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Which is the best MacBook for photographers?

Photographers have often turned to MacBooks to get the job done. Portable and powerful, these laptops are great for photo-editing for beginners and professionals alike. The MacBook lineup is in transition with the late 2020 arrival of Apple silicon. Our latest recommendations reflect this transition. The best MacBook for photographers is currently the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an i9 processor. There are other noteworthy models to consider, depending on your needs, including the best MacBook of the year overall.

Best Overall: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) i9 processor

If you’re a professional photographer and need the best that money can buy, we highly recommend this version, which comes with an 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 processor and Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz. For this, you’ll receive a graphics card boost and 1TB of storage versus the 512GB of storage found on the base model. If this isn’t enough, you can add more memory, a better graphics card, and more storage. In doing so, this model’s cost can quickly exceed nearly $6,000, which is something to keep in mind.

Later this year, Apple will almost certainly refresh the 16-inch MacBook Pro as it continues to transition away from Intel-based machines. Therefore, if you can wait, do so. Otherwise, this is the best MacBook for photographers on the market today.

Pros:

  • Apple’s best MacBook Pro to date
  • Graphics boost, upgrades
  • Up to 64GB of memory available

Cons:

  • Most expensive MacBook Pro on the market
  • A new model should arrive in ’21

Best Overall

16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) i9 processor

The best of the best

If you’re okay with the price, no doubt this is the MacBook to get.

Best Alternative: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

In 2020, the 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup was temporarily split into two. On one side, you’ll find entry-level versions that now feature the new Apple M1 single system on a chip (SoC). On the other, are Intel-based versions that were also updated during the year.

Because the Intel-based models provide more storage availability and memory opportunities (at least for now), we continue to recommend this model for photographers. However, this recommendation comes with the understanding that better Apple silicon-based models are almost certainly incoming before the end of the year. Therefore, again, if you can hold off, wait a few months before making a purchase.

If you must buy now, get the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel Iris Plus Graphics and a Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz. Maximize storage to 4TB and memory to 32GB.

Pros:

  • Lots of storage available
  • Great mobility
  • It’s cheaper than the 16-inch model

Cons:

  • Might be wise to wait
  • Price can rise quickly as you add components
  • Is 13-inches enough?

Best Alternative

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)

More powerful

There’s much to love about this model, which offers more storage availability versus the Apple M1 version.

Best for Beginners: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) i7 processor

The least expensive 16-inch MacBook Pro model still packs a punch, offering a 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz. The base 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with 16GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, 512GB SSD storage, and four Thunderbolt 3 ports. The model comes standard with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory graphics processor and can be upgraded to AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 (for an extra $100) or AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB of GDDR6 ($200) for better performance.

On the obvious downside, this is still an expensive laptop. Plus, the Apple silicon factor suggests this model will be replaced before the end of 2021.

Pros:

  • The least expensive 16-inch model
  • Pay only $100 extra for a graphics boost
  • Biggest MacBook Pro display to date

Cons:

  • It’s still costly
  • Replacement coming soon?

Best for Beginners

16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) i7 processor

Largest display for less

The entry-level 16-inch MacBook Pro is an excellent choice when the size of the screen matters the most.

Best Budget: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

For now, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is the only Apple silicon-based MacBook we’re recommending for photographers. The recommendation is largely based on price and battery life. There’s a $1,000 price difference between the least expensive MacBook Air and the recommended 13-inch MacBook Pro model. The former offers up to 18 hours between charges versus 10 hours on the Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro.

With an Apple M1 chip with an 8‑core CPU, 7‑core GPU, and 16‑core Neural Engine, this model includes 8GB or 16GB of unified memory and up to 2TB of storage.

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is the best MacBook overall for 2021.

Pros:

  • Same screen size as 13-inch MBP
  • Up to 18 hours of wireless web between charges
  • Price
  • Apple M1!

Cons:

  • Only two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
  • Maximum storage is 2TB

Best Budget

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Fun and practical

The MacBook Air is a great looking device that’s great for travel. Plus, there’s no denying the sweet price.

Best MacBook for Photographers

Our favorite MacBook for photographers remains the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an i9 processor. This great device offers an 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 processor and Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz. You’ll receive a graphics card boost and 1TB of storage versus the 512GB of storage found on the base model.

Looking for even more? Add more storage, better memory, and an improved graphics card for even more splendor!

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe

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