Which camera gear do you really need?

A lot of new photographers ask me which camera gear they should buy. It’s a great question, and I always tell people to invest in photography travel and education before gear. I can’t think of a trip or a class I regret, but every time I get on Craiglist to sell something, I’m reminded of money I could have better spent on skills and experiences.

I’m going through reverse GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). After years of clinging onto unnecessary purchases like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”, I’ve finally made a serious dent in slimming down my camera gear. 

Let’s face it, probably every landscape photographer reading this is a gear junkie. Almost all of us either buy lots of equipment or lusts for it. There are of course exceptions, but I haven’t met too many.

I’ve certainly been in this camp for years. There are many reasons I’ve bought so much stuff over the years:

  • I did a little bit of everything. I’ve shot 50 or so weddings, dozens of family photos, studio portraits, products, macro, sports, cityscape, and landscape. Some of these much more than others, but there are truly unique demands in each of these categories. This is a somewhat legitimate excuse for many purchases, but I probably could have approached things in a much simpler way. I could have rented some studio lights that I bought, used extension tubes instead of a dedicated macro lens, and so on.
  • I didn’t know what I need. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you can’t easily try different gear. I’d do a bunch of reading and research of course, but you can find someone willing to recommend just about anything you can buy. So while they might be great for figuring which 50mm lens is the best, very few of them really help you decide whether you should be buying any 50mm lens. That’s why I try to include my rationale and perspective on my gear page. What’s great for me might have no value for you.
  • It was exciting. I’m a techy guy and I love figuring things out. I should have spent the time better figuring out the things I already had.
  • I wanted the best possible images and thought more specialized gear would help. To a degree, this is true. But every extra thing you buy is one more thing to master, and that can hold you back.
  • I wasn’t making hard choices. You can’t carry everything, so end up making more trade-offs for weight or specific functionality as you get more and more lenses. Having a few zoom lenses that can all accept the same 77mm ND filters has helped me get more great shots at the right focal length. And a lighter bag has encouraged me to explore and shoot more.


After a while, the clutter left from those poor choices started making the problem more and more obvious. So I decided to take stock of what I really use.

I bring the following gear on nearly all my trips:

  • Nikon D850
  • Nikon 16-35mm f/4 (I can’t remember the last time I left this at home; I particularly love how easy it is to shoot wide angle images with ND filters)
  • Sigma Art 14mm f/1.8 (amazing for night skies and wide angle; I will leave this when I need to pack light)
  • Nikon 80-400mm (great for abstracts and other long lens shots; I will leave this when I need to pack light)
  • Really Right Stuff TVC-33 or TVC-24 tripod with BH-40 or Arca-Swiss Cube head and L-bracket for the camera
  • Breakthrough ND filters (especially the 6-stop)


That left a lot of other gear gathering dust. Almost all of it is great stuff. But great gear doesn’t necessarily mean great for me. So I’ve sold equipment like:

  • Sony a7Rii mirrorless camera and related lenses. All in, it’s a great camera and I would recommend it to anyone who wants mirrorless. But my experience kept pushing me back to my D850. The weight savings wasn’t as substantial as I’d hoped and I never got comfortable with the ergonomics and menu system. I struggled to get shots nearly as quickly as I can with my Nikon. I’m sure I could have improved quite a bit if I threw myself into it fully, but that’s part of the problem with too much gear. It doesn’t matter how great it is when you don’t give yourself enough time to master it.
  • Nikon 105mm macro lens. I haven’t shot macros in years and I still have extension tubes I can use if needed.
  • Nikon 16mm Fisheye lens. After correcting the image for distortion, the field of view is similar to my 14mm. I find panos work fine most of the time. And the old-school focusing mechanism on this lens is very jumpy in the cold of winter.
  • Nikon 35mm f/2. This lens is beautifully sharp, small, and cheap. But the focus also jumps like crazy in the cold, and f/2 isn’t as wide as I’d like for night shots at this focal length.
  • Nikon 24-70mm. The older version of this lens wasn’t as sharp as I want, the new one won’t take my 77mm filters, and I rarely need mid-range focal lengths.
  • Studio and portable lighting gear. I haven’t had a good reason to keep so many soft boxes and strobes for years.
  • And so many little gizmos I can’t even remember them. Cheap filters, extra camera bags,

I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to make all these fun purchases, but I think I would have been better off investing in education or saving the money. And my life is simpler without the clutter.


