, I'd go with the Apple iBook or Powerbooks. You will pay more and if you are not familiar with Mac OSX, you will have a sharp learning curve. However, you will also not have the hassle of viruses.

I own an Apple G3 900Mhz iBook and use it with Photoshop elements and iPhoto to do my albuming and basic editing of my photos. I have VirtualPC running on my iBook to run windows and a program called NeatImage to handle noise filtering(until they come up with a Mac based version of their software). My programming, web development, photography, and workprocessing are all done from this iBook. Current iBooks on the market are G4 based systems and have more processing power. A Powerbook would have even more processing power.

Regardless of whichever system you buy, however, make sure that it will have enough memory(256MB at least! 512MB or more if you can get it) and enough disk space. I have a 40GB hard drive and I am constantly deleting stuff I downloaded to make room for more images and image work. :

The biggest hard drives available for laptops is topping out at around 60-80GB. A good reason for an external hard drive. With a full sized firewire port, you won't need to cary around extra power cables and/or power adapters. The power would come from the laptop. A big plus for Apple laptops. ;)

For the Windows systems, Sony's laptops have built-in sony memory stick readers, so are a boon to those who use memory sticks for their cameras. Dell and Fujitsu make great laptops for a great price. Sager makes multimedia laptops which provide a good bang for the buck.

Good luck with your decision. I went with the iBook because it gave me the most functionality. It wasn't the cheapest solution though. :)

To love this comment, log in above
2/17/2004 1:46:43 PM

Ellen A. Crownover   Wow, Wing thanks for the advise. Great stuff and I will use what you have offered in my decision making. Now I'm no guru..but from what you described is a firewire port an internal power source or is it an external power source or am I waaaaaaaaaaaaay off?

To love this comment, log in above
2/17/2004 5:35:37 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hi Ellen,

A firewire port is for connecting high speed devices to your laptop or computer. Hard drives, high res scanners, and cd/dvd burners come to mind.

Firewire ports come in 2 major styles: "big" 6-pin connectors which will supply power and data to the external device from the computer's internal power supply.

"small" 4-pin connectors which only serve to supply data, but no power to the external device. Devices which use the 4-pin connector will need their own power either through batteries on the device itself or through an AC power cord.


Firewire "web" cameras will often use a 6-pin firewire connector because the camera is expecting to get power from the computer it is connected to. When a computer only has a 4-pin firewire port, an AC powered firewire hub is needed between the device and the computer.

Super portable external hard drives(2.5") will often use a 6-pin firewire connector plug since it can pull power from the computer instead of from a seperate AC power cable. Thus making it more portable.

Bigger external drives(3.5") will typically work with either 6-pin or 4-pin ports and will have an AC power plug for wall/outlet power.

Short answer:

Firewire ports are data ports. Computer to device communication. Firewire ports on a computer with 6-pins(pentagon shaped port) are what they call "bus powered", power and data flow on the cable. 4-pin ports were created to save space and to take the burden of power regulating out of the computer and into the external device.

Some devices expect power from the cable and will not function when plugged into a 4-pin port even with an adapter cable. Hence the suggestion to go with a laptop which offers the 6-pin port for the greatest level of compatibility.

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2004 4:37:15 AM

Davin Edridge   Hello All,

Personally, I am not a fan of laptops for photo editing. Plenty of people use them all the same.
I find that the limiting factor for laptops (for me) is the LCD screen - it does not go up to the resolution that I like to work in (1600 x 1200). I also find that my eyes become more tired, alot quicker looking at a laptop screen when photo editing. It is also harder to calibrate the screen for printing - due to the uneven light sources being emitied by the LCD.
I have spoken to some of the printers at my local lab about using the LCD Desktop monitors - they have informed me that they do not use them for any printing equipment due to the problems with colour calibration.
The other disadvantage with laptops - they cannot be upgraded - much beyond a bigger harddrive and more ram, maybe a dvd burner if it is not included - you can only hang out so many PCMCIA cards out of the side of the thing at one time - lol.
My only suggestion for you laptop, if you buy it - is to also buy a Normal (good quality .25 pitch or lower) CRT Monitior to plug into it - you can always do that later if the laptop monitor is not up to your requirements.
My only other advise - if you do not need it right now - don't buy it - in 6 months time you will be able to buy a better laptop for the same price (based on current market trends in Australia).
Another option maybe to upgrade your current Desktop (depending upon its specs) - DVD burners (also burn CD's) in australia are available now for under $200-00AUD


