The Lure Of Medium Format – Journey Through Film

The Lure Of Medium Format – Journey Through Film

My name is Ian Howorth and I’m a documentary photographer from Brighton, England. I also work as a content producer for mpb.com.

I remember when I began shooting film three years ago, I kept hearing about medium format and its benefits. With photography, however, as with anything reliant on a visual element, it’s difficult to grasp the true meaning of words — you have to see it to understand it. 

My background and journey through visuals came from film and video so my tastes have always been based in the “cinematic” look — a term which gets bandied around a lot. In my mind, one of the traits of a cinematic look, aside from framing and colour interplay, is the balance of light. Having a background in film, it allowed me to understand light from the off and simply apply this knowledge to stills. 

Although I shot digitally on crop sensor cameras, it wasn’t until I got a Nikon D810 with its vast dynamic range that my eyes were opened to the possibilities of what i could do with single frames. Moving onto film, I started out with 35mm which retained dynamic range and colour but added grain and that certain je ne c’est quoi that film provides. 

While I explored the wonders of 35mm film, which suited my aesthetic and what I needed from my work, I began reading more into medium format and its benefits. By this point I had stopped making video my artistic priority and was focusing totally on stills. I was now looking for a way I could incorporate medium format into my workflow, besides the simple allure of “bigger” and “better.” 

I found on occasion I didn’t simply want the charm of 35mm and having to simply embrace its (apparent) imperfections or its limitations. Equally, I didn’t want to go back to digital to get a cleaner look as, for me, the experience of shooting film was far more appealing. Enter Mamiya 7 II.

I bought this camera very much on a whim. My local shop had one and I was simply there at the right time. Having never held one before I simply asked to hold it and that was enough for me to dive head first into medium format. 

On the first few outings with it, I treated it with, well, I don’t want to say disrespect but I was still very much in the 35mm mindset, where a fast lens could get me out of a pickle, and heavy grain in underexposed areas would just be something I could simply leave in as part of the beautiful aesthetic of film. Medium format — well, not so. Whatever I learnt from 35mm had to be scrapped. The Mamiya with its slower lenses turned whatever charm I could extract out of the smaller format into a mess of grain and muddied dark areas. Through this learning phase, though, I found I had to work very differently — tripod, cable release, light meter and a careful thought process as to where I was shooting and what my film stock of choice would be. Obviously, for daytime I could be a bit looser with these rules but generally, due to my preference for low speed film, a tripod has become a tool which is inevitably strapped to my backpack.

My nature being on the good side of obsessive means that I would never have been happy with continuing shooting MF and making do with mid-res scans from my lab — I already owned a very good scanner for 35mm, a Reflecta 10T, which gave me up to 4000 DPI, but sadly it wouldn’t scan any format other than 35mm. I also realised that it would end up frustrating me no end knowing that even a cheap flatbed which would scan 6 x 7 would never extract all the quality available from the negative. If I got only 25% of what the negative could yield, I would have stopped and just continued with 35mm. This is something I advise anyone who is going to embark on medium format film — the negative is only as good as the scanner that will extract your image, unless of course you’re doing contact prints straight from your neg. 

I invested in a Minolta Dimage Mutli Pro which lasted me just over a year until the Firewire chip went on it. After this, I bit the bullet and invested in a Nikon Coolscan 9000, which has been an absolute dream. It’s clinical in terms of its delivery of scans, whereas the Minolta had more personality. The issue with both of these scanners is that they are both over 15 years old, and except for a Hasselblad Flextight or a drum scan, nothing comes close in terms of scanning medium format. This of course is a worry and no one knows if any more investment will be made technologically, for good and semi-affordable film scanners. Buy one if you can afford it, but always be prepared for a hefty bill to fix it, if it can be fixed, that is. I know people who are constantly swapping their medium format cameras and all the while, they are scanning on sub-par scanners. I always say keep the camera and devote your time to scanning well and with as good a scanner as you can afford. Scanners are effectively digital cameras — some are better than others — and as much care and attention needs to go into making the right choice in buying one as the cameras exposing the negatives. I’m not just talking resolution or DPI here, I’m talking about dynamic range and rendition — optically, the quality of the lens on the scanner will have as much say in your final image as the lens on your camera. 