So, what should you buy?

I don’t have a simple answer – I really can’t tell you what you should buy. Even if you want to shoot the same subjects as me, your needs will be different. You may already have lenses from another camera brand, a different budget, a number of other factors that would lead you down a different path. And my advice is fairly limited. I don’t review gear I haven’t personally used for some time. It takes a long time to see all the pros and cons of new equipment and learn how to use it in the best possible way.

What I can share is more general advice that I’ve learned from my experience:

  • Invest in yourself first. A professional photographer with an iPhone and a plane ticket is probably going to make more compelling photos than the average person shooting with a top of the line camera. The gear is a very small part of the art of photography. It matters, but rarely as much as your skill and the subject you are shooting. Prioritize classes, workshops, and travel where possible. If budget is a limitation, just go shooting with the best photographers you can find (I second shot weddings for years to learn the ropes and it was an incredible education).
  • Do not buy anything you won’t use in the next 30 days. When you get new gear, make sure you try serious shooting with it right away. If it doesn’t make a compelling difference, return it. If you make an impulse buy to take advantage of a sale, make sure you get out and try your new purchase right away. I could have saved a good chunk of change over the years by confronting the reality of a bad purchase immediately. This rule also forces you to think about whether you really “need” it.
  • When it matters, don’t be cheap. If you can get the good enough performance and reliability from a cheaper brand, save the money. But if the quality matters, it’s better to buy the right product first rather than after wasting money on something that won’t meet your needs. I’ve spent a lot of money replacing cheap tripods and filters over the years in particular.
  • If you aren’t using it, sell it. It’s painful to sell something for less than you paid. But the loss already occurred the moment you made a bad purchase, not when you finally admit it.


What do you think? What’s your advice for other photographers?

I screwed up

When I use gear that I think may be helpful for other photographers, I like to review it. I’ve always thought I’d been very thoughtful by trying to convey that information in a way that was unbiased and clear for my readers so that they could make informed decisions. If I’ve endorsed a product and subsequently had some significant experience with it that I think others would want to know, I’ve felt responsible to update my readers to keep them informed and allow them to make their decisions with all the relevant information I have. But this week I screwed up.

Last year I wrote an article about the 2018 MacBook Pro. It is a great laptop for photographers and I recommended it. Then I ran into a series of issues where I could not get the computer to boot and provided updates on this blog as I progressed through repairs (which turned out to be unnecessary). The final resolution was that there was no issue with the Apple computer hardware or software. The screen brightness was stuck at pure black due to my use and third party (not Apple) software I installed. I ultimately just needed to type my password as a workaround to login blind in order to restore the screen brightness.

I made the mistake of assuming that if my computer’s screen was black and could not be adjusted before logging in, that must be how this computer operates in general. I was excited to have some resolution and posted an update before trying to replicate the issue on other computers. Shortly after, I was able to confirm that the issue is not repeatable on other computers and I posted an update.

I never intended for my story to be shared with people to whom I hadn’t been recommending this computer. It was something I updated on a year-old blog post and shared with my followers. Unfortunately, my update was picked up and shared in the media and the story that has been shared is incorrect. I have contacted the authors of articles which I am aware of to clarify the story, however, I can only control is what I share.


