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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.

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