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I like my vintage 2008 17" MacBook Pro (MBP). But it had become too tired to run Aperture and manage my extensive photo library. Rather than give up on this otherwise beautiful machine, I decided to replace the traditional hard drive with a new Crucial Solid State Drive (SSD). Now that the project is completed, I have to say, the results have exceeded my expectations.

prepare_hard_drive.jpg Preparing for the hard drive replacement.

Basic Specs for the Mac

Even by today's standards, the MBP 17" has decent specs. At its heart beats a 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I have 4 GBs of DDR2 SDRAM for memory, and a NIVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT graphics card with 512 MBs of memory onboard to process the images. Plus this MBP has a beautiful matte finish LCD display that was one of the first LED models that Apple shipped. I love editing photos on this screen. (It's worth keeping for the monitor alone.)

Other goodies include a SuperDrive for both CD and DVDs, 3 USB ports, FireWire 800 and 400 ports, plus an excellent sound system. Like I said earlier, way too good of a machine to give up on quite yet.

But its Achilles heel was the 200 GB Hitachi internal hard drive. It was slowing down my entire system. Aperture in particular was painful. I could barely perform the simplest image edit without a spinning beach ball.

The Upgrade to Solid State

Since Aperture is constantly hitting the hard drive, I thought moving to Solid State might help. In part, this belief stems from my excellent experience using the current MacBook Air. I thought that if I "air-i-fied" my MBP, I might be more satisfied with its performance.

After I received the Crucial SSD, I watched "How to replace your 17" Mac Book Pro hard drive:"

Then I retrieved my Newer Tech 11-Piece Computer Tool Kit and spread everything out on a covered table. Once all the screws were removed, I was careful when lifting the keyboard. There's a ribbon cable that connects it to the mother board that I didn't want to damage.

I keep all the various sets of screws separate and labeled. This makes reassembly much easier (without any extra parts). The entire operation lasts about 30 minutes. I take my time when taking apart computers...

new_hard_drive.jpg New SSD in place. Now all I have to do is put everything back together.

Adding Software

Fortunately I have a copy of Snow Leopard on DVD, so I held down the "C" key and booted the laptop from it. I used Disk Utility to format the Crucial SSD for Mac OS X Journaled. Then I installed the operating system itself.

Once I had Snow Leopard on the SSD, it was just a matter of running updates so I could eventually access the Mac App Store to download Lion and install it. After that, I used the App Store to redownload Aperture, and the rest of my software. (I have a few hints about bringing Aperture up to speed that I will cover in another article later this week.)

And That Old Toshiba Hard Drive I Removed...

Even though I had backed up my files on an external hard drive before installing the SSD, I still wanted that old Toshiba available in case I had forgotten something. So I pried open an LaCie Rugged portable unit that had a failed hard drive in it, pulled out the bad hard drive, and replaced it with the unit I had removed from the laptop. I now have all of my previous files available.

Beter Performance, Indeed

The 2008 MacBook Pro is like a new computer. It's currently handling an Aperture library containing 50,000 referenced images with very little effort. I can now edit RAW files from my 5D Mark II without those long delays I was previously experiencing. I love working on this big boy again.

The entire project cost me less than $275. (You can't get an iPad for that amount, let along a big 17" matte screen workhorse.) And performance is so much snappier than before. I'm definitely enjoying this ride.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

On Saturday, May 19, I'll be in San Jose, CA speaking for TWiP and SmugMug on How to Pack a KILLER Camera Bag, then on Tuesday, May 23 at 10am PDT, I'm conducting an online webinar titled, A Fresh Look at Familiar Subjects in B&W. Both events are free, but you do have to reserve your spot for the webinar (do that right now!)


The engagements are also listed on the Events tab of The Digital Story Facebook Fan page, the best place to stay in touch with upcoming activities. Here's a brief look at the two talks for May.

How to Pack a KILLER Camera Bag - May 17

Ever wondered how exactly to pack a perfectly prepared camera bag for that next trip?

Photography and travel seem to go together like Starbucks and mobile devices. You can enhance your adventures by following a handful of basic tips for packing your gear.

