Posted by: kerryl29 | November 7, 2022

The Ancillary Costs

Please indulge me for a moment while I complain about something endemic to photography: the expense. Pretty much everything about photography, at least the way I like to partake in it, is expensive. The equipment is expensive. The associated travel is expensive. And so are the ancillary costs associated with the “developmental’ (read: processing) aspects of digital photography. The software and hardware involved with fleshing out the digital darkroom certainly can be expensive as well.

Fog & Sun, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

What has inspired this rant? Recently, while out of town, I was informed that my image-editing desktop computer was failing to boot properly and, shortly thereafter, was failing to turn on at all. Long story short, the motherboard has died. Now, this computer was nearly 10 years old–ancient, in computer terms–so it really didn’t owe me anything, but it was a sad bit of news to learn nonetheless.

Prairie Afternoon Black & White, Union County, New Mexico

If you’re wondering what I’m doing with a (nearly) ten-year-old computer, see the first paragraph of this post. When I purchased this unit, in the spring of 2013, it had fairly high-end specs. That was intentional, as I intended to keep it for a long time. I don’t know that I anticipated using it for quite this long, but given how costly a high(ish) end computer is, I certainly wasn’t planning to replace it in short order.

East Side Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

In truth, I started noodling about a possible upgrade almost three years ago. At the time, I was starting to see some modest performance issues–not signs of hardware failure, simply indications of incremental resource limitations. Given the age of the system–it was already pushing seven years at that point–a memory upgrade seemed insufficient. Right around the time that I started to seriously consider whether I should upgrade, the pandemic hit and, shortly thereafter, the computer chip shortage pushed prices through the roof. As a result, I mothballed the idea of upgrading. I could wait out the performance issues, I felt. Sooner or later prices would fall and I’d take the plunge.

Bear Creek Nature Trail, Mississippi River State Park, Arkansas

For a variety of reasons I needn’t get into, I procrastinated about upgrading. And then, poof! (Or perhaps more accurately, “splat.”) The computer is now dead as a door nail. This will make the transition to a new system more difficult than it otherwise would be. And it’s still going to cost some real cash to get a replacement. On the rare occasions when I make these system transitions (did I mention that it’s been almost 10 years? yes?), I try to future-proof things to an extent, so that I don’t have to repeat the unpleasant process any time soon. And there’s an initial cost to that. (The alternative has always struck me as being penny-wise, pound-foolish.)

Aspen Glory, Coleman Picnic Area, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

Additionally, for reasons I won’t get into at the moment that have nothing directly to do with the computer failure but will keep me away from my home base for most of the next few months, I won’t be in a position to receive or set up a new system any time soon. As a result, this issue won’t be resolved for the foreseeable future. The bad part of that? I can’t do any image processing work at all. The good part? I get to keep my wallet in my pocket for a bit longer. I don’t think the tradeoff is worth it, but that’s the way it goes.

Fall Color Intimate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
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Responses

  1. I think it is planned by computer companies for items to be obsolete in 5 years. I compare it to drug dealers getting their clients hooked on drugs in order to make money. I have a refurbished tower and monitor is probably a decade old. I also purchased an alternate drive since storage on my computer is so small. I do less processing than I used to and am in the dark ages when it comes to new fads like Nik, Topaz and things like photostacking. I know people in my photo club are always buying new cameras, lenses, programs, on and on. There are certain times of year when electronics are on sale, and I would take advantage. It is a pleasant experience to read your blog and peruse the photos at the same time. Good medicine while dealing with the money side of things.

    • Thanks, Jane. We’ll see how this goes. I’m in the process of pricing a replacement system that will be at least relatively future-proofed (as I like to avoid upgrading for as long as possible…obviously). It’s not going to be cheap.

  2. We have talked about this before. Nothing about our hobby is inexpensive (though there can be more cost-effective approaches). I think that you got 10 years out of your desktop is pretty impressive. I replaced my 7-year old, about a year ago. When I had purchased it, it was relatively high-spec. By the time I replaced it, its limitations had shown up. It has a good OS and the motherboard was still fine. But I had reached the physical limits for ram, and to upgrade to the newest OS iteration (I am a Windows user v. Apple). Without going to a custom build, there are limits to what one can purchase for our purposes these days. I have been pretty satisfied (used them for multiple business machines and a few home desktops over the years). But they have (like their competitors) changed their business model over the years and the ability to pick and choose modular components is much more limited. As a hobby user, I just could not justify the expense of a custom build. So I had to compromise and bought another HP.

    These days, the so-called “gaming” setups seem to be the closest to what I wanted. Using the cloud based, Photoshop, that meant I wanted a pretty high-end, dedicated video card, as much ram as possible and at least a quad-core processor. Add a couple large capacity HD’s (I am using Solid State these days), and you have some serious out of pocket, even at this (I think) more cost-effective approach (vs. custom).

    I run two monitors on my system and for years they were unmatched. It has always bothered me and I could see (even after calibration) that they didn’t really color-match. So, in for a dollar …….. I also purchased two matched 27″ monitors. I think I was in around $1,500 for that whole deal (used my existing keyboard and mouse, and other accessories). When you consider the cost of our lenses and other equipment, I guess that’s neither unreasonable, nor unexpected. Back in the day, you bought a body or lens and expected to use it for a long time – maybe life. But in recent years, like computers, bodies and lenses have become something we can expect to replace over time (due to new technology).

    BTW, though I do all my serious PP work on my desktop setup, I do carry an inexpensive HP laptop on extended photo-trips, and if my setup died, I would still be able to do some work – though it wouldn’t be as satisfactory as the desktop.

    Let us know what you eventually settle on when you have the time to attend to it 🙂

    • HI Andy, thanks for weighing in–much appreciated.

