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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Location laptop for photographers

As anyone who has read this Blog will know - yes, both of you - I'm a reluctant Blogger at best and am never to sure what to write about. Why anybody would be interested in me, I have no idea and I'm not that egotistical or insecure that I need affirmation from others.

This is different though. I have finally found something that I would like to share. While it's not earth-shattering, I do believe that I have found the Holy Grail, for me, anyway. Lugging computers around on location is an absolute pain, and also absolutely vital. I've tried numerous and different combinations of gear and always had too much, or too little - until now.

Two months ago I started the search for the perfect location laptop for the way that I work. I have a lovely Sony with an 18.5" screen and a fully calibrated monitor that's just too big to be as versatile as I need on location. I shoot tethered infrequently and rarely have a client looking over my shoulder at the capture, so the Sony was overkill and took up a lot of valuable, carry-on luggage space. On the bottom end I have a little Asus R2 Ultra Mobile PC, the predecessor of Netbooks. It has a useless 7" screen and is completely underpowered. However, it has a bunch of USB ports and I could attach a card reader and two external drives and securely copy my work as I went along. Not entirely satisfactory, but I had redundant copies of the work, which was the most important thing.

When the iPad came out, like many others I had high hopes that were dashed because of its lack of USB ports and the lack of ability to attach peripheral drives - partially remedied by the Hyperdrive unit, but not totally satisfactorily. I have an iPad version of the Hyperdrive and like it, but I use it for on-the-fly backup prior to my nightly back up to a laptop. I consider it to be another backup of my backup and carry it in a separate place to my other drives, just in case.

So, I went in search of something in the middle of what I already own - just what I need, more gear! After a long search of every manufacturer that I could find, who was also credible and had a firm reputation, I settled on the Fujitsu TH1000, a Laptop and Tablet convertible, responsive to both fingers and stylus. While it only has an 12.5" screen,it is big enough for Lightroom. To compensate for the i3 processor, I put in a 250 Gig solid state drive that is lightning fast. The 4 Gigs of RAM are more than sufficient and Windows 7 makes full use of it all.

Here are the key factors that sold me on this unit: four USB ports and an Express Card slot that I can put a card in that accepts two eSATA connections. The DVD drive pops out to make room for an additional battery module with which I get a solid 8 hours of use from. It has an internal SD card slot which I use as a 32 Gig Cache drive to speed up Lightroom - keeping the C drive as clear as possible is very important if you want Lightroom to be responsive and as fast as possible.

I didn't put Photoshop on this machine because I don't do any post production work while still on location and I want lots of free space on that C drive. Lightroom is so fully featured now it's all I need until I get back home.

I attach two Seagate Go Flex Pro drives with eSATA, the Pro units are 7200 RPM and worth the extra. Lightroom doesn't use a lot of RAM, but it sure likes fast drives and an eSATA connection. If I'm being really paranoid, I make an addiitonal copy on my Guardian Maximus Mini - a RAID 1 storage unit using 2.5" drives, from OWC - highly recommended and quite inexpensive for what they are.

My main criteria was small, very portable, multi-functional, long battery life, flexibility of use and lots or ports, and I got it all. However, dressed up as I finally did it doubled the initial price, so it isn't a cheap machine, but it's the most flexible and usefully compact thing I could find, without any major compromises.

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