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 use a Mac for photo editing?
You can of course use a Windows PC for photo editing, but we think that Macs are the way to go as they not only have a wide selection of excellent apps that help you make the most of your images, but there's also a great balance of power and price for modern Macs not to mention excellent displays and the new M1 processors that make light work of heavy tasks.
Which Mac is best for photo editing?
Selecting a Mac for your photo editing first requires knowing how you intend to use the device. Are you the kind of photographer that needs to edit on the go or are you happy to wait until you return to your home studio? Obviously, the first method puts you the in realm of a MacBook, while the second brings iMacs and other desktops into play. With these conditions in mind, we've broken this guide into two sections that cover both approaches.
Which is the best MacBook for photo editing?
Pretty much any of the current MacBook range will be good enough for photo editing, with a few conditions. Of course, you can opt for the 16in MacBook Pro with its large screen and powerful configuration, but for our money the MacBook Air M1 (2020) has the perfect blend of performance and price for most people at the hobbyist level.
The M1 chip is already proving itself to be a bit of a beast, and the compact form-factor of the Air makes it easy to carry about without compromising too much on display size or power. If you're regularly working with big files, say 50/80Mp, then you may find the speed dropping, but for the vast majority of duties the slimline MacBook Air M1 (2020) will have you covered.
If you can afford it, then we'd recommend boosting the standard 8GB RAM allocation to 16GB as this will help with performance, but when it comes to onboard storage you may find using a fast external SSD would offer better value for money than upgrading the Mac itself through Apple's build-to-order options.
As none of the current MacBook range comes with an SD card reader or any ports other than USB-C, you'll also want to pick up a USB-C hub to make it easier to quickly connect peripherals and import your photographs.
Don't forget you also have the option to connect the MacBook Air M1 (2020), or indeed any MacBook, to an external display when you get home, making it easier on the eyes when working with close up details on images. For more information on this, take a look at how to use a second screen with a Mac and our roundup of the best Mac monitors and displays.
For professional photographers or high-level enthusiasts, we'd recommend 13in MacBook Pro M1 (2020) as it has most of the advantages of the Air in terms of mobility and power, but just offers that little bit more poke for the heavy-lifting required when running pro software and working with large files.
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.
Really, there's two main Mac options that will cover most bases and give you a decent amount of futureproofing. The first is the 2020 Mac mini with the M1 processor. That silicon brings fast graphics processing and generally excellent performance all for a price that starts at £699/$699.
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.
Should you prefer an all-in-one device, then we'd recommend the iMac with the proviso that you wait for Apple to update it. We anticipate that there will be a new iMac with a larger screen and an M-series processor at some point in 2021. Read: iMac 2021 release date. The iMac is a good option thanks to its gorgeous 5K display - but we expect that to be even better after the 2021 update.
If you want more power from your iMac the iMac Pro has plenty of power available thanks to its Intel Xeon processor and Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU, plus you start off with 32GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage. There's also a wealth of ports, including an SDXC card slot, so you'll be able to connect all of your external storage and other peripherals.
You're paying for all that power though, with the base model clocking in at £4999/$4999, so like with the MacBook recommendations, we'd say the Mac mini M1 (2020) is the best option for more casual photographers, while the iMac Pro is a serious tool for professionals.
So, there you go, our choices for the best Macs you can use to polish 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.