Review: Apple MacBook Pro 13″, late 2016 with touch bar

Screen Shot 2016-12-15 at 16.03.03
Image: Apple

Like every piece of hardware, there are plenty of reviews out there that assess the product from just about every possible point of view. For computers, there are other places that do the extensive quantitative testing far better than I could even if I had the time and inclination – which I don’t – but I think where I can add perhaps a little clarity is to review this machine from the point of view of a working and travelling photographer. If you don’t want to read the rest, in short and in my own opinion, this is perhaps the best laptop out there at the moment for the serious photography. There are a couple of major gotchas, though – which may or may not be a deal breaker for you. I’ve been using one of these new machines since the start of December, which is long enough for performance and battery life to settle down, and to figure out how it fits into the workflow overall.

Spec as tested:
– Late-2016 Apple MacBook Pro 13″ with touch bar
– 3.3GHz dual-core i7 with Intel Iris 550 graphics, ~1.5GB RAM allocation by default
– 16GB 2133MHz RAM
– 512GB SSD
– 2560x1600px DCI P3 Retina display
– Four USB-C ports, 3.5mm headphone in jack (not composite mic)
– 1.37kg, 30.4×21.2cm, 1.5cm thick
– Battery life: (supposedly) 10 hours, 49.2WHr

Much ado has been made about several things: firstly, the lack of removable/upgradeable/replaceable anything in this machine, together with the disappearance of any ports other than USB-C, and battery life that’s far short of the claimed numbers. That, and a price that keeps going through the stratosphere and a general lack of innovation in form factor or features especially compared to some of the new Windows based competition. On top of that, the previous generation MacBook pro still had USB-A ports, Magsafe power, Firewire, Ethernet, and Thunderbolt – basically, somewhere to plug in just about anything you might possibly want or have accumulated during the last few years – think card readers, hard drives, calibrators, tablets…

Like every other photographer, I want a light, small machine to take with me on the road that’s powerful enough to do some post processing during downtime, or at least some curation. Tethered shooting isn’t so critical, but battery time and being able to continue being online when on the go is important – more so with my necessity to communicate with clients and keep the site running. Onboard storage isn’t so important as I carry backup drives anyway, and solid state options are both compact and much cheaper than they used to be. I’m less hung up about legacy ports than most because I don’t actually have any firewire or thunderbolt devices I currently use, and I switched to wireless tethering for the few times I do need tethering at all – it’s much easier to hand an iPad with a client rather than worry about finding somewhere to put the computer and not tripping over cables (and potentially damaging camera AND computer).

Backtracking a little, the need for portability has really driven my own laptop purchasing decisions – probably because I’ve always had a heavy duty desktop on the other end to do the heavy lifting. My computing history is thus:

  • 2010 – MacBook Pro 15″
  • 2011 – MacBook Air 11″ (first generation – loved the size, hated the lack of power)
  • 2012 – Mac Mini quad i7 server, MacBook Air 11″ (third generation, fully loaded; loved the size, powerful enough, terrible screen)
  • 2015 – early 2015 MacBook Pro 13″ Retina – a disaster of a machine that turned into a space heater and would dump the full battery charge in 1 hour when in standby mode, making the machine too physically hot to touch; I had to fight Apple for three months to get a refund. I swore after this I’d never buy another Apple laptop. Apparently this was a known issue, too: I’ve got several students who had the same problem with the same configuration, though my business partner also bought the same machine and seems to have gotten a good one.
  • 2015 – Immediately after that incident, I bought a  12″ Retina MacBook. Yes, stupid, I know, but I was leaving on a job the next day and needed a laptop – there’s no way I was going to be able to create a working PC configuration overnight, so it was easiest to buy another Apple machine as a temporary bridge and just clone my desktop configuration with Time Machine – which did work. I didn’t want the weight or cost of the 15″ Retina, the 13″ left me burned (literally) and the screens on the Airs were terrible. I shouldn’t have sold my 11″ Air, but there you go. The 2015 12″ MacBook is woefully underpowered and those of you who were on any of my workshops in 2015 or 2016 will know just how slow a machine it was – especially when dealing with Hasselblad files. A replacement would be necessary, and the sooner the better. It has three things going for it: the screen is beautiful, it’s so light you forget it’s there, and battery life was surprisingly decent.
  • 2016 – late-2015 5K iMac, 4.0 quad i7, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD, 4GB video RAM. I have nothing to say other than this machine is an absolute rocket, and has never slowed down no matter what I throw at it – that includes simultaneously encoding 4K video whilst having 20 H6D-100C files open in PS and using a 5000 pixel feathered brush, on two monitors. Barring hardware issues or 500mP cameras – I don’t see myself needing anything else for a long time.

