Which Mac is best for photography?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by baldrick_nz, Jul 21, 2015.

  1. baldrick_nz macrumors newbie

    Jul 21, 2015
    Whakatane, NZ
    Hi all,

    I'm in the market for a new computer and whilst I've settled on a Mac, I'm really not sure which one.

    As a avid amateur photographer who wants to get the best from his pics, it seems Mac's have the clear advantage. The screens are pre-calibrated, the on-screen colours are rich and what you see on-screen is strikingly close to how they print out.

    I'm currently a Linux (Mint) user, so the world of UNIX-based systems doesn't worry me in the least. Moving to Windows, for me, would be a retrograde step back into the dark ages.

    I plan to use both Darktable and Gimp (both of which offer support to OSX), but am really keen to play with the new Photo app.

    Money is a consideration. I'm looking to spend no more than NZ$2000.00.

    I love the idea of a laptop, but am concerned I would have to have an external HDD permanently attached due to the amount of SSD space available. A desktop would be better in this respect, but certainly not portable enough.

    The concept of buying new appeals to me, purely because I'm not buying into someone elses potential (or real) issues.

    Any help, guides or pointers to help me choose would be much appreciated.

    Thanks in advance,

  2. bgd macrumors regular

    Aug 30, 2005
    I use a rMBP and more than happy with that. An external monitor can always be added if you feel the need, I haven't so far.

    From a storage perspective you could look at adding a NAS, that way you wouldn't need to plug in each time (wireless) and could access your photos remotely when traveling. This works with Lightroom, you would need to research the Photo.app as I'm not a user.

    You should ask your question in the Digital Photography forum, you'll get more response.
  3. imaccooper macrumors regular


    May 29, 2014
    North Carolina
    Sounds like the rMBP would be the thing for you. The 13" is much more portable, but it is still a dual core which may come into play if you are getting into really heavy stuff. The 15" is an absolute beast that will handle anything, but it is a little bit bigger and a little harder to carry. If you are just planning on moving it around occasionally, it won't be a big deal to go for the 15", but if portability is a bigger concern than raw power then the 13" would make sense.
  4. keysofanxiety macrumors G3


    Nov 23, 2011
    Agreed. 13" is like butter -- crazy quick SSDs and overall a gorgeous laptop -- though the 15" is just ridiculously powerful and IMHO the best portable power computer on the market by an absolute country mile.
  5. Samuelsan2001 macrumors 604

    Oct 24, 2013
    The best mac for photography is the 5K imac, it has the best screen and all the power you could require for the next decade in photography.

    However it is both non-portable and out of your price range.

    If you want a new apple laptop with a great screen at $2000 NZ then you have only one choice and thats the base model rMBP. This however will give you only a small amount of onboard storage at 128GB and if your photo files are 1gb RAW per photo that is very limiting.

    You may want to look for last years refurbished to get a bigger SSD size, but the NZ apple store has none available at the moment. They are great as new with anew battery fully checked over by apple technicians with all the same warranty you get as new.
  6. dwig macrumors 6502

    Jan 4, 2015
    Key West FL
    Macs are fine for photo work, but are definitely not better than Windows machines. It's pretty much an level playing field.

    If you go with a notebook, particularly a Mac, you will have limited storage space on the machine's internal drive. You will need to seriously consider how you store your images. Keep in mind:
    • NAS storage solutions are very very slow compared to a directly connected HD. Even the older USB2 HDs are significantly faster than a NAS.
    • For most users, USB3 drives are fine, but Thunderbolt is faster.
    • Most image editing apps are hard to use well on smaller screens. Even a 15" screen is a bit cramped.
    • Given that mobility is an issue, you need to manage your images in an application that can deal with the issues of having the images on an external drive as well as on the machines boot drive.
    The last item can be difficult for many apps. Adobe Lightroom handles this with no effort. I can't say whether Darktable or Photos can. There may be times that you load new images onto your boot drive because the external is unavailable. You would want to be able to work with those files then and to later move them to the external without breaking their link in your management (DAM like Lightroom) app.

    Gimp is a solid app, but it only supports 8-bit image files. The advantage in image quality of using 16-bit files instead of 8-bit files is small unless you do extensive image processing and then only when you shoot RAW. JPEGs are always only 8-bit files.
  7. baldrick_nz thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 21, 2015
    Whakatane, NZ
    Thanks the pointers guys!

    Just a couple of other questions regarding Mac's generally...

    • In Linux, software/hardware updates are done whilst the computer is on, restarts are rarely required and when they are, reboots take no longer than when there are no updates. In Windows, the opposite is largely true, meaning you may have to wait several minutes for the machine to shut down and several minutes again to wait for the update to be configured at reboot. How do updates work on Mac's? Closer to Linux or Windows?
    • AntiVirus. Windows pretty much can't survive without it. Linux considers it an optional extra, when used it's only to prevent a Windows virus being forwarded to another Windows machine via email, usb etc... Honestly, how necessary is AntiVirus for a Mac?
    • Right click touchpad. Is it possible to enable this in a mac?
    Thanks again!
  8. Samuelsan2001 macrumors 604

    Oct 24, 2013
    1. It's just like linux very rare restarts and they are quick.

    2. Antivirus is pretty much optional (ie not needed, as of nmow there are no mac viruses in the wild, just trojans and malware and that has a far more difficult time of it), anti-malware is reccomended but rarely finds anything. This is of course if you are using your machine in a closed system, i.e. you are not using it to transfer endless stuff to windows PC's. If you are sending a lot of stuff to windows computers, transfering a lot of files downloaded etc, then it is in your interests to run antivirus so that you don't pass anything on. They may not affect you but others (especially clients) get annoyed if you infect their systems. On the other hand antivrus software is just about all free for macs and seems very unotrusive. (I use avast)

    3. Right click on the mac trackpad is just tapping or clicking with 2 fingers instead of one. The multitouch gestures on the macbook trackpad is one of the standout features of using macs. Make sure you learn them all and it'll be a joy to use your new laptop.
  9. robgendreau macrumors 68040

    Jul 13, 2008
    You don't need AV software on the Mac, and updates are pretty inobtrusive. Some can autoupdate. Just depends on the software. Requiring a restart is infrequent.