To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2004 4:38:28 PM

Ellen A. Crownover   Davin, yeah I think you have the right idea. I think it may be better to upgrade my computer at home than to buy a laptop. I travel work 2 weeks on 2 weeks on my time off at work I wanted to have something to play around with...picture manulipulation and then print it off when I get back home. You have given me something to think about in terms of quality...thanks!

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2004 5:44:48 PM

MIKE HUTCHINSON   Hi Ellen. I just bought a Toshiba Satellite w/40 g HD, burner, and DVD. Circuit City had it for $750 w/rebates. I thought it had internal wireless adapter for my cable modem. It didnt so I had to add adapter for $30. The only drawback is the battery life is short (@ 2 hrs) so I also added extra battery (@4-5 hrs)which was free w/rebate. Other than that I love it. I have had a Compaq and I have a Dell at office which has had everything replaced on it within first 2 wks. Toshiba service has been excellent.When I needed to ask a question, I could actually get them on phone. Be sure you add a virus control like Mcafee or Norton. I also down-loaded 2 free software programs to scan for viruses and cookies and I can give you a free site that will scan online to look for viruses(i still dont know how they do it for free). So far I have a had virtually no popups and so far no viruses. I find editing not really cumbersome but if you need to drag and drop you can always add a remote mouse. If size of screen is important you can always a large (say 19") monitor for for a low price.

Now my son has a Mac which he loves(it does take a learning curve). I notice many professional photographers use Macs in the field. I think the reason is they are somewhat lighter and can be smaller than a PC dependent on hardware you get. But that to me is also a drawback because a smaller screen also means more difficult to see for my old eyes. They are considerably more expensive than PC.
You wont get many popups w/mac because there are generally not enough mac users to warrant creating popup ads in mac format.
My suspicion is that most photographers download images into laptop in field to clear their discs or to quickly see how some pics look and then edit on larger screen later either using laptop or desktop. I may be wrong.
I would highly recommend a laptop from the standpoint that you can play with it at locations other than on desk. I am continually playing games, writing, editing on my laptop while watching tv or in my case I have mine sitting on back of couch at a window looking out at the 9 bird feeders in my backyard. So technically I can just take bird pic and turn around and download. So just how much enjoyment do you think I can endure? Good luck!

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2004 6:27:30 PM

Nick Milton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/25/2003
  mmm.i been down this raod,i decided to upgrade my desktop,for my workstation,becauseof the crt 21 inch monitor.and get a cheaper 2nd hand laptop p3 1 gig?to display pic shows at events.this works for me because a laptop isnt much cop for editing.


To love this comment, log in above
2/19/2004 2:46:52 AM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hmm.. I have both a workstation/server at home for editing, batching, printing, etc. My laptop, albeit a 12" ibook, is hardly for just offloading images to. I run Photoshop Elements 2.0, CinePaint, and dcraw.c on it to examine, edit, and correct photos I take. I'll admit, more screen realestate would be nice, but it is a solid tool for working with photos in the field.

Btw, popup ads are not OS specific. They are typically browser specific and employ javascript/java to perform the popup. Macs experience popups, but Safari, the default Mac Web browser, supports pop-up ad suppression. As does Mozilla.

All Apple laptops and most Windows laptops support a video out feature for TV output or CRT/external LCD output. I regularly hook up my laptop to a 21" Sun CRT while at work and to a 19" Sony CRT while at home.