Let’s talk about the simple – and contentious – things first. Coming from a single port to do everything (on the 12″ MacBook) and a necessary plethora of adaptors, the current 2016 MBPR13TB (what a mouthful) isn’t so bad. Firstly, I can plug the charger in from either side – and yes, I do miss Magsafe – but I also have a couple of little third party limpet dongles that give me a pair of USB-A ports and an SD card reader plus USB-C passthrough, so I’m actually okay for ports. I don’t use ethernet, but I have the USB-A adaptor for that which I can plug into the adaptor, and all of my drives are on USB-A. In the end, I think I may well just land up buying a few of those USB-A to USB-C plug heads for my usual devices and leaving them on permanently. Aside from being symmetric on both ends and working either way up, if you shoot either of the new Hasselblads, tethering can be done with your standard power cable. If you’re still using devices with older plugs: I can see this being annoying, but as far as storage goes, you’re probably going to have to upsize in the near future anyway, and there are few other peripherals that still require plugs. That said, I do hope Wacom come up with a bluetooth version of the Intuos though – and why didn’t Apple implement continuous pressure sensitivity on the – now enormous – touchpad since it has to have strain gauges as part of Force Touch anyway? In conclusion, the port issue isn’t so bad, especially coming from a machine that only had one. I don’t actually even use the two on the other side most of the time.

Battery life: this is the bad part. When the mid-2015 13″ MBP worked properly, battery life was amazing; I’d easily get 9-10 hours if just writing and working online, perhaps with a little light image curation (not heavy PS postprocesing). The 12″ MacBook would give me 5-5.5 hours under the same conditions. The new machine is more like 6-7 – at best. But under a heavy load, i.e. full postprocessing, I still get a good 2.5-3 hours: this is the same as the mid-2015 model, and far more than the 1.5-2h of the 12″ MacBook (not to mention being overall more productive since the 12″ MacBook would take far longer to do the same task, limiting the total number of tasks that could be done before running out of juice). In practice, I don’t feel like battery life has moved on very far from my previous machine, and on the plus side, at least the battery seems to charge much faster, too (30min for 30% isn’t bad). On the physical dimension front, it’s actually not much heavier than the 11″ Air that I switched to in 2011 for travel, and volumetrically identical (constant thin profile vs taper). Yes, it’s heavier than the 12″ MacBook, but I’ll gladly pay the 400g penalty for what feels like several times more horsepower. It also runs hotter than the 12″ MacBook, and is quite warm by default, but it never gets truly scalding like the mid-2015 13″ MBP did.

I haven’t said much about the physical hardware because it’s your usual Apple: good and bad; good in that the detail, fit and finish is there, but bad, in that nothing is user upgradeable anymore. I do miss the days when I could have the bottom cover off my laptop and double the RAM and swap out the hard drive for an SSD in 30 minutes; we can’t even change the batteries now because they’re glued in place. The keyboard is midway between the old Pro keyboards and the 12″ MacBook; I like the larger key caps, the more precise action, and the feel of somewhat increased travel. It’s a much easier keyboard to type on than the 12″ MacBook, and just as good as the larger ones. I write at normal (~120-130wpm) speed on this one.

Apple claims the screen’s gamut is expanded from the previous ‘retina’ models, though honestly I don’t notice it; I do notice it’s brighter at the maximum brightness setting, and working 5-6 notches down from maximum is usually more than enough for me. Calibration remains easy and it was pretty close to spot on straight out of the box with a mild gamma adjustment. This is probably one of the best mobile displays at the moment. Would I appreciate more resolution? Probably not, because as it is I have to run it at a scaled setting so fonts are still readable. I wouldn’t want to run this at full native resolution, but it’s nice to have the option just in case. Like all Retina displays, I find it very difficult to use it for retouching or critical sharpening as it’s too easy to miss stuff that clients on non-Retina will see, or oversharpen because the physical pixels are very small.

On the subject of displays, something must be said about the touch strip. Initially, I thought it was gimmicky, but it’s turned out to be quite useful most of the time. In the best implementations, useful buttons from the control menu that usually sits in the top line of the software window can be placed in the touch bar, and customised; from the View menu. For instance, text formatting options in this post window, or send/reply/receive/flag in Mail. In PS, the menus go much deeper: there’s a shortcut for brush settings (opacity/ size/ feather) by default, and other useful stuff like a history scrubber that lets you go back and forth more than the single history state permitted by Cmd-Z. You also get layer properties, a color picker, and a favourites menu. The key thing that’s missing is the ability to map keyboard shortcuts to that bar; that would basically make the whole menu accessible if you pre-assign a shortcut. The Fn button on the lower left of the keyboard toggles between your selection of contextual menu, normal function keys, or what used to be function-plus like brightness, volume, media playback, dashboard etc. I don’t remember the last time I actually needed to use a Fn-nubmer key, which means I’m probably not the only one who’d rather have something a bit more useful at the top of the keyboard.

The other two changes wrought by the touch bar are good and bad, in my book: the one key I do wish remained physical is the escape key, because you often find yourself quickly hitting it to clear a menu or stop a process or the like – what’s confusing is that it’s no longer in precisely the far top left corner, but about half a key across. Muscle memory of course means that you tend to miss the designated touch area entirely. I’m sure I’ll re-learn this at some point, and then promptly forget it again when I go back to using the conventional keyboard on the iMac. The other change is of course the Touch ID sensor on the upper right; you can use it in place of your password for most things, though if you use multiple machines like me, you’ll probably forget and land up typing in your password anyway. Still, it’s fast when you remember it’s there.

