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Gear Reviews

Third Time The Charm? Can ChromeOS Be a Photographer’s Friend?

By Anthony Thurston on April 4th 2015

I have been a huge fan of the IDEA of ChromeOS since its inception, and the first few netbooks first started coming to market. I have owned two ChromeOS based machines since, neither of which lasted very long. The reasons were: no/limited RAW image support and poor quality displays. But ChromeOS is a constantly evolving organism, and it has come a long way since my last foray into that world.

ChromeOS Logo

This week, I purchased my third ChromeOS based machine, and I am hoping that the third time can be the charm. The reason for the purchase was that I have been doing a lot more traveling for work (trade shows for SLR Lounge, etc.) and I needed something that would facilitate my basic needs away from home. This last year was an overall bad experience with fighting my iPad and Bluetooth-based keyboards to “make do” while on these short business trips. So, I decided I needed an actual mobile computer.

I looked at the Macbook Air, but they were way more than I wanted to spend on something that I would use a couple times a month at the most. I liked the Acer S7 machines, but, those too were more than I would have liked to spend for a machine that would honestly sit on my desk while I used my desktop 95% of the time. Chromebooks seemed to be my best option, both in size, and cost – but I was wary based on my past experiences.

Toshiba Chromebook 2

After a lot of searching, I found the machine I am typing this article on today. The Toshiba Chromebook 2, a 13.3” Chromebook with a 1080p IPS display, 4GB of RAM, a 2.16Ghz Intel N2840 processor, and a 16GB SSD. Aside from the grossly overpriced specimen that is the Chromebook Pixel, this seemed to be one of – if not the – best Chromebook on the market currently.

What made me pull the trigger on this model over other high-spec Chromebooks, was the IPS display. There were other models with 1080p screens, but they were not IPS – and being a photographer, I know the virtues of an IPS display. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 also only cost me $300, a much easier pill to swallow than the PC and Mac options I was considering.

Toshiba Chromebook 2

As a writer for SLR Lounge, my processing needs are fairly basic. I need to be able to take an image – most likely a RAW file since I am lazy and don’t want to change my camera to Jpeg mode – Crop/Resize it, maybe touch up the vibrance or modify the exposure a bit, and then throw it up on my post. Luckily for me, there are several RAW processing options on ChromeOS now, and while none of them can match Lightroom, they are sufficient enough to do what I need. Plus, with Adobe beta testing a ChromeOS streamed version of Photoshop, it could be soon that I am doing my processing with Photoshop itself.

So Can ChromeOS Be A Photographer’s Friend?

This can be a complicated question to answer. But the answer in its simplest form is: ‘It depends on the type of photographer you are’. If you are an extremely mobile photographer who needs to edit whole shoots on the go, store them all on your machine, and need the absolute best editing options available – then no, ChromeOS is not, and likely will never be, your friend.

Polarr Image Editor

Polarr Image Editor – A Familiar ‘Lightroom-esq’ interface in Chrome

That said, if you are more like me, the kind of photographer who does most of your work at home or on a desktop, who needs a machine that can process an image or two on the go for quick uploading to social media, or your blog, or something along those lines, then yes, ChromeOS can very much be your friend.

I am not going to stand here and tell you that ChromeOS will do everything you want it to do, or be able to match your PC/Mac mobile devices in every way, but if you sit down, and are honest about what you need from your mobile computer, you may be surprised with how many boxes the Chromebook actually ticks.

Processed in ChromeOS

RAW Image Processed for a ‘film’ look in ChromeOS using the Polar Editor (pictured above)

I am happy to say that I was able to meet my personal needs with the Chromebook 2, and I was able to do so for much cheaper than I would have been able to on other systems. So this Chromebook is very much my friend.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Josh Winslow

    Thanks for the review Anthony. I do event photography and wish to expand to onsite viewing and purchasing. My vision is to store/edit the files on my workhorse laptop and then network one or two of these for customer viewing.

    Based on your research and fondness for the ips screen, do you think this would be the best fit? I probably could get by with less power but this seems like the best budget screen put there.

    P. S. I can echo your comments on tablet keyboards being cumbersome. They work okay (I’ve used them since the palm pilot days with the sweet fold up keyboards) but the unity and durability of a well made slim notebook can’t be matched.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Hey Josh! I think Chromebooks would work great for this, assuming your client viewing galleries are browser based (or you get some sort of special Chrome App developed).

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  2. J. Dennis Thomas

    Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, fool me three times? I hope it works out for you in the long run.

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  3. Mircea Blanaru

    Cost effective solutions are the most desirable for not rich people. So I believe you. I wish the Chrome OS will support 3G and 4G modems for a true mobility option.

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    • Dave Smith

      An iPad can be had for $249 which is LESS than a chromebook. You look silly with your “rich” comment. That $249 will also get you that 4G you want. If $249 is for rich people you’re in the wrong business/hobby.

