A laptop is the second most important gadget in a photographer’s life after the camera. But for high-resolution shots, any laptop won’t work.
All the technical terms and specifications, not to mention the many popular brands on the market today, are easily confusing. However, there are a few key things you need to think about when choosing a laptop for photo editing.
First, you need a good screen and a cool graphics card to accurately reproduce a wide range of colors and intricate details. You also need to pay attention to a capacious drive and a fast hard drive so that the laptop does not crash when working with heavy images.
And another factor to consider is how portable your laptop should be, especially if you move around and travel a lot.
The best laptops for photographers
1. Apple MacBook Pro 16 (2019)
Macbook Pro — best laptop for photo editing
At the moment, the Apple MacBook Pro 16 brother — the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1 — is the latest “firmware”. It received rave reviews due to its excellent combination of performance and efficiency. However, this MacBook is only available with a 13-inch screen, and its maximum 16 GB of RAM can limit the process of editing high resolution RAW images or large layered PSD files.
But the slightly older MacBook Pro 16 does not force compromises. It has good performance, so it’s lightning fast in Photoshop.
At the top of the keyboard, you’ll find the Apple Touch Bar. This row of buttons changes according to your current application and is a very convenient feature to use while working in Photoshop. The touch panel automatically displays adjustment buttons depending on the selected palette or tool.
The main Retina display has an aspect ratio closer to 3:2 than 16:9, making it more suitable for displaying photos from most cameras. The 3072x1920 resolution might be a bit smaller than 4K, but it’s reasonably sharp. The laptop also supports Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts screen color to compensate for ambient light.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro can have up to 64GB of RAM and up to 8TB of storage. But this also changes the price.
The best option would be an 8‑core Core i9 processor with a clock speed of 2.3 GHz, 32 GB of RAM, a 1 TB SSD and a Radeon 5500M graphics card with 4 GB of VRAM.
If you need additional storage, it can be purchased at a lower cost by purchasing one of the portable hard drives.
2. Dell XPS 15 (2020)
Great all-rounder and best Windows laptop for photo editing
The Dell XPS 15 range can be confusing: there are many different configurations to choose from, and prices often fluctuate. Perhaps the best configuration for photographers is one that includes a Dell 4K+ (3840x2400 16:10) screen that boasts 500 nits of brightness and touch sensitivity. The only problem is that multiple XPS 15 configurations come with this display, and they are inevitably on the pricier end of the range.
The higher price tag also gives you better performance thanks to the 10th generation Intel Core i9 8‑core processor. You can choose from 16 GB to 64 GB of RAM — although the latter figure is only worth choosing if you will be editing both high-definition video and images. 16GB or 32GB should be enough for image editing.
The choice of ports is also pretty good: Thunderbolt 3, USB‑C 3.1, and adapters for USB‑A and HDMI. There’s even a built-in full-size SD slot — something that’s sadly becoming a rarity in premium laptops.
3.Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9
Great choice for traveling photographers
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has long been a great choice for photo editing on the go, thanks to its compelling combination of high performance and lightweight design.
The current 9th generation X1 Carbon can be equipped with multiple 14-inch screen options. All of them have at least 1920x1200 resolution and a respectable maximum brightness of 400 nits, plus 100% sRGB color gamut. The display is an ultra-high resolution 3840x2400 panel with 500 nits of brightness and an impressive 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage.
The 11th generation Intel Core processor delivers plenty of power. The RAM is soldered to the motherboard so it can’t be swapped out for more capacity in the future, so remember that it’s unwise to settle for a base 8GB X1 Carbon.
4. Apple MacBook Air 13 inch M1
Best MacBook for Image Editing on the Go
The 13-inch MacBook Air M1 impresses in three main areas: first, design, finish, and ergonomics; second, its performance for a lightweight laptop; thirdly, the ratio of price and quality, taking into account these two things. The Air might not be as fast as the dedicated 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if you value portability more than peak performance, the Air is the better choice.
Its Retina screen is beautiful as always. Contrast, clarity, and brightness are top notch, and while 2560x1600 isn’t the same as 4K, it’s already good compared to a regular 1920x1080 screen.
There are only two USB ports, although it is not much smaller than the regular MacBook, which has 4 of them.
All in all, this is a great laptop that’s great for mobile image editing if you’re looking for maximum portability on a large enough screen.
5. Asus ZenBook Duo UX581
A laptop that looks amazing
The main feature of the ZenBook Duo is its huge touchscreen secondary screen above the keyboard. Asus calls it the ScreenPad Plus, and you can use it as a true secondary monitor to display another app on your home screen, or it can be split into two or three columns, each containing a different open app. There’s even a screen extension feature that lets you put the same app on both screens.