I’ve left the bit about practical performance to the very end, for a reason: in use, I’ve never found it to be an issue, even when looking at sample 100MP raw files on battery power. The computer doesn’t slow down, doesn’t hiccup, doesn’t stall, doesn’t give you a coloured beachball, it just chunks on. And I don’t think it’s because I’m coming from expectations set by the 12″ MacBook and its woefully underpowered 1.2GHz Core M; remember my desktop is a fully loaded late-2015 5K iMac. It manages to cross the threshold of being ‘fast enough’, where operating speed is limited by the user and not the machine: I don’t wait for it, which is how it should be. Subjectively, it feels somewhere in between my 2012 quad-i7 server Mac Mini and the 5K iMac. According to Geekbench, the numbers look like this:

Single core

  • late 2015 5K iMac 5K 4.0 quad i7 – 5202
  • late 2016 13″ MBPRTB 3.3 dual i7 – 4001
  • early 2015 13″ MBPR 3.1 dual i7 – 3762
  • mid 2012 Mac Mini server 2.6 quad i7 – 3433
  • mid 2012 11″ MacBook Air 2.0 i7 – 3023
  • early 2015 12″ MacBook Retina 1.2 core M – 2661


  • late 2015 5K iMac 5K 4.0 quad i7 – 16499
  • mid 2012 Mac Mini server 2.6 quad i7 – 10766
  • late 2016 13″ MBPRTB 3.3 dual i7 – 7918
  • early 2015 13″ MBPR 3.1 dual i7 – 7086
  • mid 2012 11″ MacBook Air 2.0 i7 – 5760
  • early 2015 12″ MacBook Retina 1.2 core M – 4968

This tends  to support my qualitative observations, bearing in mind that other variables such as RAM and disk speed make quite a difference, too: the 13″ MBPRTB has the fastest of all PCI-E speeds, followed by the 12″ MacBook; in practice, this means that running out of RAM isn’t such a big deal because your swap file speeds are actually pretty decent – not that I’ve had many issues with 16GB loaded into this machine. But for some tasks – well, mostly PS – you do start to feel the processor bottleneck before anything else, unless you’ve got a huge number of files open at once (or a very large file). It appears that the later versions of PS are multicore: I’ve seen processor utilisation at 700% on my iMac, when opening raw files from ACR into PS, for instance. Not all operations use all cores, though – I suspect that this depends on what can be performed sequentially vs what can be done in parallel. There’s also the issue of thermal throttling of CPU and GPU to further complicate things: in short, the desktops can keep going at full tilt for longer than the portables can, though the later generations (mostly) keep improving at thermal management, which helps with sustained performance. In short: for just about anything a still photographer can throw at it, it’s more than fast enough.

A note on performance: I experienced bizarre wifi drop issues shortly after migrating from the 12″ MacBook via Time Machine; all I can suspect is that something got messed up in the configuration. (The stock machine with no software on it worked fine.) If you experience something similar, I suggest doing this: dump your PRAM, reset your SMC, and do a safe boot (hold shift when powering on) followed by a normal boot – everything worked fine after that.

Despite being ostensibly an incremental update in most areas and a step backwards in others (ports), and swearing I’d never buy another one – this is honestly one of the few laptops I’ve really fallen in love with. I will actually use this over the iMac fairly often sitting somewhere else for a change of scenery, and not feel like I’m hamstrung on processing power because of my choice for a portable; I like the keyboard feel and have no problem writing extended articles at high speed on it; the screen is great and it’s not a physical imposition to carry. It fits in the front pocket of my daybag.

The real elephant in the room is the price: at just shy of $2500 as configured, its not a cheap machine at all; in fact, the Apple tax/premium/fanboy tithe is as steep as it’s ever been. There are PC options that offer the same for less, or more for the same. The hardware is also getting to be very nearly as sexy. I dreaded migrating back to PC, but I dread running two different operating systems even more – there’s no way I’m going to be replacing the iMac anytime soon, which left me committed to another Apple laptop. I very nearly didn’t buy this one and stuck to the (painfully slow) 12″ MacBook instead, then I nearly bought a standard base configuration, but lack of local stock had me looking at the Apple Store in Tokyo. Lack of English keyboard stock options meant that I landed up with the highest spec configuration (one above standard spec, with fastest processor, maximum RAM, and a bigger SSD) and a commensurately lighter wallet. But having used it for the last four weeks, it sort of reminds me of one of the BMW M cars – say an M5: a comfortable size, not that overtly sexy from the outside and an incremental evolution over what came before, but plenty powerful, moderately energy efficient, costs a small fortune but somehow manages to still feel like it delivers commensurate value. It seems I’ve finally found a laptop that ticks all the boxes for me – I only wish I’d skipped the 13″ space heater MBP and the 12″ MacBook to get here. It’s probably time to update that recommended gear list… MT

The machine I am using with exactly the same configuration is available here from B&H


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. How reliable was the keyboard for you in the long run on both the MacBook and the MacBook Pro? The internet is now full of the reports that the keys stop working when dust gets under them and you need to use compressed air.

    • Not reliable at all. I’ve had several keys go dead; had to remove the caps with a razor and do the compressed air thing. And that doesn’t count the very high wear rate on the paint, nor the terrible feel…I much prefer the old MBP (and even MB Air) keyboards.

