What Kind Of Hardware Do You Need For Professional Real Estate Photography?

May 13th, 2015

iMacHEV recently asked:

A few days ago a commenter asked about computing power. What type of computing power are professional photographers using and how much do these systems cost?

First of all, my attitude and recommendation for computing equipment is to not skimp on hardware you buy. That is, go with the top of the line at the time you purchase and then plan to replace it in 4 or 5 years. High-performance hardware saves you time and money. In the long run it pays for itself many times over.

So if I were replacing my hardware today here is what I’d go with:

  • Intel I7
  • 16 gig of RAM
  • Graphics card with 2 gig of RAM
  • SSD drive for system drive
  • Top quality 27-inch monitor

If you were to bay a Apple version of the above configuration you’d be going with the top of the line iMac and it would cost just over $3000. I’m getting close to replacing my mid-2010 iMac and this is what I replace it with if I did it today.

I’m sure not eveyone agrees with this recommendation. What do you recommend?

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21 Responses to “What Kind Of Hardware Do You Need For Professional Real Estate Photography?”

  • Yes on everything but MUST ADD is dual monitors. Talk about saving time, nothing else even else even comes close πŸ™‚

  • @Dave – I agree. I have dual monitors and they are great… I’m thinking of adding a third.

  • Agreed on the above but if you are tech savvy, avoid apple as you are paying a premium for the brand. Apple is a great setup if you don’t want to deal with building/working on computers.

    Not to start a apple vs orange battle but you can get a lot more for your money if you do the homework and build a computer yourself. pricewatch.com is a good site to monitor the prices of various components. And there are great sites like tomshardware.com. Or similar sites to this one that can give you guidance on purchasing and making your own custom build.

    My setup was less than 2k and has all of the above plus more. Buuuut, there is a lot more involvement in building your own system that may not be worth your time. In the end I built my system and haven’t had to tweak/fix anything since. It’s been running strong since day 1.

  • I’m pretty happy with my alternative Apple setup: a Core i7 Mac Mini with two internal drives (SSD for boot, plus a 1TB), plus external drive for archiving, plus whatever monitor(s) I want. Plus a great amp and speakers — now that’s a boon for productivity!

    Cheaper and more flexible than an iMac, though I did have to open up the Mini to add the SSD.

  • Definately max out your ram, graphics, processor and ssd.

    I second Larry’s iMac recommendation.

  • I have an IT person in a small shop that takes care of my computers. He built a new system last year; server box with power supply, system board with usb 2 and 3, I7, 16gb ram, 2gb video card, 500gb SSD for OS, 2 x 1TB SATA for data and backup. The price tag was just over $1,100. I did not need new monitors; I run dual 32″ dell monitors that are several systems old.

    Runs very well; the SSD drive was a big chunk of the price as was the video card but well worth it.

  • I just paid $4,300 for a 27″ iMac – Retina 5K, 4GHz Intel i7 processor, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, 4MB AMD Radeon graphics card, 3year extended AppleCare. This is the absolute top of the line iMac now available. Is it overkill? Maybe… but it’s very fast and since I shoot HDR I need that processing power. I replace my computer about every two years. My last iMac I paid $2,700 and sold it on eBay for $1,700… so technically, my computer only cost me $500 each year.

  • windows, 32 gig ram, 500 gig SSd drive with programs loaded (Boot time is less than 30 seconds) and 2 4TB Hard drives for current work/storage. These drives are replaced when full about once a month and put into storage. There are at least three systems running between both office locations with Drobo backup integrated between them. Systems are upgraded at least every two years with older systems being donated and newer ones taking over the main work load. I use two 27″ monitors at one location and three at another. Both locations have “work stations” that do the hard work, while I work on scheduling, billing, etc. on the other systems.

    This is a business….one computer will not handle the load

  • I find it easier to get work done using Mac OS. I also like the benefit of being able to run Mac OS, Windows and Linux all on the same machine with Apple hardware. While the upfront cost is more for Apple, I find my productivity is better saving me a lot of time (which = Money). It’s also nice not to have 3 machines heating up the room not to mention the amount of space that would take up.

    Dual monitors are so 90’s. My desk has four monitors. Two Acer 23″ and one Sharp 17″ for my MacPro and one Dell 17″ for my Mac Mini server. The Acer’s are my main monitors and the Sharp is for a little extra “real estate” where I can move windows when I want to keep an eye on a process or a video feed. The Acer monitors are slated for the closet before too long since there are better models on the market now.

    I thought Apple was completely out of bounds with the price tag on the new round of MacPro models, but after test driving one with Photoshop and a large complex file, I’m convinced that I would be saving money by buying one as soon as I can make the investment. It’s like spending more money on a car that gets superior fuel economy. Over it’s lifespan, it will be less expensive (TCO, Total Cost of Ownership). It’s not hard to find a land yacht for $100 that gets 10mpg or worse just like one can find a Netbook for sofa change.

    There was a great XKCD comic that was a chart on the value of spending time improving a process based on how much time it saved and how many times one executes the process. It would be very easy to change the tags from “time saved” to “money saved”. If I save 10minutes/job with the faster computer, that would equate to about 88 hours saved in one year on just real estate work. At $40/hr, that’s $3520 in the first year. It’s hard to try and estimate time savings on the other work I do since it varies quite a bit, but some product work I do is getting very complex and my Menu Meters tell me that I’m maxing out all four processor cores on a regular basis.