      The system that just expired was a custom build, and the replacement is likely to be as well, for two reasons. First, while I’m not going to cozy right up to the “bleeding edge,” I do want something that will be future-proofed to some degree. That means something relatively high end and it’s my distinct impression that, when you start to push beyond most base off-the-rack configurations, any cost-savings are mitigated if not eliminated completely. (My early research into this new system appears to bear out that assumption.) The second reason is that all of the pre-configured builds I’ve seen so far use relatively cheap components. As my (nearly) 10 years with the current computer illustrates, I don’t like to upgrade very often. 🙂 And no system is stronger than its weakest link.

      I run two monitors on my desktop as well, but the second monitor is utilized merely as a placeholder (e.g. tool palettes for Photoshop, etc.), nothing that requires critical color matching. (I don’t even bother calibrating the secondary monitor.)

      I push my processing workflow pretty hard. I’m using Raw files from a 45 MP camera and I’m frequently converting five of them (or more) at a time. I do a lot of faux (and some true) HDR work as well, and that’s almost always pushing at least five large TIFFs at a time–and occasionally 7-9. Then there’s the focus stacking work. I do not use internal drives for long-term image file storage; all of that is housed permanently on a matched series of externals.

      So, I’m currently looking at a configuration that includes a 16-core CPU, 64 GB off RAM (DDR5) and a pair of internal SSDs (one for programs, one for on-the-fly data storage for extended editing sessions). Video card would have 8 GB of RAM. This is NOT going to be cheap, but amortized over years (another 10? I can hope, right?), it doesn’t seem nearly as outrageous.

      I carry my laptop with me on photo trips, but only to help with storage/backup until I can do a full-fledged backup open returning home. I can’t imagine trying to do any meaningful editing work on it, partly due to resource limitations and partly due to the (comparatively) poor display of a laptop screen.

      I’ll certainly plan to report back once the purchase has been made and I’ve had a chance to assess the performance boost I will have received (which I’m counting on being substantial; an order of magnitude or more would be nice. 🙂 ).

  3. Gorgeous!

  4. Kerry,
    Very nice selection of images for this post, although I found that the beauty of the images really softened your “rant.” Not sure whether that was your intent…

    I can certainly empathize with your frustration at not being able to resolve your desktop situation promptly. I would HATE to be without a desktop with serious processing power for more than a few days.

    Yes, everything associated with photography is expensive. On the other hand, how many avocations don’t come with associated expenses? You take photography seriously and invest a lot of time and effort — and it shows (the images in this post are a great example). As part of striving for the best possible outcome, you choose to have the best possible tools and that always costs more than going the low-cost route with its associated compromises. I feel the same way — to my wife’s chagrin.

    Now… what will we do when the mythical Z8 is released?…

    Steve

    • Thanks, Steve.

      If the images softened the rant…that’s fine.

      Yeah, this has already been unpleasant, not having access to a processing-capable computer. I only managed to get a third (or so) into the editing of this fall’s Minnesota imagery before the motherboard died, so I’m going to have to wait quite some time to finish that project up. It’s unfortunate, but it can’t be helped.

      I agree with your point about expense and avocations, but there’s costly and then there’s COSTLY. And photography definitely falls into the COSTLY category. I only begrudge the issue to a point. (If it was a deal breaker then…well, the deal would be broken. And since I’m still doing this–figuring out exactly how I’m going to rectify the situation–the deal obviously hasn’t been broken.) And if your point is that pursuing photography the way I do is apparently important enough to weather the incumbent expense…you’re correct, and it’s a very astute point that you’ve made. (Might well be worth a blog entry….)

      As for the Z8…assuming Nikon ever produces and releases it…I doubt it will move the needle for me. One of the ways I can justify–to myself, at least–the “outrageous” cost of all this equipment is that I don’t replace it very often. 10 years for the computer, 9 years for the D800E, more like 14 years for the F-mount lens set that I was using with the camera, etc. I have more than enough resolution with the Z7ii (I’d be perfectly fine with less, quite honestly), the so-called AF shortcomings are more or less entirely irrelevant to me. At this point, given the incremental nature of improvements in cameras these days, I think the only things that Nikon could do to even get me interested in a Z8 would be to “fix” the focus stacking feature (in the way I outlined in a previous post.:

      A Focus Stacking Rant and What it Says about Today’s Camera World

      That, and moving the accessory port so that it doesn’t mess with the L-bracket (https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2021/03/22/the-moral-of-the-story/) are by far my biggest wishes re a camera upgrade. Since I expect none of this to be addressed, I’ll keep using what I have for…oh, probably at least ten years or so. 🙂

  5. Beautiful images. I am very sorry about your technological difficulties. I hope when it comes time to upgrade you find a good system at a fair price. Good luck!

    • Thanks very much!

  6. Considering the quality of your output, I can understand investing a lot of money for upkeep. Hope you find a suitable solution.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  7. Yeah there are a lot of costs with photography, equiptment, cameras, computers, travel, the list goes on. However it is a really enjoyable hobby, and is active entertainment as opposed to tv and video games.

    Out of all these photos I think I like the “Fog and Sun at Bear Rock Preserve” West Virginia the most.

    Keep up the great photos!!

    • Thanks very much!

      Agreed, across the board. I tend to view the costs of the endeavor–large as they are–as the price of engagement, and since it’s really my only indulgence (and because I do, mostly, try to keep the expenses as low as I can), I figure it’s worth it.

  8. […] Minnesota (with a bit of northern Wisconsin thrown in for good measure)–but, as I have chronicled, the death of my image-editing computer caused me to abandon the edit roughly 1/3 of the way […]


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