The Need for Speed

No time to prepare my usual travel post because I’m rebuilding my computer, using new technology with the aim of a very fast upgrade.  Here instead is a detailed article about that.  (For those not interested in this, my next post should be on St Martin/ Sint Maarten in the Caribbean.)

Asus Hyper M.2 x16 Card, Backup, Computer Upgrades, Computers, Equipment, Laptops, Motherboards, Photography

The super-fast tongue

(Panther Chameleon, Peyrieras Nature Reserve, Madagascar).

From the images I took, at 9 frames per second, I estimate the full extension of the tongue takes about 1/5th of a second.



With the sudden impact of the COVID-19 crisis, many people are looking to upgrade their PC, either for working from home or because they are now going to spend a lot of time there.  I am also going through this process, though both my cause and my objective is different.  I need to replace the motherboard of my PC and I am looking to upgrade my PC specifically for high-end photographic processing.

I have both Nikon and Fuji cameras.  My main Nikon camera is 47MP which produces very large files (52MP) and for either Nikon or Fuji I may perform computer-intensive operations to combine many exposures.  This can be for increased depth of field, extending tonal range, creating panoramas or some combination of those.  Processing infrared images and scanning film can also be demanding on resources.

Many of these operations I either was not performing or with much smaller files when I last upgraded my motherboard in late 2016.  Therefore I prefer to take account of these greater tasks and the possibility they may increase in the future in ways I now don’t anticipate.  I hope that if I have a more efficient computer I may be able to free up some of the time I now spend processing.

I’m writing this hoping that anyone can easily understand and that it will also be useful to people with detailed knowledge.  I’m definitely aiming at a high-end PC but I’ll also cover alternatives for people who have lesser financial resources or lesser processing needs.

I have already written an article on specifying Computers for Photography which is more general than this one and which contains links to other informative sites.  This article includes new technology that is not covered in any of those links.


Priority for Speed

My main objective is a search for processing speed.  As linked to in my earlier article, Image Science suggests that the order of priority for spending money on a computer is:

  1. Monitor and Calibrator
  2. Disks
  3. Fast Ram
  4. Video Card
  5. Processor
  6. Motherboard
  7. Case


Types of Hard Disks

I’m going to ignore the monitor and calibrator here (See information on that in the other article). The next priority is disks and the reason for that is that different types of disks and different combinations of them have very different speeds.

  • HDD or spinning disks are those big heavy things that have been around for decades. An example is the Western Digital (WD) Black, which you might use to store data.  Another example is the WD Blue (previously WD Green), which spins at 5400rpm instead of 7200rpm and is slower.
  • Next step up is SSDs, small and oblong but squarish, rather like a big USB stick for a different purpose. They are faster and more expensive than HDDs and these days many people use them as their C Drives or boot disks.  They can fit into an HDD drive slot with an adaptor, or they can have their own.
  • More recent are the M.2 SSDs which are long and thin and smaller than a “normal” SSD. They require a motherboard that supports them and have their own attachment points.
    • HDDs and ordinary SSDs are SATA disks (using the SATA standard for data flow). An M.2 SSD can also be a SATA disk in which case they have about the same speed and cost as a “normal” SSD.
    • SSDs can alternatively follow the PCIe standard. PCIe M.2 SSDs are more expensive than SATA SSDs and significantly faster.
  • As well as these different kinds of hard drives, your motherboard may allow you to combine groups of the same model and capacity of hard drive (in a RAID). This can be either for increased speed or increased security or both.  You’d use WD Reds for an HDD RAID because they have special reliability provisions.  Individually, they are the same speed as WD Blues.  For SSDs in a RAID, you don’t use a different model of SSD.  Let’s say we have four hard disks.  There are four different kinds of RAID.
    • RAID 0 writes to all disks simultaneously and appears as one disk. The four disks make it four times as fast as a single disk but if one disk fails, you lose all the data on the RAID.
    • RAID 1 appears as two disks but each of those virtual disks contains two disks, one of which has a copy of the other disk. You lose no data if a disk fails and the speed is the same as a single disk.
    • RAID 5 appears as one disk, simultaneously writes to three disks and uses one disk for data validation. You should able to recover your data if a disk fails.  It is three times faster than a single disk.
    • RAID 10 appears as one disk, simultaneously writes to two disks and uses two disks for data validation. You should able to recover your data if a disk fails and maybe also if two disks fail, depending on which ones.  It is twice as fast as a single disk.
    • Some people express concern about the reliability of RAID.  I think that has improved greatly over the last 10 years and it doesn’t concern me.  I do keep a spare disk though to swap in immediately in case one fails and I have a portable evaporative cooler in my study to reduce the risk of disk failure when it gets very hot, above 35ºC say.



The Hard Disk Race for Speed

So how do these disks compare for speed?  Let’s have a race to find out.


Asus Hyper M.2 x16 Card, Backup, Computer Upgrades, Computers, Equipment, Laptops, Motherboards, Photography

Serpent Column and Thurmose III’s Obelisk at Constantinople Hippodrome.


This is an image from the Hippodrome of Constantinople (ie it’s from Istanbul).  This is where they did their chariot racing, at least until Constantinople was occupied during the Second Crusade in 1202.  The first event of the ancient Greek Olympics is also believed to be a chariot race.  Chariot racing was the pinnacle of speed in the ancient world.

