I'm a keen video editor, so which is the best Mac for me to buy: iMac, Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or MacBook?
Best Mac for video editing: Summary
- 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display
- Mac Pro
- New MacBook Pro 2016
What's the best Mac for video editing? It's a question many of our readers ask. Apple Macs are particularly capable at editing video, and many video editors choose to invest in the latest Mac hardware. Traditionally a Mac of some kind has been the only choice for video professionals.
Read next: Best free & cheap Mac video editing software
But choosing the right Mac for video editing can be a challenge. Apple creates a wide range of Mac OS X laptops (the 12-inch MacBook, and multiple sizes of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro) and desktop computers (iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro). Although all Apple Macs are attractively designed and well made, some Macs are better suited to editing video than others.
With this in mind we've created this video editing buyers' guide. In this article we take a look at what a computer requires to be truly great for video, and the features you'll pay more for. We then look closely at the range of Mac computers available, and the custom Mac built-to-order options that are worth consideration.
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We also look at some of the accessories, software and services available that make sense for keen movie-makers.
Best Mac for video editing: The basics you'll need
Video editing is a challenge for any computer system and editing video professionally requires a high-end system. Of course, all Macs can edit video clips, but there's a difference between editing a quick clip for YouTube and making a whole movie.
Macs are used to make whole movies, TV shows, commercials and professional online video clips. The Social Network, John Carter, 300 and No Country for Old Men are all big-name films cut on a Mac using Final Cut Pro. So it's got some serious chops. (Although we should point out that most films are cut using Avid software, albeit often on Mac hardware.)
Digital video places huge demands on processor power, graphics power (for rendering) and - above all - storage space. Editing video, especially high-definition video, eats up hard drive space. And with 4K editing now part of life, this is only going to become more of an issue.
Best Mac for video editing: The best Mac for professional video editors...
...is the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display.
Buy iMac with Retina 5K Display from the Apple Store. Prices starting from £1,749.
All of the video requirements (perhaps with the exception of storage) leads naturally to the iMac with Retina Display. Wait, what about the Mac Pro? Well, we'll come to that in a bit. But first let's see why the top-end iMac is a better choice.
The 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display may not have "Pro" in its name, but one look at its feature set and you quickly see this is no amateur. The base model comes with a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel i5 and an AMD Radeon R9 M380 with 2GB of video memory. It comes with 8GB of RAM as standard, upgradeable to 32GB. You get a 1TB hard drive on the base model; up to 2TB Fusion Drive on the high-end model.
Then we come to the build-to-order options. An extra £225-£270 (depending on the base model you select) takes you up to a 4.0GHz quad-core Intel I7; you can upgrade to an 3TB Fusion Drive (+£90-£360), and the top model can get a bigger graphics card - an AMD Radeon R9 M395X (+£225).
It's not amazingly cheap for consumers, but video editing professionals will find the prices attractive. The entry model starts at £1,749 (although we'd advise spending the extra £90 on a Fusion Drive). The top-end model starts out at £2,249 but if you're super-serious about your video editing then budget for a 4.0GHz CPU, 16GB of RAM and AMD Radeon R9 with 4GB of RAM. All of this takes the price up to £2,879.
While it sounds a lot (and is), it's still cheaper than the base Mac Pro model, and has a much better hard drive - and that display. Which brings us to the second bit, "that display".
It's been said a lot, but the 5K Retina Display on the iMac is a thing of glorious beauty. In our review we tested the display and found the highest contrast ratio we've ever seen, and it displays 99 per cent of the DCI-P3 colour space. (DCI-P3 is the colour space for digital movie projection.)
Because the Retina Display is integrated into the iMac, it runs at 60MHz rather than the 30MHz found on most 4K monitors. One alternative to this Mac is to get a monitor such as the Dell Ultra HD 5K, which itself costs £796.
The 5K size is, itself, perfect for video editing because it enables you to edit 4K video at full size and see the controls around it. There's no doubt about it: when it comes to speed and cost, you're best off with an iMac.
Read more: iMac with Retina 5K Display review
Best Mac for video editing: Best video-editing Mac for raw speed...
...is the Mac Pro.
Buy Mac Pro from the Apple Store. Prices starting from £2,999.
Video editing places huge demands on a system, especially when editing video along with 3D graphics. Apple's Mac Pro is a performance powerhouse, with either a quad-Core or 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor, dual AMD FirePro graphics card (with either 2GB or 3GM GDDR5 VRAM on each card) and integrated PCIe-based flash storage.
It's not within the price range of most consumers, starting at £2,999 (it went up a lot recently, thanks to the weakness of the pound following the Brexit referendum), but for video professionals it offers high performance for a reasonable price.
There are two problems with the Mac Pro, though. The first is a lack of onboard storage. It comes with a paltry 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage. Let's be clear: that drive is amazingly fast, but video editors will want more space, and it'll cost you an additional £180 for 512GB or £540 for a 1TB drive.
Even 1TB is somewhat small for video editing, so most users will have to attach an external hard drive; fortunately, thanks to the blazing fast Thunderbolt connection, there's little difference between external storage and an internal hard drive. Attaching a nest of external drives to the Mac Pro does rather ruin its pure sleek style, though.
The lack of internal storage points to a larger problem video editors have with the Mac Pro. Its super-small design has many benefits: it's low on power consumption, looks pretty, and is easily accessible. But it's entirely made from custom parts: you can't just throw in larger hard drives or replace the graphics card. Although it is technically possible to upgrade, the only stock part seems to be the RAM.
If cash really is no object, it's possible to take the Mac Pro up to stratospheric heights. You can get a 2.7GHz 12-core CPU, 64GB of RAM, 1TB PCI-e Flash drive, and Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB RAM each. All for the princely sum of £8,759.
Who would buy such a computer? Not a video editor, that's for sure. Maybe if you were involved in medical 3D imaging with stereoscopic VR goggles you could possibly, possibly justify it. There's no denying that it has serious grunt, though, and if you spend more time rendering video (in particular 3D video) then you might find the Mac Pro offers enough of a speed boost to be valuable. For most folks, though, even high-end video editors, we think the iMac is a smarter choice.