      • But you liked the feel at the time the review was written? 🙂

        Jony Ive made a recent statement that could be interpreted that he sure as hell is aware of the reliability problems so hopefully it’ll be fully sorted out in 2018.

  2. James Holloway says:

    Thanks Ming for your great description of your iMac/MBP experience. I’m hoping to get the iMac 27 i7 retina P3 but wonder how you feel about the P3 color gamut. Is it somewhat orphaned between AdobeRGB and sRGB or going mainstream? The newest Microsoft Surface Pro 4 also has DCI-P3 retina type display and it’s on many new mobile devices and ultra HDTVs. Maybe it’s going to become the “Lingua Franca” across many display devices for a wide range of customers?

    • Hard to say, because most content doesn’t use the whole gamut and I doubt most consumers notice anyway. What I am finding is that there’s a slight overall shift towards cooler that I have to be careful with compared to the TBD; will have to make a complete shift soon as the TBD is on its last legs. In any case, it’s certainly a really, really nice display…

  3. I bought the new MBP 13″ to replace and hand down the 11″ Air to my son. This despite everyone bashing the new MBP on the net. Form factor is brilliant and the keyboard is the best one I typed on considering portable computers. I use the sleeve from Hardgraft and bought it partly because no other non-plastic-oozing one seemed to be available in the beginning. Have a look, if you don’t know them. The sleeve is fantastic.

    • Thanks – I use mine without a case/sleeve to keep the volume down. Most of the time it goes into a dedicated pocket in my bag.

  4. Excellent review. The PC world seems like a more economical option for a non-pro like me, until the reliability and customer service issues of Dell, Lenovo, etc. are factored in to the equation — then the choice gets a lot harder.

    Couple of questions:

    Why 13″? Wouldn’t the 15″ be substantially better for editing, and it’s chassis is only an inch or so larger and one pound heavier.

    Why a 512gb SSD? The SSD is a very pricey part of the package and I’m wondering if a 256 would be enough.


    • The 15″ is not easy to pack and carry, and that extra pound is significant – it’s 33% more weight. SSD: in the field for editing, you want to have some free space. Not to mention SSDs need at least 20% free at all times not to run into issues. So, it’s necessary to over-capacity.

  5. I’m still disappointed about the new MacBooks. I like that they’re thin but I wouldn’t mind if they were a little thicker if it meant better battery life.

  6. Thank you for this review, Ming.

    One question: Have you tried this machine with an external 4K monitor?

    I currently use a 12″ m5 MacBook from 2016 and while I was happy with the performance when using just the laptop, the performance drops significantly when I hook it up to my recently purchased LG Ultrafine 4K display. Even supposedly simple tasks like opening a couple of browser tabs became a lot slower.

    So I wonder if I should bite the bullet and go for a 13″ MBP. Too bad that the Mac Mini didn’t get updated in a long time as this would be the ideal machine for me. I rarely need a laptop but as of now there is no other way to get the retina resolution with a reasonably small desktop monitor. Of course there is the iMac but I really don’t like its design. It looks so 2009 to me. Maybe because it is. 😉

    • I don’t actually have an external 4K monitor except my TV; I did try it and it worked fine, but it just wasn’t very ergonomic at the very limited reach of my hdmi cable…

  7. Hi, I’m looking to buy an iMac 5k top option (not customized) or the base new MacBook Pro touch bar for photo and video editing. More photos though? Any thought? Thanks

  8. I use Windows and Mac’s in my teachings of photography and was going to get a MacBook 13″ to replace my 15″ MacBook as it is so darn heavy. Long story short I ended up with a Lenovo Yoga 910 which I have been very happy with. I use it for LR and PS and have been very pleased with the performance. The Mac’s have an advantage with the same hardware/driver software, but that is it, in my opinion. My Lenovo Yoga 910 was $1,300 for an i7, 16 GB memory and a SSD (PCIe) of 512 GB.

  9. Samuel Jessop says:

    This is a great read, and welcome to hear from someone who has bought their own machine and used it heavily.

    I had saved for a MacBook Pro and was hugely dissapointed that the new model went with the super shallow keys. I spend most of my time writing, and with long typing sessions making the joints in my fingers ache due to arthritis I needed something more comfortable. I ended up going for an i7 Surface Book. I am very happy with it, the keyboard is lovely to use, and the dedicated graphics card mean it plays nice with the 24″ UHD monitor I now have at home. I am getting 10-12hrs of battery life and sometimes longer for writing and web browsing.

    Part of me still wonders if I’d have been happy with the non-touch model, but £500 more for each configuration was just too much to justify for the full power 13″ models.

    • Perhaps I’d gotten used to the keys on the 12″ Macbook – they felt as though you had to both hit harder and be more controlled in the fingers; the 13″ has a bit more travel and doesn’t feel as ‘hard’, for want of a better word. The full-travel chicklet keyboard I use for the iMac feels bouncy now.

