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Best Laptops for Professional Photo Editing in 2023

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What are the best laptops for photo-editing on the market this year?

What are the best laptops for photo-editing on the market this year?

The best laptops for photo editing are not only essential for photographers looking to touch up their images, but they also make excellent home office computers. With fast processors, ample RAM, and large storage drives, these slim and powerful machines can easily outperform traditional desktop towers.

In addition to their strong processing power and ample storage, the best laptops for photo editing also feature high-quality displays with consistent color and contrast. This not only enhances the appearance of images but can also help reduce eye strain and fatigue during long editing sessions.

Many major laptop brands now offer models with top-spec 4K screens that cover the full sRGB color space and have wide contrast ratios to maintain clear visibility of highlights and shadows.

The market is highly competitive, and there are several excellent all-around laptops available, such as the Razer Blade 15, Microsoft Surface Laptop, and Dell XPS 15. Ultimately, the right laptop for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

For example, you may prioritize power and speed over portability and battery life, or vice versa. A 15-inch screen size is a good balance between portability and a spacious Photoshop workspace, while 16-17-inch screens offer even more screen real estate at the cost of added weight. If you will primarily be working from home, the larger screen size may be worth the trade-off.

How to Choose the Best Laptop for Photo-Editing

When it comes to editing photos, having a powerful computer is crucial. This is especially true if you are working with RAW files or performing advanced noise reduction, as the large amount of data can put a significant strain on your processor and the overall laptop system.

To ensure a smooth and efficient photo editing experience, it's essential to understand which computer components are most important for improving speed.

I understand that navigating the technical jargon of computer specifications can be challenging, and sometimes companies use confusing marketing terms to make their products more appealing.

To assist you, I will be discussing all the crucial specifications you should consider when shopping for a photo editing laptop, explaining the significance of each, and providing the recommended specifications to look for. It's also worth noting that these specifications also apply to other types of demanding creative work such as video editing.

CPU

The processor, often referred to as the "brain" of a computer, is a critical component to consider when choosing a laptop or any type of computer. The central processing unit (CPU) is responsible for executing instructions and making the computer operate.

When editing a photo, the CPU handles a significant amount of tasks, such as interpreting mouse and keyboard inputs, performing complex calculations for image adjustments, reading and writing to storage, and displaying the changes on the screen. The more powerful the CPU, the more responsive the computer will be, and the faster the photo editing process will be.

Currently, the main brands of processors found in laptops are those made by Intel and AMD, and recently apple has introduced its own M1 processor. It is also worth noting that processors come in different types and speed, and there are variations designed for both laptops and desktops. The main difference is that desktop processors require room for larger fans to dissipate heat, whereas laptop processors are lower power to prevent overheating.

In my opinion, for non-Apple laptops, Intel processors are currently the best option for photo editing. However, if you are purchasing an Apple laptop, go for the versions with the M1 processors as they are specifically designed to work well with Apple software and are very fast.

HDD Type and Capacity

The hard drive, also known as a hard disk or disk drive, is where all of the data is stored on a laptop. This data can include individual files such as photos, word processing documents, program files, and music files.

There are two main types of hard drives: solid state drives (SSDs) and mechanical hard drives (HDDs). HDDs are an older technology that use rapidly spinning disks that are read by magnets and can offer high storage capacity at a lower cost, but they are slower and more prone to failure. SSDs, on the other hand, have no moving parts and are less likely to fail, and are faster in terms of reading and writing data, but are more expensive.

Hard drive capacity is measured in bytes. The larger the number, the more data the drive can store. These measurements are often presented in terms of Megabytes (MB), Gigabytes (GB), or Terabytes (TB). For example, an average RAW image file is between 20 and 50 MB, and 10,000 images would require between 200 GB and 500 GB of storage space.

In terms of SSDs, they usually range from 128 GB to 2048 GB (2 TB), while mechanical hard drives can be found in sizes from 512 GB to around 10 TB. For photo editing, an SSD can make a significant difference in performance. An average mechanical drive can read data at around 50-100 MB/second, while an SSD can reach speeds from 500 MB to 2,700 MB/second. To have a more responsive and faster photo editing process and overall operating system, it is recommended to get a laptop with an SSD drive, with a minimum capacity of 256 GB for photo editing and ideally 512 GB.

It's worth noting that some laptops come with multiple hard drives, especially for gaming, because games can take up a lot of space and large SSDs are expensive. This way, the laptop will often come with a small SSD for the operating system and program files and a larger mechanical hard drive for game installation files. This slower drive can be useful for photographers as it provides additional storage space and eliminates the need to carry an external hard drive.

RAM

RAM, or random access memory, is a different type of memory that your computer uses. While a hard drive is used for storage and retains data even when the power is off, RAM is volatile and the data is lost when the power is turned off.

RAM is incredibly fast and is used by the processor to store data that it needs to use in real-time operations. For example, when editing an image file, the data is read from the hard drive and stored in the RAM for faster access. RAM has read and write speeds of around 7500 MB/second. However, this speed comes at a cost, as RAM is much more expensive per gigabyte than either an SSD or hard drive.