In the background is the Obelisk of Thutmose III, Pharaoh 1479-1425 BC.  It was brought to Constantinople in 390AD, and only the top third survives.  In the foreground is the Serpent Column.  This was originally erected in Delphi in 478 BC to commemorate the final defeat of the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea.  It originally had three serpent heads that supported a golden bowl but the bowl was lost or stolen during the Third Crusade and the heads fell off in 1700.  (The upper jaw of one remains in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum).  Both of these were on the Spina, or the ridge in the middle of the Hippodrome that the chariots raced around.

These days we have various kinds of football clubs (though currently inactive due to COVID-19).  The Hippodrome crowds divided into Blue and Green factions (and originally there were also Red and White).  They were also a bit like criminal gangs, and disputative to the extent of starting civil war.  The Constantinople Hippodrome was 750 metres long and 220 metres wide (including seating).  A lap was about a kilometre and a race was 7 laps, so the race was over 7 kilometres.  There were two very tight turns at the end of the track for each lap.  For the main races, the chariots were pulled by four horses.


And we’re off and racing!

The Hippodrome is U-shaped and the mouth of the U houses the starting bays.  We have six chariots lining up for the race, representing different hard disks.  We have a WD Blue HDD, a WD Black HDD, a 4 disk RAID 5 array of WD Red HDDs,  a Samsung 860 EVO SSD, a Samsung M.2 PCIe 970 EVO Plus SSD and a 4 disk RAID 0 array of Samsung M.2 PCIe 970 EVO Plus SSDs.

The 7 kilometre race is over in 8 minutes 25 seconds, won of course by the 4 disk Samsung M.2 PCIe 970 EVO Plus SSD RAID 0.  After all, it is a new chariot pulled by four strong horses.  In that time, the WD Blue has covered 90 metres.  I guess you can’t expect too much from a donkey and a cart.  In the same time, the WD Black covered 125 metres, the WD Red RAID 5 array 265 metres and the Samsung 860 Pro SSD 460 metres.  All of these have been lapped seven times and didn’t make the first turn, at 500 metres.  The single Samsung M.2 PCIe 970 EVO Plus SSD did better, completing one and three quarter laps, or 1,750 metres, and was lapped only six times.  (This is approximately the relative times but they will vary somewhat with different models).


Costs of Horses and Chariots (or Hard Drives in modern parlance)

Of course there’s a cost for better and more high tech chariots, quicker stronger horses and more accomplished charioteers, or in general, for increased performance.  If we take one terabyte disks as an example, a WD Blue HDD costs about $70, a WD Red HDD $95, a WD Black HDD $135,  a Samsung 860 EVO SSD $260 and a Samsung M.2 PCIe 970 EVO Plus SSD $350.  (Current prices in Australian dollars, though they may change quickly in these times).  There are always compromises but square wheels don’t help much in chariot races while only the generals can afford horses from the Arabian Peninsula.

So this is why disks are the most important component in computer speed these days.  The kind of disk you choose and whether you combine them can have a huge effect.


A more usual approach to a fast photographic PC

Now the normal approach to upgrading the motherboard for a reasonably fast photographic PC would be as follows:

  • You’d want a motherboard with DDR4 RAM and it would be good to have at least two M.2 PCIe ports.  There are lots of choices, one is an Asus Prime H370-A for around $200. It needs to be able to fit into your case though (This one is an ATX motherboard.  You can have micro ATX, ATX and extended ATX cases).
  • Then the CPU, though you really don’t need the fastest and most expensive CPU out.  You might get an Intel i7-9700 CPU, perhaps an i7-9700F for about $550.
  • You’d also need an appropriate CPU cooler from maybe $60 to $150.  (Also needs to fit in the case).
  • Then you might add say 32GB RAM from a good brand such as G.Skill or Corsair for between $230 and $300. (You could also get by with 16GB though 32GB is better for Lightroom and Photoshop).
  • You’ll also need a suitable graphics card but it doesn’t need to be a high end one, perhaps a GTX 1660 with 6GB memory for around $360.
  • Then you’d need to add hard disks which you might be able to transfer from your existing PC. With this motherboard you could add up to six SATA disks, which could include an SSD as a boot drive (C Drive).  Then you have two M.2 PCIe SSDs as fast processing drives.  Alternatively, don’t have the SSD and have one M.2 PCIe SSD as your boot drive and a larger one as your processing drive.


The approach I’ve taken

That’s not what I’ve done.  I’ve opted for seriously fast processing disks, including four M.2 PCIe SSDs combined in a RAID array.  This is the chariot and four horses that can blitz the field at the Hippodrome.  To do that I’m using an Asus Hyper M.2 x16 card.  You can see a detailed overview of it in this review (which has six pages, in case that’s not obvious).

– CPU, Motherboard and PCIe Card

Now the card is only $90.  That makes it sound like a cheap option and people have made that mistake but it has four ports and to use all four you need an expensive CPU and motherboard.  The slot on the motherboard that your graphics card goes in is called a PCIe slot.  Specifically, you need a CPU that supports at least 44 “PCIe lanes” so you can have your graphics card in the first full length PCIe slot and the Hyper M.2 x16 card in the second, working for all M.2 PCIe SSDs.  So in terms of Intel CPUs, neither an i7 9700 nor an i9 9900 fit the bill and I went for an i9 10900X ($1070).  For the motherboard I went for an Asus Prime X299-A II ($600).