      I agree Apple’s premium is getting silly though. I have a feeling these two (the 5K iMac and the 13″ MBPR) may well be the last two Apple machines I buy…

      • Samuel Jessop says:

        Speaking of the iMac, conversely I think they represent the best value for money in the desktop marketplace. The base i5 5K iMac would have been plenty of power, and with 256GB of flash storage would have represented an amazing and long life machine for the money.

        The main issue I have is that I rent my home and have a small desk as it is, and I need to be able to factor in that with London’s rental prices I may have even less space next time and can’t afford to be tied into a 27″ computer with nowhere to put it. Part of me regrets not getting an 11″ MacBook Air for study while I had the chance, which would work just fine with my monitor.

        • There’s also the 4K 21″ 🙂

          • Samuel Jessop says:

            At the moment the solution that works is a laptop plus display, meaning I can sell of the display if I have to move somewhere smaller. Having looked again at the non-touch bar MBP, I could probably live with the keyboard. What still puts me off is the lack of suitable adapters. With two TB3 ports, I can have power and TB2 for my monitor but nothing else. Buying the digital AV adapter gives me a USB-A port to connect drives, but I don’t want the 30hz only HDMI at UHD and would have preferred another USB-A port in its place instead. As yet I cannot find any USB only hubs that allow pass through for charging the MBP.

            I guess these are early days. I would like something more bag ready than my Surface Book, although this is a fine enough compromise for now and has mDP, USB-A and an SD reader. I want the extra battery life of the non-touch model, and the obvious answer would be to combine this with the LG 5K display as that has a TB3 hub on board. The whole bundle would have been outside of my budget for now, but maybe in a year or so I will revisit this.

            • The touch bar definitely isn’t necessary; apple just makes just necessary if you want higher spec for the rest of the internals.

              There are pass through USB hubs that allow charging – I’ve got a little one that sticks to the side of the machine and adds two USB-3 A ports, a SD reader, and USB-C pass through. The brand is ‘Innowatt’ or something similar.

  10. Ming,

    I also use a 5k mac for my desktop use.. but it is the i5 version .. in jakarta there is no i7 units for sale at that time i bought it.

    What is weird is when i buy it in 2015.. with the os at that time, preview does not have a problem previewing large stitched tiff files.. while after update to el capitan and sierra now, both always have a problem previewing those large tiff files..

    Do you have the same problem? Or maybe you have an idea why that happens?

    • My iMac was a CTO – they aren’t available for sale here at normal retail, either.

      No idea on your TIFF preview problem – I don’t have that problem, sorry.

  11. Thanks for the review. I am on a PC system myself and was wondering what Ultra-portable (11″-13″) you would choose were you to switch over.

    • To PC? No idea. To Mac? This one, but then again, without knowing your specific needs – hard to say. My dad is thrilled with the speed of my previous 12″ MacBook I passed to him, but it isn’t anywhere near powerful enough to handle my PS requirements…

      • The Dell XPS series are looking mighty attractive these days. The best current ultraportable these days IMO is the XPS 13. Can get a 4k screen, good color gamut. XPS 15 is also svelte, and has full sRGB color gamut. Surface Pro actually has one of the best screens, but I’m still not in love with the form factor.

        I went with a Precision 7510 though which is a beast in every sense. Quad core Xeon, dedicated GPU, and I have 1.5TB onboard storage (512 nvme SSD and 1tb spinning hdd). The idea with this one is to replace my desktop though. Ultraportable this is not. 6.5lbs with a 1.5lb power brick.

        • Yes I agree with the XPS 13. The 16gb RAM/512 gb M2 ssd configuration with a 4k screen is very interesting. It is only dual core though. The other one I am considering is the Spectre 13 full HD with a similar configuration. The screen seems better in some regards. Have you looked at it?

          • Attempts to get customer service for my Dell monitor has me writing off Dell as a source for anything. i would not take anything Dell for free. Unspeakably frustrating. Barely speak English, bad phone line, long waits and they could not help me ultimately because they could not find the serial number of my Dell monitor (purchased at B&H) in their comouter. Compare to Apple. Night and day. Just the word “Dell” ends shivers down my spine.

  12. An excellent review. Specially I am in a similar situation. Thanks

    I got the MacBook 12″ early this for portability but as you mentioned above it’s underpowered for heavy photography work. I also have a MacBook15″ pro 2014 (from my employer). Planning getting the 13″ early 2017.

    • I find the current 13″ to probably be best compromise in terms of power-weight ratio – the 12″ isn’t enough, and the 15″ is too much. I think the later is good as a desktop replacement that occasionally goes on the road, but doesn’t have to be lugged long distances; in the end I landed up buying/using/carrying the 11″ Air when I had the 15″, which lead to the current desktop/laptop bifurcation. That, and not having a backup machine if one goes down is a major problem 🙂

  13. I went for the 15″ version for photo editing on the go, from a 13″ model from a year or two ago that I found cramped. So the weight made a difference to me. The batter life is 4-5h in Lightroom. It is, however, much longer if I’m just browsing the web or running photo mechanic. One thing that does eat battery is having things like Dropbox and the Adobe authentication stuff or even the activity monitor running.

