Apple PC hardware choices for the photographer

Choices, choices. Image from the Apple Malaysia homepage.

At some point early on in the digital era, the world decided that Apple was the way to go for serious photographers and graphics professionals – granted, there were applications that were Mac-specific or just worked so much better on a Mac than a PC that it made sense. I’m sure some of that was image and hubris, too pricing be damnmed, the hardware just looked sooo much cooler. There was also a point in not so distant history at which we weren’t held hostage by Apple’s upgrade options, either: you could buy the base version, and upgrade certain components yourself if you were handy with a screwdriver, which brought the cost of performance down. The cost of ownership wasn’t (and still isn’t) as bad because Macs maintain their resale value – probably because the new machines are never much cheaper than the old ones. But a) does Apple hardware still make sense for photographers, and b) if so, what hardware?

I switched to Apple in late 2006, with a 15″ Macbook Pro pre-Unibody. Having come from a Sony Vaio and a couple of Dells. I admit, I was seduced by the hardware, and the prices weren’t so bad compared to the equivalent Vaios – even if the screens weren’t quite as good and the processors a little slower. In use though, I think it was all justified – the experience was so much smoother, and the hardware felt bulletproof. Except for my expanding battery pack. And the fact that it went through battery packs at a horrendous rate – I think five in all, during the five years I had the machine. I did like the fact that it was upgradeable and I kept extending its life with ram and drive upgrades; it served me far longer than I’d expected it to. My next machine was an easy choice – the first generation unibody 15″ that stayed home as the photography computer, and subsequently in late 2011, I added a 11″ Air for business travel. The early part of this site was written almost entirely on that machine, too. In late 2012, I consolidated on a newer 11″ Air for travel, and a Mac Mini server with 27″ Thunderbolt Display for the primary desktop – the latter which is still serving currently, and still plenty fast enough.

Let me explain the rationale here: I went from one machine that had to be powerful enough for all tasks, and sometimes portable, to two machines, one of which scarified power for portability and battery life. That worked well enough that I decided to go with a maxed out version of the 11″ Air – which has only just left me, actually – and essentially a desktop. The Mini was a no-brainer: the relatively low (for Apple) prices; plenty of power with the 2.6G quad-core i7; easy upgradeability of components with plug and play ram and dual drive bays which only required removal of a few screws. It now has 16GB of RAM and dual 500GB SSDs, and still flies. For those interested in the numbers, the Xbench scores are something like 3,200/12,000 or thereabouts.

I have found of late that my portable machine needed more horsepower. (It would also be nice if my desktop could drive 4k, but that’s another story.) I am spending increasingly more time on the road as my clientele gets increasingly international; if those long hours spent on airplanes could be productive, then I could at least spend more time with the family when back home, or decompressing between assignments. Whilst the late-2012 11″ Air (2.0G i7, 8GB, 256 GB) was good enough for files up to 16MP, and not too bad for 24MP, the 36-50MP monsters I’m dealing with now were definitely laggy. Not so much in basic operations as waiting time to open, less-than-fluid brushes, and the screen gamut left a lot to be desired. It took many attempts to calibrate, still didn’t feel quite right in the end, and if a file looked good on that monitor, it would definitely be within gamut on just about anything else. The Airs are more than adequate for people who are casual photographers, which is a mark of just how far portable computing has come; but if you’re a power user, think again. And forget about video.

So what did I replace it with? We currently have no less than six main choices: Macbook, Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, iMac, Mac Mini and the Mac Pro. For those of us who travel often, the three desktops are out of the question (though if you always have a power supply, then a 13″ Wacom Cintiq and a Mac Mini might actually be a workable choice for tethering on location). The 12″ Macbook Retina is today what the Air was in 2008: pushing the design envelope at the expense of performance. It drips with want, but is dry on practicality. I say wait a couple of years, and we’ll have acceptable performance in that kind of form factor. The price, specification and single port are simply not practical unless you value weight above all else. As militant as the airlines are, even I wouldn’t go that far. The main board, however, is an incredible piece of design – the whole computer including storage is not much larger than a credit card. I looked into another 11″ or 13″ Air; after all, there’s probably 30-40% more power to be had compared to what I was running previously, but there’s no way it would solve the horsepower problem. And the 13″ Air has a pretty big footprint because of the thick screen bezel, meaning all of my current packing solutions would not work.