    MacPro (4,1) 16gb RAM, 12TB standard hard drives (4x3TB drives), bog standard OEM graphics card x2. I don’t use all 12TB of storage, I like to update to new hard drives periodically and the 3TB models have been at a sweet spot in terms of $/gb for a while. Now that SSD’s have been out for a while and the latest generations have proven themselves reliable, I’ll be changing over my working drives to SSD and using the spinning rust as redundant back up.

  • If you like Mac computers but don’t like the price, you can build your own if you are a little tech savvy and have a little time. Go to http://www.tonymacx86.com. This site has all the hardware requirements/links and knowledge to build a “Hackintosh”. They have been doing it for a long time and have software to help with the most current OSX install and a forum with experts to help if you get stuck. You can build a Hackintosh for about $1000 that will blow away a Mac Pro in speed and performance. You will still need to buy a good monitor which they have recommendations for, too.

  • My MacBookPro is quite a few years old now but it is still doing all the work it needs to!

  • A good question but a very personal one on many levels. I personally use an iMac 27″ monitor. But then I have been a Mac user since the 512 came out so it is easy for me to add skills as each new one comes out. I would suggest that unless you want to learn a new user interface, stick with an OS you know and feel comfortable with, then do what the people above recommend, get the most powerful system you can afford with at least a 27″ monitor, max on RAM (photo files today are large especially is using HDR and bracketed images) and then leave room in your budget for back up external hard drives so you have at least one copy of your work at all times. The actual configuration has to be something you are comfortable using, you will spend a lot of time on it if you do your own processing. I don’t have experience with other systems and other monitors, but I find that my iMac’s monitor gives me very accurate color, exposure and density when I see the images printed in magazines and on websites. And I have never calibrated it. But others here I am sure can address the best color accurate monitors for photography.

  • @Larry Fields-
    I tried to build a hackintosh, but honestly, you need to be VERY tech savvy. I ran into lots of problems and I bought my gear that was recommended on his site. Fought with the thing for two months and just decided to use the machine to run Windows 8. Not an easy learning curve, but not bad. Computer flies and I built it for less than a grand.

  • HEV mentioned “Top quality 27-inch monitor”. Any recommendations on that?

  • Larry – thanks for posting my question. I have a good idea of what I will get now.

  • @Nicolas I highly recommend the Dell U2713HM or The U2713H (if you can afford a little extra for simulated 10-bit). Read Anandtech’s review of the 2713HM to understand why it’s a great value. Also nobody mentioned calibrating their monitors for color/tone accuracy. I use X-Rite’s i1 Display Pro, which has greatly helped unify how images look across multiple devices.

    Personal preferences: I really see no advantage of multiple displays for photography (kill me now…I know). I definitely use my second monitor for video work (due to excessive slider/timeline/UI stuff in Premiere), but the UI in LR/PS is so minimal, it’s a lot more convenient to put everything on one screen and hot key your way around. Plus you don’t have to worry about calibrating multiple monitors to match up if you don’t have the same model. Save the money and buy a better monitor.

  • Question for the system builders. I’m going to be getting a Dell Precision soon, I want a mobile solution and Dell has some good prices on refurbished i7 Quad Cores that I can build up. They come with HDDs, I happen to have an SSD that I was going to install in the modular bay, and put Photoshops scratch disk on the SSD. I don’t really care about boot times, but while processing images would I see more gains from running Win7 and PS off the SSD or the scratch disk? I’d need to buy a bigger SSD to put the OS on it but if it’s worth it I don’t mind the $50-$100 for a bigger one.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Matt: You will especially notice speed gains on an i7 quad using SSD exclusively. Not only will photoshop open up in a few seconds (vs over a minute and a half on a typical HDD), Windows Resource Management won’t be stuttering along (which includes PS brush previews, like clone and healing). SSDs can max over 500MB/s vs a mobile HDD’s under 70MB/s. So basically you want all scratch disks (including window’s page file system) located on the SSD. I’d be more concerned about loading times on a mobile because of the lack of power; less loading times = less stress on the battery. If you open up Windows Resource Monitor you can see in real time how intensive the disk (HDD/SSD) is being used under the Disk tab. Play around in photoshop for a bit and you’ll see crazy spikes happening. This gives a real time example of how helpful these SSDs can be. When I made the switch from HDD to SSD it greatly improved PS performance for larger/composited images. If you’re keeping images really simple and don’t mind waiting around, then sure the PS SSD scratch disk will probably be enough for you. Best of luck!

  • “Graphics card with 2 gig of RAM”
    This can be very misleading. You’re going to also want to make sure you have plenty of computing power in that graphics card, especially if you plan to use it to accelerate programs like LR6. Some manufacturers do put obscene amounts of RAM onto a cheap graphics card just to sell it. The card will never use that much memory, there’s just not enough computing power.

  • @George, thanks a lot, just got the two from Amazon and about to them set up.

  • @Nicolas Awesome! i1 Profiler is a hefty application with lots of ways to calibrate your monitor. I found setting the white point and luminance to Native, gamma curve to standard, and unchecking ambient light control when calibrating to maximize the dynamics of this beast. You can always create the industry standard D65 with 250cd/m ICC profile, but if you toggle between the two you’ll quickly realize how much you have to sacrifice to conform. The main reason for the profiler is to correct color inaccuracies and by leaving the luminosity and white point to native, it greatly increases the color gamut (= better color accuracy). For fine tuning white balance / exposure of your final images all you need is a reference image that exemplifies the white balance and exposure you’re going for and adjust your final images in PS/LR to taste. I had to do this only the first time I calibrated the monitor. After that, I knew exactly what ‘true white’ and good exposure looked like on the calibrated monitor. Maybe one day spending $1400 on a native D65 display with a 12-bit lut will make sense, but in the meantime this is quite a steal. Congrats!

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