  14. I just purchased a I pad pro 12.9 in. Is there a port to play DVD movies?

  15. Glad to hear it’s working well for you! I’m waiting for the Intel Kaby Lake CPU upgrade (which is late, and I think Apple was counting on that being available on time for this generation of Macbook Pros) before taking the plunge. Also, you might want to know that because of chipset limitations, the left-hand ports on the 13-inch Macbook Pro have full Thunderbolt 3 performance, while the right-hand ones don’t. Again, not a nefarious Apple scheme to annoy its users, but just a limitation of how many PCIe lanes were available for the chipset that fit within the 13-inch MBP’s mechanical, power, and thermal packaging.

    The mechanical packaging of so many of our modern portable devices is pretty incredible in and of themselves: sometimes I think of race car packaging and how little space the designers have to work in.

    Here’s more info on that:

    • Thanks Andre, yes, fully aware of that. I usually use one of the ones on the right for charging, and one on the left for a USB-3A hub and data (not that I even have any TB3 devices). After having one port for the last year, four seems positively excessive 😛

  16. These machines have been interesting in all of the anger generated. However, as the former moderator of the world’s largest Apple-related forums, every time a new machine was released, it didn’t live up to anyone’s daydreams, and people were often making statements like “I’m going to Windows!”

    I’ve got a mid-2012 MacBook Pro with Nvidia 650M and I experimented with a Lenovo Flex 3 for a while–long enough to know that Windows 10 is great and a dual core i7 isn’t very powerful.

    I understand why people want more than 16GB of RAM because every time I work on video, it feels as though it needs much more room. When I got the machine, I replaced the hard drive with an SSD with 480 GB and got 16GB of RAM. However, for still photography, less could work.

    • You definitely need more than 16GB for video, especially 4K. For stills, not so much – 16GB is fine and I work with 50MP files as default these days.

      • I’m late to the party – I’ve only just discovered this site, but what do you use for editing video? I use FCP X, and it’s perfectly fine with 4K on my 16GB 2014 MBP … even if I don’t transcode to Prores first. My understanding is that FCP is fully optimised for Apple Hardware, whereas Premiere struggles with the same content. Some codecs aren’t suitable for editing – I’m looking at you and your 5D Mark IV, Canon – but straight out of my GH4, editing performance is fine. Having said that, I’ll be updating my MBP later this year…

  17. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    Excellent review. I am tempted by this new MacBook Pro but the near nonstop complaints about battery life that I read has put me off. I tested the new MacBook, with Core M5 processor and it is much faster than the 2015 Core M. I need something like and so I’ll be getting the Core M5 MacBook.

    • You may still be disappointed with the Macbook though – the 2015 Core M wasn’t slow, it was pretty much laggy and unusable at anything. Don’t expect to be processing images with the Macbook; I could do it, but one at a time and if I had a huge amount of patience (and forget using large feathered brushes).

      Battery life on the new MBP is still better than the Macbook though. And the problem is this: claiming 10h but delivering 6, not claiming 6 and delivering 6. What Apple should have done is settled for a size reduction somewhere midway, left in a couple of normal ports, upped the battery, and we’d all be very happy (instead of just some of us).

      • I second that – to some extent. I got the new 12″ macbook to replace the ipad and for emergency use on heavier tasks on the road. It works great for web surfing, ebooks, and photo curation. The screen is great, the keyboard doesn’t bother me (I don’t type long texts and it’s a personal thing anyway), and it’s fast enough for anything you would do with an ipad, only much more flexible. For pretty much any other purpose, I would recommend something with higher specs. Put another way: if you’re considering paying extra for core M5 upgrade, you’re probably looking at the wrong machine.

        • “…if you’re considering paying extra for core M5 upgrade, you’re probably looking at the wrong machine.”

          A good way of putting it, actually. And much the same way I felt about mine – off you’re going for portability, it’s unbeatable, but if you want power, it seems silly to chase what would practically be pretty minor improvements (but very expensive).

      • Regarding the Macbook Pro 2016 battery, Lloyd Chambers’ blog has a comment that: “In the run-up to the MacBook Pro’s planned debut this year, the new battery failed a key test, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather than delay the launch and risk missing the crucial holiday shopping season, Apple decided to revert to an older design.”

        • Seems somewhat speculative, but would explain the decrease in meeting targets. Doesn’t however explain why they didn’t just change the spec sheet, and why a more power-efficient processor has worse battery life though…

          • Ørjan Laxaa says:

            Well, the battery is 30% smaller and Intel Skylake isn’t nearly as efficient to make up for the power delta.

  18. Very candid review of Apple. Performance like this would kill the business of just about any computer maker except Apple. And for this, Apple manages to extract an almost unbelievable price premium (the value of marketing the myth). At some point, customers will bite the bullet, pay the switching costs in time and money, and move on to something else.

    • And I think we’re at most one generation away from that, unless something changes (either dramatic performance improvements, pricing realignment, or something design/function related).

      • The other factor is always being beholden to a single vendor with whatever implementation details, fashions or view of the future whims they present. There are always trade-offs, but it’s nice to have multiple hardware vendors competing with each other and for your business.