Having been shooting medium format for nearly three years now, and adding a Hasselblad H1 to my kitbag, I’ve realised how very differently I have to shoot it. You can’t haphazardly approach a shoot — it requires much more time not simply because of the longer set up times with the equipment and having to be more careful with metering, but also due to how I want my shots to look. 

I still shoot 35mm — a lot of it — and strangely, it is something I thought I would stop doing after acquiring two medium format cameras but, in fact, it has made me more conscious and more careful in terms of how I approach each shooting scenario. Much is said on the web about quality and what is “best” and frankly, my advice has always been to take it all with a big pinch of salt. Like any artistic practice, you make your own truths and live by a set of rules that might apply only to you. Sure, there are the basics, but as to where these “rules” stop being rules and just become opinion is entirely up to the artist.

For me, medium format is all about putting you there and less about representing reality, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise when, as the format increases, so does its ability to depict a scene as closely as possible to what the eye sees. We don’t have to have a 3D viewing experience to give us that feeling of being there. We can get close with separation, tonality, colour depth and light. 

Although there is no doubt that many medium format systems have incredibly sharp lenses, with the Mamiya 7s often touted as top of the list, sharpness in my images is the last thing I notice. I always see the depth of colour and light tonality first before anything else. It is this that I seek for some of my work. When a location is imbued with emotion even in the absence of people, MF is always what I go for. While not strictly true EVERY time, generally speaking, if a location has a certain subtle feel and a certain texture or even a certain light quality, I see MF as the only option.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of upgrading my Hasselblad H1 kit to a Makina 67. This I hope will allow me to keep the same aspect ratio across both my medium format cameras, while allowing the magic f/2.8 aperture of the Makina to come into its own for portraits. The change will also save quite a bit of space in my camera bag, as the H1 can be a bit unwieldy to stick in my backpack together with the Mamiya 7. The greatest benefit will be to maintain consistency with format for future work. I released my first monograph this year, ARCADIA, which consisted of work which was initially outside the focus of a body of work, so it’s made up of a mishmash of formats (35mm, 645 and 6 x 7). Although this did not hinder the work, I don’t feel that keeping the same format as much as possible is edging closer to the ideal. 

I think it’s an exciting time for film. Although serious artists have always demanded it for their work, the fact that it is becoming the norm for amateurs to have film as part of their workflow means that film will hopefully remain a viable option for at least the foreseeable future. 

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Adapting to Change

Adapting to Change

Any time I upgrade to a new camera in the same system, there is a time of transition. I have to adapt to the camera’s design and features. Even the delay between depressing the shutter-release button and image capture requires a period of adjustment. When switching camera-makers, which I’ve done twice, the transition has been more challenging and required more time to understand and embrace.  

I had been using the Fujifilm X-series for over five years so I thought the transition to the GFX 100 would be relatively seamless. I had received it on loan for three weeks and looked forward to taking photographs with it. My eagerness was only magnified by the imagery and comments from other photographers who had already used it. 

The SLR-like design, the 104-megapixel sensor, and digitally optimized lenses held the promise of amazing results. On that count, the camera didn’t disappoint. What did surprise me was how the camera cast light on the way I worked, revealing some of my bad habits. 

Sloppy Assumptions 

The camera appeared large although it was surprisingly light at only 3.08 lb. For a traditional DSLR user, this might be negligible; however, since I had been using the X100F and XT3, it was still a noticeable bump up. 

Despite its increased mass, the camera felt comfortable in my hands whether oriented horizontally or vertically. The button and control layouts were similar to what I was accustomed to with other Fujifilm cameras, especially their menu system. There were some significant differences which included the top deck display and the way I controlled aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. However, I knew that in time I could adjust to such differences.  

Because of my familiarity with the Fujifilm system, I didn’t dedicate much time to reading the manual. I configured the base settings so that they were comparable to my existing cameras and immediately went out to take photographs.  

As I did, I expected the camera to behave in the way I was accustomed to, which didn’t always happen. Whether it was applying exposure compensation, changing a focal point or a metering mode, my lack of familiarity with the GFX 100 became a frustrating obstacle. It wasn’t that the camera was designed badly—it was rather that I expected it to behave differently from the way it was designed.  

