Most run of the mill blogs and articles opining about “the best laptop for photo editing” give a cursory introduction to photo editing requirements and usually break these down by laptop specification.
At Choosist, whilst we love our products, what we’re about is you. What follows is an explanation of what you’ll need from your investment of time as well as money.
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1. Visual accuracy and clarity
At the risk of stating the obvious, these are paramount as you’ll be making fine detail judgements, often down to a pixel. If the rendering and colours are off, so will your hours of hard work be!
Therefore, look out for the following key items in a laptop screen.
Firstly the screen technology. Commonly the options are TN (twisted nematic) VA (vertically aligned), IPS (in-plane switching) and OLED. The latter two are the best, the OLED proving greater contrasts too, but the VA and TN (often not stated) are getting better and better. IPS and OLED offer the best colour accuracy and viewing angles. If you can afford the premium then go for it.
Resolution. Generally speaking the higher the better as it provides more detail in the same space. But bear in mind that the smaller the screen, the less difference that extra resolution can make, as the eye can only perceive so much at the same scale.
Similarly, size, arguably, also works on the “more is better” principle. The greater the screen ‘real estate’ the more you can see at any one time. This also means space to accommodate the image alongside the tools and palettes without a cramped and cluttered screen. But size comes at several costs - price, portability by dimension and weight but also requirement. The bigger the screen, the higher the resolution screen you’ll need to view at the same level of detail.
2. The ability to run demanding software
Whether you’re a photoshop fanatic or a GIMP user, working with image files, especially in RAW format, a laptop for photo editing requires some grunt under the hood. The following areas will need your attention
The processor sometimes referred to as the CPU, has to perform some serious computations to convert your thoughts and ideas into visual reality.
Whether you buy AMD or Intel, you’ll want to get 4 cores (a core is a processing unit) and above, the latest generation of processor. For example, an Intel i7 - 8550 which is 8th gen will be better than intel i7 - 7500 which is 7th gen. Thereafter its the speed, usually written as GHz, that you’ll want to maximize.
Don't forget to look out for the suffix. Processors that end in Y should be avoided, whilst U will indicate a lower powered version, although top end varieties of U processors will manage. Those ending in H or K will be high performers but will usually be bigger and bulkier affairs.
RAM is equally critical to ensuring a smooth uninterrupted experience when editing your prize-winning portraits or awesome action shots.
Your processor computes batches of data (image details, commands to alter the image etc) and the size it can work on at any one time is determined in large part by the RAM which is the space in which the work can be done. To do this RAM is very fast memory but this makes it expensive hence there's less of it than in your hard drive.
8GB will handle it, but if you want to ensure avoiding lag 16GB or above will be better.
Hard drive choice is not just about storage space. With excellent cloud storage and cheap external devices, long-term storage is cheap.
Graphics cards have hitherto been the first go to spec when searching for the best laptop for photographers. Graphics cards ensure that whatever the processor makes happen to the image is delivered quickly and accurately to the screen.
As such discrete or separate graphics cards, usually by NVIDIA or AMD, have been insisted upon, but modern integrated cards are catching up fast and can save you some serious pennies.
If you want a laptop for photo editing, the laptop’s operating system will need to be compatible with the software package you’re after.
We’ve mentioned photoshop, GIMP and Sketch but there are other software that may be important. From Affinity Photo to the oddly named Alien Skin Exposure, from Lightroom to Luminar 3, most are available on both Windows and Mac.
However, Apple’s more than basic ‘Photos’ is exclusively macOS and Microsoft’s Photo Editor 10 is Windows only.
And let’s not forget ChromeOS. Whilst these tend to be lighter weight laptops, we’re starting to see beefier models hit the market. Whilst these will not compare with MacBook Pros or Lenovo Thinkpad workstations, they can be great for lightweight work on the move. But, they won’t be running full Adobe Photo without laggy and complicated streaming / remote desktop set-ups. Can a Chromebook ever be the best laptop for photographers? One day maybe, but for now, if you’re serious and you can afford it, probably not.
3. Compatibility with your other devices
Nowadays there are wireless options available for nearly every type of peripheral. Wacom style tablets, multifunction mice as well as 3D mice are all available as wire-free. So the best laptop for photo editing on the market no longer needs to be the laptop with the most ports on it!
Where wireless options do not exist hubs and adapters abound aplenty which may be fine if your laptop will be parked permanently on your desk. However, if you might be using it more than one location or if you do not want to use an external hub, the number and speed of ports may be an issue. This is even more important as the number of ports on laptops seem to be reducing, with one of them often doubling as the power input.
So, to put it simply, when you’re looking for the best laptop for photo editing for ‘you’, you’ll need to establish your connectivity needs in advance.