So here’s the full story as simply as I can put it:

  • The issues with my computer are isolated to my machine only and were created by 3rd-party software I have installed. Neither the laptop hardware nor Apple software  have the issues related to brightness controls as I had previously believed.
  • I did not think to let Apple tech support know about some things I had done with my computer that wouldn’t commonly done by other users and are related to the screen or boot process, including the installation of third-party software that may have deep interactions with the control of the screen.
  • The installation of third-party software made it impossible for Apple Geniuses and tech support to diagnose the problem. When the issue could not be diagnosed, Apple made good faith efforts to repair my computer by replacing hardware at their expense under warranty. These repairs were now clearly not necessary.  Apple does not support third party software and cannot be expected to have been able to identify this issue.  I cannot overstate how impressed I’ve been with every Apple Genius with whom I’ve interacted, and so it’s important to me to stress that this issue was no fault of anyone at Apple but, rather, of my own.
  • The 2018 MacBook Pro is an excellent computer. It’s very fast and is a critical tool in my photography business. I stand by my recommendation of it for other photographers, as I have continuously since I bought it.


I hope others may learn from my experience. I think the following are good lessons I’ve learned here:

  • When troubleshooting issues, pay special attention to anything you do which may be unique. Think very hard. I didn’t think about the fact that I turned the screen off because it was something I had done typically days before I ended up restarting and running into issues. Most importantly, though, I failed to recognize that third party software could be to blame for issues that Apple, understandably, could not fix.
  • It is important to challenge assumptions which seem obvious to you. I thought that if the computer keys and screen are completely black, it was not responding. Then a Genius challenged my assumption that the back light would automatically turn on during boot and proved me wrong by simply pointing a flashlight at the screen.
  • Be very careful what you assume. I assumed when my computer did something, others with the same hardware and operating system would do the same. I did not consider that I may have done something to alter the way the machine boots up.


When and How to Use Texture vs Clarity in Lightroom / ACR

Adobe just added the first new slider to Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW in years, the “texture” slider. It’s an incredible new tool for enhancing small details and apparent sharpness in your images, with minimal halos or other drawbacks. In this tutorial, you’ll see an in-depth overview of what it can do for your photos and how it compares to the clarity slider.

If you’d like to experiment a bit further with the test pattern used in this tutorial, you can download it here.



This tool does a pretty good job of doing what you would expect: enhancing or diminishing texture (since you can make positive or negative adjustments). When you slide right to increase texture, it can be great for enhancing small details like grains of sand, leaves on trees, or the edges of windows on buildings. When you slide it to the left to decrease texture, it can be used diminish the same sorts of textures when they are distracting. It could be used to diminish unwanted textures on smooth surfaces like a metal building. And it appears to be a great tool for smoothing skin when used this way (professional retouchers should continue using more complicated techniques in Photoshop for the ultimate results, but this is an awesome new way to smooth skin quickly right inside Lightroom and I’m sure will be greatly appreciated by many wedding and family photographers who shoot a large number of images).
The texture slider works by increasing contrast of relatively small-sized (relatively high-frequency) details. But unlike sharpening, it avoids sharpening the edges of larger subjects or noise. This helps avoid creating halos and minimizes unwanted noise (both are still possible, just much less problematic). And unlike clarity, it does not wash out bright colors.
Tips to get the most out of the texture slider:
  • It works best when applied locally with an adjustment brush in LR or a layer mask in Photoshop. If noise is a concern, check the details when using around smooth subjects like flat water or blue sky.
  • Try using 20 luminance noise reduction if you need to offset any unwanted noise created by the texture slider.
  • It also adds a bit of saturation, so you may wish to use -5 to -10 saturation or use it on a separate layer set to luminosity blend mode if you prefer more neutral color treatment in the image.
  • Just like deconvolution sharpening, it is best applied on the original file before enlarging or shrinking it to avoid unwanted artifacts. There are some minor differences in the results when texture is applied at the RAW stage vs later, so you may wish to do this on the RAW file (though the differences are pretty small and I wouldn’t worry about this much).
  • If you are using negative texture for skin smoothing, be sure to zoom in and check the details. It does a pretty good job of not softening hair, eye lashes and eyes – but it does have some softening effect that you need to avoid through local use of the tool.



