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The best iMac for photo and video editing in 2021: top options for every budget

Apple iMac 24in (2021)
(Image credit: Apple )

Like the MacBook, the best iMacs are beloved by creatives, photographers and anyone else who wants to get some work done. The macOS operating system has been refined and improved over many years and is one of the most streamlined interfaces around, syncing perfectly with popular editing applications like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere Pro.

As it stands, we rate the 2020 27-inch iMac as the best iMac for serious image or video editing. Its large screen size and hugely powerful spec options make it a real powerhouse of an editing machine... if you've got the cash to splash on the more powerful configurations.

Alternatively, there's the new 2021 24-inch iMac. Its price is more palatable than that of its 27-inch sibling, and it packs Apple's superb M1 System on Chip, which is both blazing fast and yet super efficient and cool-running. The 24-inch iMac is also beautifully slim and can be had in 7 different color options, making it a true object of desire. The only reason we don't rate it as the number 1 iMac for image or video editing is, like it's M1 MacBook cousins, you can't spec more than 16GB or RAM. This could be limiting for intensive image/video editing right now, and is very likely to become an issue in the future as image and video resolutions invariably rise, especially as you can't upgrade the RAM in an iMac after purchase.

Find out more about the new iMac

Alternatively, third-party retailers still stock older iMac machines which have now been discontinued by Apple itself. They may be older iMacs, but they still pack a punch, and with healthy discounts to be had, you may just find a tasty bargain.

So without further ado, here are the best iMacs right now, at the best prices...

The best iMacs for photo editing in 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iMac (27-inch, 2020)

The new 27-inch iMac is jaw-dropping in practically every way

Specifications
CPU: 6-core 10th-gen Intel Core i5 – 8-core 10th-gen Intel Core i7
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 570X - AMD Radeon Pro Vega 48
RAM: 8-128GB
Storage: 256GB-8TB SSD
Dimensions (HxWxD): 51.6 x 65.0 x 20.3cm
Reasons to buy
+Stunning 5K display+Hugely powerful when specced up+Quiet under load
Reasons to avoid
-SSD upgrades are expensive

It may be a predictable choice, but the latest 2020 version of the 27-inch iMac is our top pick of the iMac range. It comes with the latest tech, including 10th-generation Intel processors, powerful discrete graphics and plenty of RAM. You also get a decent number of storage options – though the higher capacity SSD choices are very pricey. Best of all, the built-in screen is simply stunning with a Retina 5K (5,120 x 2,880) resolution and Apple's True Tone technology for accurate color. There's even an option to upgrade to Nano-textured glass with a matt finish etched into the glass to help eliminate reflections and glare, though it does add a huge $500/£500 to the price.

Apple iMac 27-inch (2020) review

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple iMac M1 (24-inch, 2021)

The latest iMac combines power and beauty

Specifications
CPU: 8-core Apple M1 chip
Graphics: 7-core or 8-core Apple M1 GPU
RAM: 8-16GB
Storage: 256GB-2TB SSD
Dimensions (HxWxD): 46.1 x 54.7 x 14.7cm
Reasons to buy
+Slim design with 7 color choices+Powerful and efficient M1 SoC+4.5K Retina display
Reasons to avoid
-Only 16GB max memory-23.5-inch screen can be restrictive-Expensive SSD upgrades

At the heart of the new 24-inch iMac is Apple's superb M1 System on a Chip, which combines pretty much all the core aspects of a computer onto a single chip, much like a phone or tablet. It's supremely fast and efficient, and has given traditional computer processor manufacturers like Intel and AMD a big worry.

The iMac M1 has the same 8-core processor as its MacBook cousins, but pairs it with a 23.5-inch Retina screen boasting a huge 4.5K (4480 x 2520) resolution and an eye-popping 500-nit brightness. Factor the DCI-P3 color space coverage, plus Apple's excellent True Tone technology, and this display is sure to be a huge hit with creatives wanting the best possible viewing experience.

The 24-inch iMac even looks great when it's powered off, thanks to it's unbelievably slim screen and the fact that you can choose from 7 body color options.

The only drawback here is, like an M1 MacBook, the M1 chip can only be specced with a max 16GB of RAM. This can soon be devoured when you're editing high-res, multi-layer image files or 4K video, especially if you've got several web browser tabs open at the same time. You won't be able to add more RAM in the future, so if you want a truly future-proofed iMac, the 2020 27-inch model (above) is still the safer option, providing you spec it with 32GB RAM or more.

See also: Best Mac webcams

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple iMac (27-inch, 2019)

Still a brilliant all-in-one photo editing Mac

Specifications
CPU: up to 3.6GHz 8-core Intel Core i9
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 570X – Radeon Pro Vega 48
RAM: 8GB – 64GB
Screen: 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display 5120 x 2880
Storage: 1TB Fusion Drive – 2TB SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 51.6 x 65.0 x 20.3 cm
Reasons to buy
+Stunning 5K display+Quiet under load
Reasons to avoid
-SSD upgrades are expensive

Although it's no longer the latest model, the 2019 iMac 27-inch still offers great performance with cutting edge components, all packaged up in a brilliant design that will look great on anyone's desk. 

