Apple vs PC: Lightroom Benchtests

Just stumbled onto a recent analysis of the current generation, top end iMac (2016) and an equivalent cost (~$4,000) custom built PC, pitched head-to-head in a selection of Lightroom tasks such as photo merges, importing files and on-the-fly thumbnail creation. You can read the full break down here, but the general gist probably shouldn’t come as any surprise: the PC won, categorically, across all tests.

To be clear, this was a relatively unscientific, simplistic set of tests that purely focused on the minimum time required to complete a task, but given that time wasted is arguably the greatest commonly felt issue with post processing, I also think it represents a valid and fair test. I would have liked to see basic system usage stats also recorded alongside, however, as it’s one thing to argue that the PC is faster, but if it’s also unusable whilst performing the task, personally, that would be more irritating. It also doesn’t look at multi-threading (another big time saver) or any similar multi-tasking, which I would be intrigued to analyse. I’d still predict that the PC would outperform the iMac on both counts, but I imagine the difference would be less drastic.

I’d also like to see a similar comparison run on more budget friendly models (although I imagine this would fare even worse for the Mac) and on similar laptops, the one category I would assume the Mac(book) to take the prize in. All that said, I’ll still argue that Mac’s are often a more useable tool for a photographer, simply due to the wealth of software available and build quality, however personally this article just highlights that they remain entirely too expensive an investment for the return.

Toshl Finance

Toshl is one of those weird little apps that, on paper, appear extremely useful but which I’ve never quite clicked with. On at least three separate occasions over the past year I’ve signed up for a free account, started setting it up, hit a road block and ultimately never returned. Every time, it goes like this: I’ll get an email regarding some new feature, think little of it and move on. Then, a couple of weeks later, I’ll decide I need to sort out my life and *bing*, up pops Toshl in my recent memory. “Perfect” I think, restart my account and… well, ultimately, remember some reason why the service isn’t right for me and abandon it again.

It happened again over the weekend. My partner and I are in the planning phase of a big holiday, unlike anything we’ve done together since officially entering “adulthood” and it’s becoming apparent that we’ll need to start budgeting and tracking our finances in order that we pull it all off. We were discussing this on Saturday when Toshl, obviously, popped into my head. It was only about a week ago that I got an email from them about some new feature (genuinely no idea what), so it seemed like fate. I fired up my account, set up a couple of payments, recorded all our monthly outgoings and began to get a decent overview of what we were spending money on. Recording every little purchase was a bit of a pain though, as it requires “adding” each one individually, which involves a number of dropdown boxes and deciding on stuff like categories (which didn’t always work: car, for example, should not be a “tag” or subgroup), and simply didn’t seem time effective. It was much quicker to create a Google Sheet, import our bank statements and quickly move cells around – plus we can both work on it simultaneously without having to share passwords, logins etc. However, this worked nicely in conjunction with Toshl, so was more of a speed bump than a roadblock.

As a result, it looked like I’d finally found a use for Toshl. The inbuilt calculators and setup, though a little fiddly, are genuinely great for recurring amounts of money (both in and out of accounts) and allowed us to quickly see how much it genuinely cost for us to live. Once set up, it was also easy to see break downs of what portion of our outgoings were flexible and which were not (e.g. taxes and rent). Excited and ready to start putting all this neatly sorted data to good use, I began setting up some savings pots. That’s when I hit the roadblock.

A free Toshl account can only have 2 “Accounts”, i.e. bank accounts, and 2 “Budgets”, which we were going to use as savings pots. Only two of the latter, however, was too little to even get a feel for how they worked. I do understand why companies restrict certain features and offer “Pro” or premium experiences at a cost, especially data heavy cloud services like Toshl. However, in this instance, the “free” version feels too much like a chore to actually use and restricts you from what I would consider its “core” feature: the ability to set and monitor savings targets.

So here we are again. My latest liaison with Toshl is already over and the account is now permanently closed. We moved over the monthly outgoing/incoming calculations to the spreadsheet, added some new functionality to mimic savings pots and everything’s working pretty great. Is our solution as shiny and well designed as Toshl? No, absolutely not. But it’s a lot more flexible, gives us exactly what we need and makes it very easy to expand upon, both from the perspective of functionality and the data being stored.

To be clear, this is definitely not meant as a take-down of Toshl, its services or methodology. I think it’s a genuinely good service and, especially outside of the US, is one of the best variants of this business model out there. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t do enough of what I want it to do and I’m not willing to spend extra money on something without finding it indispensable, which Toshl just doesn’t achieve. Oh well, maybe I’ll find another use for it in after another few months have passed.

