Due to the advent of technology in regards to photography(digital cameras, SD Card Readers, photo editing software ,etc), there’s far more to take into consideration when trying to find the best laptop for photo editing.
Multi-core CPUs, dedicated graphics card, external USB ports, color accurate displays, etc. If you don’t do our proper research, you will probably end up with many unnecessary features that may you may not find that useful at all. The worst part, these laptops can get quite expensive so those are definitely mistakes you rather avoid making when shopping for one.
So how will this article help ?
I have divided this article in two parts: a selection of the best laptops for photo editing I’ve found as of 2017 and a guide how to find them yourself. The guide is a bit long but it covers everything to the very last detail to buy the best laptop for photo editing.
Top 5 Best Laptops For Photo Editing
Best Laptop For Photo Editing
CPU: i7 2.5GHz Quad Core | Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 2GB vRAM | Screen: 15.4-inch Retina Display (2880×1800 pixels) Glossy | Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD | RAM: 16GB
It’s not just the retina Display that makes it the best laptop for photo editing but also the fact that it has more than enough performance for any photo editing software out there with a quad core processor and sufficient ram depending on which configuration you choose: 8GB or 16GB RAM. On top of that you can also get the dedicated graphics card which is not necessary but will allow you to use 3D editing tools and rendering images faster with some photo editing software such as Lightroom.
Its resolution and display are far above what average mainstream laptops offer: 2880×1800 covering 86% of the sRGB color space along with high accurate colors (nearly perfect). Extremely useful to edit those photos to the utmost detail and for accurately printing your highly detailed photos.
It also comes with an IPS panel for an even more accurate color reproduction and great brightness levels which is asking a lot already from a laptop but not surprising from Apple’s line of MacBooks.
As a bonus it has one of the fastest SSD drivers as of today (PCie based flash storage) with high storage capacities: 512GB to quickly speed up your workflow with photo editing software and previews.
Lastly, as far as connectivity goes its got pretty much everything you need for your external peripherals: two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. I
In particular, you’ll find the thunderbolt 2 useful for ultra fast photo transfers from your devices and to connect high-resolution external displays to when work requires real photo editing.
Best Windows Laptop For Photo Editing
CPU: i7 3.5GHz Quad Core | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5 | Screen: 15.6″ 4K Ultra HD Display (3840 x 2160) Glossy | Storage: 512GB SSD | RAM: 16GB
If you are looking for a windows alternative that can match the performance and the high quality built of the MacBook Pro, look no further than the Dell XPS 15.
It has nearly everything the Pro has in terms of performance for the most intensive photo editing software out there: 3.5Ghz(w/ Turbo Boost) Quad Core processor, 8-16GB(upgradeable) RAM including an the same SSD technology (PCie based ) for the fastest read out times and previews.
However its display is where it excels at: the resolution is far higher than what you’d expect from mainstream laptops (3840×2160) and it’s what you should be looking for if you plan on editing photos to the utmost detail.
It also covers a wider spectrum than the MacBook Pro and all of the laptops shown on this list (+100% of the sRGB and 98% of the aRGB) and has a color accuracy far greater than any of the laptops shown on this list as well.
On the plus side, it remains quite portable at 4.4lb however with a battery life 6 hours as opposed to 8-10 hours from the Pro.
As a bonus it comes with every port you may need for photo editing on the go: x3 USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort, an HDMI port, and an SD card reader.
CPU: Core i7-6700HQ 2.6 GHz Quadcore CPU (turbo to 3.5GHz) | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5 | Screen: 15.6″ Touch IPS 4K Ultra-HD glossy display, 3840 x 2160 resolution| Storage: 512GB SSD | RAM: 16GB RAM
If you are looking for another windows alternative with about the same performance as the DELL XPS 15, the ZenBook Pro fits the bill with few more extra features for photo editing.
Just like the Pro and the XPS 15 it’s performance is more than enough for photo editing software : i7 Quad Core Processor, 16GB RAM. However the SSD is one step below in terms of performance (NVMe vs. PCIe based), it still fast enough for fast loading times of your previews and software with high storage capacity (512GB).
It has the same powerful and ideal GPU for photo editing software that may require a GPU for special effects and improved rendering times.
The Display is also within the same category as the Dell XPS 15: a 4K display which covers the entire sRGB spectrum although not as color accurate as the DELL XPS 15 according to third party testers.
So what’s the difference? It has an impressive battery life for a 4k display: 8 hours which is nearly as good as the MacBook Pro but with a higher resolution.
