Do you want a laptop or traditional desktop machine? There are obvious, and not-so-obvious pros and cons to each. Laptops offer a portable solution, so if you want to be able to edit both at home and when out and about then a laptop is the only choice. They're lighter and more compact too, so can be neatly filed away, and if it's a nice day you can even edit in the garden!
So what are the downsides? Well, laptops tend to be more expensive than a like-for-like desktop computer, and they also have smaller screens, although you can hook up a secondary monitor to most models. Laptops are trickier to upgrade too as all the components are packed in tighter, so if you see yourself wanting to increase memory or hard drive space in the future, a desktop might be the safer bet.
The age-old question, and one that will most likely cause tiresome and relentless arguments between supporters of both camps. Apple Macs tend to be one-stop solutions. Both the hardware and software are manufactured and backed by Apple, so Macs run smoothly out of the box. They're often robust to viruses and the Apple operating system, OS X, is user-friendly and easy to get to grips with. You can choose from MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro laptops, and iMac, Mac mini or Mac Pro desktop computers.
PCs, on the other hand, tend to be more cost-effective. You can buy, build or specify a PC to be equal or more powerful than an equivalent Apple Mac for less money and there are more models to choose from: Asus, Dell and HP are good choices. PCs are easier to upgrade and build upon further down the line and there are countless software options available. The downside is that PCs are susceptible to viruses and malware, tend to require a higher level of technical knowledge to maintain, and aren't as user-friendly.
The most powerful tools that you possess are your own two eyes, so a good monitor is essential if you want your images to look their best. Although we would recommend looking at monitors sized at 24" upwards, bigger isn't necessarily better - it's all about resolution and colour.
Apple's range of Retina screens rate highly amongst Mac fans. They even offer a stunning 27" 5K Retina display if only the biggest and best will do. For PC users, look for an IPS (In-Plane Switching) monitor - these tend to not be as good for video or gaming as traditional TN (Twisted Nematic) monitors, but their colour reproduction is significantly better, crucial for photo editing. IPS monitors from the likes of Dell, Asus, LG and Samsung are worth considering. If you've money left in the budget then consider a colour-calibrated monitor from EIZO - they truly are the best in the business. The other consideration is a matte or glossy screen - glossy screens make colours appear more vivid, but for photo editing choose a matte screen whenever possible.
When processing Raw files, or working with multiple layers in Photoshop, you'll quickly notice your workflow slowing down if your processing power, or RAM (Random-Access Memory), isn't up to the task. Thankfully, RAM is cheap and easy to upgrade - you'll want at least 8GB for processing, but it won't hurt to install more. Many machines accept up to 32GB.
Photo editing isn't as strenuous on processing power as gaming, for example, but you'll want at least a quad-core processor. Some machines now boast dual six-core processors (12 cores in total), but this is overkill for photo editing.
If you're shooting Raw then you'll already know how quickly you can go through hard drive space. Thankfully, storage is relatively cheap nowadays and external hard-drives are quick and easy to connect so you never need to worry about running out of space. Modern computers often allow for multiple drives to be installed - opting to run an SSD (Solid State Drive) alongside a traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drive) is a good choice. SSDs tend to be more expensive, but if you opt for a relatively small capacity SSD to run your operating system on, you'll notice a big boost in performance. The HDD can then be used to store images and other files on.
Backing up is important too. Look at installing a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive with RAID capabilities to duplicate your data over two or more hard drives, so if one fails then you have a backup of all your images.
The idea of building your own PC might sound like rocket-science, but there are surprisingly few components in that electronic box of wizardry. Furthermore, there are endless books and self-help guides available online to help you piece your machine together. It'll take a bit more time and effort to build your own computer than simply buying one off-the-shelf, but you'll not only save money in the long run, you'll have complete control over every single component. Plus, you'll have a better understanding when it comes to replacing, repairing or upgrading your machine in the future. Choose your processor, motherboard, graphics card and memory and you're half way there!
Here are five accessories to make your image processing more enjoyable:
Keep your images organised and easily transferable between machines using a portable hard drive. Most are USB-powered, but look for one that supports Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 for speedy transfers. Western Digital, Seagate, Lacie and Toshiba all make great drives.
Many computers have built-in SD card readers but if yours doesn't, or you use Compact Flash cards, then you'll need a card reader to transfer your images. Again, USB 3.0 will speed things up - Lexar, Integral, SanDisk and Transcend all offer good choices.
They take some getting used to but once you've mastered using a tablet and stylus you'll never go back to a mouse for photo editing again! They offer greater control for doing precise work. Wacom is the industry leader here.
Ditch the wires! Wireless mice and keyboards clear up the clutter on your desk and are easily stowed away when you need the desk space for something else.
There's something to be said of printing your own images. Why spend all that time processing them if you don't get to show them off? A dedicated photo printer allows you to set up your own photo lab at home. Canon, HP and Epson models are all worth a look at.