        • Agreed; you trade off integration for being locked in. Previously, I’d say the level of system integration was worth the tradeoff; now, I think we’re paying the price in flexibility. The only sliver of silver lining is that the market is big enough that underlying hardware changes drive ecosystem change, so if anybody is going to get us to abandon USB-A plugs – it’s probably Apple. But why they don’t use them consistently as standard across the board (including for the iPhone connectors) is beyond me…

  19. Very detailed review. I don’t like buttons on touch bars. Hopefully, this won’t be the same as my acer model with touch bar. The touch keys misinterprets the heat of the laptop and thinks it is being pressed, thus, having a non-stop on and off of all the buttons on the touch bar. It’s the same until now. It’s better to have a switch or an actual button.

  20. Philip Brindle says:

    Hello Ming,

    Thanks for the very well written article. I have a late 2015 15″ MBP with all the options, an Apple Thunderbolt Display and a Synology NAS, and I am very happy with this configuration. Now I don’t use PS or LR, but I do use Phase One Capture One for post and everything seems to be pretty speedy and reliable. But for me the move to MAC was more the MAC OS, it’s pretty hard to beat and very intuitive. I have a Windows configuration at work as most engineering software tends to be ported to WIN OS, and that’s ok too…

  21. Nice review, thank you. Except for battery capacity, which is down to a couple of hours, my late 2014 15″ Retina is still working fine, which is good for me. The cost of the new one is prohibitive in itself, and replacing 3 chargers (yes, I do tend to forget stuff), external disks and card readers and USB/Thunderbolt hubs in 3 locations doesn’t make things easier. It will be a very expensive exercise (I only use one computer) at well beyond $4,000 even before I start changing peripherals.

    While camera manufacturers have been pretty good at staying with certain standards both with regards to batteries and memory cards, not to mention lens mount, I’ve been through USB-A, Firewire and Thunderbolt in very few years on my MacBooks, not to mention all the different monitor ports on the desktop Macs I’ve used earlier. Changing to MS represents a new family of challenges of course, and Apple knows that, and they know that I’ll most probably cough up the monies for this model too.

    I understand that they’ve removed the physical power switch. That worries me too. Although Macs aren’t supposed to have problems that make the option necessary, I’ve had to use it as a last resort to switch the machine off a couple of times on my current MBP, and other users I’ve talked with say the same. I’d hate to sit in some remote rural area with a computer that can’t be used, and although the chances are slim, it has happened before. That and the esc button which I use all the time.

  22. I’ve been an apple user for 20 years, even built my business around apple kit for the last 12. The last couple of years has seen them nosedive into a designer/boutique fairyland, and the 2016 Macbook Pro simply feels like the latest, greatest symptom yet. I’m going for an i7 Surface Book instead this time.

    • Hi John, I’ve got similar thoughts. As someone who has used Apple happily for 10 years, who has an rMBP, 12″ MacBook, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch: I’ve got one foot out of the door. I’m no long sure what Apple are for.

      I think Apple had three USPs:
      1) Stylish, well-built hardware – not necessarily the fastest, but good enough
      2) Everything “just worked” – due to a good core OS (MacOS) and tight integration with the hardware. For instance, the iPod/iTunes combination greatly simplified the syncing of music; the tradeoff was that you were tied to iTunes
      3) The halo effect of being seen as the tool of choice of choice for creative professionals – bolstered by some Apple-specific creative software such as Aperture, Final Cut Pro etc

      Apple could reasonably charge a premium for a better user experience (provided you stayed within their walled garden). However I think their raison d’etre is under attack from five directions:
      1) Cloud-based services. Apple Music / iTunes now looks restrictive compared to Spotify / Google Music / Amazon Music. This issue is replicated across a lot of core services. Apple Mail vs Google Inbox for instance. The move to cloud-based services is pulling down the walls of the walled garden, and it means that you can use heterogeneous hardware and get much the same experience. This is probably the single biggest threat to Apple right now.
      2) Other manufacturers are getting their act together with hardware. MS with its Surface line, HP, Asus etc. Google with the Pixel phones.
      3) Apple have failed to please their hardcore Pro audience. They dropped Aperture and lost a lot of market share in the video editing space with Final Cut Pro X. The Mac Pro languished for years, was redesigned and has languished again. Some of the pro crowd want a machine where they can swap out faulty parts and not suffer days of downtime; Apple are not interested in catering to this audience
      4) The competition are innovating. Siri is a poor second cousin to Google Now, Cortana and Alexa. Apple has nothing to compete with the Amazon Echo or the Google Home product. Apple refused to add pen input to their laptops, which is certainly driving some people to consider MS Surface. Instead, Apple seem to be obsessed with size and weight, above any other part of the experience.
      5) Price. The price hikes on the new MacBook Pros aren’t the only issue; it’s the high cost of accessories and spare chargers and so on.

      I was set to spring for a new MacBook Pro but I’m going to wait and see what the new MS Surface Pro 5 looks like. I love my Amazon Echo. I’ve ditched Apple Music for Spotify. I’m seriously considering replacing my out-of-contract iPhone with a Google Pixel XL. I’m not buying any more movies or TV through iTunes because they tie me to Apple devices and other providers work with my smart TV.

      Isn’t consumer choice a great thing!

    • I jumped ship this month to a ThinkPad X1 Yoga after about 15 years with Macs. It’s the same size and weight as my outgoing 13″ Air, though includes a retina-class display, stylus, 2-in-1 display hinges, more ports and an LTE modem.