I then turned to the 15″ Retinas: if I had to buy a new bag, and carry more weight, why not go the whole hog and replace the desktop, too? I could then have a dual monitor setup for even more real estate. Simple problem: footprint, again. It wouldn’t fit into most of my bags and the whole dock-undock procedure makes me concerned for the longevity of my ports. Not to mention the pain of migrating portable device sync from the Mini to a new machine. I’ll have to deal with that eventually, but why start now? Retina makes me hesitant mainly because of retouching: it’s too easy to miss a dot your client won’t because they’re not on Retina, and it makes it very difficult to judge critical sharpness/focus/adequate sharpening. But, having tried intermediate screens settings via SwitchResX (critical for Retina users, I think), there’s a workable balance somewhere in the middle which isn’t eye-fatiguingly small, nor is it so smooth you can no longer sharpen accurately or see minor blemishes. Retina problem solved.

We are then by default left with the 13″ Macbook Pro: it lacks the quad core processors and dedicated graphics card of the 15″s, but it also lacks the weight and is significantly cheaper. Forget the non-Retina; it’s crippled with slow processors, lots of weight, and a very low resolution, limited-gamut screen. Even if you really need a DVD drive, you’re better off buying an external one. I honestly have no idea when the last time I used mine was, incidentally. Once again, Apple has not just carefully tiered pricing options, but also continued to move towards ‘sealed’ systems which are basically not user serviceable at all: you must choose the configuration you want at the time of purchase. As tempting as it is to pick the 13″ Retina and tick all of the option boxes, look carefully: that 1TB SSD upgrade is a whopping $500; the faster processor is $200, and 8GB more RAM is also $200. You cannot change the processor or RAM later, and both are pretty critical to speedy operation. The processor bump goes from a 2.9 i5 to a 3.1 i7, and I think is worthwhile. The storage is not. You can buy a 1TB SSD off Amazon and a SATA-USB3 cable for about $350 – giving you 1.5TB in total, a very fast scratch or transfer disk, and leaving $150 in your pocket. You can probably guess about now I’m writing this on a 13″ Retina with the 3.1 i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD…

It’s too early to say whether this is speedy enough to replace the Mac Mini, though the Xbench scores are actually a bit faster on the 13″ Retina for single core work (Photoshop is still single core, sadly). But I do know that at least working away from the office is going to be more efficient.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that I seriously considered moving back to Windows/PC when looking at this new machine. Dell has the XPS13″ which has a similarly nice panel, much smaller footprint and lighter price tag; unfortunately the machine just doesn’t feel as nice, and I’ve been out of the Windows environment for so long that there have been enough changes I’d feel like learning a new OS – and I honestly don’t have the time for that. But for those of you who do use both platforms, I’d give it a long, serious look. And there’s no question that on the desktop side, unless you want the 5K display, then between the very premium pricing and/or lack of upgradeability, it’s very difficult to justify another Apple machine. The new Mac Mini is pretty much not user accessible anymore. iMacs are glued shut with copious adhesive; if they’d at least let us access the hard drive in addition to the RAM, I’d probably bite – even if it means paying for a screen I don’t really need. And the Mac Pro is gorgeous but absolutely terrible value for money.

It is probably important to remember that few people need the kind of computing power beyond even the most basic laptops; tablets and phones are now powerful enough to serve a lot of users computing needs entirely. Even amongst photographers, how many are chunking through hundreds of 80MB+ RAW files on a regular basis? Or stitching gigapixel images? I suspect very, very few, and even for the majority of still photography work, that mid-2012 11″ Air was more than sufficient. Think of it this way: it’s a case of matching the back end to the front end; you’re not going to be very happy if you’re capture-limited or workflow-limited. That said, chasing the bleeding edge in any discipline has always been costly; it’s just that the edge is a little closer and a little duller, but clothed in oh-so-seductive CNC’ed aluminium. MT


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  1. Very healthy perspective on the computing hardware for a photographer. I am just an amateur, but my main computer is 1st. geeration MacBook unibody (from 2008 !) with 8GB RAM and recently added SSD. No, it is not blazing fast with 16Mpix Olympus raw files (mostly LR) and it takes its time with 200+MB scans (CS3), but it can do it. But if I were getting a new machine today I would simply bite the bullet and get mac again (13″ or 15″). I am using Linux and Windows at work and personally prefer OSX to both of them – the user interface and stability is hard to beat, even if there is stuff in OSX that I do not really appreciate.