Edge of Frustration

For about two years now I’ve become increasingly annoyed at my PC screen. The left-most edge has been “clipped”, missing about 2mm across all programs. I’m not sure when the issue first occurred, I just noticed it one day, so trouble shooting was a complete nightmare. Secretly, I theorised that a Windows Update screwed up some settings and resigned myself to live with it. It was annoying, but not massively problematic.

I hoped upgrading to Windows 10 would fix it, but lo!, the problem persisted. Frustrated, I re-installed graphics drivers, display drivers, nVidia’s programs; basically anything I could think of. I fiddled with resolution, changed all the settings on the monitors own control panel, rotated the screen, downloaded apps… no dice. Once again I gave up, defeated and bored.

Fast forward to two two days ago, when a friend introduced me to the browser based RTS/Risk analogue: Call of War. It’s a fun little game, running a freemium model with an active and friendly community (who are largely against using the “paid for” perks, which is nice) and a level of complexity I really wasn’t expecting*. Unfortunately, some of the menus are pretty thin and almost entirely disappear off the edge of my monitor!

As a result, this afternoon, I re-attempted a brute force attack to fix the display. I refreshed drivers, updated control panels, searched through dozens of Windows menus and eventually, thanks to a comment on this forum thread, I found my solution. Irritatingly, I’ve likely hit upon it before but not noticed, as it requires a specific combination of settings/refreshes. The culprit was not Windows, as it turns out, but nVidia, whose (normally very useful) Control Panel had scaled my screen based on their “Aspect ratio” setting. That, it turns out, was causing the issue. I hadn’t noticed it before because just turning the setting off doesn’t fix the issue, I also had to refresh my monitor directly. With that weird combo learned it took 30 seconds and snap! my screen popped back into it’s rightful place.

I guess there’s some moral here about not giving up, persevering or thinking outside the box, but you know what? I’m not bothered. My screen finally looks “right”, everything’s a little sharper, menus are no longer absent and I can’t help but feel the “call of war” (ahem). So, with technical issues defeated, I guess Central Africa is next on the list. Bring on the weekend!

* On that note, the provided tutorial and guides are fairly woeful, but the in game chat is a pretty good place to go if you have any questions.

Lightroom Resource List

Humurous graph outlining relative skill level of photographer compared to self worth
I’m definitely still in the first quartile…

My new PC is up and running and starting to be “just right” (we’ll get to further details later, I promise), so one of the big “new” things I’ve got for the new year is a subscription to Adobe CC – specifically the “Photographer” plan. I have previously mentioned worries regarding this plan; the insecurities of relying so much on software that you never truly own, but only “rent” for a given period. Ultimately though, I caved. Adobe still produces the best image editing software in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and although it’s been many years since I last truly used Lightroom I remain impressed by its suite of features.

That said, referring to myself as “rusty” is probably so overly-polite it’s borderline fictional when it comes to using both Lightroom and Photoshop. Not only have I taken a several-year absence, I haven’t had an “up-to-date” version of either program since CS3, so there are a lot of new features and “enhanced” (read: totally different) navigation options. As a result, I’m regarding myself as a total beginner and slowly compiling an Adobe 101. I’m also continuing my war against the easily forgotten, losable “bookmark”, so I figured I would just keep a rolling list going on here. With that said, here’s some links to tips/advice I’ve found useful so far:

7 Steps to Getting Organised in Lightroom ~ Layers Magazine
Understanding the Histogram (Basics) ~
JPEG Export Comparisons ~ Jeffrey Friedl
Virtual Copies ~ Laura Shoe
Focus Stacking ~ Phlearn
Noise Reduction ~ Daniel Laan (seriously awesome and includes other, non-LR tools for comparison)
Custom Metadata for Importing Photos ~ Digital Photography School
Local Adjustment Brush Settings ~ MCPactions
Colour Balancing Tips ~ Adobe Tutorials
Lightroom -> Photoshop -> Lightroom ~ Adobe Tutorials
10 Ways to Speed Up Lightroom ~ Lightroom Zen

And of course Adobe’s own tutorials page, which is really very impressive in both scope and detail: Official Lightroom Details (especially combined with their Coffee Break Tips series)

I’ve decided to add a couple of links for straight up photography as well:

Depth of Field Quick Guide ~ Aperture Tours
Composition Study ~
UK Image Copyright Laws ~
Photo metadata/IPTC explained ~ IPTC
Astrophotography Tutorials & Tips ~ sympathink