Using the ThinkPad W700 for Photo Editing

Other than being a very expensive HDD data duplicator (see the previous post if you're not sure what I'm talking about), the ThinkPad W700 was actually designed to get some real computing work done. Given its pedigree as a (no so) lean, mean photo machine, I thought it would be great to take it and use it for some real photo editing to see what it could do. Several weeks ago I filled up several memory cards with RAW format photos of the very scenic town of Edinburgh. If you've ever been there, you'll know how easy that is to do. Since we've entered into a partnership with Microsoft to promote digital photography with their products and the W700, I had the opportunity to try out two products I would have ordinarily avoided in favor of my usual Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop combination. Those two products are Expression Media and Capture One Pro. I'm not here to write a review comparing Adobe vs. Microsoft, but instead to talk about the W700 as a photo editing platform. I first loaded my memory cards full of files onto the W700, simultaneously copying them to the primary SSD drive and to the included secondary 320GB spinning drive. That way I knew I had an instant backup and a way to revert in case I deleted something I later wanted. Expression Media is designed more than anything else to be a cataloging (or cataloguing if you prefer) tool designed to help you sort through all types of media you have on your system. These can be photos, videos, or music files. It easily took my raw Nikon .nef files and used the embedded JPEG previews so as to quickly display on screen. At this point, I could view the RAW metadata, apply the ubiquitous 5 star rating system, tag, and drag and drop into folders. There was also a "light table" view which enlarged the photo on a black background. The program looks especially nice in Vista with transparent borders and translucent dialog boxes and that made it more useful when I wanted to select a different image which was hidden behind an open dialog box. The program also appears to support color calibration and editing, but neither was an option for me. Color calibration is not available on RAW data files and I found it especially ironic that the tool wanted to install QuickTime if I clicked the option to edit. I'm not a big fan of QuickTime, so I decided I'd leave the actual editing alone for now. I used Expression Media to quickly get rid of the worst of the shots and narrow them down for editing. The program itself is very fast and I'm sure that even if I didn't have a high end Core 2 system with an SSD and 4GB of RAM that it would still perform very well. I was much more interested in Capture One Pro as the tool is definitely a professional level program and one I would not ordinarily have spent money on. Now that I had narrowed down my files to those worthy of spending some time editing, I wanted to see how well the program could handle editing them. But first, and most important, I calibrated my display. Since the W700 has a built in color calibrator, I had no excuse not to. Ninety seconds later I was finished and could definitely see a difference between the calibrated and non calibrated screen. The only way I could see this process being any easier is if there was a "calibrate on boot" option in which our system would automatically fully boot up and calibrate with the lid closed. Capture One works very similarly to my "other" usual program, so I was comfortable with how the concept works. Even the dark gray color scheme is familiar. However, since I've grown used to a different layout and location of toolsets, I found myself spending a lot of time getting used to finding commands and settings that I KNEW were in there somewhere. The help file is a .pdf and while it offers search and click capabilities, I have grown used to HTML based help and found it took some getting used to. On the up side, for those of you who like printed copy to refer to, this format lends itself quite nicely to print-it-yourself manuals. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of programs like Phase One, Aperture, and Lightroom, these are unlike any programs you have ever used before. Most people know that Photoshop and a whole host of other image editing programs will allow you to edit photos – crop, change colors, remove spots, add and remove objects – you get the drift. The issue with these programs is that once you change something and save it, the changes are permanent. Unless you have saved an original copy, you cannot undo your work later; you have to start from scratch. Phase One is part of a different breed of program. You can do many of the things that most people do in the traditional image editors – change colors, contrast, brightness, shadow/highlight detail, crop, straighten, change perspective, and the like. The key difference is that you NEVER ALTER YOUR ORIGINAL IMAGE. You merely alter how it gets displayed on screen and you can decide at any time to go back to the original image, try variants of the same image, and thousands of other possibilities. Once you understand the concept, the possibilities and control are mind blowing. I liked that I could pre define cropping to ratios like 4x5 and that the dimensions of the picture would show up on screen as you can see in this picture here. Another function is straightening a photo for those times when your horizon is off kilter or your vertical lines seem to be converging. While straightening isn't a true substitute for perspective correction, it can serve as an easy way to make things look better when you're in a hurry. The W700's integrated Wacom digitizer made it easy to define the vertical lines I wanted to make straight.  I must admit that I haven't used a digitizer much in my photo editing before and I had to get used to it being different than a touch pad. With a touch pad, if you reach the end of the pad, you can pick your finger up and keep moving the cursor from where you left off. I had this digitizer mapped 1:1 with the screen. If I picked up the stylus and moved it to a different place, the cursor obliged and moved to the correct place. It is a much better way to work, but you have to consciously think whether you're using a touch pad or a digitizer pad and adjust accordingly. Pen selection is also convenient for other tasks like moving adjustment sliders like are found in the left hand side of this screen shot…  

Or, for choosing and eliminating color casts on this color wheel. In this case, I really liked the color wheel concept of removing color casts (or adding them). I could simply use my stylus on the digitizer pad on a point on the wheel and the results would instantly be reflected in my on-screen image. This color wheel concept is more intuitive for those times when you think "it looks too green" and you can see easily which way on the wheel would fix things.  I proceeded to edit my remaining photos and when I was finished, it was time to export the images with the edits applied. This is where the raw horsepower of the W700 really came into play. I'm sure running a 64 bit version of Vista didn't hurt either. Each exported image takes a few seconds to process, convert and export. This is not a big deal for one or two images, but I had over 100 I wanted to "fix," to use an old darkroom term. As it churned through the export process, the fan kicked in and I know the processor really got a workout. In less than 3 minutes, the whole task was done and I had a folder of one hundred 5 MB JPGs for my trouble. My last step was to make another backup copy to the second hard drive. I thought about burning another copy to a dual layer Blu-ray disc on the W700's Blu-ray drive--just because I could--but Blu-ray disks are still so darn expensive. I opted for a plain vanilla CD instead. It's not at the bleeding edge of technology, but much more sensible for only 500MB of data. All in all, I was extremely impressed with both the W700 as a photo editing platform and also the Phase One Pro/Expression Media software combo. And yes, I even liked using Vista. It was quite convenient to be able to sit on my couch and edit photos vs. just sitting at my desk workstation like I normally do. I could get used to this. For more information on the ThinkPad W700 designed for photographers, head on over to photolaptop.com.