    • The 13″ is proving more powerful than it looks. Editing 2h of 1080P50 footage on it in Premiere Pro and it’s perfectly smooth. I’m impressed.

  2. Stuart says:

    I am toying with the idea of a laptop upgrade too. I have an old 11″ Air, late 2010 model but always found the screen resolution (1366×768) to be a bit too small to actually be useful for LR. If they got rid of the huge bezel and gave me a touch more screen I would have another in a shot. The 50% increase in price to the Pro makes the justification hard to reason, but when push comes to shove I think would rather opt for useful rather than pretty.

    • My other gripe with the Air was the terrible gamut – something like 40% ARGB. I suppose on the plus side if it looks good on that monitor it’d look good on anything, but you probably do need to see what might be out of gamut and shifting oddly…

  3. Rosa Michaels says:

    For light use of LR6 , (no pun intended) or similar editing apps , is the following config. sufficient :
    2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz
    8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 memory
    512GB PCIe-based flash storage1
    Intel Iris Graphics 6100

  4. Ming

    For your travel computer have you tried using Duet software to use an iPad with your laptop as a second monitor? I found this combination mentioned at the link below and was considering giving it a try with my 17″ MacBook Pro. i did talk with my local Apple Store Genius crew and they recommended it. But there is nothing like the voice of a true traveling power user.


    • I’ve tried both Duet and Air Display; they tend to be a bit fiddly and really only useful for things that aren’t color critical. I managed to work around the 1366x768px display of the 11″ Air; the 13″ Retina at 1680x1050px is enormously spacious by comparison. I normally divide up my 27″ 2560x1440px into four windows anyway, except for PS. Now if I need more resolution on the road, I’ll just run the 13″ Retina at 2560×1440. Short answer: not necessary, I find.

  5. Samuel Jessop says:

    An interesting read, especially considering I am looking at the same approximate model.

    I currently have a 14″ ThinkPad, and generally have been pleased. I have been a Windows user since 3.1, my laptop works well in 8.1 x64 and I like what I’ve seen of Windows 10. I have been looking to upgrade for a little while as in 2015 a 2kg+ machine doesn’t really cut it as portable, and the battery life is a fraction of what Broadwell can achieve. My Haswell Chromebook has its obvious limitations, but the 50% weight saving means that my ThinkPad now never leaves my desk.

    I am saving for a new machine and have settled on the 13-inch Retina.

    – Single core performance means the 15-inch Pro is no faster for lightroom.
    – By far the best battery life for a 13-inch laptop with the fastest RAM and SSD.
    – Apple keyboard seems more comfortable over time, I assume because I am moving my fingers less compared to the ThinkPad.
    – Lightroom 6 works fine on OS X, plus now I can try Logic Audio and Final Cut.

    The winning factor is that the price is actually lower in the UK than the ThinkPad T450s at the same capacities, which I am unable to try out before it arrives. I am now confident that the 13-inch Retina will be the best spec machine for my needs and budget.

  6. Another angle, which is probably irrelevant to many of your readers here — Pro Audio (ooh, capitalized letters, must be important!)

    Digital audio has been heavily Mac for about the same time and reasons, and there are still some options today not available for Wintel — namely Apogee convertors/interfaces (Metric Halo, iirc, has been Mac-only for years and *think* they just started to support Windows). The new MOTU thunderbolt interfaces were months late with their Windows drivers (USB) and will probably never see Thunderbolt drivers due to Microsoft’s thunderbolt support.

    I’m buying a Retina 15″ next month and probably an Apogee Ensemble soon after. The worry — if my laptop is ever stolen, etc, I simply can’t replace it with a $600 windows box. For my photography, this isn’t an issue — Lightroom is Lightroom, regardless of platform. The days of PCs lacking gamma control, dual monitor support, font ligatures ad nauseum are long gone.

    So those are the practical decisions I make all the time regarding my creative pursuits… photography/graphic design is never an issue. Recording music? Every few years I think long and hard whether this will be my last Mac.

    If money wasn’t a concern, I’d never even consider a PC (but in that scenario, I’d probably own an IQ180, have a Leica M in my glove box and date a super model, too).

  7. Martin Vorhofer says:

    I am in the same boat as you as my 15´ Macbook Pro 2011 antiglare gets tired and sometimes too heavy, especially for holiday trips.
    The question is updating to a 13´ MacbookPro now with tons of interfaces or waiting for Skylake-processors and having the fear of Apple getting rid of all connections – and lugging 5 Interface connectors with you.