– HDDs

On my current computer I have 6.7TB of data, including 6TB for images.  I have a 2TBx4 RAID 10 array which gives me 4TB of storage plus a 6TB WD Black and a 500GB M.2 PCIe SSD.  I currently store 2.9TB on the RAID 10 for images, 3.4TB on the WD Black for older images and other files, and 365GB on the M.2 SSD for the Lightroom Catalogue.  I also have a 256GB SSD for the boot drive.  Note that it is essential to have at least 10% free space on a drive and preferably 20% or it may become unreliable.

On the new computer, I can have up to 8 SATA drives.  Unlike the old PC, I can’t have single SATA drives as well as a SATA RAID, so I’m adding two WD Red 2TB drives that I already have to create a RAID 5, array using six 2TB drives giving 10TB of storage. This should survive a drive failing and I’m getting another 2TB WD Red so I can swap it in if that happens.  The single 6TB WD Black will now be surplus.

– M.2 PCIe SSDs

On the new computer, I can also have up to three M.2 PCIe SSDs on the motherboard, plus the Asus card gives me another four M.2 PCIe SSDs.  I can also combine the M.2 PCIe SSDs on the Asus card in a RAID array using Intel Virtual RAID from CPU or VROC.  So I’ll have four 500GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSDs on the card in a RAID 0 array, plus a separate 970 EVO Plus and also my current 960 EVO in motherboard slots.  I’ll use the separate 970 EVO Plus SSD for the Lightroom Catalogue, while the 960 EVO will now become the boot disk.

RAID 0 gives a very fast drive but if any of the component SSDs fall over, I lose all the data. This may be a bridge too far for some people but here is why I am comfortable with it.

  1. I have everything backed up to a local Drobo and to the Cloud.  The Drobo is a black box of drives connected to the PC while for my Cloud backup I use CrashPlan though for most people BackBlaze would be sufficient.  For more on backup see my article Backup for Photographers.
  2. I will have a copy of the RAID 0 images on the SATA RAID 5 drive.  For both Lightroom and Capture One, I save changes to the catalogue rather than to sidecar files and I don’t intend to store my catalogues on the RAID 0.  So to see those images and changes, I could simply point the catalogue to the SATA RAID 5 drive.  The only files I would need to restore from backup would be JPEGs and TIFFs I export from Capture One to Lightroom, and TIFFs I have generated in other programs such as Photoshop, Zerene Stacker, Autopano Giga or SNS-HDR.
  3. The SSDs have a 5 year warranty so failures should be infrequent.  In the event of a failure I can swap in the 970 EVO Plus SSD from the motherboard or should be able to buy one locally the same day.
  4. When I regenerate the RAID 0 it would be quite quick to repopulate it.  I would start by copying the images from the RAID 5 drive (which as an internal RAID drive operates faster than from backup), then restore other files from local or Cloud backup.


There is also an option for people with older PCs to add an Asus Hyper M.2 x16 card to get an M.2 slot even where the motherboard doesn’t already have one.  Your CPU won’t support a VROC RAID but depending on your CPU and the PCIe lanes on your motherboard, the card will show one or two M.2 SSDs, though not the full four.


Asus Hyper M.2 x16 Card, Backup, Computer Upgrades, Computers, Equipment, Laptops, Motherboards, Photography

Iceland Farmhouse uploading to The Cloud.


Intel, AMD and Complications

My preference would be to go for RAID 5 rather than RAID 0 on the Asus card. You could then replace a disk if one fails without losing data, at the cost of some loss of speed.  However, Intel make things unnecessarily complex and expensive and seem to want to make you purchase an additional hardware key, which is a dongle you plug into the motherboard.  Only Intel SSDs will work at RAID 0 without the key and if you want RAID 5 with Intel SSDs, you need an Intel Key that costs $200.  The Samsung SSDs have a reputation of being faster and more reliable than Intel ones.  However, you also need a standard hardware key for RAID 0 ($170) or a premium one for RAID 5 ($400).

AMD motherboards don’t have this problem, you don’t need to pay extra for the RAID, so I checked out an AMD alternative, specifically an Asus Prime X399-A motherboard ($460) and an AMD Threadripper 2920X CPU ($800) which is quite a bit cheaper than the Intel alternative.  The problem for me, mainly for my SATA RAID requirement, is that even though you don’t need a hardware key, they only support RAID 0, 1 and 10 and not RAID 5.  I guess I could have gone that way but I would have had to buy a new set of larger disks for a SATA HDD RAID 10 array which may have ended up costing more than the Intel option.


Concluding Comments

The prices I cite above are what I find at the current time.  Where they will go remains to be seen.  In the short term, the decline of the Australian dollar should see prices rise significantly.  Conversely, the effects of a potential World Depression are anyone’s guess and supply might become a problem for some components.  In the normal course of events, technology bounds along and prices get cheaper after a year or two.  That may be delayed.

You can buy an off the shelf PC or get a custom one.  I choose to specify a custom one myself and get a commercial person to install the components.  If specifying components yourself, as well as reading all manufacturer specs and the manual, it is a good idea to consult the Qualified Vendor List (QVL) to make sure the components are compatible.  However, if we go to full lockdown, it may be difficult to get installation service or even to get delivery of parts.

I don’t claim to be an expert, I just investigate what seems to be appropriate, do my research and follow my own path.  I’m also not responsible for what you may encounter if you follow my example.  Not many people would need a PC like this one, it all depends on your processing requirements and your budget.  What you already have may be quite sufficient.