Admittedly, my eagerness or more accurately, my impatience, resulted in numerous mistakes. The results were soft images due to camera shake, off-kilter compositions and other amateur missteps. The careful and thoughtful process that usually accompanied my picture-making was nowhere to be found in my initial forays with the camera. As excited as I was, I needed to get back to basics if I was going to leverage the power and the quality of the GFX 100.  

Getting Familiar 

Although I didn’t read the exhaustive camera manual, I familiarized myself with the key differences of controls and menu settings. This was especially important with the changing of exposure modes, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. The new top display and the small rear display at its base required a different way of negotiating the machine. I needed to become adept at not only changing those key settings but also recognizing where to look to confirm them in a pinch.  

I also adjusted how I handled the camera while shooting. It didn’t fit in my hand as the smaller Fujifilm models did and it was a mistake to expect it to. Although the camera was still comfortable to handle, the increased size of both the body and the sensor meant that the images were at greater risk of softness due to camera shake. Even with the GFX 100’s image-camera stabilization, I could still produce soft images by making basic mistakes such as using too slow a shutter speed or not holding the camera steady. As I’d learned over many years of photography, technology was never the remedy for sloppy technique.  

Although the DSLR styling made it reasonable to hand-hold, I needed to find the slowest shutter speed I could effectively use to produce sharp results. I often found that 1/250 second, which might have been satisfactory with a smaller camera, was risky with the GFX 100, especially after handling the camera during a long day of shooting. Image-stabilization helped but poor handling quickly defeated any advantage it provided. On a tripod, the camera delivered sharp results. So, it was easy to determine that the weakest link was me.  

As I acclimated to the camera, I saw a steady and consistent improvement in the quality of the images. As I printed 30×40 prints on the studio’s Epson printers, I recognized the strengths of the camera and my own weaknesses. Had the images been relegated to only what I saw on the LCD screen or a post on Instagram, I would never have seen them. But these big prints reflected what the camera was designed for.  

A Different Sensibility 

The camera was engineered with a DSLR aesthetic in mind but demands a medium-format or large-format sensibility when using it. It requires a slow and thoughtful photographic practice to leverage its full potential. It was a realization that developed with each week I worked with the camera. Unfortunately, the obligation to return it didn’t allow me to solidify that awareness as I would have liked over several months.  

Nevertheless, it taught me the importance of having respect for each new tool I use. It also reaffirmed the importance of being diligent about my own photographic practice, even with something as simple as how I handle a camera body.  

Thankfully, the head of the photo department was impressed enough with the camera to include at least one in this year’s budget. So, if I manage to wrangle it out of the hands of my co-workers, I will have the chance to develop that all-important workflow between myself and this amazing camera.  

Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, educator, and writer. He is also the host of The Candid Frame photography podcast which for 14 seasons has featured conversations with some of the world’s best established and emerging photographers. He has written hundreds of magazine articles and authored six books on the subject of photography including the most recent, Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow, published by Rocky Nook Press. 

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Fujifilm announced the new standard zoom lens – the GF45-100 F4 R LM OIS WR.

Fujifilm announced the new standard zoom lens – the GF45-100 F4 R LM OIS WR.

The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 36mm and 79mm. One of the most important features of this newly announced lens is “powerful 5-axis image stabilization, one super ED lens element, and a near-silent, high-speed autofocus motor.”

Here are the key features of this lens (quoting as per Fujifilm announcement): 

The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups, including three aspherical elements, one Super ED element and one ED element to effectively control spherical aberration, field curvature and chromatic aberration. This minimizes the negative effects of various forms of aberration, such as luminance shift and color bleeding, to deliver astonishing image sharpness.

Compact and lightweight large format standard zoom Weighing 2.2lb (1,005g), measuring 5.69in (144.5mm) long, and having a diameter of 3.66in (93mm), the lens is extremely portable and compact despite being a 2.2x zoomfor a large format camera system.

Fast, quiet and highly accurate AF. The use of an Internal Focusing system has minimized the size and weight of the focusing group, which is driven by a linear motor to achieve fast, quiet and highly accurate AF.

The lens is equipped with five stop image stabilization (CIPA guidelines), allowing photographers to make the most of the high-resolution sensors found in GFX System cameras, especially when making images hand-held. Highly robust design that withstands various shooting conditions.