Clarity is one of the most used (and over-used) tools in Lightroom, yet also one of the least understood. It has the effect of increasing larger details than those affected by texture, which means that it is still very complimentary to the new texture slider. One does not replace the other. It helps to understand the tool a bit to know how they interact.

You may have heard that it works by “increasing midtone contrast”. While that is true, there is much more to it. It has a large effect on edge sharpness, which often causes unwanted halos such as when darker foreground elements like trees and buildings touch a bright sky. It tends to wash out bright colors quite a bit in the small details. It can push the shadows strongly towards black. And it can increase noise in smooth areas under many  conditions.

With all those potential issues, you ask why not just use the texture slider instead. They work on different sized details in the image, so clarity can enhance many details that texture may leave alone. And because clarity is different, sometimes it works better on the same areas that can be targeted with the texture slider. I recommend using both, and playing a bit to find the best combination of the two.

Tips to get the most out of the clarity slider:
  • Like texture, it works best when applied locally with an adjustment brush in LR or a layer mask in Photoshop. It is best to avoid using it on smooth subjects like flat water or blue sky, where the result is mostly the addition of noise. And be very careful around high contrast edges, where halos may occur.
  • Try using 20 luminance noise reduction if you need to offset any unwanted noise created by the clarity slider.
  • Try adding +20 to +50 shadows to offset dark shadows created by clarity.
  • If you see bright colors getting washed out, luminosity blend mode and saturation adjustments won’t help. Instead, try applying clarity on the RAW data rather than via the Camera RAW Filter, as this is less of an issue when working on the RAW data. Check out my tutorial on common misconceptions about RAW Smart Objects if you have any questions about the difference between working on RAW data and working with the RAW filter.
  • Check the details thoroughly around hard edges like trees and buildings to look for bright white halos. Because the appearance of this artifact can vary quite a bit, you should check the entire high contrast edge. You may find one set of buildings is fine, and then the next show halos.


Sharpening, Texture, and Clarity: Putting it all together

Sharpening, Texture, and Clarity are all designed to give your images enhanced detail. None is necessarily better than the others, they all play different and important roles. I recommend using LR/ACR for capture sharpening (see my deconvolution sharpening tutorial), and Photoshop for other forms of creative or output sharpening. If you are using that approach, then deconvolution sharpening should be used first to help offset sharpness lost during capture. Once you have done that, you may then apply texture and clarity. Because texture has fewer downsides, I would try applying that first and then adjust clarity as needed. Then you may finally make some small tweaks to any of these sliders if desired to optimize the results.

When you should use BlendIf instead of luminosity masks

One of the most powerful, but overlooked, tools in Photoshop is “BlendIf”. While luminosity masks offer dramatically more capability than BlendIf, it is still an incredibly useful tool in certain situations.

BlendIf offers a couple of substantial benefits:

  • It adds nothing to your file size. Zero. By comparison, a single luminosity mask increases the file size by roughly 1/3rd the size of the original image (because a luminosity mask is essentially a grayscale copy of the image). Using BlendIfs where you can reduces disk space, helps avoid the 4GB TIF file size limit, and lets you save images much faster (because they are smaller).
  • It creates a dynamic mask. If you ever make significant changes to your underlying layers (such as cloning out dust spots or some other distraction), you will likely need to update or replace your luminosity mask as well. BlendIf is constantly updated, which can save you a lot of work when you update underlying layers.

So when should you use BlendIf? Anytime it produces the same or good enough results. For the situations where BlendIf is as good as luminosity masks, it is well worth taking advantage of the benefits above. Of course, luminosity masks are much more capable in general, so the key is knowing when BlendIf is “good enough”.

Here are some previous tutorials I’ve created that show great uses for BlendIf:

If you have Lumenzia, be sure to see the BlendIf section in the written manual (in the ZIP download). In the CC panel, you can also click “?” and then the “Preview” dropdown to learn more about the BlendIf masks (be sure to see the “Technical Tutorial” for a very detailed overview of how it works).


