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Old May 25, 2013, 07:40 AM   #1
Writergirl7
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Best Mac for a writer who also does photography

Hi I am looking at getting my first Mac.

I currently use an ancient 15" ASUS laptop as my main computer but it is well past its use by date and I need to upgrade. I use my computer for writing and also some photo editing. Not big on games but I'm an occasional user. I'm not sure if I should get a MacBook Air (with 8 MB RAM)or 13 inch Retina Pro (love the colour sats)and maybe get an external monitor. Or to go for something like an a 15" MacBook Pro or even an iMac and use my iPad for portability. Cost is an issue as it is with us all. I generally will be using the computer for research and writing but also for photo editing (want to develop (haha ) this area more). I've been perusing the forums and everything has it's pluses and minuses. iMacs can overheat badly, MBAs are minimalist in the ports they offer, retina MBP look awful on any browser but Safari - and they cost more than an Air. So I don't know where to start.

I'm wondering if people who use the 13" screen all day get eye strain.I find my current 15" screen is a good size but the cost of the 15" retina MBP (with the specs I'd like) is a bit out of my reach.
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Old May 25, 2013, 07:53 AM   #2
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Eye strain will be dependent on how close you stay to the screen in my experience. Clarity is awesome on retinas. I would think either 13" MBA or rMBP would be good, but rMBP offers more in terms of power. If weight is more important for portability, MBA wins.

iMac is awesome but not mobile and you are replacing a laptop so...

iPad may not do all you want while mobile but worth considering if iMac/iPad can work for you.

I would still go rMBP for what you described and because you are into photography (editing) and for light gaming 13" should be ok. Heavy gaming would need dedicated GPU and that means 15" retina or iMac.
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Old May 25, 2013, 08:58 AM   #3
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even an iMac and use my iPad for portability. Cost is an issue as it is with us all.
If you are looking at a cheap desktop option, I would consider the Mini + good cheap monitor over an iMac.

Any of the machines is going to handle your workload: it's more a question, as you imply, of what you can afford, versus the features you get.
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Old May 25, 2013, 09:28 AM   #4
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If you need portability, Macbook Air is very nice.

The combination of a 13" laptop and an external monitor at home is a good one. I think many folks get tired of toting a 15" laptop around.

A new version of the Macbook Air is reported to be _very_ close to release. You might want to hold off through mid-June if you're considering the MBAir model.

Other thoughts:
If portability isn't a concern, the Mac Mini could be a good choice.

The best _value_ in Mac laptops is still the "regular" (non-retina) MacBook Pro. If cost is a consideration….
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Old May 25, 2013, 02:18 PM   #5
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Laptop vs. desktop may be a matter of where you do the bulk of your work. If you only have to be portable 10% of the time, why handicap yourself for the other 90%? If the split is closer to 50/50, perhaps a laptop plus large monitor in the office is a better way to go.

I find screen size is an important factor for productivity. The bigger the desktop, the more stuff I can spread around (eg. browser window side-by-side with word processor window, rather than switching back and forth). After that, it's a matter of how big the actual objects are at that given resolution - at native resolution the 13" MacBook Pro Retina can fit a touch more than a 27" iMac, but will your eyes be up to it? I suggest you try both on for size.

Native resolution:

11" MacBook Air - 1366 x 762
13" MacBook Air - 1440 x 900
13" MacBook Pro - 1280 x 800
15" MacBook Pro - 1440 x 900
13" MacBook Pro Retina - 2560 x 1600
15" MacBook Pro Retina - 2880 x 1800
21" iMac - 1920 x 1080
27" iMac - 2560 x 1440

I've never been happy when I've had a laptop as my primary machine - the 13"-15" screen is just too small for day-to-day work, plus, there's some neck strain due to the low position of the display (keyboard at comfortable height means display at uncomfortable height). I've been doing well with 21" iMacs for a while now, though my next will probably be a 27".

I happen to use the iMac-plus-iPad solution (iPad plus wireless keyboard). Yeah, carrying a MacBook Air rather than iPad-plus-keyboard is a neater lightweight solution, but the keyboard only comes out when I need to type in reasonable quantities and at reasonable speed, so it often stays behind or remains in my backpack.