The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens will be available in late February 2020, at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,299.95 USD and $2,999.99 CAD. 

For more information, please visit https://fujifilm-x.com/en-us/products/lenses/gf45-100mmf4-r-lm-ois-wr/

Fujifilm has announced development of new lenses for the GFX medium format system, including the fastest lens ever: the GF 80mm F/1.7 R.

Fujifilm has announced development of new lenses for the GFX medium format system, including the fastest lens ever: the GF 80mm F/1.7 R.

Fujifilm has announced development of two new lenses for the GFX medium format system.

FUJINON GF 30mm F3.5 R WR: A wide-angle, prime lens. This wide angle 30mm lens is an equivalent 24mm focal length in the 35mm film format.

Of course, the FUJINON GF 80mm F1.7 creates the most excitement among photographers. Fujifilm in its official statement says about the GF 80mm F1.7, “A unique, wide-aperture, standard lens. A standard 80mm lens with an equivalent focal length of 63mm in the 35mm film format, which is incredibly suitable for portraiture and making images in low-light conditions. This will be the lens with the widest aperture among GF lenses and be an incredible solution for portrait photographers who want beautiful, creamy bokeh with their GFX System Cameras. This compact and lightweight lens will have a wider angle of view than the highly popular GF110mmF2 R LM WR and deliver the same level of incredible image quality.”

The team at MediumFormat.com is in touch with Fujifilm and as soon as this lens become available, we will bring you more information.

The importance of the brand-new Hasselblad XCD 45P lens

The importance of the brand-new Hasselblad XCD 45P lens

The original Hasselblad X1D was the first mirrorless medium format camera on the market. But that wasn’t the only first. The X1D was also the first medium format system which was small and light enough to take outside the studio and be comfortable to travel with. Of course, the accompanying XCD lenses were also relativity compact, matching the X1D and enhancing its portability.

In fact, I remember when I had the original X1D, and now its successor the X1DII, in my hands I couldn’t believe it was medium format. As someone who travels and teaches photography around the world, portability and image quality are of great importance. I usually travel with one camera and one lens combo. 

Therefore, I believe that the latest lens release from Hasselblad—the XCD 45P—is an important and exciting development for Hasselblad users. 

This is why: 

First, the X1DII paired with the brand-new XCD 45P creates a small, light and portable combo, allowing those who seek medium format quality to travel and shoot medium format with a combo even smaller than some of the smallest full frame cameras. 

Second, the XCD 45P lens offers a 35 mm full frame equivalent, which is a perfect focal length for most types of photography and certainly for travel, urban, street and even environmental portrait photography. For years I have travelled and shot with the one camera, one lens combo (35 mm focal length) and I never felt the need for more. This combination is not only highly liberating, but it has improved my photography drastically. 

Third, in short, the image quality. Although there is plenty of grumbling online, especially in the context of medium format vs. full frame, those who appreciate the subtleties of medium format never look back. The tonal transitions, depth, flexibility of the files and so on are simply unmatched. Now with this new lens, Hasselblad shooters have it all in a small and portable package. 

Fourth, the light and portable X1DII plus the XCD 45P combo matched with the Phocus Mobile 2 gives a window into a very portable workflow solution. Although I haven’t had a chance to test it just yet, I will certainly report on my findings. 

 

Fifth, this may not appeal to the tech crowd but, personally, I find it is important. The X1DII paired with the XCD 45P lens is one of the most beautiful combos on the market. The camera feel, buttons and materials are among the best I have seen and the matching grey-titanium-like colour of the lens and the body proves an attractive match.  

Sixth, one of the most common misconceptions is that medium format is very expensive. I also used to think so. As I work with many photographers, we often take a look at all the money spent on cameras and lenses. We found most photographers use only one or two lenses and leave all the rest gathering dust. For many, especially those shooting with higher-end full frame or even APS-C systems, total spend on such hoarding could easily purchase the Hasselblad X1DII with the XCD 45P. In fact, the new lens cost just US$1099, less than some full frame counterparts. That brings the total for all you need to craft great photography in stunning medium format quality to $6,849. It is cheaper than some full frame Leica offerings without the lens. Keep in mind that the replacement cycle for medium format cameras is much, much longer than for other formats. Or in other words, how much did you spend on all the gear sitting on your shelves? This equation becomes even more appealing once you consider investing in a medium format camera on the second-hand market with the ability to add an excellent lens for just US$1,099.