Of course, these are just a few examples. You might consider using BlendIf for other uses like:

  • Dodging and burning specific tonal ranges (this is built into Lumenzia, just select the desired tonal range when you click “Dodge”).
  • Contrast enhancements for specific tonal ranges (this is also built into Lumenzia, just create the orange preview layers for the target tones, click “Contrast” and choose the option to convert to a BlendIf).
  • Applying noise reduction just to shadows. (In Lumenzia, use a D or D2 BlendIf).
  • Applying sharpening only to midtones or highlights (In Lumenzia, try a zone BlendIf or L).


What does the end of 32-bit Mac apps mean for photographers?

I’m writing this article because I expect I’ll start getting questions next week about whether my software (Lumenzia and my free panel) will continue to work when Apple finally kills 32-bit apps this fall. The short answer is yes (with the caveat that I’m not clear on whether you could ever reinstall Photoshop CS6 if needed after migrating to OSX 10.15). And of course Windows users are unaffected by this. Read on for full details about the various ways this substantial update may affect Mac users. And check back here in a few months for more info, I plan to update this article as I learn more…


Update May29, 2019: I received some good feedback that OSX’s 32-bit report that I reference below is not as robust as it should be. If you’d like to dive deeper, please see this article for more info.


Apple is expected to release details on the next version of the OSX Mac operating system at next week’s WWDC19. There are many rumors as to what we’ll see, but Apple has already announced that the next version (OSX 10.15, which follows the current OSX 10.14 “Mojave”) is making one huge change that may impact photographers. It will no longer support “32-bit” apps. There is a good chance that of the applications and drivers on your computer will stop working if they are not updated as well.

Why is Apple doing this? We’ve had access to 64-bit for a very long time now, and Apple has decided it is now time to pull the plug on supporting very old standards. 64-bit hardware and software allows faster performance and access to more memory. For example, 64-bit support is what gave Photoshop the ability to use more than 4GB of RAM a long time ago. So 64-bit performance across the board is great, but a lot of apps are still only available in 32-bit versions. Those apps will either need an update or will stop working in the near future.


Which applications may stop working under OSX 10.15?

Apple wants to make sure users know what’s coming and nudge reluctant developers to upgrade their apps to 64-bit, so you may have already seen the following warning for some of your software:

If you have seen that warning, the software named in the alert is 32-bit and will not run on OSX 10.15 (at least without an upgrade to a 64-bit version of the app). While that’s helpful, you may not remember all of these warnings and almost certainly have not seen a full list of warnings for all of your software. So it is a good idea to manually run a check. Here’s the best way to get a comprehensive list of all 32-bit apps on your computer:

  • Click the Apple menu / About This Mac and then click the System Report button.
  • In the system report, scroll down to Software section and click Applications.Give it a few minutes for the screen to update.
  • Scroll to the right side of the report to find the column labeled “64-bit (Intel)”. Any item labeled “No” is a 32-bit app which will not run under OSX 10.15.
  • You can click on the “64-bit (Intel)” header twice to sort all of the “No” items to the top of the list.
  • Review the details pane at the bottom for anything ambiguous. For example, I see three 32-bit applications which have a meaningless string of letters and numbers showing as the name. But in the details, I can see that the application lives under /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Uninstall/… and is clearly an uninstaller. Clicking to run it (and then cancelling), I see that these are uninstallers for old Adobe programs like Photoshop CS6.

Per the May 29, 2019 update noted above, a more robust test is to actually boot your computer in 64-bit only mode. Anything that runs is ok in 64-bit, but you’ll need to actually open each app if you want to confirm this way. And be aware that you need to fully test all the code (for example, Adobe’s installer is a separate program from Photoshop itself – so confirming that Photoshop works does not tell you if you could actually reinstall Photoshop). See that article for more details.