Given that many of us are now facing an enforced period at home, some of you may be considering upgrading your PC.  Also consider my earlier article, Computers for Photography which is more general and contains useful links.

Feel free to make comments or ask questions, though, to which I will respond to the best of my abilities.



Appendix 1: About computers


Appendix 2:  Lessons of my upgrade history

My PC is ten years old but all that’s left of the original build is the case, the power supply and a couple of CD drives.

Original spec January 2010:

  • Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard
  • Intel i7-965 chip
  • Gigabyte PCIE 2.0 GTS250 (x2) video cards (not in SLI; one for each monitor)
  • 12GB DDR3 RAM, 1600mhz
  • 80GB Intel X25-M SSD for C Drive
  • WD 1TB Caviar Black
    • 4 for RAID 5 array
    • 1 for additional disk (Photoshop cache, etc)
  • Silverstone FT02 case
  • Silverstone Strider Plus (ST1000-P) 1000W power
  • CD/ DVD Player x2

The RAM failed at some stage and I replaced it with 24GB (6x4GB) DDR3 Corsair Vengeance 1600MHz

October 2014: replaced Intel SSD with Samsung 850 Pro 256GB as the Intel SSD had become too small

January 2015:  Lost two HDD in the RAID 5 and one in the Drobo within a week when temperature was very hot (>35ºC)

  • Lost all data on the RAID 5
  • Replaced WD Blacks in the RAID5 with 2TB WD Reds for a four HDD RAID 10 array
  • Installed a portable evaporative cooler in my study to keep it cool on hot days (the house one ineffective there)
  • Restored the Drobo easily enough and recovered data but discovered a hole in my backups not covered by my next-line remote HDDs.  Could not recover all files.
  • Some time later worked out how to recover the lost files from 1:1 Lightroom previews using a Lightroom plugin by Jeffry Friedl.

December 2016:  My CPU melted down, due I was told to faulty installation of the CPU cooler.  Needed to replace it and my motherboard.  Replacement included these components:

  • Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7 motherboard
  • Intel i7-6700K 4.0GHz CPU
  • Gigabyte (NVIDIA) GTX 1060 3GB Graphics Card
  • G.Skill Ripjaws V 32GB (8GBx4) DDR4 2133 RAM
  • Samsung 500GB 960 EVO M.2 SSD

June 2017:  Subscribed to CrashPlan for Cloud backup.  Stayed with it when it moved to CrashPlan for Small Business

March 2020:  System working fine but replacing motherboard because it is no longer compatible with RAID due to Intel software change.  Also M.2 SSD seems incompatible with critical Windows 10 upgrade, probably associated with Intel RAID software change. New motherboard and components as above.

  • If you’re specifying components for yourself it’s important to drill down in the details of each component in the Manufacturer’s site to make sure they are compatible.
  • I was initially going to specify two 32GB kits to get to 64GB RAM but discovered this is not a good idea.  Both motherboard and memory manufacturers warn against it.  For example, I discovered a blog post by the Technical Marketing Manager of Asus who says that 80% or people who do this have problems and most vendors don’t know to advise against it.  (Perhaps that’s why my first lot of RAM failed some years ago.)  So I went for a single 64GB kit.
  • I’ve purchased Samsung M.2 PCIe SSDs that may not work in the Asus Hyper M.2 x16 card without a Hardware Key dongle.

Early April 2020:

  • My new PC is up and running but I still have some work to do.
  • I have a fresh install of Windows so I have to reinstall all my software, which will take a while
    • That was a mistake on my part.  My backup program Acronis has a capacity to restore a computer image to different hardware but I omitted to set that up.
    • I have seen people advocate fresh installs of Windows, so maybe it’s a good idea anyway..
  • As a matter of priority I’ve backed up a system image and created a boot USB.
  • When I went to create the SATA RAID I discovered that what Asus call a RAID 5 is actually a RAID 5E.  This means it has two reserve drives rather than one, which is fine, but means I need a extra drive to get my required disk space.  Then I’ll need to restore all the data to them, which may take a day or two.
  • Most user reviews I read (though not all) suggested that non-Intel SSDs will work at RAID 0 on the Asus card without a hardware key, so I didn’t order one.  However, that didn’t work and also the SSDs are not working properly on the card as individual drives.  Onlt two of the four are available for formatting as drives.  So I’ll exchange them for Intel ones, which hopefully should work fine.
  • Most online user comments I found (maybe 90%) also suggested that the Qualified Vendors List (QVL) is just a list of components the manufacturer has tested and other choices are probably fine.  I went for a 64GB memory kit that was on the QVL, but it’s only giving me 32GB.  I’ll exchange it since it is on the QVL.  In the meantime the 32GB RAM from my old motherboard works although it is not on the QVL and is at the minimum spec for the motherboard.
  • So, it’s a complex process and sometimes a bit slow but with the prospect of useful results.

What do you need for Printing?

I am back from Ladakh but not yet ready to start posting on the trip.  In the meantime, I will post technical articles I have already published for the Canberra Photographic Society Blog:

  • Computers for Photography
  • Why Print?
  • What do you need for Printing?
  • How to Print
  • Lightroom Previews and Getting Lightroom to Fly
  • New Auto Changes in Lightroom
  • Backup for Photographers

Following this, I will start posting on the trip to Ladakh, then the Atacama (2015), then the Caribbean (2016).


What do you need for Printing?