Professional photographer Derrick Story will show you the things he's learned while covering assignments in Asia, North America, and Europe. He'll show you why he believes that the "nimble photographer" is a happy photographer.

And the best part is, following his advice, you'll travel smarter and have all the equipment you need to get the shot.

The second best part, our friends at Lowepro are donating a couple pro bags to raffle off that evening.

A Fresh Look at Familiar Subjects in B&W - Webinar -May 23

There are those subjects that we expect to see in black and white: landscapes, street shots, and editorial portraits. And then those we don't - such as the blaring lights of Las Vegas.

In this webinar sponsored by Nik Software and Lowepro, Derrick Story will show you how he uses Silver Efex Pro 2 to present a fresh look at familiar subjects. Derrick will explain how he uses Silver Efex Pro 2 in his overall photo management workflow, and present a few tips from his experience that you might apply to your own work. He will also share some of his favorite Lowepro bags and why they make working out of them in the field easier and more efficient.

I'm hoping that you can join me for one or both of these events, and be sure to say "hi!"

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

Nimble photographers who like sling bags and want to carry their iPad with them, might want to investigate the new Lowepro Urban Photo Sling.


This street camera bag has two loading options, three wearing options, and a dedicated tablet computer sleeve. It comes in two sizes: Urban Photo Sling 250 (Pro DSLR without grip with attached 70-200mm lens plus accessories) or the smaller 150 (DSLR with attached 55-200mm lens plus accessories).

The larger model is available now for $89.95, and the more compact model is selling for $76.95.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

One of the reasons that I had to get my hands on The new iPad was for a time-lapse movie project I'm working on. Yesterday, while at the TWiT Brick House shooting some test video, I decided to record sequences with both the iPad 2 and The new iPad to see how much difference there really was.

The New iPad Screen Screen capture from recorded video using the iSight camera on The new iPad. Click on image for full resolution version.

iPad 2 Screen Capture Screen capture from recorded video using the built-in camera for the iPad 2. Click on image for full resolution version.

I mounted each tablet to a sturdy tripod using the Makayama Movie Mount and recorded existing-light sequences. I then made a screen grab from each movie and posted them here without any editing.

Between the improved camera and denser screen resolution of The new iPad, you can see a noticeable difference in detail between the two images. Here are the camera specs for the two iPads, with the iPad 2 specs on the right.


So in low-light situations where you need to milk as much quality as possible out of the video capture, there is definitely a difference between the iPad 2 and The new iPad. Is it worth the upgrade price? That depends on the projects you have at hand.

Related Stories

Is the Retina Display on the new iPad Worth the Upgrade?

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

For the March 2012 Photo Assignment, TDS shooters focused their lenses on the "windows of the soul"...or a twist on that concept. See for yourself in our gallery, Eyes. And which one will be the SizzlPix Pick of the Month?


Photo by Brian Reynolds. "This is the GOMZ/LOMO Sputnik that I use to make Medium Format stereo slides. This was taken with a Pentax K-5 and a smc PENTAX-D FA 100mm F2.8 Macro lens. It was processed with LightZone to adjust the exposure, color balance, and sharpness." To see all of the other terrific shots from March, visit the Eyes gallery page.

Participate in This Month's Assignment

The May 2012 assignment is "Action." Details can be found on the Member Participation page. Deadline is May 31, 2012.

Please follow the instructions carefully for labeling the subject line of the email for your submission. It's easy to lose these in the pile of mail if not labeled correctly. For example, the subject line for this month's assignment should be: "Photo Assignment: May 2012." Also, if you can, please don't strip out the metadata. And feel free to add any IPTC data you wish (These fields in particular: Caption, Credit, Copyright, Byline), I use that for the caption info.

Good luck with your May assignment, and congratulations to all of the fine contributors for March.

SizzlPix Pick of the Month for the Feb. Photo Assignment

Congratulations to Carl Shortt, Jr. for his Rule of Thirds image of an outdoor portrait. Carl will receive a SizzlPix for his winning image, selected by the good folks at SizzlPix.

twitter.jpg Follow me on Twitter


Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.