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    • Dustin Baugh

      Working on a tablet just isn’t the same as working with a laptop. Maybe it’s that I’ve been doing this since before tablets were feasible but iPads and their Android equivalents are a completely different beast. They’re too oriented to info consumption instead of production.
      Not to mention that using an actual keyboard and touchpad has so much more improved accuracy over a touchscreen with fat fingers or even those smudgy fat styili. Sure you can Frankenstein on a keyboard and better touch device but now you’re carrying as much gear as the laptop. And if we’re going that route Chrome OS now has support for some Wacom pads.

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    • Dave Smith

      I just love these silly comments, “Frankenstein on a key board”, really what the heck does that mean? I use my Mac’s bluetooth keyboard. So I have the same keyboard on the tablet that I have on my desktop. I have the photos sent over to the tablet as I shoot them. That way I can instantly review them and make quick adjustments.

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  4. Dave Smith

    Why get a chrome book when you can do it on an iPad.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Maybe you missed that from the post, I tried using my Ipad along with various bluetooth keyboards over the last year and decided it was more pain than it was worth for me. I am much happier with the Chromebook for writing and doing work than I ever was with the Ipad.

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    • Dave Smith

      yeah I didn’t really understand what “struggling” meant. . I use an iPad with an Apple bluetooth keyboard and their is not struggle, Works perfectly. .I guess if you’re using substandard keyboards that don’t work well then their might be a struggle. Able to us process raw files and a better screen then a chrome book.

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  5. Dustin Baugh

    I’ve been seriously eyeing a Chromebook for on the go use. Right now I shoot RAW+JPEG and use the phone or tablet to dump the JPEG online while on the go. But for longer photo trips where I have an evening to sit and relax for an hour sorting through hundreds of photos then using the phone is kind of annoying.

    I’d really like a “Midway” device between my Desktop at home and the phablet onsite. I guess you could call it my “Hotel room” bridge device.

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  6. Jerry Jackson

    Even with a nice IPS display, I have a hard time recommending any Chromebook for serious photo editing. The hardware is mediocre, the best apps (including the current beta of Creative Cloud for Chrome OS) require a stable connection with plenty of bandwidth to a virtual machine in the cloud, and the cost savings is MINIMAL compared to a budget-priced Windows laptop or 2-in-1.

    Right now, if I’m traveling and I know I’m going to spend more than 24 hours away from my office and need to edit on the road then I bring my normal laptop or, if I’m not willing to bring my larger laptop, I bring my small 10.1-inch Asus Transformer Book T100 and WD My Passport Wireless. That gives me a full Windows PC for running the standard version of Creative Cloud and plenty of storage in a small package for less than $425.

    Sure, you can use a Chromebook to edit a couple of photos on the road, but why spend $300+ to only be able to edit a couple of photos on a toy when you can buy a full Windows laptop for a negligible increase in cost?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      In my experience, most windows machines under $500 are a exercise in futility. I got a machine that does what I need it to do, so why would I spend more, even if the capabilities are greater – it would be spending more ‘just because’.

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  7. Anders Madsen

    “…who needs a machine that can process an image or two on the go for quick uploading to social media, or your blog, or something along those lines…”

    In this case I seriously would consider setting my camera to RAW + small JPG permanently and be done with it – the additional space used on the memory card would probably be equal to a single RAW file or so.

    Action photography would probably suffer from this, though – having to process JPG files alongside RAW files tends to slow down things.

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    • Kim Farrelly

      That’s what I do, for events anyway. Set raw to the CF & JPEG S1 to the SD (Ey-fi) card connected to my phone so I can post real(ish) time, works out well, I can always snapseed a few light adjustments if needed beforehand.

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      @KIM FARRELLY

      I use my WiFi to post to social media for my clients. (I typically RAW edit in-camera though). I thought it was awesome at the time. Now it’s EXPECTED. More work and they don’t want to pay me extra. The guy that used to do social media with iPhone pics now gets paid for basically nothing. And to add insult to injury he make $2000/mth if we have events or not. I get paid by the gig. And pretty modestly considering the company made in excess of a BILLION dollars last year.

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    • Kim Farrelly

      Technology changes and so do the opportunities to use this change to your advantage. If it’s expected that you can deliver high quality shots for your clients social media outlets than that’s a good thing, it not really any more work, you are still there for the time you are there but that’s something you should build into your price in some way as you are offering an extra service.

      Wether we like it or not, this works for companies. I see plenty of people on their phones during events checking out the feed and replying to the copy included in the post. If a new way of offering a better service appears, I’d always look at it to see if it can fit in with what I can offer to a client .

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  8. Kim Farrelly

    I have Ps files in the 16Gb area at times so probably not for me.
    You have the best reason to only shoot raw yet Anthony, lol.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah Kim, its definitely not a high powered machine for big post-processing jobs. But for a quick image or two on the go, its more than sufficient. :)

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    • Kim Farrelly

      Yea if you don’t need a big scratch partition it sounds good all right, will Google Nik run on it?

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