July 15, 2018

MacBook For Photographers


Comparing the 2016 13″ and 2018 15″ MacBook Pro


All of my MacBook-buying life I’ve been a champion of the 13-inch model. The 15-inch was always a bit too bulky, and the MacBook Air and 12-inch models weren’t quite powerful enough to chug through editing thousands of photos per week. 

Apple just updated it’s MacBook Pro lineup with – for the first time ever – 4-core processors in the 13-inch model and 6-core processors in the 15-inch model, and also for the first time ever… I bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro. 

I still have my 13-inch 2016 MacBook Pro and wanted to give it a head-to-head test against the new 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro, both fully spec’d, to see how much real world time I’m saving with such a pricey upgrade. 

The testing here is simple. I had both MacBooks plugged in and fully charged, both running no other applications other than the apps being tested, and simply timed each workflow being tested to compare. I compared the most common workflows I use the MacBook for during the normal course of my editing workflow. The exact same Lightroom catalogs were used in comparing.



The 13-inch I replaced is sporting a 3.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz and 16GB of memory. Graphics are powered by an integrated Intel Iris 550. It was basically the fastest 13-inch MacBook available until last week.

The 15-inch I just purchased has a 2.9GHz 6-core Intel Core i9 with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz and 32GB of memory. Graphics are run by a Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5.



The first test was importing photos from SD cards. I use a Lexar Workhub connected via Thunderbolt 2 using a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. It lets me import up to four cards at once, and the greatest part is that the cards can be CF, SD, micro-SD – doesn’t matter. 

For this comparison I imported two SD cards from an elopement I just photographed simultaneously (737 raws from two Canon 5D Mark IVs) and had Lightroom render standard-size previews in parallel. This means rather than build previews after all photos are imported, it builds them as they’re being imported.

Import 737 Raws (30.4 megapixels) and generate standard-size previews
  • 15-inch: 5 minutes, 57 seconds
  • 13-inch: 19 minutes, 53 seconds

This is a big deal for photographers. The faster you get importing finished, the faster you get to go to bed. I don’t go to sleep until I’ve verified that all photos imported correctly, and I can’t count the number of nights I’ve arrived at the office at midnight, imported photos from that day’s wedding, and fell asleep with my head on the desk. With speeds like this, I’ll get home a lot sooner. 


macbook for photographers

macbook for photographers


It’s pretty common for me to have five or six panoramas to stitch together while editing a wedding. I often employ the Brenheiser method to create a medium-format effect using my full-frame camera. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of this, for that check out my friend Benj Haisch’s video. 

For this test, I selected 10 photos to stitch together using Lightoom’s photo merging feature (also explained in Benj’s video). This is one of those workflows that you normally start, let your computer sit and sweat, and go make a snack or something while it does it’s thing. The computer is essentially paralyzed while it works it’s pano wizardry. 

Here are the results. 

Stitch together 10-photo panorama
  • 15-inch: 26 seconds
  • 13-inch: 1 minute, 15 seconds

Obviously the 15-inch killed the 13-inch in this comparison, but the real world benefit here was that I tried it again after the official test and was able to work and do other things without a hiccup while it crunched away in Lightroom. Real time-saver here. Not only is it just processing twice as fast, it’s letting me turn wasted snack time into substantive work time. 

It’s also worth noting that I tried to stitch together a 21-photo pano for the original test and the 13-inch wasn’t even able to complete it. I tried several times with no luck. Here are those results just for the record. 

Stitch together 21-photo panorama
  • 15-inch: 1 minute, 15 seconds
  • 13-inch: N/A



No greater feeling in the world exists than when you finally get to smash that export button. Hours of editing are finally wrapped up and beautiful photos are about to head toward your client’s inbox. 

For this comparison I went ahead and simply exported at full-resolution 737 photos from a wedding I just wrapped up. I had an elopement to export too so I went ahead and did that to add another data point to the mix. Pretty simple. Here are the results. 

Export 737 photos at full resolution
  • 15-inch: 28 minutes, 34 seconds
  • 13-inch: 61 minutes, 21 seconds
Export 227 photos at full resolution
  • 15-inch: 7 minutes, 58 seconds
  • 13-inch: 16 minutes, 13 seconds

By now you might be asking, “WHY ARE YOU EVEN BOTHERING? We know the 15-inch is going to stomp all over the 13.”

Fair question, and this is why. Upgrading machines isn’t free, we know this, and in addition to the actual dollars you spend on the upgrade, there are a ton of intangible switching costs. Some include the time it takes to set up a new system, re-install apps, find activation codes for said apps, etc. It takes a decent amount of time and money to upgrade so the time you save better be worth it. It’s one thing to read Apple’s marketing jargon and see that the new MacBook is “2x faster” or “the fastest MacBook we’ve ever built” but it’s much more meaningful to see just how much time you can save in your day-to-day work life. 

Remember, clients aren’t paying you to import and export photos, they’re paying you to create things. The less time you can spend doing non-value-added activities, like exporting photos, the more time you can spend creating more or actually having a life outside of work. 



And for the last comparison, I wanted to see how much faster the 15-inch could squash down those 737 full-res photos using JPEGMini Pro. If you haven’t used JPEGMini Pro, check it out here. It’s indispensable for adding photos to your website that balance image quality with loading times. Dylan Howell has a great post about this too.