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The Olympus OM-D E-M5is about ready for its North American release. I've spent a few weeks with this beautiful micro four thirds system camera, and walk you through its highlights and a few of my nits. Then I switch gears to a handful of photo accessories that I've enjoyed using lately. Plus, there's a new photo assignment this month! All this and more with TDS Podcast Episode 323.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (30 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

OM-D E-M5 with 12-50mm Zoom The Olympus OM-D E-M5 with 12-50mm Zoom. More photos are on my TDS Flickr page.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Action is the May 2012 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is May 31, 2012.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. And from those images, I choose the TDS Member Photo of the Day.

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- The $7.99 Sample Kit is back! And with free shipping.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.

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The $63 Macro Focusing Rail

Two of the challenges of macro photography is getting precise focusing and correct position. I've found that a focusing rail is an invaluable tool for close-up work. However, this accessory is usually a bit pricy for the enthusiast macro photographer. One exception is the Adorama Budget Macro Focusing Rail Set that sells online for $63.


We recently put this device through its paces at the TDS Close-Up Photography Workshop, and it got rave reviews. A couple of the participants have already ordered one for themselves.

Adorama's description reads: "Flashpoint rail sysytem provides rack and pinion movement, fine focusing adjustments. Two 6" rails allow movement in four directions, right, left, forward and backward. Mounts on, and accepts 1/4x20 threaded screws, will fit most tripods and copy stands. Positive locking knobs assure rock-steady focus."

I leave is mounted on a tripod in the studio. So whenever I need a close-up shot, it's right there and ready to use.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

Backyard Photo Adventures

We need to shoot often to improve our technique and stay sharp. But it's not always easy to fit a photo expedition into our busy schedules. That's when exploring our own backyards can become a photographic paradise.

joel_kaneshiro_bee.jpg Close-up photography is particularly well-suited to backyard adventures. This photo by Joel Kaneshiro was captured on a patio outside the TDS studio. (See photo below.)

Once the sun begins to shine, I usually stop by the plant nursery and spend $20-$30 on seeds and potted flowers. I plant the seeds and repot the flowers, and before I know it, I have a new crop of photo subjects. Plus, they attract bees, butterflies, and a variety of interesting insects.

backyard_photo_shoot.jpg During this patio shoot, Joel Kaneshiro is holding a diffusion panel for Chaz Benedict while he works a subject with a close-up lens and ring flash attachment.

For a small investment, both in time and money, you can create a rich photo environment that will provide countless hours of shooting.

Images from the TDS Close-Up Photography Workshop.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

Aperture Library First Aid

Do you ever have the feeling that your Aperture library isn't feeling quite right? For those Alka Seltzer situations, try running the Aperture Library First Aid tool.


Just 3 easy steps to potential relief:

  • Quit Aperture.
  • Hold down the Option and Command keys while relaunching the application.
  • Choose "Repair Database."

This handy tool is built right in to the app. And it just might provide the relief you need for that upset database.

More Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture 3, check out my Aperture 3 Essential Training on Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

My next open Aperture Workshop is scheduled for Nov. 2012, in Santa Rosa, CA. You can get on the pre-registration list, plus learn about all the other photography workshops offered this season by visiting the TDS Workshops page.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

One of the features on the new Olympus ED 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 zoomthat intrigued me was the macro capability. I'm asked all the time if "macro modes are any good." I thought I'd run a quick test with the zoom mounted on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 16MP bodyand show you the uncropped results.

Macro Mode On Macro mode on Olympus 12-50mm zoom.

Macro Mode Off No macro mode.

Not only does macro mode on the 12-50mm zoom get you closer, it also renders a softer background. Not too bad for a compact lens (3.3 x 2 x 2 inches) that only weighs 7.5 ounces and is weather sealed.

To enable close up mode, press the "Macro" button on the side of the lens and move the zoom ring forward to the front optic. Once it locks into place, your world just got a little closer.

The zoom sells separately for $499, but you can save yourself a couple hundred bucks if you buy it in a kit with the OM-D.

So is macro mode any good? Well, it's not as close as your dedicated 100mm glass, but I like having this option on an all-purpose zoom that's easy to pack. So, I would say, "yes!".

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!