You also get the more connectivity and ports with this choice than any laptop listed here: 1x Thunderbolt III (via USB TypeC), 1x Gen 2 USB 3.1 TypeC, 3x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI.Bluetooth 4.0, SDXC reader, 802.11ac WiFi. The thunderbolt 3, a step above the Dell’s thunderbolt 2,will give you even faster data transfer rates plus the ability to connect two external displays simultaneously.
Performance wise this is a dual core system with 2.7-3.5Ghz clock speed and 16GB RAM which is more than sufficient for photo editing, you may see a lower performance when rendering due to not being a quad core processor but that’s about it and you’d never find a quad core laptop with the same portability as this one anyways.
Also keep in mind this has an integrated graphics cards, for those interested in 3D accelerated effects (hardly used in photo editing software) this is not for you.
It’s storage capacity and technology is on par with the highest end laptops too : 512GB SSD (PCIe based) and has a decent amount of ports : HDMI and plenty of USB Ports. However it does not come with an SD Card Reader.
CPU: Intel Quad Core i7-6700HQ | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5 | Screen: 15.6″ UHD (3840×2160) 4k Touchscreen Glossy | Storage: 1 TB HDD + 8 GB SSD | RAM: 8GB RAM
For those on a budget who can’t quite afford any of the top 3 laptops above but still looking for good performance with their photo editing software, there’s no better deal than this one.
While there are many gaming laptops out there to choose from, very few are affordable and cover a good portion of the sRGB spectrum as much as this one (90%) which is close to the MacBook Pro’s 86%.
The color accuracy and the wide gamut coverage are to be expected from high resolution displays such as this one (3840×2160). It also comes with just the right set of ports for your external devices : 3x USB 3.0 , an SD card reader and HDMI.
Plus it has an extra slot for +8GB RAM to make it 16GB and another slot for extra storage if you want an upgrade its capacity. Doing both of these upgrades will match up almost every feature of the Dell XPS 15 and The Pro.
How to Buy The Best Laptop For Photo Editing
For those of you who’ve been stuck to cameras in darkroom areas for old fashioned photo editing, I’ve written this guide for you to finally know what to look for whenever you shop for laptops. Everything you need to know is here.
The first place to start is the software you are gonna be running. As of 2017, these are still the 3 most popular software among photo editors.
|PhotoShop||2GHZ or faster Processor||8GB||512vRAM dedicated GPU||2.6-3.1GB||Adobe||1280×800 16bit|
|LightRoom||Intel or AMD 64bit Processor||8GB||1GB vRAM
|Core PaintShop||2GHz or faster processor||4GB||128vRAM||2GB||Corel||1366 x 768 24bit|
Recommended Specs for Photo Editing
Obviously there are for far more things to take into consideration than the minimum requirements for a computer or laptop in mind, otherwise you’ll be hitting a bottleneck and will not enjoy a speedy and productive workflow whichever device you end with.
To speed up your workflow you’d want to go over the recommended processor by your photo editing software. The higher the clock speed, the faster you’ll render and produce desired effects (blurr, saturation, brightness, shadows and highlights).
But it gets tricky, the latest and more expensive CPU doesn’t translate to the fastest performance you can get for your money. Why?
Multi Core For Photo Editing
If you were thinking about spending on a multicore CPU, think again. It’s actually the CPU with the fastest clock speed that will give you the best performance even if it’s a dual core or cheap single core.
Look for laptops with the highest clock speed regardless of what technology/brand they have (i5 , i3, i7, AMD, etc). You can always compare benchmarks if you are not sure which is faster especially when they are different technologies (i5 vs i7) with about the same clock speed.
If your laptop doesn’t move smoothly, the first thing you should always look out for is how much RAM you are using.
Photo editing software in general is RAM hungry and will quickly deplete all of your memory. Sure most of them recommend 8GB for RAM but you’ll find this to be limiting especially if you are working with other software opened at the same time.
To be on the safe side always shoot for at least 16GB RAM. If the laptop of your choice has 8GB you can always bump it to 16GB RAM or even 32GB RAM depending on what other programs you work with alongside with photo editing.
If you are a beginner and only using one photo editing software, you can always choose a model which is upgrade-able to be future proof when you start using many simultaneously.
This is the most often overlooked feature by photographers when shopping for computers. Not many professionals out there use their laptops as their only storage medium for images but only cloud storage or external hard drives.
However for the temporary work you’ll be doing with your laptop the kind of storage you get is important.
SSD vs. HDD
Always choose a SSD if you can afford it. They have far too many advantages over regular spinning drives (HDD) to be listed here.
