Photography can be a demanding art, with modern cameras producing huge files and incredible levels of detail. But which Mac should you be looking at if you want to edit these images so that they look as good as possible?
We take a look at the best Mac for photo editing as well as some additional kit that you need to level up your digital photography.
Why Photographers prefer Macs
There was a time in the early days of digital photography when Mac's had a huge head start on PCs when it came to photo editing. This was thanks to better colour management, and, in the early years, Adobe Photoshop - which was only available on the Mac until 1993.
Thanks to this early start Macs became the preferred tool for photographers, and even though the photo editing software available today is available on all platforms, Apple's Macs are still loved by photographers.
In the sections below we will discuss the specs that make the Mac a great choice for photographers. We'll also discuss the changes said to be coming to Apple's displays and explain what Apple's move from Intel to ARM-based processors means for photographers.
Best Mac configuration for Photography
Before we tell you what we think are the best MacBook and Mac for photographers, we will run through what you need in terms of specs. Here's what you should consider when making your choice.
One reason why Macs are a great choice for today's photographers is their excellent colour accuracy and display quality. The iMac, for example, offers either a 5K display or there is a 4.5K display on the 24in iMac.
But if you want a Mac you can carry around with you - so that you can edit photographs when you are out in the field - then you will want to consider a MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately the MacBook Pro display isn't quite so far ahead of the game. There are laptop options in the PC world that have 4K displays, something Apple still hasn't managed. Plus Apple's MacBooks still use LCD panels, while alternatives have moved to OLED or AMOLED - screen tech that makes for brighter colours and darker blacks.
Mini-LED is another screen tech that is said to be even more precise, and there are rumours suggesting that Apple is switching to mini-LED or OLED for next generation of MacBook Pro. This new model could arrive before the end of 2021, but for now, you can always plug in a separate 5K or 6K display to get those extra pixels.
We are in a limbo period when it comes to Mac processors right now. Apple announced back in June 2020 that it would be transitioning from Intel processors to it's own ARM-based processors. The first of these M1 Macs are now here, with the eight-core M1 processor proving itself to be as good as high-end Intel options.
The M1 has another benefit for photography on the Mac - of those eight cores, four are performance cores and four are efficiency cores. What this means is that if your Mac is indexing your photo library in the background while you are busy editing a RAW image you shouldn't experience any slow downs, because the tasks will be divided between the cores in the most efficient way.
However, there are some disadvantages to the M1 chip. One is that because the RAM is built into the chip itself it cannot be upgraded at a later date. Plus, you can't configure the M1 Macs with more than 16GB RAM. So you would be wise to choose 16GB when you buy an M1 Mac, even if you aren't sure you will need it.
16GB RAM should be plenty though. The RAM in an M1 Mac works differently to the RAM in an Intel Mac - it's known as Unified Memory and can be accessed by both the graphics and processor cores whenever they need to.
But if you think you will need more than 16GB RAM then you will need to consider the 27in iMac or the 16in MacBook Pro, with the larger iMac offering up to 128GB RAM and the MacBook Pro a max of 64GB RAM.
We are hopeful that when Apple updates the 16in MacBook Peo and 27in iMac they will be able to allow more RAM than the M1 Macs can currently.
Another disadvantage of the M1 Macs is the graphics.
While the 8-core M1 graphics have proven themselves against Intel's integrated graphics, which remain in the 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro that is still being sold by Apple, if you are working with very high res images you may want to consider a discrete graphics.
Only the 16in MacBook Pro and 27in iMac offer discrete graphics, but it's not clear for how much longer this will be the case. When Apple updates the 16in MacBook Pro and launches the new larger iMac it is likely to move them to the successor to the M1 chip. This M1 successor is expected to have many more graphics cores - with 16 graphics cores rumoured, and maybe even 32-cores.
As a photographer having enough space to store your extensive image library is likely to be one of your key requirements, although you may find that there are cloud storage options, or cost effective external storages, that suit you.
We suggest that the minimum storage capacity to consider would be 512GB. If you want more than that the M1 Macs offer up to 2TB SSD, while the 16in MacBook Pro and 27in iMac both max out to 8TB SSD.
One last area that will matter greatly if you are likely to use your Mac to edit photos when you are out visiting clients is battery life. Here the M1 Macs really take the lead, with the M1 MacBook Pro offering up to 20 hours of battery life. In contrast the 16in MacBook Pro offers 11 hours.