    Do you have problems with UI-lag? Please keep us updated – thanks!

    Btw: For people who need good protection, like me having two young kids Thule makes excellent sleeves called Thule Vectros.

    Best regards from Vienna and keep on with your excellent work!


    PS: Sorry for my english.

  8. I pretty much agree on all points. I use a 15″ Retina for work, don’t need to travel that much but carry it with me around town. It’s a big step up in portability compared to where we were a few years ago, but obviously it’s no featherweight. On the laptop side I believe Apple is still the way to go, though Yosemite has had its share of issues. On the desktop side, however, Apple doesn’t offer very cost effective solutions and my editing is done on a Windows PC. It’s different, but gets the job done, saves a lot of money and adding an upgrade is a breeze.

    • Do you find switching between the two platforms annoying at times though?

      • Not really, but I do very little editing on the Mac and very little work stuff on Windows 🙂 The biggest practical difference for me is getting my fingers to find the right modifier keys for the shortcuts (no joke: I keep pressing cmd and option all the time, ctrl being in a different spot than cmd), but the UI of PS itself is very similar on both platforms and the nitty gritty details of using a computer aren’t a big deal really when switching.

  9. Interesting topic. I would add a few things though. Macs aren’t that expensive and their resale value is only one of the reasons. If we compare to similarly specced PCs (and this would include weight and dimensions) from companies who build reliable gear, such as Lenovo, Sony, Fujitsu, Asus etc. the price differences won’t be huge. Another point is the cheap software available for Mac (although that would depend on one’s particular usage); MacOS, as an example, has been cheaper than Windows for a long time and now it is free. Then you have software like FCP, FCPX, Aperture, Shake long time ago, Logic Pro, Pages, Numbers, Keynote which are/were amazing value for their prices. I would say that the reason why Macs seem expensive is mostly because they simply don’t have lower tier models at all, rather than their products being overpriced. Although the upgrades admittedly are (and have always been). Note though that some upgrades for the Retina models are available from OWC.
    Another thing is I don’t see why a photographer would buy a 15″ (except if they have other uses). The four cores are completely useless imho, the only I manage to saturate all of them is by doing 3D rendering. The dedicated card is normally a plus, but with integrated graphics being what they are now, I doubt that matters much either. What is left is the size of the screen.

    • Actually, I thought the newer lower end models like the entry level Air were pretty amazing for the price – for most of the world who aren’t photographers, it’s more computer than they’ll ever need, in an attractive and light package, for not that much money…

  10. Yes, was reading about the Asus UX305 Vs. Apple here:

  11. You have to think long and hard about what you actually need.

    I have a Mac Pro tower 1.1 that dates from 2006/7 ish (I think) and it’s lightening quick for what I need. It has 16gb of ram and four hard drives 1tb for the apps. 1.5tb for time machine, 500gb as a scratch disk for video and 500gb thats not used. I’m using to to scan 35mm and medium format negatives with a Plustek 120 and I can batch scan medium format negatives to 508mb files while at the same time working on an image in PS and streaming music to bluetooth speakers.

    It’s an old machine but it doesn’t skip a beat and I’d say that scanning medium format negs at 5000+ dpi is pretty tough going for most machines.

    A popular option here in the UK is to get hold of one of the last generation Mac Pros, one that has 8 or 12 cores and run them purely for photo editing. (Something that I’m considering myself)

    I think that it’s a more difficult choice when you want one machine that does it all. I recently changed my iPhone 4s and 2nd gen iPad for an iPhone 6+ and an early 2015 Macbook Pro retina (standard spec 8gb + 256 SSD) and that was a more difficult choice.

    In the end a went for a 6+ because i was sick of carrying around and iPhone and an iPad for work. The 6+ is a compromise but it’s one thats works for me. The Macbook Pro retina seems to me like it’s the only choice for a photographer who wants portability. I opted for the 13″ over the 15″ for the smaller footprint and because I have a 27″ screen at home.

    If I was to have only only one machine I think I’d go for a 15″ Macbook Pro retina and max it out on the ram and the processor upgrades.

    I have to say that the new force trackpad is simply fantastic so I’d wait until the 15″ Macbook Pro retina is upgraded later on in the year.


    • As much as I want a Mac Pro, I can’t justify the cost. Plus it’s the portable that was the problem, not the desktop 🙂

      Agreed on iPhone 6+ though – it’s replaced my iPad, too. And the battery life is great!