In this post we will cover the following topics:

  • Fume Room
  • Camera
  • Computer
  • Monitor and colorimeter
  • Software
  • Lighting
  • Printer
  • Ink
  • Paper
  • Cost of printing
  • Matting
  • What to do with the prints


Fume Room

The chemical darkroom is essentially out of scope for this series, though you could potentially pick up say a second hand Mamiya RB67, compatible enlarger and accessories quite cheaply.  Printing from film in a darkroom is likely to actually work out much cheaper than a digital workflow, even with film costs, but also much more difficult and much more time-consuming.



Printing requires you have an image.  Creating an image usually requires that you have a camera.  So how good a camera do you need?  Do you need say a Nikon D850 with a professional lens for example?  Well, let me answer this at first by example.  The following image is of Selfoss in Iceland and it won a 5 (out of 5) in a monthly competition last year.  It was taken with a good camera – Nikon D3s and a good lens (85mm f1.4) but I discovered later there had been a problem.  I had been grappling with the settings of the camera while it was inside a raincover a week or two earlier in Greenland and hadn’t realised that instead of the usual 16MP RAW files, I had it set to save 2.8MP TIFF files.  After cropping the size of the file was 2.2MP.


_13S5354 .

Admittedly, my choice of paper helped.  I printed it on a matte paper which has a texture and less resolution.  I don’t think a glossy paper would have worked.   But what this shows if you can have sufficient inspiration and skill and get to the right place at the right time,  the camera doesn’t matter very much, at least as long as you understand the limitations of the camera and operate within them.



I’m not going to say much about computers because I just wrote an article about purchasing one.  You need something with enough RAM to process your files and enough disk space to store them.  It helps if it does something when you turn it on.


Monitor and Colorimeter

Having a good monitor makes a big difference and having it well profiled is almost essential for printing.  You can get away without that but you are likely to lose a lot of time in testing, you may find it difficult to achieve accurate colour and it may end up costing you more.  I’m not going to say much about monitors because I covered that in the Computers post.   NEC and Eizo make the best monitors; anything else is a compromise though no doubt a necessary compromise for many.  It is an advantage to have a monitor with an aRBG gamut (Adobe RGB) rather than an sRGB gamut because you will be able to more accurately see the colours of an image for printing.

Profiling the monitor is important because if we are not seeing accurate colour, we will find it difficult to print accurate colour.  Whether a monitor looks good anyway is besides the point.  Our eyes are very good at making lighting sources as different as daylight and tungsten light (old-style lightbulbs) appear normal.  Consequently, we can’t expect our eyes alone to adjust monitors.

To profile your minotaur monitor you need a colorimeter and the best one is the XRite Display Pro (at around $300).  Be wary of cheap options or old colorimeters as they may not be accurate, they may not allow important adjustments and they may not work well if you have a wide gamut monitor.  Some may wish to generate their own paper profiles with say an X-Rite ColorMunki Photo but this is optional; it probably won’t make much difference and profiling your monitor is the really important thing here.



There are many software choices for editing images and printing them.  If you have a profiled monitor though, what makes a big difference in printing is using a program you can soft proof with.  That means you can simulate how your print wil appear, on your screen.  It’s not perfect but it can be very helpful.  Photoshop is an option but these days most people use Lightroom which is a very powerful program that is also very easy to use.

These days, you can pay $14 per month for perpetually up-to-date versions of both Lightroom and Photoshop.  This is very good value compared to what prices used to be though if you stop paying you can no longer use the programs to modify your images (though you can still access the images).    There are many instructional videos for Lightroom and Photoshop on the web, such as those of Julianne Kost.  There are also comprehensive sets of videos on Luminous Landscape for both Lightroom and printing if you are willing to pay their subscription of $US12 per year.



Ideally, the room you process your images in should have dim consistent lighting and be neutral in colour.  If you are in a room with bright purple walls, it will affect your colour perceptions of your images on screen (as well as possibly your state of mind).  Preferably, you should also wear neutral clothing for the same reason.

Once you have generated a print, you need a neutral light source to assess it.  This can be sunlight, although its colour temperature changes throughout the day and may differ between direct sunlight and shadow.  Ordinary lightbulbs of whatever type are problematic, even if they are labelled “daylight”, unless you are printing for that specific light source.

The best light source for proofing is Solux bulbs, which are very accurate, and most people prefer a colour temperature around 5,000°K.  The problem is that they are MR16 bulbs – in other words they have two little round prongs like the small round lights that may be in your kitchen ceiling and they take low voltage direct current rather than 240V DC.  Fine if you can get them installed like your kitchen lights.  Alternatively, you could use a Graflite fluorescent desk light which is almost as good though the larger one, more suitable for A3+ prints, costs $300 (at Imagescience).

There is a way around this, if you’re adventurous enough.  From a local store such as Southside Lighting, you get an ordinary lamp and also a small inline transformer that converts from 240volt DC to a small direct current suitable for MR16 bulbs.  You get an electrician to insert the transformer in the lamp’s electrical line before the switch.  Now it’s no good for ordinary bulbs anymore.  Next, you order online a B22 (large bayonet) to MR16 converter or a E27 (large screw) to MR16 converter depending on your lamp fitting.  These are not available in a shop because they don’t meet Australian safety standards since someone might use them with an MR16 bulb without a transformer and effectively cause a short circuit.  When this arrives, you put the Solux bulb on it, insert it in the lamp and you now have a colour accurate light source for printing.



The choice for a photographic printer is likely to come down to different models of Epson inkjet printers.

