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My Sprinter Photography Adventure Van Project: Which Mac?

Mercedes Sprinter cargo van,
before modifications

See also:

Update, Nov 23 2017: the 2015 iMac 5K proved itself up to 11,600'. While it has some operating issues with extreme cold until warmed up, it performed like a champ, and the 2017 iMac 5K is significantly faster still. See Choosing a Photography Workstation Setup for 2018 Usage. As well, the form factor and stowability with the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote and the built-in 5K display are huge plusses for mixed travel/home use that deliver utility far beyond what any laptop can do.


Most (maybe all) Apple computers have a limited operating range. For example, the specifications for the late 2015 iMac 5K have temperature and humidity and altitude limits, two of which are serious concerns for me with my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, at least on paper: operating temperature (cold, mainly) and altitude—the picture below is at 11,500' elevation!

Electrical and Operating Requirements

  • Line voltage: 100–240V AC Frequency: 50Hz to 60Hz, single phase
  • Operating temperature: 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C)
  • Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing
  • Operating altitude: tested up to 10,000 feet

I’ve already tested the 2015 MacBook Pro at 11,500' and it works fine at that altitude for extended periods. However, I know from past experience that the screen is problematic below about 40°F and this is probably true of an iMac as well (or any LCD display), but once it warms up, it will probably be just fine. Besides, I will have to warm up the van as my hands get too cold below about 55°F.

The NEC PA302W also works fine at 11,500' and has no problem at 90°F to 95°F (also tested), though the MacBook Pro becomes unusable.

See Reasons To Like the NEC PA302W Wide Gamut Professional Display.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 11,500' elevation


There is an open question as to whether a 2015 MacBook Pro would be viable for my work. The short answer is “viable but problematic. Problematic because the 16GB memory limit slows me down regularly, and because the 2015 MacBook Pro does not tolerate heat well at all. Still, I might stick with it until the iMac Pro comes out, because it is now autumn and temperatures in the mountains are dropping.

I have been considering three options:

  • 2015 MacBook Pro with 16GB memory, top end model (already own).
  • 2015 iMac 5K with 64GB, top-end model (already own).
  • 2017 iMac 5K with 64GB top-end model, would have to purchase. Makes no sense with iMac Pro coming in 4 months. Also Thunderbolt 3 creates headaches, thus requiring adapters or more hardware like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock just to hook up the 2nd display. So as much as I like its outstanding performance, I’ve rejected the 2017 iMac 5K out of hand for cost and hassle reasons.
  • 2017 iMac Pro has the same issues as the 2017 iMac 5K, but because I might end up getting one, I might go this way for travel. Or I might just use the 2015 iMac 5K so as not to risk the iMac Pro.
  • 2013 Mac Pro with 64GB is problematic given my requirement for two displays; I’d have to buy one whereas an iMac 5K counts as one display.
Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote

I am going to try the 2015 iMac 5K soon now that I have solved the packing issue with the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote. The 2015 iMac 5K may be just the ticket, since I can avoid the extra power draw and setup/teardown hassle of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock — it would be needed to connect a Mini DisplayPort display like the the NEC PA302W to a Thunderbolt 3 Mac.

Other items I’d want along:

  • At least one OWC Envoy Pro EX 1TB SSD for backups (2TB would be better, but 1TB is max as of summer 2017). The elegance of this device is that I can put it in my daypack when hiking all day as a safeguard against losing all my work disappear, should the van be broken into and computer gear stolen.
  • OWC Viper for big storage (preferably 4TB so I can carry a bunch of other stuff from home that can be used on the road also). But that presumes a Thunderbolt 3 Mac, so that means an 2017 iMac 5K or an iMac Pro (since the MacBook Pro is unacceptable for my work).
  • BatPower USB charger for iPhone and iPad and other stuff. And for MacBook Pro, which I’d take along as a backup/spare computer.
  • Fast camera card reader for both SDXC and Compact Flash and XQD cards.
  • External drive for Time Machine backup while I work, like the OWC Elite Pro Dual Mini 2TB. Assuming a Thunderbolt 3 Mac, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini USB-C would be a rocking fast choice.
Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van: temporary work setup with 2015 MacBook Pro and NEC PA302W
Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, alpenglow on Mt Whitney from Alabama Hills
f9 @ 1/8 sec focus stack 3 frames, ISO 64; 2017-09-24 06:48:21
NIKON D810 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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