It’s a much more versatile setup than the original ScreenPad built into the old ZenBook Pro UX580. The only downside is that the ScreenPad’s viewing angles and color brightness don’t match the main screen, so there’s some color and contrast mismatch between the two displays. This is partly noticeable due to the excellent color and contrast of the main display. The screen’s full brightness doesn’t quite match the MacBook’s Retina display, but you’re unlikely to notice this when viewing.
The UX581 is equipped with a blazingly fast 8‑core Intel Core i9 processor, and you can equip your ZenBook with up to 32GB of RAM, which is great for the heavy editing process in Photoshop. Two USB‑C ports, two regular USB ports, an HDMI port, and a card slot MicroSD.
6. Razer Blade 15
Blade — an impressive all-rounder if you work hard and have time to play.
The Razer brand is focused on the gaming market, and the Blade 15 4K is a gaming laptop first and foremost, but the style doesn’t scream that much like many other gamer-focused laptops. Only the green backlit Razer logo on the front and the color-changing backlit keyboard reveal the gaming soul, but it can be turned off to keep the style clean.
What makes the Blade 15 a good photo-editing machine is its 15.6‑inch 4K screen, which in the top-of-the-line Blade 15 Advanced is now an OLED panel for amazing color brightness and contrast. It’s touch-sensitive, with an ultra-fast 300Hz refresh rate for smooth gaming.
This particular Blade 15 configuration is also equipped with the incredibly fast GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card. This is great for gaming at 4K: you can see the performance boost, but apps like Photoshop won’t really use the extra power. The solid build quality with great heat ventilation, as well as the usual three USB ports are obvious plus points, although the lack of an SD card slot is a big drawback for photographers.
7. LG Gram 14″ (14Z90N)
Want to travel light? The 14-inch LG Gram is made for you
LG Gram is presented with screens of three sizes: 14, 15 and 17 inches. All have their pros and cons regarding portability versus viewing comfort, but the svelte 14-inch model is especially appealing to traveling photographers. You get Full HD 1920x1080 resolution, which is smaller than many of the competition but still good enough for crisp images, and IPS screen technology delivers good color and contrast.
The entire Gram line is synonymous with portability. The 14″ version weighs just 1kg — compare that to the similarly small 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon which weighs around 1120g. The slim design saves space for two USB‑A ports, one USB‑C port, an HDMI port, as well as a microSD slot.
While the 4‑core Intel Core-i7 processor in our Gram is reasonably fast in general use, it doesn’t perform well in speed tests: Applying heavy filters in Photoshop can take a while. However, this laptop has a certain advantage — 18.5 hours on a single charge.
This is a tempting option if portability is your priority.
8. HP Specter x360 15 Convertible
A smart laptop for photo editing that also doubles as a tablet
In the laptop’s name, “x360” refers to the ability of the touchscreen to rotate so that the laptop can be converted into a tablet. Windows 10 automatically detects the position of the screen and adapts the interface to make it easier to use. This is a useful feature if you regularly use your laptop on the road and can’t always find a surface to sit it on. At 1.92kg, which is reasonable for a 15.6‑inch laptop, it’s heavy for a tablet, so the Specter can’t replace a regular tablet.
HP has switched to an AMOLED screen for its flagship 2021 Specter x360 15t-eb100 touchscreen model. It still supports 4K resolution (3840x2160), but now you get 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage and an impressive 400 nits peak brightness. Anti-scratch protection from Corning Gorilla Glass further enhances the usability of the x360 in tablet mode.
There is only one USB Type‑A port, as well as two Thunderbolt 3/USB‑C ports, an HDMI 2.0b port, and a Micro SD slot. However, there’s plenty of room for image editing thanks to an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 quad-core processor and 16GB of RAM.
There is no built-in graphics card, so don’t expect to meet a gaming monster. Another handy feature is automatic face recognition for logging into Windows Hello.
How to choose the best laptop for photo editing
one. Screen quality matters. Previously, laptop screens were terrifying with contrast and viewing angles. Luckily, IPS display technology has fixed that, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.
2. Memory. An SSD (Solid State Drive) is essential in any new laptop. All of the options in this buying guide include one, but don’t settle for a small amount: 512GB is the minimum if you’re working with 4K video.
3. Graphic arts. Integrated graphics cards are great for gaming, but they’re not required here. Today’s processors can replace them, and they have enough power for photo editing.
four. CPU. The model numbers of laptop processors are almost impossible to decipher. Just focus on the “base frequency” (speed measured in GHz) and the number of processor cores (two, four, or six).
5. Mac or Windows? MacBooks are preferred by many photographers, and for good reason. But don’t rule out comparable-priced laptops that can offer just as much with more upgradability.