I currently use Pro-landscape, but do not bring my laptop with me to sales visits. In my opinion the software is good but there are too many variables to consider while sitting down with a customer at their home. I prepare the finished photos, then have them come to my nursery where we can make changes and view the plant material.
I'm hoping for an upgrade soon, I have found an awful lot of problems with the plant inventory and certain limitations such as edit/undo, or filling in with a different pattern.
Also, are you using the USB connection that came with the camera to down load you pics? An external drive form comp USA is 50x's faster. Also, I think you would have to have a pretty beefy laptop in order to use the software and not take forever.
I searched a year or so ago for a good software package to do what you're asking here, but have yet to be impressed. But I did end up doing something along the same lines, so maybe I can help. I bought a Kodak DC260 a couple years ago and have been very happy with it. At maximum detail it'll give a 1.3 megapixel picture, which in JPG format takes up about 1MB. To give you a frame of reference, many of the shots you see on the web are 200KB for the same size shot. To make a print that is truly photo-quality, you'd need about 4MB per picture, or 4-5 megapixels. For the purpose of a laptop presentation of an entire yard, a 1+ megapixel camera should give you more than you need. But you'll need to decide if that's the main thing you want to use it for. If you want to use those photos for other marketing purposes, more megapixels is better.
As for laptop presentations, I used to use the slide show function of Horticopia to show the customer plant material, and show them where each plant would go on the plan. The downside was, there is such a narrow field of view for laptop screens (although they are much better now than the one I have), that for the presentation I often had to place the computer just so on their kitchen table, then stand behind them, breathing down their neck to help add input about the plants. Now I just print the pictures with plant info and look it over with them (them leave it with them to chew on).
I laughed when I read the part of 'breathing' down the clients neck. I do not use a computer, but usually when going over a plan, it seems I always end up on top of the people trying to explain it to them.
I'm thinking of working on something for designs this year, but not sure how I want to approach it yet. I'm pretty effiecient at autocad, so I like using that for my layouts. However, the photo imaging does help signifigantly to convey ideas. I've been doing quite a bit of 3-d work in CAD now though, and will say that I am getting some decent stuff. I basically scan pictures into the cad program, then use that as a template for my renderings. It works quite well, though it has a 'modernistic' look to it. Some people dig it, others kind of question it. I think, over the winter, I will get a better system set up. I like the real photo stuff, but by doing the pictorial renderings on CAD, it produces something a little different which I like, because it seems as if just about every other guy is using the photo programs these days.
I like the idea of using encylopedia programs for showing clients plants, but my problem has always been that here you are showing 'absolute perfect' specimen pictures to clients, and in liklihood, the chance of actually installing anything that perfect is very low.
I spent a lot of time last year going around to nurseries and taking pictures of live plant material, showing all aspects of size (would line up diff't container/root ball/cal. sizes side by side), took pictures at diff't points in time to capture flowers, and also even pictures of them in the winter as they look. I have about 4 photo albums filled, and they work well to show the customer what they 'REALLY' can expect to see when the installation is done, instead of some picture of a plant that was grown in a green house, lives in a arboritum, and gets 24 hr care.
Steveair you bring up the main issues that haven't impressed me with the software available. When I was looking last year, most every software that showed plants, showed them when they were their most attractive. While on the surface that sounds like a good idea, the customer then may think that all the plants they're getting all bloom at the same time, because they're all in bloom when they see the picture.
Some had growth rates, too. You can then show customers how big everything would be in 1 yr, 5yrs, 10yrs. But none of the reps could tell me if they had plant-spcific growth rates. After all, everything grows at a different rate, and some stuff stops growing after a few years (3' high Ajuga does not happen in nature). Now, maybe the software accounts for that, but none of the reps could tell me it did.
I have a question for those who do use some type of software like the kinds we're talking about here: Do you end up making two 'drawings?' One CAD or hand drawing supplemented by this picture image? I'd also be worried that this added sales tool would end up taking more of my time per bid.
I haven't used the pro landscape a whole lot but the customers I have showed it to just love it. I bought the cheapest digital camera the local store had ($250) and it works. They (the customer) like to see their home on the computer. I am not impressed with the plant library all that much and I don't use the CAD at all. I think that 3 or 4 basic shapes of decidious and 3-4 shapes of evergreens would be all I need. I mean you can't see all that much detail when you shrink the plants down. For small jobs($500 - $2000), it is easier to do an image than draw up a plan. I just recieved a bid on a new motel. I am in SD and the owner is in Wisc. It has sealed the deal. I showed them what my ideas where, sent the image over the internet and them we can talk about the image over the phone. The bid is for 20k which is my largest job by far.