There are many factors to consider when selecting a computer system for professional digital photography. What combination of factors matters to you will be derived from the needs of your digital workflow: what tasks your computer must perform, what applications and peripherals will best do those tasks and whether you must maximize efficiency, image quality or find a particular balance of both.
As a freelance photographer, and a trainer of other photographers, the requirements of my digital workflow are continually subject to change. As a photographer who shoots mostly RAW format photos, however, one workflow requirement always remains the same: I need speed. The processing of RAW photos is the most arduous and time-consuming task my computer has to perform. It also represents a significant bottleneck in any workflow that is trying to push the limits of both efficiency and image quality. In my work, a computer that can process RAW photos quickly is essential.
And that's what this report is about: RAW photo processing speed. Six different RAW processing applications, crunching files from 8 different digital SLR cameras, have been put through their paces on 4 different computers: two Macs running OS X 10.2.3, and two PC's running Windows XP Professional.
While RAW file processing speed is important, a computer needs to handle other intensive digital imaging tasks with aplomb too. Therefore, rounding out the cross-platform testing is single image and batch processing data for Photoshop, cataloging times for Extensis Portfolio and CompactFlash card to computer transfer rates. The multitasking mettle of 2 of the 4 computers is examined as well, in tests that combine Photoshop batch processing and RAW photo processing simultaneously.
The result is a collection of benchmarks designed to assist the professional digital photographer in determining which computer system and platform has sufficient processing oomph. Speed of processing is only one factor in the computer selection process, but it's a key one.