Aperture On Location

by James Duncan Davidson

I've been asked many times recently what my equipment setup looks like behind the scenes when I shoot a conference, such as last week's Web 2.0 Summit. I've been able to take a few people backstage and show them in person, but that doesn't scale. Luckily, photos do. Here's what my setup looked like last week:

Photo Workstation

It's not pretty, but it served as my office away from my office for a few days. What you see here is:

  • My trusty 17" MacBook Pro maxed out with 2GB of RAM (alas, it's not the new Core 2 Duo version).

  • An external 21" LCD monitor provided by the show staff so that I can be a bit more efficient.

  • A Lexar Pro high speed FireWire CompactFlash card reader.

  • A Monaco calibration puck hiding underneath the external display. This lets me calibrate any device I run across into usuable shape.

  • A 100GB FireWire hard drive hidden behind my Mac Book Pro that serves as a backup device.

  • A list of all the speakers. The Web 2.0 list was especially nice as it had photos of all the speakers so that I could better match names to faces.

What do I wish I my out-of-office workspace was powered by? Simple answer: A full tilt MacPro loaded up with 4GB of RAM or so, a fast video card, and a 23" or 30" Cinema display. That would really help out. It'd probably increase my productivity by a fairly significant amount. But, that's still a dream for the future. To pull it off will require a bit of research into travel cases and the like. For now, it's "Have Laptop, Will Travel".

I hope you enjoyed the peek behind the curtain. Now, it's your turn. If you're a road-warrior photographer, what does your on-the-road setup look like? Please use the comments to share some links to photos.


Daniel Elessedil Kjeserud
2006-11-13 05:05:34
Being a very amateurish amateur it's basically MacBook Pro + Camera and cables. I love articles like these btw :) Good work!
Richard Earney
2006-11-13 05:58:40
One thing I recommend on the road, is the new Delkin Express Card CF Reader. It is extremely fast especially when coupled with the SanDisk Extreme IV cards.
Kit Frost
2006-11-13 08:01:48
When I take students out in the field for Chase the Light Photography Workshops, I use my trusty Wallstreet Powerbook (1999 can you believe it) I've maxed out the RAM and upgraded the HD to 80GB. We upload digital photos using a pcmcia CF card adapter. We review right on the site, whether that is in a Canyon in Utah or up in the Mountains of Colorado. While we review, the camera batteries are charging using a 50watt solar panel and battery.
Glenn Wolsey
2006-11-13 08:23:27
When I'm on the road I take my MacBook with my for photo editing.
2006-11-13 09:09:36
Interesting to see you use your main disk as the aperture library. I have the identical setup and have noticed i get better disk performance if i use a external firewire device.

Example: This evening i shot a story about underage drinking here in Bangkok and ended up with about 100 images (unsorted). With them being edited in the field, directly on the 17" MBPro, I noticed a massive amount of time in generating previews and applying basic corrections such as colour/white balance.

When i moved the archive over to my lacie FW drive, the whole experience was more enjoyable.

I no longer use my MBPro disk as the Aperture library as it's too damn slow (no matter what marketing person at Apple says, disk I/O with Aperture can kill any laptops they have)

2006-11-13 10:27:05
Hi Daniel, I was wondering two things. How much memory do you have in your 17" MBPro, and what speed internal harddrive do you use. 5400rpm or 7200rpm? Also.. what is the speed on the external drive.
James, what are the specs on your laptop? we know you have 2Gigs of RAM. what is you internal HD speed?
Knowing this might help others decide how to configure their laptops... is this option or that option worth the difference in price. In my opinion, the first step is to max out RAM. MacOSX really shines when you throw more RAM at it.
2006-11-13 11:15:40
2gb ram, 5400 rpm disk. This was the defacto standard MBpro offered at the time. Whilst the merits of the 7200rpm will pop up in conversation, I have tested them both out and found little, or no, noticable difference in I/O (the new perpendicular 160gb from Hitachi could make a difference in this respect)

Disk is a lacie lego brick on the fw400 port on a standard 80gb 5400rpm drive.

The issue isnt the drive, its the architecture of the mbpro itself. The problem seems to be a bottleneck when dealing with files over 50mb (I shoot canon 1dmkIIn/1ds and a hasselblad H1 with leaf back), the OS X kernel needs some kind of flash buffer inbetween the disk layer and the presentation layer to combat this bottleneck.

I've been a early user of Aperture and seen it improve with each release, but one thing will always let laptop users feel slow and thats the way the OS X kernel interacts with the disks (the slowest part of any modern hardware today)

Richard Earney
2006-11-13 12:07:24
Well with the MBP you could get an eSATA external disk and an Express Card - the throughput is huge.

I'll stop mentioning Express Cards now ;)

2006-11-14 16:43:05
Richard I am very interested in seeing if the eSATA disk on the express card port is faster, maybe O'reilly could do a comparison *hint *hint *wink *wink

failing that, i'll try and source one here in Bangkok and do it myself, would anyone be interested in seeing the results?

James Duncan Davidson
2006-11-14 20:28:16
Thanks all for the great comments!

Kit: Yes, I'd like to try that card reader as well as the new SanDisk. This Lexar Pro is really speedy compared to the ones I've had before tho. And, unfortunatly, most of the time in importing a card is in Aperture--not in the read itself. Hopefully they can shift this about at some point.

Daniel and Richard: I've got an external SATA disk array that I sometimes take with me and connect via an ExpressCard. I didn't have it hooked up at Web 2.0 tho because this was a new laptop and, well, I'd forgotten the driver disks. Oops. By the time I'd communicated with FirmTek to get a driver via email, the show was over. The difference of getting things out onto a SATA disk is noticeable. One of these days, I'll try with a FW800 drive as it would be a bit more portable than the SATA setup.

Jose: It's a 5400 RPM 120GB drive. The CPU is a 2.16 Core Duo. It has 2GB of RAM. I'd be happy if I could get 4GB of RAM in the new MBP Core 2 Duo, but.. 3 is better than 2. I had a 7200RPM drive on a 15" MBP before this machine and don't notice day-to-day performance differences. But I didn't benchmark the two either.