I see several of the current versions of my applications are affected, including:

  • Various Photoshop-related services. The Photoshop app itself  has been 64-bit compatible for OSX since CS5. However, some of its bundled applications are still 32-bit and the ramifications of this are not immediately clear to me for Photoshop CS5 and CS6 users (if you are using CS4 or older, it will not work on OSX 10.15):
    • CS6ServiceManager. This application is loaded whenever Photoshop CS6 is run. But to the best of my knowledge, CS6ServiceManager not important to proper functioning of CS6 or any of my extension panels. I have tested by disabling this process on Mojave (by going to /Library⁩/Application Support⁩/⁨Adobe⁩/CS6ServiceManager⁩ and renaming the application so that it does not load with CS6). So far, Photoshop CS6 and extension panels (such as  Lumenzia) still seem to run fine without it. CS6ServiceManager would be required for some Adobe panels like Kuler and Mini Bridge, but those panels already died more than a year ago when compatibility with Adobe Air ended with OSX High Sierra.
    • Setup and installer applications from Adobe. Those related to Creative Cloud will surely be updated on time. Until we get some run time on OSX 10.15, I would be cautious about updating OSX if are using legacy versions of Photoshop. I expect CS5 and CS6 will run if installed (CS5 introduced 64-bit code for OSX). But I’m not clear if the CS5-CS6 installer (which is separate code from Photoshop itself) will work if you ever need to reinstall (and cannot test it as I have CS6 through the CC subscription). My assumption is that new installation or re-installation will probably not work, as the uninstaller is marked as 32-bit code. Keep an eye on Adobe’s post about 64-bit compatibility. It is  incomplete at this time, but we’ll surely hear more as we get closer to OSX 10.15 launch. Ultimately, there’s a good chance you may need to upgrade to Photoshop CC or migrate to Affinity if your existing installation gets corrupted (CS6 is more than 7 years old already, so don’t expect any updates).
    • Photoshop Droplets, which I use for some automated processes (such as sharpening) during Lightroom exports. Any Droplet Created with Photoshop CC 2018 or earlier is 32-bit and needs to be rebuilt as a 64-bit droplet using Photoshop CC 2019+. This is easy to do if you still have the original action used to create the droplet. And since old actions will continue to work, you can safely rebuild these Droplets even after updating to OSX 10.15. See System Report / Applications per above to identify any old Droplets if you want to start migrating now.
  • Epson printer/scanner drivers. Epson tells me they plan to update to 64-bit (they suggested around the time of OSX 10.15 launch, but did not specify a target launch date).
  • PocketWizard Utility for updating the firmware and settings on PocketWizard radio flash triggers. PocketWizard plans to update “before the fall”.
  • SpyderUtility calibration software for the Spyder colorimeter. Datacolor plans to update to 64-bit support before Apple launches macOS 10.15.
  • Eizo ColorNavigator calibration software for Eizo monitors. Eizo has told me they are planning a 64-bit update.
  • An FTP app that the developer has told me may or may not be updated. I have already replaced it with a different 64-bit FTP app.
  • And a few other applications I use to develop software. This creates a few headaches for me, but doesn’t appear to create any critical challenges.
  • And while I’m not personally affected, Final Cut Pro X users should be aware that some older video file types will lose support when the legacy 32-bit QuickTime 7 codecs go away. By identifying these ahead of time, you can convert these files to 64-bit compatible formats so that you can continue to use them. It’s worth updating FCPX and opening old projects to see if you are warned about legacy file types (this warning is a new feature in the latest version of FCPX).

Note if you use my Lumenzia or my free luminosity masking panel, it is compatible (it just needs Photoshop to run). Photoshop CC is good to go. However, while Photoshop CS6 runs fine in 64-bit, I am unclear if it can be re-installed if needed after upgrading OSX (the uninstaller is 32-bit, and I do not have access to the standalone CS6 installer to test it). All my CS6 customers have access to the CC versions of my panels, so you can always update to Photoshop CC (which I consider a good value: modestly spec’d Macbook Pro costs about the same as 25 years of Photoshop and Lightroom CC).


How should you upgrade to OSX 10.15?