In sum, the addition of the new Hasselblad XCD 45P lens has made the X1D system even more appealing to those who seek medium format image quality and portability. We are currently testing the X1DII and will give you some comprehensive imagery and a review of this new lens. 

If you are considering or are already shooting with medium format, make sure to join other medium formatters and subscribe to the Medium Format Magazine, the #1 publication dedicated to medium format photography. Subscribe now and gain access to the January edition and all previous issues. 

Choosing a Computer for Photography

Choosing a Computer for Photography

In Computer Storage for Photographers in the August 2019 issue of Medium Format Magazine, I covered storage. Here in December 2019, I cover choosing a computer for photography.

There are some pretty awesome computing options that have emerged in late 2019. While I use Apple Macs exclusively, this article discusses the various choices of CPU/GPU/etc in a way that will also be useful to non-Mac users.

The size of my images has been increasing, what with cameras up to 100 megapixels, but it boils down to simple math: pushing around 100 megapixels instead of 50 takes twice the time. What once was reasonably speedy starts to feel sluggish. Compounding the issue, with focus stacking (Sept 2019 issue) and image scaling (Oct 2019 issue), routine tasks can take 5 minutes to an hour.

I have done consulting for nearly a thousand clients over the past years about choosing and configuring a system for photography, I’ve honed my skills at getting them the best possible solution for their actual workflow, sometimes saving my clients thousands of dollars they would have thrown at the problem, and yet been of little or no benefit, or even been worse. The gist of that is captured here, but I advise throwing away assumptions when it comes to one’s own work—don’t assume, but measure/test if possible—that’s what I do in order to advise my clients properly.

Desktop or laptop, or laptop as a desktop?

My judgment is that Apple’s latest 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch model with 8-core CPU and 64GB memory can be a full-fledged desktop computer replacement, even for demanding users. That’s assuming for desktop usage the addition of a keyboard and mouse and external display (you can even close the lid and just use the external keyboard and display, pretending it really is a desktop computer). See my 2019-11-18 blog post at diglloyd.com for details: 2019 Apple MacBook Pro with 16″ Display: the Single Computer Solution At Last.

While desktop computers like the 2019 iMac 5K, iMac Pro and Mac Pro will outperform the 2019 MacBook Pro, meaningful differences will not be seen in real-world usage for 90% of the photographers out there (exceptions being when memory is a limiting factor).

Moreover, the convenience of a blazing fast 4TB or 8TB internal SSD is something no Apple desktop computer can match internally. An 8TB internal SSD along with 64GB memory and top-end GPU and 8-core CPU make the 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch a worthy desktop replacement and an outlandishly strong travel computer—and it has dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with four TB3 ports too! Plus its thermal management is greatly improved, so it can run under load without thermal throttling longer than any previous Apple laptop.

If you do settle on an Apple laptop, note that CPU, GPU, SSD and memory are all soldered-on, and thus cannot be upgraded. It is thus unwise to down-spec such a machine. If it is to be the sole computer with a 3+ year lifespan, the smart move is to max it out, with the only choice worth debating is a 4TB or 8TB internal SSD. But even that seems a dubious debate, as the hassle of having to add external SSD storage is not worth it, and will be slower no matter what.

For perspective, what drives my decision

Everyone has their own particulars. Here I discuss how my own workflow and habits rule out seemingly better solutions.

First, I do not plan on getting the extremely capable 2019 Mac Pro, because for travel in my Sprinter van it is just not a good fit: power hungry, requires a separate display, bulk. Because I do a lot on the road, the all-in-one form factor of the Apple iMac 5K is ideal, with fast setup and teardown a mandatory feature (I can set it up and have it booted up in under two minutes). That, and the Mac Pro is insanely expensive even without a display.

While it might at first thought seem appropriate for travel, I also do not plan on getting the very capable Apple 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch for travel. Its ergonomics are awful when used by itself, e.g., hunching over the built-in keyboard and screen. The screen is also too small for my work and my eyes too (presbyopia), so it still requires an external display, and that’s more setup/teardown hassle and desk space.