I stopped using a laptop a few months after I got my iPad - it just wasn't worth the extra weight and bulk. Plus, it was easier to fit my iPad and keyboard on an airline tray table. Finally, the iPad is a far more practical thing to carry around on a daily basis - I don't go anywhere without it, while I'd be far less likely to carry either an Air or Pro around wherever I go. A tool you have with you at all times is more likely to be used than a tool you leave behind. I now write whenever words come into my mind.

But workflow can be a strong determining factor. I don't have to produce finished documents or photos when I'm in the field. Formatting and editing can wait until I get back to the office. The Notes app has been enough for my writing needs, and iPad photography apps have been more than enough for a quick down-and-dirty edit.

But if I had a more nomadic lifestyle (reporting for extended periods from the field), I'd probably want a full-strength MacBook with full-strength apps waiting for me at the end of the day (iPad plus MacBook under those circumstances).
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Old May 27, 2013, 01:17 PM   #6
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I echo what ApfelKuchen said. My wife uses an iMac+iPad while I use a 15" MBP + iPad. We're both happy with our respective choices. When at home I use my MBP in clamshell mode with a 23" cinema display and full size keyboard. The 15" gives me adequate screen real estate when on the road. I've tried the 13" in stores but find them just a little too small for my needs. For a number of years I used 14" IBM/Lenovo laptops and while the 14" was ok, I always wanted just a little more screen space.
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Old May 28, 2013, 02:10 AM   #7
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Thanks . This gives me food for thought. I had a play with a friend's MacBook Air today and it was lovely and light but I am used to a bit bigger screen on my old ASUS and it feels a little fragile (although I am sure it's not). Still I could get a good monitor as I suggested above. At the moment I do about 90% of my writing at my desk at home but I would like to be more mobile. I could foresee it being 80:20 or even 70:30 if I had more mobility. I haven't loved using my iPad with keyboard but maybe I need to try using it a bit more. I had another look at the iMac and the thing that worries me most is its height. It's not adjustable and I'm not that tall. I get neck and shoulder issues if I'm not careful. I have also heard of them overheating if you use them all day... Is that a big problem? I'm not a huge fan of their keyboard either but I could always plug in an alternative wireless keyboard. in reality I think I'd like a 15" Retina Pro - I like the feel and look of it - but that is probably overkill given my needs.

I am going to hold off until mid June now and see what's going to be launched or upgraded. My old workhorse is struggling though so I hope it makes it til then . Any other advice you guys could give me would be most appreciated
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Old May 28, 2013, 02:38 AM   #8
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You could go for the iMac with the wall mount option so you can select the correct height. I use mine on a desk all day without issue (I'm 5'8"). I guess it depends on your desk set up. To be honest if you have been using a laptop I think you will find it to be a good experience.
In your op you mentioned concerns over the iMac overheating. Not sure where you got this information, but I can tell you doing photography work and writing will not cause it to get warm.
The mini with a good external monitor is another good option. If your serious about photography get an Eizo or NEC monitor. A cheap monitor with a small colour space and poor resolution won't do you any favours.
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Old May 28, 2013, 09:30 AM   #9
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You could go for the iMac with the wall mount option so you can select the correct height. I use mine on a desk all day without issue (I'm 5'8"). I guess it depends on your desk set up. To be honest if you have been using a laptop I think you will find it to be a good experience.
In your op you mentioned concerns over the iMac overheating. Not sure where you got this information, but I can tell you doing photography work and writing will not cause it to get warm.
The mini with a good external monitor is another good option. If your serious about photography get an Eizo or NEC monitor. A cheap monitor with a small colour space and poor resolution won't do you any favours.
I've got a corner desk set up at the moment - could be an option to change it I guess . I didn't think of a wall mount. I'm only 5'5" so I'd possibly need to work something like that out. The mini plus monitor does sound feasible. I was going to ask about monitors. I was looking online athe Dell ultra sharp series. Are they any good? I read some mixed reports. What's good about the Eizo or NEC?

Re the iMac - I saw the base model on special in a shop yesterday. About $50 off. But just with the 1Tb hard drive. I was thinking that if I went the iMac I would pay extra for the fusion drive. Is it worth it? Or best to go for the SSD?