      I’m actually inclined to think that for photographers, the Retina iMac is a better choice because PS is still a single core app and thus limited by clock speed – you can get 32GB into the iMac, and it has the fastest single-core clock speed (but is a quad anyway) of any of the current macs. The only gotcha is how much Apple will sting you for to put an SSD into it…

  12. I’m currently using the Illegear S7 laptop, which is a custom build laptop. It might not looks as minimalistic or as slim as MBP, but it’s slim-profiled, more affordable and powerful performance in a portable form.

  13. Hi Ming, I’ve have a macbook pro retina (late 2012). Do you have any disatisfction with the black levels on your version? I have tried to recalibrate mine but often find its ability to distuingish the lower end of blacks quite lacking; It will crush to solid black sooner than other displays.

    • Initially, yes – but that’s a problem with all Mac displays because the native gamma is not quite right. Try calibrating at 2.0 and you’ll find that problem goes away. 🙂

      • Hi Ming thanks for the advice, I’ve had mine on 1.8 for a while and find that quite a good setting, it still has trouble with box 1 and 2 on the black level test but better than before and go to low on the gamma and the display becomes quite washed out. I also found the white balance was very warm on the recommended settings when I first got it, maybe I have a poor sample.

  14. Interesting post. I’ve also been shopping for a laptop with a decent screen (gamut, accuracy). I had to rule out the retina screens because I’m one of those folks who gets nausea/dizziness. You mentioned the old macbook. In my research, I was surprised to learn that the 2012 era MacBook Pro 13 (non retina) isn’t too bad–sure, it uses old processors and a TN screen. But in benchmarks, the old 3xxxM i5 processors compare well to the current 5200u i5 (the ol’ macbook uses a mobile processor, not a ULV). That TN screen also covers the Srgb gamut, at least according to anandtech–I never thought they looked that good. New prices are outrageous, but a refurb for $820…

    For those who didn’t go with a retina Mac, what did you choose for your machine? I’m thinking about a t450s with the ips screen, but what else seems appealing on the PC side?

    • The T450s may be a winner. Note Adobe PS does not handle high rez screens well. The menus get really small. This is not the case with the MACs.

      Other PCs that are nice are the ASUS ux 305 which is tiny and cheap (not very highly powered). Lenovo is coming out with a light laptop in the below 2 pound range. Also one with a flex hinge just at 2lbs. This flex one has a nicer screen likely.

      Razer has their blade 14 inch but it is spendy at $2200… Not sure how the screen handles PS.

      You might try put the Lenovo X1 carbon. I had one when the screen was not so good but the latest has an upgraded screen…

  15. Ming, do you find the retina DPI monitors affect tonality (similar to retina prints)? If so, how?

    • Good question: not so far, because the images are not displayed using dithering technology, and they are transmissive rather than reflective. You definitely get more tonal subtlety, but not the same kind of shifts.

  16. Ming, I wondered how you find the Macbook Pro 13 performance when processing a large number of images. Does the lack of dedicated graphics processor make it a slow process? I have the Macbook Air 13 currently, 3 year old model, and find it frustrating when working on images on the road when shooting 1-2 hundred images a day, because it takes so long to render and process in Lightroom. Wondering how much better the Macbook Pro 13 will actually be performance wise.

    • My mid-2012 Mini doesn’t have a dedicated graphics processor either, and it’s plenty fast. So far, for single core operations, the 13″ Retina seems to be just as fast as the Mini – i.e. not the bottleneck.

  17. I think the Surface Pro 3(and inevitable SP4) is worth a look for it’s portability and pen compatibility. The Dell XPS 13″ looks very nice indeed, but the lack of a 16GB memory option puts me off(same for the SP3)

  18. I thought I was reading my own history as I read yours, its almost identical. Nice article, thank you

  19. I got one of the last 13″ MacBook Pro models that could still be upgraded, then shoved 16 GB RAM into it. Currently running an NEC display as my desk editing monitor. I nearly went the Windows route before buying this, because the move towards sealed computers is very off-putting to me. That Wacom computer was a tempting choice, but not at that price. Anyway, we’ll see how long I get out of this machine, and then if Apple is sticking to sealed pretty slabs, I am more likely to look at other choices.