      The hardware is very nice. I’m struggling with the transition to Windows, though there was little choice as this is a work machine. I still have my 2012 Mac mini as my photo workhorse. Win10 is an improvement over its predecessor, though is chock full of usability annoyances in comparison to OS X/macOS. Also, battery life is definitely reduced compared to the Air, which admittedly is among the best.

      Seeing as how Ming uses both desktop and portable for his livelihood, I can see sucking it up and paying the premium to keep a consistent platform. But Apple is really sticking it to its power users who used to be such solid advocates for their products. Now it seems they don’t care — there appear to be plenty of consumers who are happy to pay the Apple tax.

      • I’m in the same place as you, Jeremy – precisely because it has to be used professionally it also has to be economically sensible, and the rate current Macs are going means it’s probably going to be the last upgrade cycle I go through – unless something changes. On the plus side, I suppose it’s a good thing that both machines zip through even 100MP files without issues – and it’s highly unlikely we’re going to go up in resolution from there…

        How are you liking the ThinkPad? Is it fast enough for to be an editing machine?

  23. Erling Maartmann Moe says:

    Just got mine, 15″, have not stress-tested it, but happy so far. I admit that one important reason to upgrade was the touch bar. The number of shortcut keys for PS is too overwhelming for me, and I hoped this bar could help me. Again, I have not had time to go deep into it, but see that the bar is activated for PS, not yet for LR, but I hope and expect it to be used there, too.

  24. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    In a world where nothing is perfect, we chase rainbows – and end up buying something which satisfies our needs. I started using computers in the early 1980s. Had one of the first laptops ever to hit the market in Oz. That was hilarious – obviously the purpose was usage while away from home, and every airport I went to stopped the entire check-in line while the staff gazed in awe at my new toy – I was surprised I didn’t end up getting hate mail from other passengers 🙂 By the 1990s I was writing programs, of sorts, to speed things up in my office. In those days, you had a choice of systems – some I remember using included WANG and NBI – and increasingly, as they achieved better market penetration, Microsoft.

    For the past 18 years I have been running either Apple, or both Apple & Microsoft in tandem.

    So I’ve had a fair apprenticeship on a variety of computer makes & operating systems.

    At present, I am totally fed up with Microsoft. They have corrupted the operating system (Windows 7) on my PC, and – far from apologizing – they simply told me they’d done the same thing to literally thousands of their customers around the world, and all I had to do was . . . waste weeks of my time sorting out THEIR mess, and I’d be up and running, back to normal, in no time after that. It ain’t happening. I am taking all my stuff off the PC, progressively, and transferring it all to my iMAC.

    And if I wanted a laptop, guess whose I would choose?

    Each to his own – but this is not my first bad experience with MS, and it’s now going to be the last. Enough is enough, and they are simply “too much” altogether. Apple, on the other hand, have always been helpful. They may or may not be the cheapest. But that said, the cheapest is rarely the best, anyway. And their service back up is world class – or at least, it always has been, in all of my dealings with Apple.

  25. You can extend battery life easily on these by pluggging into a USB battery. Airplane seats also tend to have USB readily available for all seats.

    • There seems to be a degree of randomness to which cables/chargers actually work though – it seems that not all USB-C cables are created equal in power or data transfer abilities…

      • Hi Ming. The cable that comes with the machine is not a standard USB-3 cable. It only runs data at USB-2 speeds. It is optimized to carry power to charge the battery quickly. Apple did not tell the user this and also they did not mark the cable in any special manner as far as I can tell. This is the only huge design error that I am aware of, and it is largely an error in communication, but it’s a big one.

        The 2016 MBPr uses a more efficient CPU than prior models, so they were able to shrink the battery and therefore shrink the machine. That’s why it charges more quickly than the prior model. There is less battery to charge.

        How do you like editing on the 27″ iMac screen?
        You mentioned not liking to edit on retina because it’s misleading. This might be even worse for your generation iMac which has a P3 gamut. Anyway, This is a MAJOR issue for me, a determining factor as to whether to go iMac or keep trying to use MacBookPro with external monitor as my editing machine.

        Would you prefer to edit on a retina screen or on a NEC 27″ that is NOT 4k/5k, but is Adobe RGB?

        Or a 4k sRGB Dell 27″?

        Thanks for the interesting review.

        • I’m still using my 27″ Thunderbolt display from 2012 for the color critical stuff. That said, I do notice both a slight hue shift I can’t profile out entirely on the 5K P3 – but also wider gamut. It’s not the color that bothers me so much (as the variance between the two is still going to be less than between my monitor and an uncalibrated client monitor) but the pixel size that would lead you to miss things during retouching, or over sharpening.

  26. Don Moraes says:

    Excellent review. Was actually holding off on buying one due to the mixed reviews. How did you manage to get a 64gb iMac btw? It tops out at 32gb ram in the configurator and I assumed everything would be soldered down.


  1. […] mind, and it whupped butt. And now, one of the best stills photographers active online has posted a review of the 13″ MBP, and heresy – claimed it was perfect for use out in the field. I never […]

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