It’s possible to print a photograph with a laser printer but it won’t handle the range of media that inkjet printers can, the colours and densities won’t be at all accurate unless you profile it yourself and even then it’s not likely to produce the quality of an inkjet printer.

Canon and HP still produce ranges of very large printers for the professional market, but HP has dropped out of the consumer market and Canon has a fairly low profile.  In any case, I’m not familiar with Canon printers and will confine my comments to Epson.

Here are some likely choices:

  • P800 (A2 printer): $1,900+: Excellent quality colour and monochrome images.
  • P600 (A3+ printer): $1,300+: Excellent quality colour and monochrome images.
  • P405 (A3+ printer): $900+:  Excellent quality colour but not as good for monochrome due to smaller ink set.
  • Artisan 1430 (A3+): $350+: Uses dye-based inks rather than pigment-based inks.  Probably excellent quality for colour images on glossy and semigloss paper.  May not be so good on matte and may not be very suitable for monochrome.  Will have higher ink cost due to small cartridges.



If you have an Epson printer, you should definitely use Epson ink.  You can get very cheap third party ink but that doesn’t mean it’s good value.  Such inks can kill your printer.  Also, you may need to get custom paper profiles which otherwise are not really necessary.



These days there is a bewildering variety of papers available.  At least initially, just have one or two and get to understand them.  If two, perhaps a semigloss paper and a matte.  Maybe try a few test packs to help decide.  Glossy and semigloss papers show brighter colours and deeper blacks than matte papers so they are suitable for different kinds of images.  Matte papers can give a subtler effect for lower contrast images.

If you want a first paper to start with on a new printer, perhaps Ilford Smooth Pearl is a good and relatively economical place to start.  It is suitable for both printers that use dye-based and pigment-based inks.  You need to be careful if you have a dye-based printer that you purchase suitable papers, not ones for pigment ink printers only.


Cost of Printing

You can of course print A4 prints but for purposes of a cost comparison, let’s say you decide to print for yourself and enter A3+ prints in CPS competitions for a year.  That’s sixteen A3+ prints in monthly competitions, two in Image of the Year, say four for Out There exhibition and five A4 prints for the Hedda Morrison portfolio competition.   That’s 22 A3+ prints and 5 A4, equivalent to around 24.5 A3+ prints.  We will not consider here what other prints you may generate.

An article by Mark Segal suggests ink costs of around $2 for an A3+ print from an Epson 3800 printer.  This should be about the same for a P800 or a P600 (the current models).  Say you’re printing Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, that will cost about $3.30 per A3+ sheet.  Assuming 25% for testing and wastage, that makes about $7.50 per A3+ print. That’s about $180 for printing costs for a competition year.

Getting Harvey Norman to make the same prints would cost $410 but they would have to be on a cheaper paper and lower quality and the paper sizes are slightly smaller.  Next step up, getting Bica to print them would cost $588 for “Premium Prints” and $1,031 for “Custom Prints” (and for A3 rather than A3+).  Next step up, getting Stephen Best to print them will cost $1,005 plus postage, or picking up from PhotoAccess on a Thursday or Friday, or trips to Braidwood.

I recently sold my Epson 3880 printer for $550 (to upgrade to a P800).  I had bought it six years ago for $1900.  My overall printing cost for that period was equivalent to getting prints made by Harvey Norman at much lesser quality and much less convenience.  I saved 60% (or $3,700) over getting custom prints made by Bica or Stephen Best.   So, buying a printer can pay off as long as you’re going to use it.



Prints in CPS competitions are usually matted.  It helps if you print in standard sizes because then you can reuse the matte for other prints.  Unlike prints, there is no particular reason to produce your own mattes; it’s a question of convenience and cost. There are three approaches you can take:

  • You can get some cut. Last time I did this it cost $15 each, but that’s a few years ago and it may be more now.
  • You can take the cheap option and use a Stanley knife for straight edges and a Dexter matte cutter for bevelled edges. Entirely possible but slow and painstaking.
  • If you will be cutting a fair few mattes, you may consider a “proper” matte cutter such as those from FrameCo.

Just briefly, if you are matting a print to permanently mount in a frame, you should use archival matte board and archival tape (from a specialist retailer) and hang the print from the top edge only so it can move in the frame.


What to do with the prints

A question some people ask is “what do you do with the prints?”.  Well, to some extent, this may not be the right place to start.  If you want to produce some outstanding prints that are truly yours because you printed them, you have to work at it.  The prints you produce after a few years may be greatly improved and you will have needed to produce the earlier ones to get there.

You can of course hang some on your walls and rotate them.  You may be able to give some away as presents.  In this case you need to be sure it really is your best work (probably no point even holding on to seconds) and also that other people really will appreciate them.  The Society competitions help to give you a good feel for that.  Similarly, you might like to send some prints to people you met while travelling.  You might want to hold an exhibition at some stage, when you feel you really understand your craft and have something to say.  You might even try selling some though that’s easier said than done and certainly extremely difficult to generate a significant income flow from fine art prints.

You can store them in the old boxes that the paper came in (or special boxes for the same purpose) or you can get special transparent envelopes to store them in.  I have also found album folios that can store 48 A3+ prints.  This is a very convenient way to show your prints to guests.


Why Print?