Thus for myself for those reasons and more, the only form factor that is viable for home and on the road in my van is the Apple iMac 5K form factor, which means the iMac 5K or iMac Pro. Were money not an issue, I’d have an Apple Mac Pro with Apple Pro Display XDR at home, plus the iMac 5K for van usage, using the OWC Thunderblade 8TB SSD for all my data between the two, but that total cost is prohibitive, and is a case of diminishing returns.

Components: the display, where pixel density is a tiny problem

Here I refer readers to two of my blog posts which cover this matter in detail. The key issue is pixel density and its ramifications for image assessment. Please see the articles Too-High Pixel Density on 5K and 8K Displays Impedes Image Assessment and 2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?, referenced on this page: https://diglloyd.com/computer+display

To cover it in a nutshell: when pixel density it very high (e.g., 220 dpi with Apple iMac 5K), it becomes difficult to assess image sharpness, how much sharpening to apply, etc. Accordingly, I still evaluate images on a 2560 X 1600 display with pixel density of 110 dpi. Viewing pleasure may drive the desire for a 5K or 6K display, but that is a distinctly different goal than image processing and assessment, or from choosing a display for its color accuracy and color management capabilities.

Components: CPU Cores

The 2019 MacBook Pro and the 2019 iMac 5K have all the performance in their 8-core CPUs that most photographers need. It is enough for me too, even though I’d like faster this and that now and again. Eight CPU cores should be considered a starting point—do not even consider 4-core or 6-core CPUs if performance is a key goal.

If you regularly do focus stacking as I do, the one thing I’d really like is a 16 core CPU (12 cores would suffice, and 24/28 would be fantastic). For image scaling with 16 CPU cores, even the fastest GPU might be put to shame with Gigapixel AI.

It is almost always the smart move to choose more CPU cores over some fancy GPU because CPU cores get used a lot more by imaging software these days and are far more general purpose.

Only the 2019 Mac Pro or iMac Pro qualify for the 10+ core CPUs, but you’ll pay a steep premium for high-core-count CPUs from Intel. So most of us will have to be content with 8 CPU cores.

Components: GPU

The GPU is increasingly used by imaging software, and it is a big help for things like image upscaling with Gigapixel AIAdobe Camera Raw Enhance Details, though most other Photoshopand Lightroom features hardly use the GPU. Capture One Pro also uses it. Video processing is a special case—I’m discussing still photography here. But if you get spendy on a fancy high-end external GPU expecting Photoshop to run batshit fast, you’ll be sorely disappointed— excepting a few special cases, Photoshop won’t run faster in any meaningful way. If those special cases are your thing then it might make sense, but few of us will be in that boat.

The 2019 iMac 5K and 2019 MacBook Pro both have solid GPU options that are plenty fast for the vast majority of photographers. The iMac Pro and Mac Pro move it up further. When buying, do move up from the base GPU to the next level, but if the cost escalates, spend your money on more CPU cores first unless you have a proven workflow case for the GPU.

Beware of external GPU (eGPU), which DO NOT WORK with some Macs (an Apple/Adobe API problem). While eGPUs are hyped, they are NOT a solution for most computing problems because they either do not get used at all, or their is marginal in the context of total task runtime. Indeed, if the Mac has a discrete GPU, then an eGPU is NEVER used by Photoshop (at least as I write this and until Apple and Adobe fix that).

Components: Memory

128GB Memory in my 2019 iMac 5K is Still Not Enough

A key boost for me when I got the 2019 iMac 5K was/is 128GB memory. That extra memory (vs 64GB) has really helped with multi-frame stitching, saving me gobs of time in some cases. The big speed win comes from Photoshop not having to swap things to and from disk.

While 128GB is a sweet spot for my needs, for most users 64GB is ample, so the 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch with 64GB is a strong solution for those who want the simplicity of a single machine for both home and travel. See my 2019-11-18 blog post at diglloyd.com: 2019 Apple MacBook Pro with 16″ Display: the Single Computer Solution At Last.