The most important one is the fact that they’ll make access to your files quicker, launch your applications faster and booting up your system in no time. You’ll have to worry less about heat dissipation issues and physical damage with one if you are constantly on the move as well.
The only drawback when it comes to SSDs are their sizes, they don’t often come with high capacities. So you shouldn’t settle for anything less than 512GB for your laptop otherwise the generated files from your photo editing software will quickly fill up your storage.
If your laptop only comes with a low storage capacity (SSD) , then you can solve this issue by getting an external hard drive (you should have one anyways for back ups).
Storage for Photography
Store your current projects, catalog, software and OS in the SSD driver to get the best performance from your software and computer. Any old photos or completed projects can be saved on your external (or internal) HDD drive.
Also, if you want to generate insanely fast previews in LightRoom, you can convert your files into JPEG format and store them within your SSD (the files are gonna get bigger so get a 512SSD if you can). Both your processor speed and SSD will contribute into making your previews load extremely fast.
Ideally we’d also want another SSD(internal or external) for old files and images instead of using a HDD to get super quick access to them. However this isn’t feasible with laptops but it is for computers.
You don’t necessarily need to go for the highest and latest graphics card as far as photo editing goes as some sites will tell you. In fact, you could get away with an integrated graphics card (or any graphics card) with very few minor , if any, issues.
If you do have a budget however, it never hurts to aim for a dGPU (any dGPU) with the highest amount of vRAM you can afford. It has a few minor advantages when it comes to photography and photo editing:
- Recently, Lightroom and others photo editing software are taking advantage of GPU usage when rendering images.
- 3D editing tools need a dedicated GPU but most photographers are very unlikely to ever use them.
- You won’t receive any warnings and your user interface will have more fluency.
In conclusion only certain operations benefit from a GPU but you won’t gain overall performance for all your workflow and software.
You don’t need to overspend on workstation graphics card (FirePro & Quadro Series), they won’t give you much improvement in the above features mentioned over gaming graphics cards.
Ideally you’d want something like the NVIDIA GTX 960 and above, it will be more cost effective.
This is where things start to get tricky and where you should focus your budget if you plan using your laptop as one of your primary tools for work.
Unless you attach an external monitor, you can’t really upgrade a laptop monitor so you have to get the best display at time of purchase.
Resolution & Size
As you can see from requirements, photo editing software doesn’t require much in terms of displaying features. Most computers and laptops will by far meet the recommended specs however you’d still want to invest on good resolution and a decent size to work with high accuracy and for better productivity overall.
(15”-17”) will give you plenty of space to work with your images.
A high resolution display (1080p or higher ) will allow you to fit in more panels, tools and interfaces within your screen and higher resolutions will allow you edit at a pixel level to help you with better accuracy when editing photos*.
*If you ever plan on printing your photos(who doesn’t), a high pixel density(high resolution display) is important to approximate the resolution of your printed images too.
Look for laptops that cover the highest amount of color space as possible, preferably the sGRB as opposed to aGRB, which according to one of the world experts is far more accurate and useful for photographers. That’s something that most sites and photographers do not know. For more details on it you can read his article here.
An IPS panel is also handy to increase color accuracy.
Finish: Matte vs. Glossy
This is still a matter of personal preference and a topic of debate among editors and designers in general.
As far as photography goes, if you are dealing with glossy photos and mostly editing for monitors and devices, then you can benefit from a Glossy Panel which will give you richer colors (not necessarily more accurate colors) but with the downsize of dealing with reflections and glares.
Matte Displays can be calibrated more accurately and will show a true image color representation, if you are editing for printing this is definitely something you should consider. You won’t see richer colors as glossy displays but you will have less issues when dealing with high reflective environments.
Editing should be done in a place away where ambient light doesn’t reach your monitor anyways but with a laptop and editing on the go, this might not always be possible.
If you have an external display back home, then worrying about all these features for your laptop’s display isn’t as important.
You can simply use any display with a decent resolution (for best performance with Photo Editing software) and a high quality external display as your editing monitor.
Laptop screens even with all the latest, most expensive features and properly calibrated tend to be so so for accurate photo editing . If you are a professional or serious about photography consider spending what’s left of your budget on a large good quality display with a wide sRGB coverage.
Connectivity and Ports
Make sure you get multiple USB ports and an SD Card Reader and as a bonus a DVD drive for burning your photos. However, most importantly consider the ports for your external display: HDMI, Thunderbolt 3 or mini-display .
Keep in mind the smaller and more portable your laptop is, the less ports it will have.
If you have any more suggestions or questions, please let us know in the comments below!