Most modern laptops come with between 8GB and 32GB of RAM, with some higher-end models having up to 64GB. For photo editing, the minimum recommended amount of RAM is 8GB, as the operating system and other programs also take up RAM. While 8GB is manageable, better performance can be achieved with 16GB, and even better performance with 32GB in some cases. When the computer runs out of usable RAM, it has to spend time writing data out of the RAM and back to the hard drive. More memory means this will happen less frequently, resulting in a faster computer.

If you plan on editing large images such as panoramas or stacks of multiple shots, or use multiple photo editing applications together like Lightroom and Photoshop, then having more RAM will make a difference. In these cases, 32GB+ is recommended for better performance as the laptop will be able to load the huge image files and applications into RAM. However, for most other photo editing tasks, 16GB should suffice.

GPU

The graphics component of a computer is responsible for displaying images on the screen. There are two main options for this: integrated graphics or a dedicated graphics card.

An integrated graphics card means that the CPU handles all the graphics tasks. This is sufficient for most users.

However, some applications, such as photo editing and noise reduction tools, can take advantage of a more powerful graphics card to speed up certain functions. While a dedicated graphics card is often associated with gaming, it can also improve performance in photo editing tasks.

If possible, I recommend choosing a laptop with a dedicated graphics card, which are typically manufactured by Nvidia or ATI/AMD. However, it's worth noting that a dedicated graphics card uses more power and will increase the laptop's cost.

In summary, a dedicated graphics card can be a nice addition to have for improved performance but it's not essential and you should also consider factors such as portability, budget and longevity when making your decision.

Screen Size and Resolution

When it comes to photo editing, the screen size of a laptop is an important factor to consider. Laptops are available in a wide range of screen sizes, typically ranging from 11 inches to 17 inches, measured diagonally from bottom corner to opposite top corner.

A larger screen can make editing more comfortable, as it provides a clearer view of the image and the editing tools. However, larger screens also require a bigger and heavier laptop. A 13-inch or 15-inch laptop is often considered the ideal balance between usability and portability for most users.

Keep in mind that if you mainly work in one place, it's also possible to connect an external monitor. In addition to the physical size of the screen, laptops also have different screen resolutions. The screen resolution refers to the number of physical pixels that make up the screen. For example, a 1920 x 1080 pixel screen is referred to as a high definition or 1080p screen, and it has 2 million pixels in total.

While higher resolution screens have the advantage of sharper and clearer images, they also put more strain on the processor or graphics card and are more battery intensive, and they are also more expensive. For a photo editing laptop, a minimum screen resolution of 1920 x 1080, or 1080p, is recommended.

Screen Type and Features

The technology that powers a screen can also impact photo editing. There are various screen panels available, such as TN (twisted nematic), VA (vertical alignment), IPS (in-plane switching) and OLED (organic light emitting diode).

These technologies are used to display pixels on the screen, TN being the most affordable, while IPS and OLED are more expensive.

For photo editing, I recommend considering screens with IPS or OLED technology. These options have wider viewing angles and provide the most accurate color reproduction among the common screen types available on the market. Accurate colors on a screen are important for photo editing, especially when you plan to sell your photos.

The monitor also has a color range called the gamut. The gamut refers to the range of colors that a monitor can display. It is important to ensure that the range of colors on your computer screen matches what most other users and your camera can see. For photography, it's ideal to have a monitor that can display close to 100% of the sRGB color gamut, which is the international standard used by most cameras and computers.

As a minimum, I recommend 90% sRGB coverage, but it's important to consider the trade-offs and make a decision accordingly. Additionally, you may want to consider if the screen supports touch input, which can be useful for editing with a stylus.

Ports

As we near the end of determining the key features for a photo editing laptop, it's important to consider some additional elements that may influence your decision. These may not be essential for photo editing but could be important based on your personal preferences and needs.

Ports are the connectors on a laptop that allow you to plug in external devices such as USB ports on Windows laptops and Thunderbolt ports on Apple laptops. Laptops may also come with other ports such as a headphone jack, HDMI port, DisplayPort, or an SD card reader for reading camera memory cards.

It's important to take into consideration any specific requirements you may have for certain types of ports. For example, you might need a DisplayPort or HDMI port to connect to an external monitor for photo editing. Additionally, if you plan to use external devices such as a keyboard, mouse or hard drive, ensure that the laptop has ports that match the connectors of your devices.

Keep in mind that smaller laptops tend to have fewer ports, so consider if you will need to have the ability to connect external peripherals such as a mouse or hard drive.

Operating System

When it comes to photo editing, the choice between a Windows or MacOS operating system will largely depend on personal preference and familiarity. While Macs have traditionally been considered the go-to choice for digital editing, the hardware and software capabilities of both Windows and MacOS devices have become quite similar in recent years.

Both operating systems offer a wide range of photo editing software, and performance will be similar on similarly-powered hardware. The main consideration is which one you are more comfortable using, and whether you are willing to pay the premium that Apple laptops often command over comparable Windows devices.

It is worth noting that Linux is also an option, but support for it may vary among laptop models and manufacturers. If you are already a Linux user, you may be comfortable with this option, but you will need to do additional research to ensure compatibility.