I am back from Ladakh but not yet ready to start posting on the trip.  In the meantime, I will post technical articles I have already published for the Canberra Photographic Society Blog:

  • Computers for Photography
  • Why Print?
  • What do you need for Printing?
  • How to Print
  • Lightroom Previews and Getting Lightroom to Fly
  • New Auto Changes in Lightroom
  • Backup for Photographers

Following this, I will start posting on the trip to Ladakh, then the Atacama (2015), then the Caribbean (2016).


Why Print?

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on printing:

  1. Why Print?
  2. What do you need for Printing?
  3. How to Print

These days when we are deluged with digital images and creating them is so readily available, why even bother to print? The short answer is that printing is an important learning tool that will help you to grow as a photographer and an artist.


Ansel Adams 1902–1984: “The Tetons and the Snake River”, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942. Vintage signed print. National Archives Unrestricted.

(Click for larger image).

There is a sale record for this print on Christie’s auction site. There is also a short article on some of their prints for auction and a brief video about Ansell Adams.


More often than not, a print will win Image of the Night in our Canberra Photographic Society monthly competitions, even when there are more digital images than prints. This is because a successful print has a special presence. It’s a tangible thing, a finished object, something with texture as well as tonality. In creating it, the process of closely examining an image, fine-tuning it and optimising it for a print will also show you a lot about your work that you might miss in merely preparing digital images.

OK, so you want to enter some prints in Society competitions or just generate some for your own purposes – so the next question is “Should you print them yourself?”. I believe the answer to that question should be Yes!. In short, it’s your best route to quality, it will probably work out cheaper and the final print will be all your own work.

You can of course get your images printed and there are many reasons to do this. It might be more economic if you make few prints, you don’t have a suitable printer, you may want a larger print than your printer can make or your printer may have died. There are many print competitions for which you submit digital images and then if you are a finalist they will print your work. Canberra Photographic Society competitions also allow commercially printed entries.

However, if you make your own prints, you should easily be able to get better results than a cheap commercial printer (such as Big W or Harvey Norman) and after a while you should also be able to get better results than a custom printer. This is because only you can understand your artistic vision and for that matter, making your own prints will help to develop it. While some prints may pop right out from screen through printer to print in completely satisfactory form, others may require considerable time and effort to optimise.

And I think the most compelling reason to do your own printing is that otherwise it’s not really your own work.

Former President Brian Rope told me a story that illustrates this from a more general perspective. Ostensibly, all that is required for an image to be yours (including a print) is that you pressed the shutter button on the camera. Some time ago, a photographic competition in China received a number of identical images from different people. It turns out they had all been to the same workshop. The convenor of the workshop had set up his camera on a tripod, carefully composed the image and made all the required technical settings. The attendees of the workshop all went through, put their cards in the camera and pressed the shutter button. Those entries were all disqualified from the competition of course. They might have pressed the shutter button but apart from that it was not their work.

In the Canberra Photographic Society we believe in freedom of information, assisting anyone who requests it and working cooperatively. Even so, ultimately I believe that everyone has to take responsibility for their own work, specifically the technical and artistic aspects that require an exercise of skill. There’s definitely skill in printing, both technical and artistic, and these skills are definitely worth picking up and exercising.

In summary:

  • Printing is an important part of Photography
  • Learning it and practicing it will help you to grow as a photographer and an artist
  • Printing your own prints should lead to better quality than a commercial print
  • You can probably make prints more cheaply than cheap commercial prints (details next post)
  • If you want it to really be your own work, you should print it yourself.

Any value judgements expressed above are entirely my own. Feel free to discuss any issues or ask any questions in the comments below.

Computers for Photography

I am back from Ladakh but not yet ready to start posting on the trip.  In the meantime, I will post technical articles I have already published for the Canberra Photographic Society Blog:

Following this, I will start posting on the trip to Ladakh, then the Atacama (2015), then the Caribbean (2016).

Later technical articles:


Computers for Photography

Unless you are shooting film and printing in a darkroom, you’re likely to need a computer to deal with and process your images. If you’re looking at purchasing one for photography, there are several things to consider:

  • Monitor
    • Colorimeter for profiling
    • Graphics cards
  • Computer
    • RAM
    • Storage
      • SSD or conventional
    • Chip
    • Software
  • Laptops
    • External drives
  • Backup
    • External hard drive or NAS
    • Software

So let’s consider each of these in turn, both from the point of view of a cheaper alternative and what’s the best you can have.




It’s better to have at least a reasonable quality monitor. If your monitor is too cheap or too old, it may not be capable of showing accurate colour. The main monitor types are TN and IPS. It is better to go for an IPS rather than a TN monitor because the appearance of TN monitors changes according to viewing angle and therefore may not show you an accurate picture of your image.

Another choice is “normal” gamut (sRGB) or “wide” gamut (aRGB). Wide gamut monitors are especially valuable for printing bceause you can fairly accurately simulate on screen the colours and densities of a printed image.

Another level of choice is resolution. The ultra high resolution 4K monitors have a resolution of something like 3840×2160 instead of 1900×1200. Photographic quality ones can be very expensive. You will also need an expensive graphics card to drive it. You will get amazing resolution and excellent colour but you may have problems with some software. For example, the Nik software suite may not work well on 4K because Google is not maintaining or updating it. You also need good eyesight or the extra resolution may be wasted.

Use them if you have to, but cheap monitors will not give you accurate colour and tonality. The best monitors are NEC and Eizo. NEC is pretty much as good as Eizo at a much lower price. However, NEC monitors are now unfortunately out of contention because NEC Australia has a new policy that it won’t replace monitors with up to 8 dead pixels (2 bright, 6 dark). So this leaves only Eizo for the highest quality monitors.

