Hi-Tech Studio: Workstation To Go

In a 24-hour world, work doesn’t wait quietly at the studio. For agile photographers who need consistent software and display performance wherever they are, Apple’s recently introduced MacBook Pro and companion 24-inch LED display make an intriguing combination as a possible do-it-all combination and desktop workstation replacement.

The Satellite Is The Mother Ship

While the concept of a powerful laptop computer as the mainstay of a studio isn’t a new one, most portable machines fall short in their capabilities for heavy-duty image processing of large image files. Furthermore, the small screens simply aren’t adequate as a main monitor. Pairing an external monitor for studio-based work, which would be a necessity for a professional, requires even more power, and with some computers and monitors, the process can be a challenge as you deal with matching screen resolutions and color calibration.

The new MacBook Pro and the new 24-inch Cinema Display are a different combination. Pairing these two products offers both mobility and a big, high-resolution display for detailed image work, and the two products were designed to work smoothly together. A single cord connects the laptop to the monitor, and once connected the two displays work seamlessly.


The 24-inch LED is light and easily portable itself. With it and your MacBook Pro, you can quickly set up a photo workstation anywhere you have access to power—for tethered shooting around the studio or working on location. For many photographers, this pair even can be a solid desktop replacement if you bump the specs on the MacBook Pro to their max and use external drives to expand your storage.

The advantage of a setup like this is that when you must leave the 24-inch display behind, the only change to your workflow is screen size.

24-Inch LED Cinema Display

This latest model in the Cinema Display line features a new LED-backlit LCD—it’s a big advance in display technology. Unlike fluorescent backlight, which can be uneven and needs a warm-up to come to full brightness, LED lights up instantly and at full intensity from corner to corner. The monitor is compatible with MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models with the new Mini DisplayPort (late-2008 models). An all-in-one tether connects the display to the Mac’s USB and MagSafe power ports, powering the laptop and providing a data connection to three USB ports on the back of the display, as well as its built-in speakers, a microphone and the iSight camera.

The display has a max resolution of 1920×1200 and a viewing angle of 178 degrees. Like iMac and previous generation Cinema Displays, the stand is hinged to allow an adjustable tilt from -5 to 25 degrees. A VESA mount adapter kit is available optionally if you would prefer to mount the display to a wall.

MacBook Pro

The new MacBook Pro features what Apple calls the unibody enclosure. The chassis is hewn from a solid piece of aluminum, reducing seams and weight while increasing durability. (As of this writing, the 15-inch model is available, and a new 17-inch model has been announced.)

MacBook Pro Multi-Touch Trackpad. One of the first things you’ll notice when you pick up the new MacBook Pro is that Apple has reimagined its trackpad. The new generation is made of glass, and the whole pad is one big button (you can set the right corner of the pad to act as a secondary click). Apple’s emphasis on touch technology has been working its way into the trackpad over the last few generations, and this one recognizes multi-finger gestures using up to four fingers. The two-finger gestures are the most useful for photographers and allow you to rotate, zoom in and out, and pan around images, all without accessing a menu or typing a command. While I still prefer a mouse generally, these gestures definitely advance the functionality of a trackpad.

Display. The 15-inch screen uses the same LED backlit LCD technology under glass used in the 24-inch display and renders 1440×900 pixels at maximum resolution. Some (myself included) may lament that this generation is no longer available with the “anti-glare” matte surface as an option; still, it’s unarguably a stunning display, and in most circumstances, you can slightly adjust its angle to reduce reflections on the glossy surface. What’s more, because the laptop monitor and the 24-inch Cinema Display feature identical attributes and technology, they can be closely matched when profiling. The benefits to a mobile professional photographer are obvious. Whichever monitor you’re using, what you see is what you get. Configurations. MacBook Pro op-tions include a choice of 2.4 GHz and 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, and Apple upgrades several specs on the faster model. The 2.53 GHz model ships with 4 GB of RAM (the system maximum), while the base model starts at 2 GB, with the option to upgrade. Likewise, the faster model starts with a 320 GB hard drive, and the slower with a 250 GB drive. Both models can be equipped with a 128 GB Solid State Drive (SSD), though this newer technology is still relatively expensive for what you get.

Switchable Graphics Processors. Both configurations include one of the more interesting new features for imaging pros: dual graphics processors, each designed for a different balance of performance and battery life. The NVIDIA GeForce 9400M is an integrated processor and is the default processor “out of the box.” Integrated processors share memory with your system, degrading high-end graphics performance, but also reducing draw on the battery—ideal for tasks like e-mail and web browsing.

When you need optimum graphics processing for memory-intensive photo and video applications, you can switch your MacBook Pro to use its NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT graphics processor. The 9600M GT is a discrete processor, meaning it has its own dedicated memory—256 MB on the 2.4 GHz model and 512 MB on the 2.53 GHz and 2.8 GHz configurations. Your battery will deplete about 20% faster (4 hours vs. 5 hours when using the 9400M), but you’ll have desktop-class graphics performance for serious image editing.

Connections. Apple appears to be making a move away from FireWire, as this port has been omitted from the new 13-inch MacBook. The MacBook Pro still has FireWire 800 though, along with two USB 2.0 ports. Apple’s new Mini DisplayPort connects directly to the new 24-inch LED Cinema Display and most other screens with their respective, optional adapters. For network connectivity, there’s 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and an Express Card/34 slot if you use a wireless modem to access your mobile carrier’s Internet service. Bluetooth is there, too, for wireless peripherals.

The Bottom Line

The MacBook Pro starts at $1,999 for the base model and $2,499 for the upgraded processor configuration. The 24-inch LED Cinema Display is $899. Contact: Apple,