The best photo-editing laptops won't just be the perfect tool for 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 colour space coverage and wide contrast to keep highlight and shadow detail consistently visible.
Right now, we think the latest 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. But the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a more corporate home-office ethos and is more keenly priced than the MacBook. 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.
Here are the best photo-editing laptops you can get right now…
The best photo-editing laptops in 2021
Our MacBook Pro 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 10th-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 3, USB-C 3.1, 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.
• Check out the best portable monitors
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon can be specced with several screen options – all 14-inch – but don't be tempted to cheap out on anything that isn't 'IPS', as contrast accuracy will be compromised. Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolutions are available, but the extra crispness of our preferred 4K 3840 x 2160 screen option makes for a crisper viewing experience. A 500-nit peak brightness also makes this range-topping screen suitable for viewing HDR content, though even the more mundane Full HD screen options are still IPS panels with a respectable 400-nit brightness.
If you need to travel light and won't always have access to mains power, the 8th-gen X1 Carbon is a great balance of power and portability.
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.
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. It's a far more versatile set-up than the original ScreenPad incorporated in the old ZenBook Pro UX580 - 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. We verified its advertised 100% Adobe RGB colour space coverage, and the quoted DeltaE <2 colour accuracy is also accurate, as our calibration tool measured an impressive 1.07. Outright screen brightness isn’t quite on par with the MacBook’s Retina display, but you’re unlikely to notice during real-world viewing.
The UX581 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, two conventional USB ports, an HDMI port and headphone socket, though the Micro SD card slot is of limited use to photographers.
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.
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 is especially appealing for on-the-go photographers. You get a Full HD 1920x1080 resolution; less than many rivals here, but it's enough to produce a crisp viewing experience, while IPS screen tech ensures good color and contrast accuracy.
The Gram range as a whole is all about portability. The 14-inch version is only 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, one USB-C port and an HDMI port, plus a microSD slot.
While satisfyingly quick in general use, the 4-core Intel Core-i7 processor in our Gram struggled in our speed benchmarks and can take a while to apply more complex Photoshop filters. However the payoff from using a processor geared towards efficiency over outright speed is stellar battery life: LG claims up to 18.5 hours per charge.
Factor LG's keen pricing for the Gram and it's a tempting option if you value portability over speed.
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.
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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