Laptop computers aren’t just handy tools for photo editing on the move. For many serious photographers, they’re primary computing devices both on the desktop and location. But what, exactly, should you be looking for a portable machine for photo editing?
Much depends on your budget, but the list of desirables and ideals goes something like this. You’ll want a high performance CPU for starters, ideally a recent Intel or AMD processor with at least four cores. A quality screen with a native resolution of at least 1080p will make editing easier and more effective. Similarly, a laptop with an IPS-type panel is desirable, too, in terms of colour accuracy. A fast solid-state type hard drive will also boost productivity.
As for memory, an absolute minimum of 8GB of RAM is a sensible target with 16GB or more desirable. Connectivity is another factor to consider. Integrated memory card slots aren’t essential, but they will reduce both desk clutter and the need to cart about card readers on the move.
On the other hand, USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt support ensure super fast transfer speeds from compatible devices including memory cards and readers.
What you probably don’t need is the very last word in high-end GPUs or graphics chips. While some image editing software does use GPU acceleration for certain plugins and filters, much of the heavy lifting is still done by the CPU. Meanwhile, a truly powerful graphics chip both adds dramatically to cost and tends to make laptops heavier while reducing battery life.
The final major factor is the trade off between portability and performance. The thinner and lighter you go, the more you lose in terms of performance. It’s a personal choice, but the good news is that you can now get a lot of performance in a very slim package.
The content creation professional’s choice
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro
- Price: From £2,349 / $2,399
- Get it from Currys at £120 off
- Get it from B&H Photo Video at $250 off
It’s all too obvious and it ain’t exactly cheap. But the current 15-inch MacBook Pro gets a lot right. Aside from giving you the content creator’s favoured MacOS software environment, the MacBook is one of the few 15-inch laptops that combines both very high six-core CPU performance with a slim chassis and proper battery life of up to 10 hours. Then there’s the gorgeous high resolution (and colour accurate) Retina display and quad Thunderbolt 3 ports. Really, the only obvious omission is an integrated memory card reader, but then this is the Apple way.
The premium performance PC option
ZBook Studio x360 G5
Looking for one laptop to do it all? Then may we present the HP ZBook Studio X360 G5. It can be specified with a 4K high fidelity 15.6-inch display with full 100 per cent coverage of the Adobe RGB colour space for pro-level image editing, a superfast six-core Intel CPU, Nvidia quadro graphics a 1TB SSD and 32GB of memory, not to mention dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and a high speed SD card reader. If none of that is exactly unique, the ZBook’s 2-in-1 convertible and pen input support, plus 10-hour-plus battery life make it something very special indeed.
The cost-effective Apple alternative
Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro
The new MacBook Air is a tempting looking device. But the super-slim proportions come at a price in terms of performance, while its portability advantage is marginal in practice compared to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. So, it’s the entry-level 13-inch Pro that makes more sense. Yes, the base model is only dual-core. But with decent clockspeeds, performance for image editing is adequate. Meanwhile, battery life is good, and there’s Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for fast transfers and good support for external displays.
Performance on a budget
HP Pavilion 14
- Price: From £579 / $499
- Get it from Currys for £379
- Get it from Best Buy in 128GB SSD ($749) and 500GB ($499) options
Powerful Intel quad-core CPU? Check. 1080p IPS display? Yup. Solid state storage? Affirmative. USB-C and an SD card reader? Oh, yeah. And all for under £600? The HP Pavilion 14 ticks a lot of boxes. It’s even claimed to be good for up to 11 and a half hours of battery life and its styling doesn’t look half bad. OK, the build quality won’t frighten Apple. That SSD only extends to 128GB at this money (models with larger SSDs are available). And serious pros will want an even higher res screen. But it’s one hell of a package for the price.
Huawei MateBook X Pro
- Price: From £1,049 / $999
- Get it from Currys: 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM or 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM
- Get it from Amazon: 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM
For proof that power comes in very slim packages these days, look no further than the Huawei MateBook X Pro. Thinner than any MacBook Pro model, it nevertheless packs a quad-core Intel processor, a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, all as part of its minimum specification. Even better is the standard 3:2 aspect 14-inch display, which features high quality IPS panel technology and a 3,000 x 2,000 native resolution, not to mention some of the slimmest bezels you can buy. Battery life, meanwhile, is typically around the 10 hour mark.