    I learned on truly awful (compared to today) monitors, so I have a habit of looking at numbers more than what’s in front of me on the screen. Even a calibrated monitor is just a starting point for me. Things that are going to be printed on a press end up having eyedropper points all over them to verify the ink percentages. However, the NEC is definitely nicer to work on than any of the Apple laptop monitors. I don’t think I will ever lose the numbers checking workflow, though a nice monitor certainly makes work go more smoothly.

    • There’s no substitute to sitting next to the printer 🙂

      • None of my clients use inkjet. 😉 I wish there was a budget in my projects so I could travel to each press location, but those days disappeared years ago. Almost everyone soft-proofs now too, which is a poor substitute for a printed proof.

        • Agreed. Fortunately I still have some clients who do, but they’re mostly at the fine art end of the spectrum. Spent yesterday proofing for a mammoth one-off 190x160cm Ultraprint that’s going in a lightbox on a ceiling…I suppose at this point it’s installation art.

    • I have a few years old Eizo CG243W monitor which is great for color correction and can be calibrated by my Colormunki using the Eizo ColorNavigator software for hardware LUT correction. And yes, it’s right next to my Epson R3000, though I usually have to make very slight color and contrast modifications in Lightroom to get the prints I want.

  20. That’s a very sensible article. I wonder how long it takes until most needs are covered by a large tablet with optional pressure-sensitive stylus (though screen scratching and ergonomics will be an issue). That wouldn’t be useful for heavy writing of course, but serves most amateur photographers’ needs without taking up much real estate.

    Curiously, why doesn’t 200% zoom in PS work well enough for cleanup, even with native retina resolution, or are there some other disadvantages?

    Personally I was looking at the retina macbooks some 1,5 years back to replace my old and very slow one. Then a 27″ iMac was on good discount due to some minor upgrade release from Apple, and I saw right away that it was the best choice. Cheaper than the portable retinas, plenty fast for my use (memory is still upgradeable in this one), I could ditch my ugly external monitor (think about how much you can spend on a sofa table just because it looks nicer in the house), it’s usable as a thunderbolt display if I want to replace the computing with something faster, and frankly I prefer looking at something else after a long day with Windows at work. I mainly use the machine for photo processing, while iPad is good for web browsing etc. (who wants to sit at a desk more than necessary?)

    • Wacom already has that Cintiq companion thing – we’re not really there in terms of computing power, but we’re not far off. On the opposite side, it appears there are stylus/software options that turn the new Force Touch trackpads into pressure sensitive stylus devices – they’re a little fiddly, but given another generation and it’s quite possible we might be able to leave the Wacom at home entirely.

      Native Retina resolution at 2560px is too small – your eyes will start to ache after very little time. At 1280px (half), you don’t have enough working area for palettes etc. I find I’m now using 1600px and going to 200% anyway because of the way the PS engine works – 100% appears to render as though the display is 2560px wide total. Something odd going on here, I think.

      I spent a lot of time in less-than-ideal ergonomic situations with laptops in my previous jobs, and believe me, after a while, I’ll take a good desk and chair any day: your back will thank you. A laptop is only of so much use in those situations since your neck isn’t going to be so happy…

  21. Have a maxed out 15″ Pro. Got it from work but should pick it anytime except for underpowered graphics card.
    Does it mean i must get an 80MP H5D? 🙂
    Before that i had a win desktop – and continue using it now. Its upgradable, customizable, a has much better price-performance ratio, as long as size/aesthetics are not concerned.

    • Start stitching and you might find it time to go component shopping for that desktop 🙂

      • Andrei K says:

        Stitching like panoramas? The new LR should do that, and with GPU support even than should be fast (didn’t try it yet, though).
        But focus stacking and other aligned multi-image thingies in PS could still be a pain, yeah…

  22. I wouldn’t consider getting a non-retina Apple laptop for photography work, as the non-retina models only have sub-standard TN panels, not IPS like the retinas.

    I myself have the 15″ rMBP, 2013 vintage, which replaced an original first-generation MacBook Air, and the new Mac Pro. Like the original MBA, the single port on the new 12″ retina MacBook will be very limiting, but I would expect Apple to add additional ports in subsequent generations as they did with the MBA. It looks very enticing as a light-duty carry-everywhere device, however, i.e. as an iPad alternative for those who do serious typing.

    The new cylinder Mac Pro is surprisingly portable (and Waterfield Designs have a carrying case specifically for it, If you know you will have a screen and keyboard available where you are going, it would be a more viable choice than one would think, certainly much more so than a Mac Mini.