Process 737 full-res photos using JPEGMini Pro
  • 15-inch: 6 minutes, 40 seconds
  • 13-inch: 19 minutes, 59 seconds

Macbook for photographers


Alrighty. We’re at the end of the comparison and I really hope it helps you guys make a purchasing decision. Even if you’re not comparing a 13-inch and a 15-inch, you at least have two sets of benchmarks here that you can run against your own computers, whether that’s an iMac or something of the PC Master Race (we’re not worthy). 

You have different considerations when it comes to buying a computer as a photographer. Do your research, watch some YouTube reviews, and make sure the computer you get is one you can hang onto for awhile. Hopefully this can help steer you in a well-researched direction. 

As always, feel free to drop a question or comment below. I’m always checking in on them and will do my best to answer any you might have. 




The 16 MacBook Pro looks like something that I have been hoping for. It looks like hands-on testing has shown that the CPU is being cooled much better and the new power supply is capable of delivery more power so that the total CPU performance is the very best it has been in quite some time. The machine is priced like a Pro level machine, as they always are from Apple, but this one delivers the pro level performance to go with it. No hesitation at all in highly recommending it for photographers. I will be working up a photographers buying guide soon.

Hi there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with? I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a hard time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!|

Sure thing! I use Flothemes as a theme provider and then WordPress as the underpinnings.

Great review – I am finally looking to move off my 2013 15″ macbook pro 2.7 ghz quad core with 16 GB to something new so I can run a faster connection to externals ( shooitng with NIkon D850) and als render faster in lightroom. The easy choice from a power standpoint is the 15″ Macbook pro with 16GB or more of memory. However I do travel quite a bit so the form factor of the 13 is appealing. Primary workflow is lightroom, at home I drive a 38″ 4K display. Do you think I can get away with the 13″ with 38Ghz quad core and integrated graphics, or should I really only be thinking 15″ with 2.6Ghz 6 core, dedicated graphics and 16 or 32GB memory? thanks for your insight

I’m constantly pushing against the memory limit, and that’s with 32GB, whenever I’m using LR. LR doesn’t even touch the graphics card on my machine, so if I were you, I’d invest in whatever MBP grants you the most processor and memory capability. I think I’m going to get the MBP 16″ with 64GB of memory this week. Let me know if you want to buy my 15″ MBP haha.

The things i have observed in terms of laptop memory is always that there are specs such as SDRAM, DDR or anything else, that must match the specific features of the mother board. If the computer’s motherboard is very current while there are no computer OS issues, replacing the ram literally normally takes under 1 hour. It’s among the easiest computer system upgrade techniques one can visualize. Thanks for expressing your ideas.

This is so helpful and interesting to read! PS – I just listened to your interview on the bearded tog, loved it!

I have a 15″ 2017 macbook pro as my main computer (I don’t have a desktop and do all my editing on this beast! I’m used to it and don’t mind the size… i like the portability) but I’ve actually wondered the best way that others backup and store all their large mark iv files… do you have any external hard drive recs? do you use a raid system to allow for access when not at your desk?

thanks in advance!

Hey, first off, LOVE your work! I’ve been in need of a new MacBook for quite some time, and finally decided to bite the bullet and purchase one. I didn’t realize all the USB ports were going to be thunderbolt ports. What adapter do you use with these? i’ve been reading reviews on Apple, and they’re all terrible regarding their USB-C adapter…. Not sure what to do!

Thanks in advance!

Thanks for the kind words! My advice is to not pay much credence to the bad reviews on things like Apple adapters. They’re fine and do the job. I don’t use many adapters though like I used to. Most everything I use now that would be plugged into the Mac has the new USB-C cable. What’s an example of something non-USB-C you want to use with the Mac that you’d need an adapter for?

Do you feel that a Maxed out(Except for SDD) 13″ could do for mobile editing in LR, roughly 25-50 photos; is still doable?

Considering one, plus an eGPU in the future for the home station to replace my maxed out 2010 iMAC.

Thank you so much for your review. it’s so good to actually get someone who would use the laptop the way i do. it has made my decision a lot easier. much appreciated.

What do you think about the 15 inch MacBook in terms of flexibility for travel? Is it small enough to use it comfortably on the road?

Great review by the way!

Well…good question. If I’m flying domestically, the seats are crammed too closely to one another to get it fully open, so using it on the plane is a no-go. But for that purpose, I just use the 11″ iPad Pro and keyboard to get stuff done in the air. Other than on an airplane though, it’s really quite amazing.

Thanks for the kind words too!

Very helpful. Thank you. I’m an amateur photographer but spend a fair bit of time on LR. The big question is whether the same sort of massive improvements would be noted comparing a 13” 2018 model vs the 15”. Any idea?

I doooo have an idea because I actually bought a maxed-out 2018 13″ pro too and ran the same tests. The results were far less impressive than the 15″, but still way faster. Nearly double in every area.

Top write-up, what is your experience in terms of speed improvement with applying normal adjustments to photos, using VSCO Keys or similar?

Massive improvement. Essentially there’s zero lag in real world LR usage.

Thank you very much for this very useful comparison. And also thank you for actually writing it down, so that I hadn’t had to watch another lengthy video, where it is sometimes take so long to find out, whether it is actually useful to watch or not.