With an understanding of what to look for, I will now present the top picks for laptops suitable for photo editing. Keep in mind that many of these laptops come in different configurations.

I've suggested a specific price and set of specifications that I believe would work well for most photo editing needs, but you can always adjust based on your budget.

Additionally, be sure to check for the latest model when shopping, as many manufacturers update their laptops' designs and components from year to year.

Best Laptop for Photo-Editing

MSI WS76 Workstation Laptop

MSI WS76 Workstation Laptop

MSI WS76 Workstation Laptop

The MSI WS76 is the best laptop for photo editing. It has a sleek all-aluminum build and a comfortable keyboard with a responsive touchpad. It also has a range of ports, including a full-size SD card reader, making it easy to transfer photos from your camera to the computer.

The 17.3-inch 4k display offers excellent detail and covers the entire Adobe RGB color space, allowing you to see every nuance in your photos. While it isn't overly bulky, it is heavy and the battery life is less than eight hours for light use, so you'll need to bring the charger with you when you're on the go.

It features an Intel 11th Gen. CPU that can easily handle high-resolution images and complex editing tasks without lag or stuttering. The MSI WS76 also has an NVIDIA discrete GPU, although this may not be necessary for most photo editing software.

You can choose up to 64GB of memory, although note that the memory modules are user-replaceable but somewhat difficult to access, so it's best to get the amount you need upfront.

Best Laptop for Photo-Editing for Mac Users

Apple 2021 MacBook Pro

Apple 2021 MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro 16

For Mac users, the Apple MacBook Pro 14 and Apple MacBook Pro 16 are excellent choices for photo editing. Both models are available with the M1 Pro or M1 Max SoCs, and offer similar performance except for the differences in speakers and battery life.

The main difference between the two models is size, so you can choose the one that best fits your needs.

The MacBook Pros offer good portability and are among the best laptops for photography that I've seen, but they do have some drawbacks. They are not user-upgradeable because all components are soldered to the motherboard, and they lack USB-A ports, which may require the use of dongles or a dock for certain peripherals.

Best Mid-Range Laptop for Photo Editing

LG Gram 17Z90P Laptop

LG Gram 17Z90P Laptop

LG Gram 17 Laptop

If you're looking for a budget-friendly laptop for photo editing, the LG gram 17 (2021) is a great option. It has a spacious and sharp 17-inch QHD display, a thin and light design, and a well-built construction.

You can choose from an Intel 11th Gen. Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage. The battery lasts around 13 hours for light use and charges via USB-C, so you don't need a proprietary power adapter.

The LG gram 17 also has a range of ports, including USB-As, USB-C/Thunderbolt 4s, an HDMI, and a MicroSD card reader. The only downside is that the display's factory calibration is not great, so you may need to calibrate it before editing photos.

If you prefer a MacBook for photo editing, the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) is a good choice. It is a thin and light laptop that has enough power to handle most editing tasks, although it does have a smaller 13-inch display.

The MacBook Air 13 (2022) only has two USB-C ports, so you may need a dock to connect multiple peripherals. It has an M2 SoC that offers fast performance and a battery that lasts around 10 to 11 hours for light use.

Best Budget Laptop for Photo-Editing

ASUS VivoBook 15 OLED K513 Thin & Light Laptop

ASUS VivoBook 15 OLED K513 Thin & Light Laptop

ASUS VivoBook 15 OLED K513

If you're looking for a budget laptop for photo editing, the ASUS VivoBook 15 OLED K513 (2021) is a good option. It has a 1080p display with full Adobe RGB coverage, and the OLED panel produces deep, inky blacks.

You can choose from an Intel 11th Gen. Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, up to 16GB of memory, and over 1TB of storage, all of which are user-replaceable for easy upgrades.

The VivoBook 15 has a range of ports, including two USB-As, one USB-C, an HDMI, and a MicroSD card reader, although the USB-C port does not support video output or charging. One thing to note is that the OLED display is not flicker-free, so it may cause eye strain for those sensitive to screen flickering.

Is a 4K Display Necessary for Photo-Editing?

While a 4K display is not strictly necessary for a photography laptop, it can be a good investment if you have the budget for it. Higher resolution displays allow you to see more detail in your images and create more accurate designs.

Fortunately, the cost of 4K displays is decreasing, making them more accessible for photographers at all levels of their career. If you are considering a laptop with a 4K display, keep in mind that it may also require a more powerful processor and graphics card to run smoothly.

Bottom Line

In summary, when looking for the best laptop for photo editing, you'll want to consider factors such as performance, display quality, portability, and budget.

High-end options like the MSI WS76 (2021) and Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021) or 16 (2021) offer excellent performance and displays, but may not be as portable or budget-friendly. The LG gram 17 (2021) and Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) or (M1, 2020) offer good performance and portability, but may have smaller displays or limited upgrade options.

If you're on a tight budget, the ASUS VivoBook 15 OLED K513 (2021) offers a good display and user-upgradeable memory and storage, although it does have some limitations in terms of ports and display features.

Ultimately, the best laptop for photo editing will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Ionel Anton