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Mac or PC? Choosing the Best Computer for Digital Photography

written by: Steve Graham•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011

This article will not end the long-raging Mac or PC debate, but it will hopefully answer some questions when choosing a Mac or PC as the best computer for digital photography.

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    Is Mac or PC the best operating system and the best computer for digital photography?

    The one line answer: Use the system you like and find the most comfortable.

    In recent years, industry changes have nullified many old arguments about the best computer for digital photography. Mac or PC articles that highlight the speed advantages of PC systems should be taken with a grain of salt. They were likely published before Apple switched to speedy Intel chips. Likewise, don't put too much faith in those "Mac or PC" ads touting the fun, easy design applications. Macs were once the standard for designers, but most software is available for both systems.

    Having said that, here are notes about the best computer for digital photography at each level of expertise.

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    Absolute beginners

    Say you just bought your first digital camera and you aren't all that comfortable with computers. In that case, it's fairly clear a Mac is the best computer for digital photography.

    Without downloading or buying any software, you can plug the camera into your USB port and automatically open your photos with iPhoto, part of the iLife suite of applications that comes packaged on every new Mac.

    On the other hand, PC users only have to download Picasa, a handy photo management program from Google. It performs most of iPhoto's functions with the notable exception of iPhoto's really easy, attractive slideshow options.

    The newer versions of iPhoto interface easily with Facebook and Flickr, putting it on par with Picasa in that department.

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    Taking the next step

    Now you have photos on your computer and you want to manipulate and email the photos or post them on the Web. To some degree, it's hard to strongly recommend a Mac or PC as the best computer for digital photography at this intermediate stage.

    Plenty of basic photography software is either Internet-based or easily available to download online for either a Mac or PC. Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for digital photography, and is available in very similar versions for either the Mac or PC. It started as a Mac program, which explains some of the lingering bias toward Mac in the digital imaging world. However, the program is now very similar on both platforms.

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    Mac or PC for professionals

    There is one important question for professionals choosing a Mac or PC as the best computer for digital photography: Are you printing photos, using them for high-end graphics packages or posting them on the Internet?

    Color rendering can be very different on a Mac, which can be good and bad. The color will look a little off on PCs, so be careful if you are posting Internet images or emailing photos that will be primarily viewed on PCs (i.e. pretty much all Internet images).

    On the other hand, many experts believe Mac color rendering more closely approximates print quality. Also, the graphic design industry is still largely Mac-based. If you work with advertising companies and other graphic designers, they likely use Macs. It will be easier to transfer files and interface with these companies on a Mac, and your images will look the same on your computer and in their shop.

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    Other important issues

    Some considerations on the best computer for digital photography are basically the same as any Mac or PC decision.

    The top issue for many buyers is cost. If you think the cheapest computer is the best computer for digital photography, go with a PC. The gap is closing, but Macs are still more expensive. On the other hand, Macs retain resale value better than PCs. Apple also somewhat makes up for the higher cost with customer service, security and native software.

    Take a Mac laptop out of the box and even without an Internet connection, you can upload photos, shoot and manipulate photos with the built-in camera, make movies, learn guitar, play DVDs and play chess (you don't have the Internet, so you have nothing better to do).

    Moreover, Apple customer service is renowned. Apple makes most of these native applications, so one call can handle questions about the machine, operating system and much of the software. The Mac geeks are even pretty good about troubleshooting other companies' software.

    If you live near an Apple store, it has plenty of geeks on hand to answer any question. Online and phone support at Apple also is fairly useful.

    Finally, in the Mac or PC security battle, Mac wins. The Mac operating system is less susceptible to viruses than Windows. The debate rages about the reason for the gap. Some attribute it to Apple's small market share, arguing it is not worth a hacker's time to attack a small percentage of computers. Others swear the operating system is simply more secure and no hacker has infiltrated its security walls.