Components: internal SSD

A high performance system must have a very high speed SSD internally. That kind of speed lets CPUs and GPU have data when needed with minimum delay, lets the OS run a peak speed, etc. While Thunderbolt 3 can deliver about 2700 MB/sec, an internal SSD might hit 3400 MB/sec.

The smart move is to go with nothing less than a 2TB internal SSD, with 4TB strongly preferred given an assumed 3+ year lifespan of the computer—both capacity and resilience to wear.

In the Apple Mac lineup, the 2019 MacBook Pro can have up to a whopping 8TB internal SSD, whereas other models are limited to 2TB or 4TB. Consider carefully your storage capacity needs over a 3+ year timeframe; for example, were I going with the 2019 MacBook Pro as my sole computer, I would absolutely go with the 8TB SSD (all capacities are soldered onto the logic board, so there is no upgrading of any component, including the SSD).

Components: External I/O Speed and bandwidth

With adequate memory, I/O speed largely drops out of the picture when working in Photoshop or Lightroom, because images sit in memory and thus I/O is a blip in the overall context. For example, if it takes 0.4 seconds to read a Fujifilm GFX100 raw file off a fast hard drive (and much less on an SSD), it may still take 3-5 seconds for Photoshop or Lightroom to convert the raw file to usable form.

That said, Lightroom users will find it essential to store catalog on the fastest SSD on the system because Lightroom uses the drive for a lot more than just read raw files into memory. Ditto if the scratch drive(s) in Photoshop actually get used, or any use case where there is a lot of disk I/O.

Understanding Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth
About that Dual 6K Display Support on the Apple 2019 MacBook Pro 16″

Favor machines with at least two Thunderbolt 3 busses, all else being similar. This is critical if you intend to use an external 5K or 6K display—a 6K display will eat up 30 Gpbs of the write bandwidth available on the 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 bus. The other bus to which the display is not connected can thus run at full speed for high-speed I/O.

The 2019 Mac Pro rocks for Thunderbolt 3 busses and ports (with options). The 2019 MacBook Pro rocks in having dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with four ports. Ditto for the 2018 Mac mini, but its GPU is so slow that it is a very poor choice overall. The single Thunderbolt 3 bus of the 2019 iMac 5K (two ports) is a disappointing design, but for most photographic uses it will be of no concern.

Specific Macs

I’ve selected several Apple Mac products here to illustrate the foregoing points.

High performance desktop machine — 2019 iMac 5K

This beautiful display includes a powerful computer with it. Get the 8-core CPU, Radeon Pro Vega 48, 8GB memory configuration, then add 128GB from OWC to double the max RAM and save a ton of money (see my website), and the 2TB SSD (no larger option available).

The 2019 iMac 5K is my workhorse machine as I write this, and has been for 6 months. By far the fastest and most powerful Mac I have ever used. Its only real drawback is its single Thunderbolt 3 bus, which makes it undesirable for connecting an external 5K or 6K display, or lots of Thunderbolt 3 peripherals.

More info: https://macperformanceguide.com/2019+iMac+5K


2019 iMac 5K

High performance computer for travel and desktop — 2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch

Get the 2.4 GHz 8-core CPU, Radeon Pro 5500M, 64GB memory and 4TB or 8TB SSD.

Add a keyboard and mouse and external display for desktop use, because the ergonomics of a laptop are otherwise awful.


More info: https://macperformanceguide.com/2019+MacBook+Pro

2019 MacBook Pro 16-inch

2017 iMac Pro

A very fine machine with up to an 18-core CPU, but at the end of its lifecycle. For desktop users, I advise the Mac Pro instead, or waiting for a revised model.


More info: https://macperformanceguide.com/2017+iMac+Pro


2017 iMac Pro

2019 Mac Pro

Debuting in December 2019 or so as I write this. Total overkill for most photographers. Suitable for long-term aggressive usage with gobs of expansion possibility supported by its 1.4 kW power supply.
More info: https://macperformanceguide.com/2019+Mac+Pro

Conclusions

Computing power on the Apple side is really outstanding with four excellent choices even for those shooting at 100 megapixels. On the PC side, similar if not the same considerations apply.

Lloyd’s photography blog is found at diglloyd.com. You will find Lloyd’s monthly column “Metapixel” in the Medium Format Magazine where he writes about technical issues related to medium format photography.  

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