    • It strikes me as odd that they’d make the same mistake as they did with the first generation Air, though – in the second generation, the machine had to gain more ports to be a) usable and b) more widely adopted. The current 12″ Macbook reads the same way: it’s a glimpse of the future, but immediately crippled for no good reason. It sin’t the processing power that’s so much of an issue as the lack of ports – especially given that the old mid-2012″ Air was already good enough most of the time (except for the display) and the 12″ Macbook is more powerful still.

      Unless you have a screen of known quality, surely carrying only the CPU is a little pointless? You’re going to then land up not being able to work again. I don’t think the Mac Mini is a bad choice at all – it has been my main processing machine for more than two years and still doesn’t feel as though it’s out of steam. Plus I suspect it would leave you with a lot more carry-on allowance than a Mac Pro – perhaps enough to include a calibrated 13″ Cintiq…

      • I really don’t understand why they didn’t just give the Air a retina display instead of introducing a new SKU. I guess the plan is to keep the Air “cheap” and to eventually phase it out(like what happened to the original MacBook)

        • That would be my theory too. The 11″ with a retina display would be the ideal travel machine.

        • Steve Jones says:

          Real mystery to me is why they put such a low res camera in the new Macbook when they can put a better one in a small device like a phone.Not that I bother with FaceTime anyway, but….

    • All MacBook Pro have had IPS panels, only Air feature TN panel. It was one thing that was a downgrade for me when I switched from 13″ MacBook Pro 2009 to fully specked 13″ Air 2012. The best laptop for me now is 13″ MacBook Pro Retina

      • The Air panels are quite a challenge to calibrate. But hey, on the plus side, if it looks good on an Air…it’ll look good on pretty much anything! 🙂

  23. Have you ever considered getting the photgraphy specific Eizo or NEC monitors ? I thought with your increased focus on printing you would move towards a Adobe RGB gamut capable monitor. From what I’ve read and seen – thunderbolt displays are not the best when it comes to printing ?

    • I have, but a) lack of local availability would mean ordering sight unseen, and that’s risky for a monitor that expensive; b) there’s not much point proofing on a device which exceeds the gamut of the printer and all clients output requirements; c) the monitor isn’t the limitation right now 🙂

      • When calibrated and adjusted for ambient light, these high end monitors’ effective gamut will decrease considerably, approaching that of paper (though a properly calibrated Apple monitor also has reduced gamut, brightness and contrast). My Eizo’s working calibration seems a close match to inkjet printing, but still has more shadow detail than a straight from Lightroom R3000 print. I like its hood and non-glare, semi-matt screen surface too. The New England School of Photography has all Eizo monitors in their digital lab, and the Massachusetts College of Art uses NEC ones.

        The Eizo CS230 model looks like a good deal, and even has a built-in spectrophotometer for calibration, but it may be smaller than what people doing high resolution photography would want now. Their new CG318-4K 31″ monitor seems insanely expensive.

        • I think we’re in a transition period now between the older size and the 4K panels; personally, I’m holding off until they are widespread enough to be cheap and worth the extra processing effort; there’s no point making an image that requires resolution (tonal or spatial) to work and then the vast majority of the audience (commercial end-use, or this site) being completely unable to appreciate it. It’s one of the reasons I sometimes switch to a very reduced gamut monitor for final proofing if my clients are using images for social media.

  24. Is that true that all retina MacBooks (be it MBPs or MBs) experiencing some kind of UI lag? If yes, does that UI lag annoy you?

    • Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t – and only when running HiDPI (i.e. non-integer scaling) resolutions. Most of the time, you don’t notice it unless you’re gaming. And honestly…you don’t buy a Mac for that 🙂

      • I’m always puzzled why Apple ships the Air models with only ‘4GB’ of RAM. Memory is probably one of the most important things to have in a responsive operating system. That’s why your UI lagged.

  25. Indeed. I’ve been a Windows user for ever and ever (and before that an IBM mainframe user). I moved to a 15″ Mac PowerBook Pro last summer. I Bought a couple of 3TB external drives, and a Thunderbolt 17″ screen last month (when I decided to work my way through your video series). I picked up a 13″ PowerBook Pro as a carry-around (since I don’t carry around very much.) The difference between a PC and a Mac in ergonomics and the brilliant visuals is amazing.

    • Opps. A Thunderbolt 27″ screen.