It was the 21" that I was looking at...
If I got a monitor I'd want it to be really good for text as well as pictures. A friend told me they bought one that was good for pics but text was fuzzy.

Last edited by Writergirl7; May 28, 2013 at 09:37 AM.
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Old May 28, 2013, 09:47 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Writergirl7 View Post
I've got a corner desk set up at the moment - could be an option to change it I guess . I didn't think of a wall mount. I'm only 5'5" so I'd possibly need to work something like that out. The mini plus monitor does sound feasible. I was going to ask about monitors. I was looking online athe Dell ultra sharp series. Are they any good? I read some mixed reports. What's good about the Eizo or NEC?

Re the iMac - I saw the base model on special in a shop yesterday. About $50 off. But just with the 1Tb hard drive. I was thinking that if I went the iMac I would pay extra for the fusion drive. Is it worth it? Or best to go for the SSD?

It was the 21" that I was looking at...
If I got a monitor I'd want it to be really good for text as well as pictures. A friend told me they bought one that was good for pics but text was fuzzy.
Well I'm reading the text on a 21" iMac right now and it looks good to me!
I have the fusion drive and it is quick compared to my old PC. I guess it depends on what you are used to. If you do go the 21" route I would think about upgrading the Ram as its not user accessible unless you are very brave! Especially if you plan on keeping it a few years.

The Dell Ultra sharp aren't bad but I find they don't have such a good range and depth of colour. Especially noticeable with black's etc. That said if you go for a Eizo the CG range are the ones to look at if your budget can squeeze it. The NEC Spectraview are also good, but in Europe a Spectraview is not the same as in the USA so you might get away with a PA series.
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Old May 28, 2013, 04:40 PM   #11
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What's good about the Eizo or NEC?
Without making this into a novel, they tend to compensate more for uniformity issues inherent in lcd displays. Displays are inherently unstable devices, but those two tend to be better than average in that regard. Their software provides a decent level of tracking (it's extra in the case of NEC unless you buy a spectraview model), and the hardware LUT systems are a better method of calibration than the manipulation of outgoing signals through the use of ICC profile based instructions. Their factory calibrations also tend to be a bit more thorough. In the case of Eizo, they publish their tolerances as well as how many regions they test per unit. They don't mention what target 3 Delta E is against on that chart though, and obviously it has to be within the gamut of the display. They also tend to track Adobe 1998 across most display units, but I don't think that's as great a feature as some people suggest.

http://www.eizo.com/na/products/coloredge/cg243w/

Shopping for a display for color correction and possibly retouch/post work you're basically looking for certain things. You want the display to look good when set to lower brightness levels. If it looks terrible when set to a measurable 120cd/m2 or so, it's not going to be a good purchase. You don't want to see crushed shadows or weird compressed midtone values. You want wide viewing angles so the image doesn't shift slightly if you move your head a little or look different at the edges compared to the center because of this. You want the best uniformity possible much more than anything else. Otherwise it's just difficult to interpret things. Your eye can't really separate this when it's subtle, and when it's a severe it's a major distraction.

Ideally you want one of the systems that uses hardware LUTs rather than having to deal with ICC profiles for calibration. ICC profiles are a terrible way of dealing with it. They try to tune the display behavior by adusting the signal level instructions sent to the graphics card. It's an extremely indirect method. Eizo/NEC tend to not use that part of the profile. It's set to linear and accounted for via lookup table supported by the display itself. The ICC profile still provides a gamut description for color management purposes. It just doesn't try to stabilize the display hardware by way of its profile. Hopefully that makes sense.

Assuming no external display and you want a notebook (mini + NEC isn't a bad option) I like the retina macbook pros. The viewing angles are better than the old ones. They're still somewhat reflective, which is annoying, but it's less of an issue if you don't have too much stray light. IPS displays generally tend to be more pleasing than TN panels too. If you're dealing a lot with photography, 16GB of ram can be more comfortable than 8. I'm not sure if you're in the US, but even though it's limited to 8GB, the refurbished retina macbook pros are $1600, so close to the price of a new 13" rmbp. The only specs that really matter most of the time for your proposed uses are ram, storage, and display quality (also maybe ports for additional storage).