    I think you'll be very disappointed with Photos; it's a nice enough freebie but can't compare with Lightroom, etc. It's like a toy compared to Darktable or GIMP, but useful if you intend to use Apple's iCloud Photo Library.

    But aside from the screen, why a Mac? Maybe a fast and less expensive PC laptop running something besides Windows, and a color-correctable monitor, even a 4k. Many photographers who print use NECs and Eizos because of the wider gamut, and built-in color correction. You get the display, pretty much the same processor, storage, etc, and software that works fine and that you are already familiar with. Heck, you could even do a hackintosh. I just don't see that Photos and the display is worth $2k.
  10. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I've worked with various Macs and I would say that you should investigate GIMP and how well it uses multi-core CPU as well as exploit GPU. I have not used GIMP for more than a decade and I am sure much as changed. As for Mac's photo app, it is well.... lackluster. If you are looking for some sort of digital management, perhaps Lightroom would be a better fit.

    About laptops - yes, most likely would need to carry external drives which can be as simple as a 7200 rpm 2.5" drive or SSD. If you carry a laptop around, chances are you will get a case and in that, you could easily carry 1-2 2.5" external drives (USB3 most likely). The challenge remains with the screen of the laptop as serious work (if you are that deep into photography) might suggest that at some point getting an external graphics oriented monitor that can be properly calibrated. If you are not that worried, just get a "calibrator" that creates the best possible profile for the laptop. ColorMunki and that product line come to mind as being pretty decent with the Mac laptops.

    Mac Mini or Mac Pro used - I think a quad Mini (if you can find one) or used tower Mac Pro along with a good monitor offer excellent options for the person who works with photo applications (GIMP, Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One Pro etc.). The older Mac Pro towers offers lots of ways to customize based on your needs. Previous to SSD offerings, I had two pairs of striped drives and an external backup along with at the time a decent video card (though Photoshop really didn't exploit it).

    Between a laptop and iMac, you may really want to re-evaluate your thinking and look at the options that the iMac offer at your price range. Again, like the laptop consider getting a good monitor soft calibrator (generates a profile for your screen).

    Unless things have changed much, GIMP has quite a few options on the screen and in that, the 15" laptop might be far more comfortable to work with over the 13" so that you have easy real estate for the images themselves on the screen.

    Btw, I would highly recommend DAS over NAS if this is your only computer. Directly attached (external) storage more often than not will be faster than a network attached storage unit. There are of course exceptions. The advantage of NAS is that in the field, you may be able to set it up so that you can "talk to it" from afar via Internet. Also, many NAS units these days come with some applications that are useful (FTP as example) and are running a variant of Linux.

    Keep us in the loop on what you end up buying.


    Mac Mini quad 2.0, Mac Mini quad 2.6, 15" rMBP, NEC 24" Spectraview monitor, various external drives, QNAP 559p NAS (5x4tb RAID 5), Kensington Trackball, CS6 Photoshop, Capture One Pro, DXO, Virtual Win 7 and Linux Ubuntu, more... oh I should say - Fuji X series and Nikon fan.
  11. ocabj macrumors 6502a


    Jul 2, 2009
    My photography has scaled down a lot in the past 12-16 months, and most of it is just stock photos for my blog.

    That being said, a couple years back I wanted to get a new laptop to replace my aged, albeit still functional mid-2009 13" MBP for non-photo related tasks (e.g. IT Security, DevOps), but wasn't liking the idea of going with a laptop again for photo editing. I ended up going with the Late-2012 Mac Mini quad core i7, put in a data doubler adapter to have two drives (one SSD, one platter), and 16GB RAM. Then I run a Dell 24" IPS display that I calibrate with a Spyder I borrow off my friend. I'm still using it now as my primary editing machine and it does everything I need.

    Sadly, the current Mac Mini options aren't as good as the quad-core i7 Late-2012, in my opinion.

    Note that even though I have two drives in my Mini, I still keep my LR libraries and current (most recent) RAW files on a USB3 drive.
  12. ocabj macrumors 6502a


    Jul 2, 2009
  13. merkinmuffley macrumors 6502a

    Dec 3, 2010
    I use a 27 inch IMac, non-retina for editing photos. When I'm on the road, I carry a 13 inch rMBP for culling photos and quick adjustments. We have a 27 IMac retina here to use as well, I've compared photos taken with our 36mp bodies on the two IMacs side by side and I've seen little reason to move my work to the retina IMac.
  14. shaunp macrumors 68000

    Nov 5, 2010
    It depends on whether or not you need to be portable. If so then the rMBP would be your first choice, and if not an iMac would fit your budget.

    I guess you also need to ask yourself how much you want to 'tinker' with the hardware, I ask that as most people who are comfortable with Linux and open source have no issue either building or upgrading their own kit. With your budget you could build a good Hackintosh or get a second user Mac Pro (not the new cylinder one) and then have options for HDD and GPU, etc. The Mackintosh would be the most difficult of the options to support, as it's officially not supported, but that might appeal to you anyway.

    Personally I have one of the new Mac Pro's (6-core, D700 GPU, 64GB RAM and 512GB SSD) and it's a great machine for running Lightroom. I put the lightroom catalogue on the internal SSD and use an external array for the RAW files. It's expensive, but it works very well and I have around 50,000 images in my catalogue at present.

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