Looking at this list, I am paradoxically full of joy having made these gear additions, yet I also recall the pains of creating without them. Many of these upgrades are niceties, others you could argue are absolute necessities depending on what you are doing, especially if you are running a business around using a camera. I always try to gauge the opportunity cost of making an investment and try to maximize value, so there is something on this list that is relevant for every reader.
Capture One Pro
Switching to Capture One Pro was perhaps the single greatest improvement I’ve seen in my image quality to date. Ok, switching from Canon to Nikon was pretty sweet when I did it, but kidding aside, the quality gains in exactly the same raw files processed in other software is incredible. Capture One Pro 10 can pull more information out of a raw files than I thought possible. I’ve repressed old photographs from Aperture 3 time and again, and before even making any adjustments to many of them, they look better in Capture One Pro. Dynamics range, clarity, color, all show marked improvement. This is a huge argument as to why you should maintain your raw files forever and not just hold onto JPEGs. The same is true for analog negatives as scanning technology continues to improve over time.
I’ve created a number of resources on the software, including one webinar with Capture One’s David Grover on image organization in COP10 which you can check out below.
Higher Capacity Memory Cards
Before I go anywhere with this, let me first say that I never put all of my eggs in one basket. All of my cameras have two card slots and are set to save images on both cards for a backup. A product of what was once affordable, I primarily used 8 and 16 GB cards and changed them out periodically before they filled up. I had to actively keep an eye on usage ahead of key moments at events and tethered a Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket Memory Card Carrier to my belt for pending swaps.
Over time, I started upgrading to 128 GB cards for all of my cameras as they went on sale and the benefits are many. For one, I don’t need to keep additional memory cards in my pocket in anticipation of filling the capacity. There are spare and backup memory cards that stay close by in my camera case. I lose zero time changing cards or having to mange which cards are filled as I’m working. The ingestion process is much simpler to manage and faster not needing to continuously swap out cards. Typically I have one card to import for each camera I used plus those from a second or third photographer working with me. Many times I’ll bring a MacBook Pro to jobs and start importing on site as I’m packing up gear. Because every image is backed up in camera, if a card does fail mid-shoot, and it has happened before, it’s not a big deal. I’ll change out both cards and start importing the working card as soon as possible.
Opting for a Faster Computer
This one always pains me to write and I need to take note of my own words here. Every machine and data storage device seems like a financial mistake after a few years, as Moore’s law continues to lay waste to old hardware. Having said that, we spend so much time on our technological devices and they’re arguably more central to creating than a camera in some regards. I have never once regretted making a computer upgrade in either entirety or in checking an extra dropdown box when placing the initial order. In the long run, you will never have too much processing power, too much data storage, too much RAM, screen size… than what you won’t eventually utilize.
That doesn't at all mean it’s cost effective to max out a machine and buy computer on every release. I include myself in this statement in that it does mean you should carefully weigh the options when upgrading a workstation. Don’t cut corners here. Buy a gently used or demo camera, lens, or a refurbished computer if you need to save on investment elsewhere to make it work. No one wants to spend more time in front of a computer working on a project than they have to, whether you are paid for your work or creating for yourself.
Call it old age, but having more screen real estate to work with is always a good thing. My primary monitor for years was a 20” Apple Cinema Display, and when I added a Dell P2715Q 27" Ultra HD 4K Monitor to my lineup, not only was image detail easier to see, it sped up my workflow. I didn't have to zoom in as often, nor did I need to resize or reposition windows within that workspace as frequently. If I have a client looking over my shoulder, the impact is much greater and the quality far more apparent. Sitting next to the 20" display, I have even more real estate for working on projects keeping other applications open.
You may have read my reviews of the Max and the Ultra, so I’ll keep this section brief. Adding the Platypod has opened the door for placing a camera in more unique locations as I work, including changing how I work. There have been many trips where a full a plate like the Max would have done the job of a full size tripod, saving a lot of space and weight. For a more in depth look, check out my reviews of the Max and Ultra.
To an extent, I’m still paying for my late switch to using a Wacom Tablet. I used Apple's Magic Trackpad for a long time, even for silhouetting images in Photoshop. I still feel more comfortable with a trackpad but the repetitive clicking takes a toll on wrists and isn’t as smooth of a workflow as having a stylus. I don’t navigate with it 100% of the time on my workstation but easily could, and practice makes perfect. I went with the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium and rarely take advantage of the full size platform. For my needs, the smaller version would have been perfect and taken up less desk space. For any fine retouching work, especially in product work, a tablet is an absolute must. The bourbon bottle example below required extremely precise touch ups for the lettering in both the bottle and reflection.
K-2S0 makes a perfect stylus holder for your workstation. In his own words, "I'll be there for you. Cassian said I had to."
Before you go shelling out your hard earned clams, keep in mind it's all about how you work and what you need in order to create. What items did I overlook? What equipment has made the biggest difference for you in your creativity?