You can choose from 8th- and 9th-generation Intel processors, with up to 8-cores for fantastic multitasking performance. It's not the most powerful iMac now, but it's arguably the best value, and the best iMac for photo editing if you can't quite stretch to the 2020 iMac.

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 2019)

A great iMac for smaller spaces

Specifications
CPU: 3.6GHz Quad-Core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 560 X with 4 GB GDDR5 VRAM
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 21.5-inch 4K UHD (4,096 x 2,304) P3 wide color Retina IPS display
Storage: 256GB - 1TB SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 20.8 x 6.9 x 17.7 inches (52.8 x 17.5 x 45cm)
Reasons to buy
+Affordable price+Perfect size for a small home office
Reasons to avoid
-Only a little cheaper than better models

With an entry-level 27-inch iMac costing around 60% more than a base 21.5-inch model, the latest baby iMac is tempting proposition. It's compactness is also a bonus if you're tight on desk space, but if you can make room for the 27-incher, we'd wager that once you've spent a few days editing on the larger display, you won't want to use anything smaller.

However, the 21.5-inch iMac is an undeniably impressive piece of kit, featuring a quad core processor along with dedicated Radeon Pro graphics, plus that all-important Retina 4K display - and all for a terrifically reasonable price tag. However, if you invest just a bit more you can get quite a lot more bang for your buck, so this option is more for those who are working with a very limited amount of space.

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 2017)

An affordable compromise

Specifications
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – quad-core i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 – AMD Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 21.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080; sRGB) – 4K UHD (4,096 x 2,304; P3 wide color) Retina IPS display
Storage: 1TB HDD – 1TB Fusion Drive SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 20.8 x 6.9 x 17.7 inches (52.8 x 17.5 x 45cm)
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous 4K, P3 color display+Excellent value
Reasons to avoid
-Poor audio performance-Showing its age

As with the 27-inch iMac, if you don't mind getting slightly older hardware, you can save a decent amount of cash when buying a 21.5-inch iMac for photo editing. The 2017 model may now be showing its age, but it still offers acceptable performance when it comes to photo editing.

It also features that iconic all-in-one design we've come to love about the iMac, and the 21.5-inch model is less dominating when placed on a desk. Perfect for smaller offices and studios. Even with the smaller screen, it still looks fantastic if you spec it with a Retina display for ultimate giving excellent image quality, and there's powerful performance to be had if you choose one of the faster quad-core processors and 16GB of RAM or more.

The best iMac for photo editing: what to look for

What should you look for when searching for the best iMac for photo and video editing? The key is to look at the specifications and suss out what you're going to need; while any modern iMac is going to be capable of editing photos with ease, some are more suited to heavy workloads or ultra-high resolution than others.

First things first, you need to select your screen size. The smallest 21.5-inch iMacs is still available – for now, but for most photographers and video editors the 27-incher is the way to go. The extra room gives you luxurious space for both your image and the various editing palettes around it. The new 24-inch iMac could be better still, though – the screen is smaller, but the M1 processor has already shown its huge power in the M1 MacBook Air, M1 MacBook Pro and M1 Mac Mini.

Another important thing to consider is the amount of RAM you want. For iMacs, 8GB is now the baseline spec, and while this is just about adequate for light image editing, open a bunch of tabs open in your web browser while adding several layers to a high-res PSD file and watch what happens to the performance. Given that RAM is not user-upgradable in a regular (non-Pro) iMac, we'd strongly recommend speccing 16GB or more at the point of purchase, to maximize the useful lifespan of your new machine.

If you'll be using your iMac for editing video, the speed of graphics card is also important, as this can significantly speed up exporting times. Again, the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac is best avoided, as it doesn't have a dedicated graphics card. All other iMacs get proper Radeon Pro graphics, though the 27-inch iMacs use newer, faster models (that extra space gained from a having bigger screen makes room for more powerful internals), and the 2021 iMac gets the formidable shared graphics processing power of the M1 chip.

Storage space is also an important consideration, as unlike Windows laptops, you cannot open up and replace the hard drive of a regular iMac. All iMacs, 21.5-inch and 27-inch alike, now get a fast SSD drive as standard, so there's no waiting around fora clunky conventional hard drive to spool up. However, 256GB is default capacity for the 21.5-inch models, and the entry-level 27-incher. This really isn't enough to give you sufficient storage space for the lifetime of your usage - upgrading to at least 512GB is a must. If that's not financially feasible at the point of purchase, then you can always invest in an external hard drive, which is a more affordable way to give you more space to keep your photos. Look for external hard drives that include SSDs (Solid State Drives) and use the Thunderbolt 3 port, as this gives you the fastest possible transfer speeds.

Read more:

The best MacBooks for photo editing
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The best laptops for video editing
The best photo-editing software
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