There are many ways you can approach this change to avoid pain, frustration, or lost work. All of the following are good approaches to consider:

  • Delay updating to OSX 10.15. I think this is a great idea for the first several months while 3rd party vendors roll out 64-bit support, but I wouldn’t recommend planning to do this for too long.
    • There’s no urgent need to upgrade OSX. Apple has historically provided security updates for the previous operating system for about a year after releasing a new version. So you should have until Q4 2020 before security becomes an important issue, at which point I think you should upgrade.
    • The only reason to update sooner is if you find any of the new features in OSX 10.15 highly compelling. Even if you do, I would recommend waiting for a while. This is not an upgrade you should rush into.
  • Try upgrading a bootable clone (see the end of this post), while leaving your regular boot drive alone. This is an easy way to safely test things and is how I plan to evaluate the update before committing. If anything goes wrong, you can just wipe the clone and keep working from your (unchanged) original boot drive. But be aware that even if you give all your applications a thorough test, you may miss odd cases. For example, I suspect that the 64-bit migration will make the Photoshop CS6 uninstaller stop working, even though I expect CS6 to generally run fine.
  • Backup and take the plunge. While testing the upgrade on a clone gives you a simpler way to back out, you can at least undo this.
    • If you run into any issues, try updating the software to the latest version of the affected software. Your vendor may have already addressed the issue. If not, try contacting them to see if they plan to offer a 64-bit update.
    • You will likely be able to downgrade, but be sure to have a backup because there is no guarantee downgrading will go smoothly. As a bonus, you can use a bootable clone to temporarily run OSX 10.14 if needed. But if you may do it more frequently, a Virtual Machine may be the best option for you.
    • If you run into critical issues, you can boot from your clone (assuming you follow my backup advice), restore from your backup, or consider switching to alternative software for anything that isn’t available in 64-bit.
    • If Photoshop CS6 does turn out to be affected, now is probably a great time to update to Photoshop CC. I think there are many great reasons to do so, and wrote “Is an Update to Photoshop CC Worth It?” to discuss why I believe it is. And you could simply switch to Affinity Photo if you prioritize cost over what Adobe has to offer.
    • [Note that if you have purchased my Lumenzia extension panel, your purchase already includes both CS6 and CC, so you will already have a free update to Lumenzia if you upgrade to Photoshop CC. Just use the download ZIP you already have, or see here if you need to download again].
  • Backup, update, and use a virtual machine to maintain compatibility with older 32-bit apps as needed. A “virtual machine” is software that simulates another computer on your computer. This gives you a new window on your screen that looks like another computer. You can use this to run Windows on your Mac, and you can also use it to run another version of OSX on your Mac.
    • The installation process was rather frustrating for me, so I’ve left notes below on how to do this.
    • You’ll be able to run your old 32-bit Mac apps as needed in the Virtual Machine. The applications run more slowly this way, moving files between the main computer and virtual machine can be a little annoying, and this probably won’t help any issues with 32-bit issues drivers. However this may be a good option if you need occasional use of some old software. I expect I may end up using a virtual machine to leave myself access to a few old software development tools.
    • Note: Creating the virtual machine is a little technical (though not terribly so for motivated users) and it’ll cost you a few bucks for VMWare (free if you choose to use VirtualBox from Oracle). Here’s a good primer on how to create an OSX Virtual Machine with VMWare. I found that VMWare’s option to create a virtual machine from the recovery partition is a bit buggy (it seems to fail to recognize the recovery partition for many users). So you may need to download the full installer from Apple and create the Virtual Machine from that (this is also the route you’ll need to take if you are trying to create the Virtual Machine after you’ve already updated your computer to OSX 10.15).
    • See the section below on how to install an OSX Virtual Machine on your Mac.
  • Switch to Windows. This will be costly (at least in the short term), probably creates larger issues with software that you’ll have to repurchase or that may not be available for Windows, and may create a whole new learning curve if you aren’t familiar with Windows. But Windows is a great option for photographers and ultimately should save you money in the long run. This path is only one I would recommend if you have been contemplating other compelling reasons to switch, these 64-bit concerns are not a reason to switch (and you may well find some of your favorite Mac apps don’t run on PC too).