Fortunately there is a new player on the field -BenQ. While not as good as the Eizos they are still photographic quality at a much lower price.

Prices from Image Science are as followed, wide gamut unless otherwise indicated (you may be able to get a bit cheaper on the web):

  • 24″: $1,400 (Eizo CS2420) or $760 (Eizo EV2455, standard gamut)
  • 27″: $1,900 (Eizo CS2730) or $1,300 (BenQ PV270) or $1,000 (BenQ SW2700PT, previous model, uniformity not as good)
  • 31″ 4K: $7,500 (Eizo CG318) or $2,000 (BenQ SW320) or $1,900 (BenQ PV3200PT, previous model)

Here is an article from ImageScience on buying monitors.

If your budget is more limited, the choices are more complex because it is a question of how much you are willing to pay and how far you are willing to compromise and there is a multitude of choices out there.

Articles from Image Science:


A good colorimeter is almost essential, especially for printing. Your eyes can adjust to see both daylight and tungsten light as normal so they are not good tools to adjust monitors, so you should use a good colorimeter to calibrate and profile your monitor. The best colorimeter is the X-Rite i1 Display Pro. (Online prices start from just under $300).


If you have an old computer and it works for you then it works for you. You might get more life out of it with more RAM but then new computers are cheaper than they used to be. If you are considering a new one:

  • Generally you would want at least 16GB RAM though you may get away with less.
  • The CPU is not so critical as long as it’s not too old and slow. You don’t really need a state of the art gaming chip.
  • These days, it’s better (and faster) to boot up off an SSD rather than a spinning drive. (An SSD or Solid State Drive is like a larger version of a flash drive or an SD card). SSDs are getting cheaper and you might even choose to go for a second SSD for your Photoshop scratch file and Lightroom catalogue.
  • Your graphics card can also be relevant as with many graphics cards you can enable GPU processing to speed up the display and transformation of an image on the screen.
  • Your motherboard is relevant as it will determine what generation of chip your system can support and whet you can plug in. For example, the newer M.2 generation of SSDs is much faster provided you have a board that supports them. The current generation of architecture is based on the Kaby Lake chip.

For ultimate performance, you may want a custom PC. You could either build this yourself or get someone to build it for you. In Canberra, this might be MSY (don’t expect salesmanship and demonstration from them; you need to know what you want first).

Here are some guides to a custom PC:

And here is a couple of guides if you are in the market for a Mac:

Another thing to consider is storage. It depends partly on how many images you delete and how large the image files are from your camera, but it is common in the digital age to need lots of space for image storage. SSDs may take over in due course because they are faster and probably more reliable but that’s still some way off so for most storage we still rely on spinning disks.

Larger spinning disks are now available. You would want a 7200rpm drive rather than the 5400rpm ones which are more suited to backup and Western Digital Black drives now go up to 6TB. If that is not enough storage you could combine several drives in a RAID array. This can both speed up operations and give some protection against disk failure. Your motherboard and operating system would need to support the size of drive or type of RAID you might want.

One last thing that may be worth considering is a UPS or Universal Power Supply that will protect your PC against power spikes and enable you to save your work in the event of a loss of power.

(I will consider printers in a separate article).


There is a huge variety of laptops available in all sorts of different configurations. For most photographers the main purpose of laptops is for travelling. For some, the sole purpose is storing images in which case RAM and screen resolution are not so important. Others want a machine they can process images on in available time while they travel. RAM and screen resolution then become much more important. In either case, USB 3 inputs will make a big difference in speed of importing images. So will SSD hard drives. It is possible these days to purchase a laptop with a 4K screen, 32GB RAM and a 1TB SSD hard drive though such machines are not yet readily available in Australian retail outlets and will not be cheap.

The alternative to a travel laptop is lots of SD or CF cards but this may not be practical on a longer trip.

This page from Puget Systems shows what might be possible with a very highly specified custom laptop though at 3.4kg this is a desktop replacement unit rather than one for travel. (Click the [Customise] button for specification options).


It is common for people to be sanguine about backup until the first time their computer goes down and they lose lots of files. Ideally you should have two or three backups and one should be stored offsite in case of fire or other disaster. These could be single external drives or you could use a NAS, which combines multiple hard drives in a RAID array and which you may specify for access from a home network.

If you rely on SD cards or CF cards while travelling, you may not have your images backed up and would therefore be at risk of losing them. If using a laptop while travelling, you should also be backing up to external disks. External SSDs are a much lighter option than conventional drives and can readily fit in a pocket. They are still more expensive but becoming more affordable.

To backup files you need backup software which can be Windows (which I admit I haven’t tried for this purpose), a third party product such as Acronis, or possibly software that comes with your hard drive.

It can also happen that your C Drive crashes or gets a virus. To cover for such an event you should make a system rescue disk so you can still boot up your PC from it, and save a system image so you can quickly get back your C Drive in a functional state.


A technical post for a change:  links to recent Canberra Photographic Society articles.

My focus was a three-part series on printing.  Since that included considering equipment, I first considered options for a computer for photographic processing.


Black and White, Canberra Photographic Society, Colour Management, Computers, Epson, Laptops, Lightroom, Monitors, Photography, Printing, Soft Proofing






Feel free to make any comments…


(I have completed the Reunion posts; Madagascar posts follow next).