    • Isn’t it getting tougher to justify the difference in pricing though? It’s almost back to a decade ago when macs were 2x the cost of PCs. Perhaps Apple is hiding their software development costs in the mix somewhere…

      • Sadly, (as my ex-wives will tell you) I am a spoiled dilettante who buys what he wants without the necessity of doing trade-off analyses or cost-benefit calculations.

      • Frans Richard says:

        Apple software engineers don’t live on just air, so of course you pay for the software when you buy Apple hardware. Since Mac OS, iOS and Apple apps only runs on Apple hardware it is a viable business model to make the software (and upgrades) “free”.
        Another thing you should take into account when comparing on price is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), the total costs of buying, maintaining and upgrading over the usefull lifespan of a device. When you compare TCO of a WinTel vs a Mac in my experience a Mac is not more expensive. Add to that the user experience of Mac OS X and the esthetics of the hardware (which admittedly is a question of personal taste) and I think a Mac is a better deal.
        To give just one example, the PowerMac G4 Cube was considered overpriced when it came out in 2000, yet I bought one. I still have it and use it for streaming music throughout my house via AirPlay. I replaced the HDD with an SSD so it it absolutely quiet. My iPad/iPhone can be used as a remote. To me it is a thing of beauty that proudly stands in my living room. It may have seemed relatively expensive at the time, but how many computers are still a daily enjoyment when they are 15 years old?

        • Actually, TCO is quite a lot less because Macs have very high residuals – something that has definitely not been the case fro the won does machines. However, you don’t seem to get much of your build-to-order value back over the basic cost of the machine, though.

          • Frans Richard says:

            I agree BTO from Apple is not great value most of the time. I really don’t like Apple’s latest trend to make upgrading RAM and HDD/SSD almost impossible to do yourself. Even worse, in the latest Mac mini RAM is soldered to the motherboard! 😦
            That said, I think computers have passed sufficiency in processing power and RAM for most users these days, although the ability to upgrade storage remains a necessity in my opinion. So essentially computers have become appliances, like digital camera’s. I have never heard anyone complain they couldn’t upgrade the sensor in their digital camera. 😉

  26. I wouldn’t consider the XPS 13 for any sort of semi-serious photo editing work. Although this is purely anecdotal evidence, but I’ve done a lot of comparisons between the XPS 13 and its next closest competitor, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. From what I’ve read, the XPS 13 uses an aggressive hardware-level (or at least BIOS-level) adaptive lighting algorithm on the display which you have no control over (or at least none, the last time I checked). This means that depending on what is being displayed on your screen, the screen brightness is going to go up or down to conserve power. That’s how they get that insane 10++ hour battery life on such a tiny footprint and processor.

    For the record, I bought the Lenovo instead. However, I have to say that it also isn’t ideal for photo work, due to its pentile pixel arrangement and relatively underpowered core-M processor. But I didn’t really buy the machine specifically for photo work, I wanted a portable and lightweight machine for writing with MS Word, One Note and Scrivener, and general Internet access. But I’d thought I’d share my experiences here since the XPS 13 was mentioned.

    • Ouch – that’s a disaster. If the backlight keeps changing, then there’s no way you can even calibrate the display; I don’t think there’s any laptop display whose gamut stays constant as brightness increases or decreases, and very few of the (extremely expensive) pro desktop monitors do, either.

      With the Lenovo’s odd display, how easy or difficult is it to tell if something is critically sharp or over sharpened? I imagine it might be difficult to spot haloes.

      • I think evaluating critical sharpness wouldn’t be a problem, but with the same issues as other Retina displays — pixels are too small and need higher magnification to properly evaluate. You wouldn’t notice the pentile pixel arrangement unless you really scrutinize the screen very closely (e.g. reading closer than 30cm to the screen).

        • Now you’ve got me curious. I’m envisioning something like the X-trans layout but transmissive…will have to go check it out – with a lupe 🙂

          • While playing around with a new macro lens, I thought of checking this out myself and took a 1:1 image with the Sony A7r. It’s like a bayer RGBW pattern, lol.

  27. My next computer will probably be the Asus UX305 or Dell Inspiron 7000 with broadwell. Windows 8.1 has a little bit of a learning curve but I reckon you’d be fine within the hour.

    Windows 10 is what 8 should of been.


  1. […] by the light weight and slim features but spookily just I was about to press the order button this post from Ming Thein arrived in my reader. Turns out Mr Thein had been similarly deciding on a new […]

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