Don’t freak out. As long as you don’t blindly update OSX this fall, you should be fine. I recommend taking the following approach:

  • Wait to upgrade. There is no compelling reason to dive right in when OSX 10.15 is released in the fall. There are lots of things that may break, and there’s a good chance that 3rd party software updates to 64-bit won’t all be ready initially.. You should upgrade at some point in 2020, but I recommend waiting a few months after launch to let the dust settle.
  • If you have critical apps that you find are 32-bit, you may wish to ask your developer if they plan to update (or to voice your desire for a 64-bit update).
  • Create a bootable clone before you upgrade. If something critical breaks, you can boot from that drive to keep working.
  • If  want to dive in early, upgrade first on a bootable clone to test the waters. If it doesn’t go well, your primary installation hasn’t changed and you can simply erase the clone and keep working while you wait for updates or figure out another solution. This is a small amount of work to avoid problems or a lot more work to fix a problematic migration. And you can likely try this very soon via the Apple Beta Software Program very soon.
  • If you are tech savvy and want ongoing access to a few 32-bit apps, create an OSX virtual machine (see details below if you need a few pointers to get started). This is just an option for keeping access to a few legacy apps (it runs much more slowly, and installing everything would consume a lot of space on your drive). Don’t expect that this is going to help with any 32-bit drivers, just normal applications. This is probably of very limited use for most photographers.
  • Keep using the version of Photoshop and Lightroom you have (unless you have something older than Photoshop CS5). There’s no benefit to switching now, and what you have will likely continue to work just fine. If that proves not to be the case, you can easily upgrade Photoshop or switch to Affinity later.
  • If you use Photoshop Droplets (such as for export actions from Lightroom), you’ll need to rebuild them if they weren’t created with CC 2019.
  • Keep an eye on this topic. We’ll know a lot more once Apple starts to release beta versions to test and software developers feel compelled to publicly share their plans to update old code. We’ll probably see a lot of 32-bit software that fails in June get updated to 64-bit by October or shortly after. That’s certainly been the theme I’ve seen with the various companies listed above that I’ve contacted. But not everyone will make the jump. (One of the vendors I contacted told me they are unsure if they will update or simply discontinue their software. I’ve left them out of this article as they hadn’t made a final decision at the time I’m writing this article. I’ve already replaced their FTP software with a 64-bit solution from another company).


How to install an OSX Virtual Machine on your Mac:

Note: I am providing notes on how I installed to help others, but cannot be responsible in any way for your use or misuse of this information, and I cannot provide any support for this. If you need further help, please contact VMWare or your virtualization software developer.

Note that VMWare’s option to create a virtual machine from the recovery partition will not work with APFS, which means that it basically doesn’t work any more (since APFS has been standard since High Sierra). Instead, you’ll need to give it Apple’s installation file, which you can obtain and use with the following steps:

  1. You’ll need to download OSX Mojave. Open the Mac app store, search for “Mojave” and click “get” to start the download. DO NOT INSTALL when prompted (doing so will overwrite your primary boot disk, we only want to put it in the Virtual Machine). At this point, you should have a new program in your Applications folder called “Install macOS Mojave”. Rather than running this, you need to send it over to VMWare.
  2. Open VMWare and choose File/New to start creating a new virtual machine.
  3. Drag “Install macOS Mojave” from your Applications folder over the area in VMWare that says “Install from Disk or Image”.
  4. Click Continue and Finish to finish creating the new virtual machine.
  5. When done, you may delete “Install macOS Mojave” from your Applications folder.
  6. Finally, be sure to go to the “Virtual Machine” dropdown in VMWare and choose “Install VMWare Tools” for the new virtual machine. If you do not do this, the system clock won’t be correct in the virtual machine which will cause obvious issues when trying to use the Safari browser and prevent the OSX virtual machine from checking for software updates.


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