I cannot speak for other Mac users out there, but I went with a Mac for all of the reasons I listed in previous posts and for the following reasons:
- Ease of use
- reliability
- virus free
- unix based OS
- location profiles to switch from home LAN, wireless, work lan, etc in seconds.
- click-drag-drop installation of most applications.
- quality color accurate/calibrated displays by default.

It comes down to your needs. I needed a reliable Unix based laptop for work and for play. The Apple iBook fit the bill. The price was more than I wanted to pay, but in the end, I'm glad I went with it as I've had coworkers complain and bemoan problem after problem with their laptops and virii and needing to re-install.

Getting a laptop doesn't mean small screen. If you want a bigger screen, get the 14", 15" or the 17" laptops from Apple. Get a 24" external LCD panel to hook up to it if 17" isn't enough. They will both be color calibrated within seconds and both work and look great.

Okay, that was a bit of ranting. *grins*

To love this comment, log in above
2/19/2004 3:53:50 PM

David Cornforth   I'm in the UK and use only a laptop. I have a Toshiba Satellite machine. Much of what has been said about USB/Firewire is right. I have produced absolutely thousands of drawn images in Corel Xara on a desktop for commercial use, using a Wacom tablet. I purchased a Wacom tablet for the laptop for tweaking and editing photos in Photoshop Elements but never use it. I find the touch pad far easier to use and almost as accurate. You get used to it. As far as the screen is concerned - if I was producing output for commercial printing there would be a case for a better screen balanced for colour. For my use I can take the laptop in the car when I go out to take photos and transfer from my camera as I need to. For convenience, its great. Decide on your needs and then decide.

To love this comment, log in above
2/21/2004 5:59:47 AM

Derek Holyhead   Hi,
I use a laptop in the field and at home, it is just as good as my desktop, I have a 15" screen and I see no problems with editing. One thing I will say is make sure you get XP Pro and not XP Home edition, it is far better and XP is the missing link as far as comparing to Apple. As for the Anti-Virus go to : for free AV software, includes automatic updates and scheduled scans, checks incoming and outgoing email and checks any downloads for viruses. I am an Netwrok Engineer and install it on all of my clients machines. Check it out you will not be disappointed!

To love this comment, log in above
2/21/2004 6:02:15 PM

Ellen A. Crownover   Thank you everyone for your input. It has been helpful. I am still struggling as to what to do. I do think I will get a laptop, but not sure which one. I just need something for the time I am at work for 2 weeks. I work on the North Slope of Alaska and its good to have a hobby after work. Keep the suggestions coming one can never have enough information to make these expensive decisions. I have learned a great deal from all of your posts and will use the info when I make my final decision. Just wondering and this may be a dumb question, but if I were to purchase an Apple, (and I have ME at home) can I transfer my photos back and forth between computers with out any problems?

To love this comment, log in above
2/22/2004 6:42:42 AM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hi Ellen,

On the Apple, there is a program called iPhoto which is used to handle the organization, rotation, searching, etc of images. iPhoto sucks in pictures from a hard drive, cd, dvd, digital camera, or memory card. It can also export the images onto CD/DVD.

It is very easy to use and you can even order prints only through iPhoto via a Apple/Kodak partnership. Here are some peoples' experiences with their printing:

As for transferring files between Apple and a Windows PC, they both support SMB or Windows file sharing. Share a folder on your Windows machine and share a folder on your Apple and they can now see each other's folders on the network. Click and drag copying between systems is pretty easy and works in both directions.

I have a Mac ibook, Windows XP Pro system, and a Linux box at home and I share images between systems through the network in such a manner. I also have a external Firewire/USB hard drive I use for archiving my images and for easy access between systems. I just format it to a FAT32 filesystem in Windows, Linux, or Apple(select DOS format). That way, it is accessible by all three operating systems.

To love this comment, log in above
2/22/2004 11:27:27 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.