I'm a keen video editor, so which is the best Mac for me to buy: iMac, Mac Pro, or one of the MacBooks?
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.
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.
We also look at some of the accessories, software and services available that make sense for keen movie-makers.
Video editing on a Mac: The basics - what 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.
The best Mac for professional video editors: 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display
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 £200-£240 takes you up to a 4.0GHz quad-core Intel I7, you can upgrade to an 3TB Fusion Drive (+£80), and the top model can get a bigger graphics card - an AMD Radeon R9 M395X (+£200).
It's not amazingly cheap for consumers, but video editing professionals will find the prices attractive. The entry model starts at £1,449 (although we'd advise spending the extra £80 on a Fusion Drive). The top-end model starts out at £1,849 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 £2,409.
While it sounds a lot (and is) it's 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 £1,000.
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 video-editing Mac for raw speed: Mac Pro
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 £2,499, 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 £240 for 512GB or £640 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 techinically 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 £7,339.
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.
Best-value Mac for video editing: Mac mini
If the Mac Pro and iMac are too expensive you're going to have to start to look at Apple's consumer range. We're going to come right out and rule out the MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook: these are great computers and you can definitely edit video on them, but they don't have enough storage space, screen size or processing power to be considered the best Mac for video editing.
The Mac mini isn't a bad choice, though. Stay well clear of the entry-level £399 model: its 1.4GHz processor will make video editing painfully slow. But the £569 model has a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 1TB hard drive and 8GB RAM.
Aside from the Intel Iris graphics card it's a great video-editing machine, and even with its slow graphics it'll still edit videos with ease. It's a good value choice for amateur or less demanding video editors looking for a capable but cheap machine. Add the Fusion Drive (+£160) if you can.
Best video-editing Mac for portability: MacBook Pro
If you're after a portable solution, the MacBook Pro is the one for you.
All of the Pro models are pretty powerful, and the built-in Iris Iris Pro graphics in the 15-inch ones is a capable video editor. The best to get is the top end 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (£1,999). This has the same discrete graphics card as the 5K iMac, the AMD Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB GDDR5. The separate graphics card will improve video editing rendering times.
We'd avoid the stock MacBook Pro with non-retina Display. It has a 1440 x 900 display, which falls short of high-definition video (1920 x 1080). You can spend an additional £80 and upgrade to a 1680 x 1050 display, but that still isn't high definition. The Retina Display model goes up to 2880 x 1800, which can display every pixel of a high-definition video. If you're a pixel perfectionist, it's worth the asking price.
You get only 128GB of flash storage in the entry-level model, and 256GB flash storage in the mid model. The 512GB on the top-end model is more generous, but none are going to be enough for serious video editing work, so as with the Mac Pro you will need an external hard drive.
With this in mind, we actually think the entry-level 13-inch 2.6HHz with Retina Display is actually a good choice. Save the money you'd spend on additional internal PCIe-flash based storage and get a good external hard drive. The 128GB of space is more than enough to run apps like Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro. So we'd suggest either the 13-inch 2.6GHz MacBook Pro with Retina Display (£999) or the 15-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro (£1,999).
Best display on a Mac for video editing: iMac
The iMac's marquee feature needs little introduction. The larger model packs a whopping 27in display, which is plenty of space for displaying the two video panels in Final Cut Pro (along with the Timeline and all the other controls).
The entry-level 27in iMac model also comes with a powerful 3.2GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and nVidia GeForce discrete graphics card. At £1,449 that will do you nicely.
If you want to start throwing in a few upgrades, consider getting a 3TB Serial Drive (+£120). If you're feeling flush you can pick up a 3TB Fusion Drive (+£280). We'd also suggest upgrading the RAM from 8GB to 16GB (+£160). The additional RAM will make video editing smoother.
Best video-editing Mac for storage: The old Mac Pro
The old pre-2013 Mac Pro is, or rather was, the best option for video editing.
You used to be able to pick up a Quad-Core or 12-Core model, which made light work of video rendering. It came with 6GB RAM on the entry model, which could easily be upgraded (usually cheaper via a third-party company like Crucial); you got a 1TB hard drive, but it had four bay slots each capable of taking up to 3TB drives. Again, these could be sourced outside of Apple for less. And it comes with an ATI Radeon HD graphics card with 1GB GDDR5 RAM. Starting at £2,049 this was by far your best option. (Unlike the iMac it was a tower, so you'd need a display to go with it.)
We wouldn't really suggest going back to an older model, but some people still use them happily. We believe it's more forward-thinking to pick up a model with a small amount of flash storage (which is fast for running apps) and to store the video footage on an external hard drive.
The post-2103 Mac Pro is, as we've mentioned, overkill. The processing speed is unecessary, the amount of internal storage is too small (or too expensive) and it lacks the upgrade options of the old Mac Pro. With the iMac you get a perfectly functional video editing machine with an amazing screen for the same money. On top of all that, the Mac Pro hasn't been updated for almost three years, so it's due a refresh. Hopefully Apple will address some of its problems.
Best Mac for video editing: Conclusion
Which Mac should you buy? That depends on whether you're a professional video editor hitting deadlines or an extremely enthusiastic amateur.
If you're being paid to render by the hour then go for the Mac Pro: the Pro's faster speed will soon pay for itself. If you're just looking for a great Mac to render video then we'd go for the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display. It offers the best combination of speed, storage and a lovely large display to work on. The MacBook Pro with Retina display is a good video-editing machine, and the one to get if you need to edit video on the move.
The Mac Pro does have the processing ooomph, however, which will cut down rendering times on big jobs considerably. Time is money, as they say, and the time you save rendering may make up for the initial outlay. It depends on how commercial your video editing endeavours are. If it's the principal means by which you make your money, and rendering time costs you cash, then get the Mac Pro.
Apple Mac accessories for video editing
Probably the most important thing to get with your Mac for video editing will be more storage space - a good external hard drive with a fast Thunderbolt connection will help you out.
See our hard drive reviews for more advice.
You'll also be wanting some video-editing software. We expect Final Cut Pro will be high on your list. But there's a wealth of other video software programs out there, including Avid Media Composer 6.5 and Adobe Premiere Pro (which is available as part of Adobe's Creative Cloud plan).
Don't be blinded by Apple brand loyalty; Avid Media Composer is still the industry's go-to program for video editing, and Premiere Pro has many advantages over Final Cut Pro for rendering formats. Adobe has also recently introduced Premiere Pro Clip enabling people to edit video on the move.
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