Oscar-winning iMacs

Tim Grey
23 August, 2011
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Since the dawn of digital imaging, Apple has set the standard. Photoshop, the program so ubiquitous it’s a verb, was designed specifically for the Mac back in 1987.

However, as any photo or video fanatic will no doubt be painfully aware, the power of any editing suite is directly inverse to the size of the files it’s working on.

These days it’s hardly unusual for a RAW image to push up to 30MB, and the proliferation of high-definition video in practically every phone, camera (compact or cinder-block sized) or new pair of shoes has created a glut of obscenely fat media. While this is great for resolution and image quality, it can make even relatively recent models of laptops and desktops choke.

My 2.53 GHz i5 MacBook Pro, a system barely 12 months old, already struggles when it comes to imaging. I’ll admit that running a Lightroom catalogue of 26,000 images borders on the excessive but, dammit, I want to see them all at once.

Hanging about is a time-honoured aspect of the imaging process.

Even high-end Mac Pro setups will traditionally spin their little pinwheels for hours of rendering. This isn’t really the fault of the hardware; media files seem to grow at a rate exponentially faster than our ability to shell out for new processors.

But, after taking one of Apple’s new iMacs out of the box and staring lovingly into its shiny, 27in screen for a few hours, I’m convinced we’re finally catching up.

Apple has clearly paid careful attention to the demands of video processing. Each model sports a new AMD Radeon HD graphics card, with increasingly hardcore versions in the pricier models. The results are indisputably impressive.

For some time already, the iMac has been the go-to lineup for enthusiasts and semi-pros, but this latest range sees the all-in-one desktop provide pretty much everything a professional might desire.

Twenty-seven inches, for a start, is a perfect workspace, allowing images to be opened in their full resolutions while providing room for toolkits and pallets. Even in their standard i5 configurations, the iMacs don’t bust a sweat opening large files, either.

Moreover, the iMacs won’t struggle to open even the most ridiculously overstretched database – you can drift through the chunkiest Lightroom catalogues like the breeze.

When Apple kindly previewed the new 27in iMac for Macworld Australia some months back, its technician (a fellow photo and video nerd) proudly threw up 12 full-high- definition videos, simultaneously, across two screens. The lot of them ran smoothly, without so much as a glitch or bump, and continued to stream effortlessly even when he swiped through Exposé.

What’ll really provide a paradigm shift for video editing, however, is the new Thunderbolt connection. Because HD video is typically captured on an external device, even moving files from one place to another is a chore, let alone processing them. Thunderbolt’s 10Gb per second connection is fast enough to work on uncompressed video on the fly.

We’ll undoubtedly see a raft of new peripherals using the platform. A local company, Blackmagic Design, is shipping a Thunderbolt- enabled capture and playback device that’ll support two uncompressed streams of full-resolution video for less than $1000.

Less than five years ago, this kind of technology would have easily run into the (many) tens of thousands of dollars, but now, for under three grand, you can process broadcast- quality 3D video at home.

The case in point is last year’s surprise hit movie, Monsters, which was shot entirely on a Canon 5D and cut with off-the-shelf software in director Gareth Edwards’ bedroom. Edwards has pointed out that you can now go into a shop and buy a laptop faster than the computers used on Jurassic Park.

These latest iMacs – and Thunderbolt – have the potential to make filmmakers of us all.

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