The best photo-editing laptops won't just be the perfect tool for photographers needing to do some photo editing. A machine with a fast processor, plenty of RAM and a large storage drive will also give you a computer ideal for home-working - these slimline marvels will quite likely outperform that dusty old desktop tower in your office!
What's more, the addition of a quality screen with consistent color and contrast will not only bring images to life, it can also help reduce eye strain and fatigue.
These days pretty much every major laptop manufacturer offers a model sporting a top spec 4K screen with 100% sRGB color space coverage and wide contrast to keep highlight and shadow detail consistently visible.
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Right now, we think the 16-inch MacBook Pro is still the best all-round laptop for photographers, as its Retina Display with Apple's True Tone ambient light monitoring is both stunning to behold and also highly color-accurate. The 13-inch MacBook Air M1 is a newer model in the MacBook range. Its smaller size and lighter weight make it great for on-the-go image editing, but a 13-inch screen could feel restrictive for prolonged editing stints or general home working. And if you like some gaming escapism, the Razer Blade 15 has you well covered.
Of course, the right laptop for you depends on many factors: will this be your main machine, or is this a secondary device? How important is power and speed versus portability and battery life? We’d recommend a 15-inch screen size as the best balance between portability and having a versatile Photoshop workspace, while 16-17-inches offers a super-comfortable screen real estate and is worth the extra weight penalty if you'll be predominantly working from home.
• See also: Best monitors for MacBook Pro
Here are the best photo-editing laptops you can get right now…
The best photo-editing laptops in 2021
Right now, the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1 is the latest 'Pro and has received rave reviews thanks to its stunning blend of performance and efficiency. However, it's only available with a 13-inch screen, and its max 16GB RAM can be limiting when editing high-res Raw images or big multi-layer PSD files.
The slightly older (but still current) MacBook Pro has no such compromises (providing you spec it up!). Our review sample aced our benchmark tests and felt lightning fast in Photoshop. Along the top of the keyboard you’ll find Apple’s Touch Bar. This row of virtual buttons dynamically changes according to your current app, and Photoshop makes great use of it. The Touch Bar automatically displays adjustment buttons and sliders depending on your selected pallet or tool.
The main Retina display has an aspect ratio closer to 3:2 than 16:9, making it better suited to displaying photos from most cameras. The 3072 x 1920 resolution may be slightly less that 4K, but it’s easily crisp enough. It also sports Apple’s True Tone technology that automatically tweaks the screen’s color to compensate for ambient lighting.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro can be specced up to incredible levels, with RAM up to 64GB and storage up to 8TB. But do this and the price rockets into the stratosphere. We reckon the best value is to go for the 2.3GHz 8-core Core i9 processor with 32GB RAM, a 1TB SSD and Radeon 5500M graphics with 4GB VRAM. Should you need additional storage, it can be purchased more cost-effectively by getting one of the best portable SSDs.
• See more Mac options in our Best Macbook for photo editing
The Dell XPS 15 range can be confusing: there are lots of different spec configurations to choose from, and pricing can frequently fluctuate. We reckon the best config for photographers is one which includes Dell’s best 4K+ (3840 x 2400) 16:10 screen, which boasts 500-nit brightness and touch sensitivity. The only issue with that is few XPS 15 configs come with this display, and they're inevitably at the pricier end of the range.
The extra cash does also buy you plenty of performance courtesy of a 11th-gen, 8-core Intel Core i9 processor, and you can choose from 16GB right up to a whopping 64GB of RAM, though we'd only recommend the latter if you'll be editing high res video as well as images. 16GB or 32GB should be ample amounts of RAM for image editing.
The selection of ports is also pretty good, with Thunderbolt 4, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, plus adapters for USB-A and HDMI. There's even a built-in full-size SD slot; something that’s sadly becoming a rarity in premium laptops.
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The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has long been a great choice for on-the-go photo editing, thanks to its compelling blend of high performance and sleek, lightweight design.
The current, 9th gen, X1 Carbon can be specced with several 14-inch screen options. All have at least a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and a respectable 400-nit max brightness, plus 100% sRGB color coverage. The range-topping display is an ultra high res 3840 x 2400 panel with a 500-nit brightness and a hugely impressive 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage.
Elsewhere, bang-up-to-date 11th-gen Intel Core processors provide ample computing power, and though RAM appears to top out at 16GB, you can customise some X1 Carbon configs to pack 32GB. However, it's a pity the RAM comes soldered to the motherboard, so cant be swapped out for higher capacity modules at a later date, and it also means you'd be unwise to settle for a base 8GB X1 Carbon.
The MacBook Air 13-in M1 is impressive in three main areas: first, its design, finish and ergonomics; second, its sheer performance for a lightweight laptop; third, its value for money given those other two things. The M1 may not be as flat-out fast as a specced-up 16-inch MacBook Pro (above), but if you value outright portability more than ultimate performance, the M1 is a better bet.
Its Retina screen is, as ever, just beautiful. Apple says it has a 25% wider color range than sRGB, but doesn’t mention Adobe RGB, which leads us to assume it’s somewhere in the middle. The contrast, definition and brightness are stellar, and while the 2560 x 1600 resolution isn’t 4K, it’s an important step up from a regular 1920 x 1080 screen. It has that ‘Retina’ effect where you just don’t see the dots any more and makes a surprising and subtle difference to the way you view, edit and evaluate digital images.
