My New Digital Darkroom – Sony Vaio VPCL137FX

Remember the days when you just loaded film into your 35mm camera, took a series of photographs, and then took the film to the drugstore to have it sent off for processing?  Remember the anticipation you felt when you picked up the pictures, not knowing whether or not you had managed to capture that shot just the way you saw it?  Remember the disappointment when you saw blurry, blown-out, or too-dark images, knowing that you would never be able to recapture that moment?

Fortunately, the advent of digital cameras, especially digital SLR’s, have eliminated much of that potential for disaster. Any digital camera with a decent LCD display will allow you to instantly view your shots, especially if you use the zoom function to check the finer details.  Histograms provide instant feedback on exposure issues.  And since you can delete those shots that are obviously duds, you can continue to shoot until you memory card is full.

But then what?  Most digital camera users will simply upload their photos to their computer, maybe publish them to Facebook, or just take the memory card out of the camera and put it in a drawer somewhere.  A few might use some simple image editing software to remove red-eye or add a frame around the shot.  And for those types of tasks, just about any computer will do.

But once you start getting serious (or at least avidly interested) in digital image processing, you start to realize that serious processing requires some serious computing power.  If you’re shooting photographs in RAW format, or even fine JPG, the file sizes become huge.  When you start to combine multiple RAW images for HDR processing, the computer’s speed and processing power become an issue.  And there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to produce that perfect image on a computer that can’t handle the demands of high-power image editing software.

Since I got back into photography this year, I’ve been using my three-year-old Sony Vaio laptop.  While it’s a decent machine for most tasks, I had already had issues with it overheating, so I had to keep it plugged in to a cooling tray whenever it was running.  When I started using Photomatix and PaintShop Pro X3 to process my photos, the poor thing would first slow to a crawl, and then eventually lock up.  Sometimes when I would try to open files in Photomatix, the software would just simply close.  In addition, the small screen size on the laptop didn’t give me the detail that I needed to see in order to judge the quality of the work I was doing.

My new digital darkroom

And so, last weekend, I bit the bullet and bought a new computer.  I thought long and hard about switching to a Mac, but decided against it and went instead with the new Sony Vaio VPCL137FX All-in-One Touchscreen.  It’s a beautiful machine with some serious processing power.  Consider these specs:

  • Intel® Core™ 2 Quad Q8400S (2.66GHz) processor
  • Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit operating system
  • 24″ Full HD Touch LCD
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1TB (7200rpm) HDD
  • Blu-ray player
  • NVIDIA® graphics (1GB VRAM)
  • HDMI™ in
  • TV tuner

I bought the machine on Friday night, and then spent all day Saturday and Sunday getting it set up.  This involved installing and testing software, copying my large music library from the laptop, organizing and copying photo files (fortunately most of my photos are archived to an external hard drive so it wasn’t a huge chore to deal with the files on the laptop hard drive), and getting the TV tuner setup.  The machine has built-in wireless, but I elected to use the ethernet connection to get a little faster speed.  And since the modem/router and the TV cable are in the next room, I had Andy install a “pass-through” in the wall to allow connection to ethernet and cable TV.

It’s amazing to me just how fast this machine boots up and performs backups and processing tasks.  Now I’m anxious to get out there with my camera and get a whole new series of RAW files to really put this baby through its paces.  And the next step will be to upgrade my processing software–I may even make that leap from Paintshop Pro X3 to Photoshop….we’ll see!

What software do you use for your photo processing workflow?  What would you recommend for my next software purchase?

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