Blah my posts always get far too long.
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Old May 28, 2013, 09:20 PM   #12
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That sounds very complex. Might lean towards the iMac and look to get a refurbished MBA down the track so I can run the same writing software... So many options!
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Old May 28, 2013, 10:08 PM   #13
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That sounds very complex. Might lean towards the iMac and look to get a refurbished MBA down the track so I can run the same writing software... So many options!
There are a lot of people on here who use imacs successfully for the kind of things you're doing. Just make sure you control your lighting or screen reflections can be somewhat irritating. Imacs do have better displays than the notebooks.
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Old May 28, 2013, 11:33 PM   #14
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What about the fusion drive or substituting a SSD for the 1Tb HD? Is it worth it?
My current laptop has a glossy display so that shouldn't be a big problem.
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Old May 29, 2013, 11:08 AM   #15
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I am torn between various similar choices myself. The MBPr is really nice and really expensive. The screen is of course small for heavy photo use. It is portable, but not so much as an iPad. Later you could hook it up to a future retina monitor, but that is sure an expensive way to go.

And it has the best screen actually available now (speaking consumer grade).

The iMac has an improved screen and is powerful. You could buy one to use for a year or so until the inevitable and superior retina model comes out. Not a cheap solution, but certainly fairly simple. People will marvel at its thin edges...

The cheapest and most flexible plan is to get a Mini and the best affordable monitor. It is not necessary to go "pro" with the monitor. Later you can update the monitor, assuming today's Mini would run a 20+" retina monitor (I don't know).

And of course use an iPad would be so nice for couch and travel.

My recommendations are in descending order, but the expense is in ascending order.
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Old May 29, 2013, 03:50 PM   #16
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What about the fusion drive or substituting a SSD for the 1Tb HD? Is it worth it?
My current laptop has a glossy display so that shouldn't be a big problem.
Yeah it's a matter of preference on glossy displays. They annoy me endlessly, but if you're completing work on one, there isn't a problem. SSDs help with specific things. Part of the feeling of responsiveness is that you never have to wait for a disk to spin up if it's set to put the disk to sleep whenever possible. Pageouts aren't as bad if you're too low on ram, but I really wouldn't buy a machine with less than 8GB today if possible assuming you go for one that can't be upgraded after the fact. OSX is just bad at freeing up memory, so it uses too much at times. Issues like a 1TB or fusion drive just come down to how much space you require. I find Apple's markup to be a bit high on the fusion drives. Those things come down more to personal choices. You know how much space you require.
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Old May 29, 2013, 06:52 PM   #17
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SSD-only is still an expensive option GB for GB. You could end up outgrowing it fast. Fusion is the way I'll be going with my next iMac. It's a tad slower than SSD-only, but way faster than HD-only, and I get a whole lot more storage for the money. No matter what, I run an external drive for Time Machine backup.

As to the height of an iMac... I'm over 6', so for optimal height I should raise it up a few inches. Since there's no overhead lighting (no reflection issues), I can tilt the monitor up and it's perfectly comfortable. I can't imagine it being too low if you're 5' 5", and it doesn't seem likely it'd be too high. At least, if the rest of your desk/chair combination is also at the correct height ergonomically.
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Old May 30, 2013, 12:14 AM   #18
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Thanks
I think maybe my desk is a little higher than average but I use a keyboard tray which provides relatively good ergonomics. Would most newer external HHDs be good for back up or do you need a special type? Time Machine is an automatic process you set up? Pardon my ignorance but I've been a long term PC girl.

It seems all of this it boils down to whether I want portability or functionality most. And because I want both the decision is difficult. From what you guys have said if I want portability either an Air with maxed out RAM or a 13" Pro is best - along with a good external monitor. It will be okay for photo editing but not as good as if I go for an iMac desktop (ideally with increased RAM plus a fusion drive) and use my I pad or get a refurb Air for when I'm away from my desk.
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Old May 30, 2013, 05:53 AM   #19
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Time machine is something you set up and, depending on how much is on your computer, the first backup can take quite a while. I have a partitioned external drive with TM on half and Carbon Copy Cloner on the other half ... The latter is a fully bootable backup whereas TM apparently doesn't back up a bootable system.

