My big photography frustrations don’t come from my camera or the process of capturing images but actually come at the post production stage and managing my computer, peripherals and storage devices. I am paranoid about backing up my images and employ three different backup strategies to be sure images are neither lost through failed drives or accidentally deleted. The hardware needed to process and managing my photographs well exceed the two USB3 ports and 2 Thunderbolt ports provided on my Macbook Pro.
I’ve struggled with hardware management for years, I have read numerous posts on how others manage their workflow but I haven’t quite perfected my own. Reminders that my Time Machine back up hadn’t run in 14 days or working out what I could so I could access my hard drive of RAW images were a constant source of frustration.
I initially thought the new Apple 28″ cinema display was going to be the answer but sadly, the cost, and a subsequent dead on arrival screen (faulty cable) brought me to the conclusion that my old 23″ screen shouldn’t be written off so just yet. Yes I can hear the fans grinding if it is sitting perfectly vertical and yes I am not sure how much longer it will actually work, but for now, its functioning.
I really don’t think my setup is overkill, I have two external drives for my archive library and backup plus an Elgato Thunderbolt SSD Drive which is home to my current working Lightroom Library (Generally about three to four months worth of images). I have my Spyder4 (which has made such a difference to printed work) for screen calibration and a Bamboo tablet for processing my photos. I was using USB3 devices connected via USB2, (which has a massive speed impact especially with hard drives) and I had to unplug by backup drive to use the tablet and Datacolor ‘spyder’ together and as a result backups were frequently missed.
Elgato Thunderbolt Dock
After months of frustration I am happy to say my new Elgato Thunderbolt Dock has revolutionised my desktop. I have been a big fan of Elgato products ever since I moved to Mac and the Thunderbolt dock is an impressive piece of kit. The device offers connectivity redundancy for the first time ever allowing me to connect my laptop to all of my devices and still have a USB3 port spare. The Elgato Thunderbolt dock offers :
- 2x Thunderbolt (10 Gb/s, bi-directional Input/Output)
- 1x HDMI 1.4 Output (up to 2560×1600 pixels resolution, HDCP compliant)
- 1x RJ45 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet
- 3x USB 3.0 (5 Gb/s, support for bus-powered devices, UASP & USB 2.0 compatible)
- 1x 3.5mm Audio Output (analog stereo, via built-in DAC)
- 1x 3.5mm Microphone Input (mono, via built-in DAC)
It should also be noted that the USB ports provide enough power to charge your iPhone/ iPad, or connect additional bus-powered devices to your Apple Keyboard. The Thunderbolt dock is liberating in that it frees me from having to consider device management, all my key devices connect to the dock and the dock connects to the computer via a single Thunderbolt cable.
Connected to the Macbook
When I dock my computer all I have to connect is two Thunderbolt cables (one to my screen) and the other to the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock and a USB cable (again for the screen to connect the 3 USB2 ports).
Connected to the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock
- G-Tech 2GB USB2 Harddrive (used for Time Machine).
- G-Tech 4GB USB3/Thunderbolt Harddrive (used for my archive Lightroom Catalogue).
- Elgato Thunderbolt SSD Harddrive (used for my current Lightroom Catalogue).
- Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablet.
- Ethernet Cable (so I no longer need to use wifi when docked).
The Bonus Screen USB Ports
I not confident I will have the bonus USB2 ports on the back of the screen for much longer but they currently are used by :
- Datacolor Spyder 4 (Screen Calibration).
- Elgato TV Device (I can watch TV on my laptop while working on the main screen, overkill I know!)
- Keyboard (which I would move to Bluetooth version eventually).
It is definitely a plethora of devices but I genuinely use them all on a regular basis. I have an additional USB3 drive that I plugin to the second USB3 port on my laptop for off site backups. For me, the benefit of the Thunderbolt dock comes from the fact I can have my drives plugged in at once. I no longer have to juggle devices and think through what I can disconnect so I have create an up-to-date backup or drive mirror.
Thunderbolt v USB3
I am not totally sure there is much difference in connecting the 7200rpm drive via Thunderbolt or USB3 or not but as things progress I suspect my next screen will connect via HDMI freeing up my second Thunderbolt port on my Macbook Pro. I would be interested if anyone has any insight on Thunderbolt v USB3 when using hard drives.
Elgato also offer an Elgato Thunderbolt Dock Utility (App) that allows all the devices connected to your computer to be unmounted at once. No more having to manually unmount each individual drive, two clicks and the laptop is safe to disconnect from all the connected devices.
If you are enduring the same frustration of device management on your Apple computer then the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock is well worth the investment. It is a liberating piece of hardware that allows all of my key devices to be instantly accessible through a single cable, better still at USB3 and Thunderbolt speed. It is a tidy device that sits snuggly under my screen connecting all my devices via a single Thunderbolt cable (supplied if the dock is bought from the Apple Store). The Elgato Thunderbolt Dock has revolutionised my desktop and offers the freedom to concentrate on the process of photography.