There are just two USB ports, which is annoying, it’s not really a lot smaller than a regular MacBook, even though it looks like it, and the 7-core entry level model is a bit of an odd proposition, but these are pretty minor complaints. This is a beautifully made notebook computer that's great for mobile image editing if you need supreme portability over a larger screen size.
The big talking point with the ZenBook Duo is its huge touch-sensitive secondary screen above the keyboard. Asus calls it the ScreenPad Plus, and you can use it as a genuine secondary monitor to display another app to that on the main screen, or it can be split into two or three columns, each containing a different open app. There's even a screen extension function that lets you spread a single app over both screens. Our only criticism is the ScreenPad's viewing angles and colour vibrancy aren't on par with the main screen, so there is some discrepancy of colour and contrast between the two displays.
This is noticeable in part due to the supreme colour and contrast of the primary display. Its OLED screen tech enables rich, inky blacks and super-vibrant colors, to the point that it's rated for an impressive 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space and can reach a 550-nit peak brightness. Touch and stylus support sweeten the deal even more.
The UX582 is equipped with a blazing-fast 8-core Intel Core i9 processor and you can equip the ZenBook with up to 32GB of RAM - great for heavy Photoshop editing. There’s a good balance of two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, one conventional USB Type-A port, an HDMI port and a headphone socket.
Razer’s brand focus is on the gaming market, and the Blade 15 4K is primarily a gaming laptop, but the styling doesn’t shout about it like many laptops targeted at gamers. Only the illuminated green Razer logo on the front and the colour-changing backlit keyboard give the game away, but the latter can be muted to keep things more sober.
What makes the Blade 15 a good photo-editing machine is its 15.6-inch 4K screen, which in the range-topping Blade 15 Advanced model is now an OLED panel, giving stunning color vibrancy and contrast. Oh, and it's even touch-sensitive, with a super-fast 300Hz refresh rate for ultra-smooth gaming, if that's your thing.
This particular Blade 15 configuration also comes equipped with a blazing-fast GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card. That’s great for gaming at 4K resolution, where it’ll give a noticeable performance boost, but apps like Photoshop won’t really use the extra oomph. Solid build quality with excellent heat ventilation, as well as the three conventional USB ports are easily-overlooked plus points, though the absence of an SD card slot is a shame.
Here we're listing prices for all Blade 15 variants, not just the flagship Advanced model, but even a 'base' Blade 15 will still be an image-editing monster.
See also: the best Ultrabooks
LG makes the Gram in three screen sizes: 14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch. All have their pros and cons for portability vs. viewing ease, but the svelte 14-inch model makes most sense if you want something seriously portable. You get a Full HD 1920x1080 resolution; not the highest, but you do get a terrific 99% DCI-P3 color space coverage, and the Full HD res is still enough to produce a crisp viewing experience.
What's more, the 14-inch Gram weighs a mere 1kg - compare this to the equally small Lenovo 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon that weighs around 1120g and the Gram is noticeably lighter in the hand. The slim design still has room for a versatile selection of two USB-A ports, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports and an HDMI port, plus a microSD slot.
The Intel Core i7-1165G7 quad core processor isn't the most powerful laptop CPU out there, but it is especially power efficient, enabling a tremendous battery life of up to 25.5 hours per charge.
The x360 moniker in the HP Spectre name refers to the touchscreen’s ability to flip round through 360 degrees so the laptop can convert to a tablet. Windows 10 automatically detects the screen’s position and adapts the interface to be more touch-friendly. It's a useful feature if you regularly use your laptop on the go and can't always find a surface to rest it on. However, while a 1.92kg weight is reasonable for a 15.6-inch laptop, it's heavy for a tablet, so the Spectre isn’t really a replacement for a conventional tablet.
HP has moved to an AMOLED screen for its flagship 2021 Spectre x360 15t-eb100 touch model. It still boats a 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution, but you now get 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage and an impressive 400 nits peak brightness. The addition of a Corning Gorilla Glass anti-scratch coating further helps the x360's practicality in tablet mode.
Just a single normal USB Type-A port is present, along with two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, an HDMI 2.0b port and a Micro SD slot. There's plenty of image editing power though, thanks to a quad-core 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, though there's no dedicated graphics card, so don't expect this to be a gaming monster. The automatic facial recognition for Windows Hello sign-in is a handy feature though.
How to choose the best photo-editing laptop
1. Screen quality matters
Laptop screens used to be more eye-sore than eye-candy, with appalling contrast and viewing angles. Thankfully IPS display tech fixes this and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.
2. Speedy storage
An SSD (solid state drive) is a must in any new laptop. All our options in this buying guide include one, but don’t get stuck with a small capacity: 512GB is a minimum if you’re working with 4K video. See our guide to the best internal SSDs.
3. Graphic novelty
Dedicated graphics cards are great for gaming, but they’re not a necessity here. Today’s processors can fill in for them, and they pack enough pixel-pushing punch for photo editing.
4. Which processor (CPU)?
Laptop processor model numbers are practically impossible to decipher. Just focus on the ‘base frequency’ (speed, measured in GHz), and number of processing cores (two, four, or six).
5. Mac or PC?
The MacBook is favoured by many photographers, and for good reason. But don’t rule out comparably priced laptop PCs, which can offer more bang per buck, with better upgradability.
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