I use an Air, hooked up to a Dell U2412 monitor when at my desk, for writing and many other things. In both cases the screens are okay for text but only just okay and way short of retina sharpness. The Air is a great computer though. Handles music processing, my not very demanding photo editing, the only time I hear the fans is when converting video formats.

I love writing in different locations at home as well as away, and the Air is great for that. The ipad4 is even better because of the retina screen, I do a lot of writing on that and pick it up via Dropbox on the Air when I want to do more with it, in Scrivener.
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Old May 31, 2013, 10:53 PM   #20
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A few more questions. If I decided to spend a little more cash do you think a MBA with Thunderbolt Display would be better for my needs than a) the above with a good generic display & b) the iMac plus my iPad (and later getting a second hand 11""MBA)? Are all TBDs 27"? I'm now torn between the idea of having one computer with great display/ one hard drive/ one lot of licensing cf two computers/ good for back up but pain to synchronise, and need two licenses for some stuff etc?
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Old Jun 2, 2013, 07:42 AM   #21
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The place where the thunderbolt display shines is as a docking station. I've never put in enough hours on one to render a decent verdict, but a lot of people like them. In the $1000~ range I tend to like NEC as far as absolute quality. The thunderbolt display may be updated soon with the same screen treatment the imac received. The effect would be lower reflectivity.
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Old Jun 2, 2013, 07:50 AM   #22
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The macbook air + external monitor is a good idea considering how affordable LCD monitors are now.

I'm a casual user, so the 13" was just right for me. But for a writer and photographer, I would get the 15" if you will be doing a lot of your work away from your desk. Otherwise the 13" plugged into a 19-20" external monitor at home will be a good setup for you.
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Old Jun 2, 2013, 08:06 AM   #23
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15" non-retina

I have had my 15" 2008 MacBook Pro for 5 months now. It is replacing a 13" MacBook also from 2008. There is literally nothing I would change on this computer to make it better. Having a retina screen does not seem like a good option at this point. The extra GPU power needed to drive the display isn't always there with the integrated gpu, and the only content that can really take advantage of those extra pixels anyway is the built-in apple apps, the few that decide to update their apps to support retina, and hi-res photos. If you get the non-retina 15, then everything simply works, without having worry. If i could afford a newer model, then by all means i would have an i7 and a new GeForce, but the 2.4Core2Duo and 9600m are plenty for video editing, regular tasks, and gaming (except if you want to run new games on high graphics. You can just turn those down a bit.) But a new 15 has even better performance. Once you get into the realm of macbook pro, the only thing holding it back from being faster is your internet speed, and the fact that you probably don't have an SSD. Having google fiber and a fat SSD in a MBP 15 would be the best solution for personal computing thus far in the world.
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Old Jun 19, 2013, 09:11 PM   #24
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My choice - for the moment

When I went shopping the writer in me won. I was seduced by the 11" MBA. It's light, beautiful and very easy to type on. I'm still awaiting delivery - I ordered the I.3GHz with 250GB ssd and 8 GB RAM. The idea was to get a machine that would help me write - that was my main need. I am seriously thinking of getting an iMac to keep it company later on - or is that just overkill? In the meantime I will look out for a reasonable budget monitor I think. Something thay will run well off the Air and give pretty good colour reproduction but not costing more than about $300-350.
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Old Jun 21, 2013, 11:19 AM   #25
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Quote:
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When I went shopping the writer in me won. I was seduced by the 11" MBA. It's light, beautiful and very easy to type on. I'm still awaiting delivery - I ordered the I.3GHz with 250GB ssd and 8 GB RAM. The idea was to get a machine that would help me write - that was my main need. I am seriously thinking of getting an iMac to keep it company later on - or is that just overkill? In the meantime I will look out for a reasonable budget monitor I think. Something thay will run well off the Air and give pretty good colour reproduction but not costing more than about $300-350.
I've used iMacs for years and am hoping to get a laptop for writing classes this summer (and, hopefully, beyond.) I have finally come to the realization that iPads are not for me, but I need something portable.

The 2012 iMacs have much less glare than my 2010. I've slowly come around to them and will probably stay with them despite my hemming and hawing to the contrary.

Since you are also into Photography, I think the iMac/MBA is a nice combination for what you wish to do.
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