As a photographer you may be hoping for a SD card reader on your Mac. Right now only the 27in iMac offers an SD card reader, although in the past there was such a card reader on the MacBook Pro and the 21.5in iMac too. Unfortunately this is no longer the case, but that may be about to change:
New MacBook Pro models coming later in 2021 may include an SD Card reader.
Of course we can't count on this rumour coming true, but even if it doesn't you could use an adapter with any current or future Mac to add an SD card reader or any ports other than USB-C. We also suggest that you pick up a USB-C hub to make it easier to quickly connect peripherals and import your photographs.
Alternatively, one of the best choices for ports is the Mac mini:
Mac or MacBook for photo editing?
Selecting a Mac for your photo editing depends on how you intend to use the device. Do you want to be able to edit photographs on the go or would you prefer to do your edits from the comfort of your studio?
If you know that you will need to edit out in the field then the MacBook Pro is clearly the way to go. But what if you want a big display to edit photographs on? The 16in MacBook Pro display is large, but you might think that the 5K iMac would be most suitable, and it would be - but you could plug a second 6K display into your MacBook when you are back at your desk.
Based on that we think that a MacBook Pro is the best choice for photographers, but which model? Read on to find out.
Which MacBook is best for photo editing?
Pretty much any of the current MacBook range will be good enough for photo editing, but your needs will determine what the best option is for you.
If you are a professional photographer likely to be editing very high res and RAW images then the 16in MacBook Pro with its large screen and powerful configuration would be the best option.
The fact that this model allows you to increase RAM and max out the storage is a real point in its favour. Plus the discrete graphics are likely to be a real bonus if you are working with large images. Read our 16in MacBook Pro review.
Here are the best prices for the 16in MacBook Pro (RRP: £2,399) right now:
But if your needs are a little less extreme and your wallet a little less full, then the M1 Macs have already proven themselves to be real beasts and would still be an excellent choice.
You could choose the 2020 M1 MacBook Pro: sure it has a smaller 13in display, but as with the 16in MacBook Pro you could plug in a second display and use that when in the office. Portability is certainly in the 13in MacBook Pro's favour, although we would recommend the 512GB model with 16GB RAM.
Here's the best price on the M1 MacBook Pro with 512GB SSD (RRP: £1,499/$1,499) right now:
However, we actually suggest that you wait because we believe that the next generation of 16in MacBook Pro and the rumoured 14in MacBook Pro will represent a huge leap in terms of their suitability for photography. With better displays and better graphics coming.
Which is the best Mac for photo editing?
If you don't want to use a MacBook with an external display, and if you do your editing at home, then there are plenty of decent options when it comes to Macs. Again, you can go crazy with Mac Pros and Pro Display XDRs, but that would be massive overkill for the vast majority of people.
The 27in iMac with its 5K display, discrete graphics, RAM and storage options would be a good choice for photographers, as it is for any creative pros. (Read: Best Mac for designers and graphic design).
Depending on your needs you can spec out an iMac to make a really powerful machine, but that could cost you thousands. If you don't need the ultimate iMac here are the best deals you can get on the standard model with 10th-gen, 6-core, 3.1GHz (RRP from £1,799 / $1,799) right now:
However, as with the 16in MacBook Pro, better things are around the corner for the 27in iMac. A new iMac with a larger display is said to be coming. Read about the new features coming to the 32in iMac.
Another iMac you may want to consider is the 24in iMac which launched in May 2021 with its 4.5K display. This Mac has the same disadvantages as the other M1 Macs - maximum of 16GB RAM and no discrete graphics, but it does have an excellent display.
If the 24in iMac appeals to you here are the best prices for the top of the range model, which comes with 512GB SSD, 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU (RRP £1,649 / $1,699):
There is an alternative Mac desktop option that we think you should consider. The 2020 M1 Mac mini brings the M1 processor and graphics combo for a price that starts at just £699/$699, although we suggest you spend a little more to get the 512GB model.
Naturally, due to the Mac mini's design, you'll need to factor in the price of a decent external display, but this can still bring you in at a lower price point than the mid-range iMacs that are comparable.
The M1 Mac mini with 8‑Core CPU, 8‑Core GPU and 512GB SSD usually costs £899/$899, here are the best deals right now:
So, there you go, our choices for the best Macs you can use to edit your images. To see which software packages you can use with them, read our guides to the best pro photo editors for Mac and best free (or cheap) photo editing software for Mac.