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The best MacBooks for photo editing: options to suit every budget

The best MacBooks for photo editing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Are you looking for the best MacBooks for photo editing in 2020? Apple's range of powerful – and portable – MacBook laptops are beloved by many photographers, and for good reason, as they pack powerful components that are essential for photo editing into slimline and stylish bodies.

They are easy to carry around, which makes them great for photographers who want to edit their photos while on the go, and they run the macOS operating system, which means you can use best photo editing software or the best video editing software.

Crucially, the best MacBooks for photo editing also offer excellent battery lives, which mean you can go through a whole work day using them without needing to find a power supply.

If portability isn't too important for you, but raw power is, then we have a separate guide of the best iMacs for photo and video editing.

What to look for with the best MacBooks for photo editing

So, what should you look for when buying the best MacBook for photo editing? The most important thing is the specifications of the MacBook. Most modern MacBooks are powerful enough to edit photos with ease, but not all MacBooks are made equal, and there are some MacBooks out there that are better suited for photo editing.

You'll want a MacBook with a recent Intel processor, ideally a quad-core or above. The more cores a processor has, the better it is at multitasking, which can be essential for photographers.

The amount of RAM is also important, and we'd suggest 8GB or more. The more RAM you have, the faster and smoother the MacBook will feel to use. Applications will open more quickly, and you'll be able to have more open at once.

If you're working on particularly high resolution photos, then buying a MacBook with a discrete graphics card, like the MacBook Pro, is worth considering, as this will give you even better performance.

Storage space is also an important consideration, as unlike Windows laptops, you cannot open up and replace the hard drive of a MacBook. So, when buying a MacBook, you'll want to make sure it comes with a large enough hard drive. 500GB is the minimum we'd recommend if you're storing lots of photos.

Finally, there's the screens of the MacBooks. The larger screen you have, the more comfortable it will be to work on. Modern MacBooks come with high resolution 'Retina' displays, which helps ensure your photos look their best.

The best MacBooks for photo editing

(Image credit: Apple)

1. MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

The best MacBook for photo editing

CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M – Radeon Pro 5500M | RAM: 16GB – 64GB | Screen: 16-inch Retina display with True Tone | Storage: 512GB – 8TB SSD

Stunning 16-inch screen
New and improved keyboard
Limited to four Thunderbolt 3 ports

The new MacBook Pro came out in late 2019, and is the best MacBook for photo editing Apple has ever created. This is because Apple has packed it with some of the most powerful components you can find in a laptop, which means running photo editing apps like Photoshop is fast and smooth.

You can configure the MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) so that it comes with specifications that suit your needs – and your budget – as well.

Best of all, the new MacBook Pro comes with a larger 16-inch screen, which is simply stunning. The Retina display comes with a resolution of 3,072 x 1,920 and a pixel density of 226 pixels per inch, which means your photos will look incredibly sharp, with plenty of detail, and means you won't need to invest in an external monitor.

(Image credit: Apple)

2. MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)

A great alternative

CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 555X – 560X, Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: 16GB – 32GB | Screen: 15.4-inch, 2,880 x 1,800 Retina display | Storage: 512GB – 4TB SSD | Dimensions (H x W x D): 34.93 x 24.07 x 1.55cm

Decent configuration options
Screen remains gorgeous
Lack of ports
Keyboard concerns remain

If you don't need the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, then the MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019) is a fantastic choice that can save you money. Even though it was only released in the middle of 2019, Apple has replaced it with the 16-inch model.

Don't worry, though, that doesn't mean it's outdated. What it does mean is that the 15-inch model is no longer sold by Apple, but sold elsewhere, and there have been some decent price cuts as well.

So, you're getting a powerful MacBook with some of the latest tech, like hexa-core 9th-generation Intel processors and up to 32GB of RAM, plus Radeon Pro Vega 20 graphics, and some tasty discounts as well!

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple MacBook Air (2020)

This design classic now has a great keyboard

CPU: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3, 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)

Best keyboard yet for a MacBook Air
Great looks
Choice of processor/memory options to suit your budget
100% recycled aluminum
Still not a high-power machine

The MacBook Air is the most affordable route into getting an Apple MacBook. The 2020 version of the MacBook Air brings a number of attractive improvements. First up, you get double of the amount of memory for both the base model in the range, and for the flagship-specced model. But what everyone is talking about is the new keyboard design... Gone are the old butterfly switches, which were too shallow for many people, and prone to sticking if they filled with crumbs. Instead you get the new Magic keyboard, which first appeared with the 2019 MacBook Pro. This makes for a better typing experience, for those that need to send emails and type essays/reports, as well as edit images. A nice bonus for eco warriors, is that Apple say this is the first MacBook that uses 100% recycled aluminum (so treat yourself and save the planet at the same time!)

The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, mid-2019) is quieter and more reliable. (Image credit: Apple)

4. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, mid-2019)

The same, but stronger

CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 8th-generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 – 655 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2,560 x 1,600 | Storage: 128GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.49cm

 Much more powerful 
 More storage 
 Keyboard learning curve 

If you're after the power of a MacBook Pro, but the 15-inch and 16-inch models are a bit too large for your liking, then the 13-inch MacBook Pro could be the best MacBook for photo editing for your needs.

While it's not quite as powerful as the larger MacBook Pros, it still offers some excellent performance thanks to modern components that bring the 13-inch MacBook lineup bang up to date. The 13-inch screen might be a bit too small to work on comfortably when editing photos, but it does the job when you're away from your studio, and Apple's Retina resolution means even if it's on the small size, it still looks fantastic.

The latest 2020 edition of the 13-inch MacBook Pro has just been announced - and offers a new keyboard and a more powerful basic spec. 

(Image credit: Apple)

5. MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2018)

Older, but better value

CPU: 6-core Intel Core i7 - i9 | Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 540X - 560X, Intel UHD Graphics 630 | RAM: 16 - 32GB | Screen: 15.4-inch, 2,880 x 1,800 Retina display | Storage: 512GB - 4TB SSD | Dimensions (W x D x H): 34.93 x 24.07 x 1.55cm

Fantastic design
Touch Bar is handy
Lack of ports
Keyboard still feels a little flat

Buying older models of Apple's MacBooks is a great way to save money whilst still getting excellent performance, as 2018's model proves. With its hexa-core 8th-generation Coffee Lake processor and up to 32GB of RAM there is still not a single thing you can throw at this laptop that it can’t handle.

Apple doesn't sell the 2018 model any more, but loads of other stores still do, and there are often tempting price cuts that allow you to get hold of one of Apple's most powerful laptops for a (semi) reasonable price.

(Image credit: Apple)

6. MacBook (2017)

Showing its age, but still good

CPU: Dual-core Intel Core m3 – Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 12-inch Retina (2,304 x 1,440) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 512GB PCIe SSD | Dimensions (W x D x H): 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14~0.52in

Incredibly portable 
Long battery life 
Too expensive 

If you're on a tight budget and don't mind using older tech, then 2017's MacBook is the one to get. Although Apple has officially stopped selling the MacBook, many third parties are still carry it. It also means this can be had for impressively low prices – for a MacBook, at least.

It's also a 12-inch laptop, which makes it the smallest and lightest MacBook in this roundup, another plus if portability is very important to you. Despite its age, it still offers good performance, and comes with a Thunderbolt 3 port, so it can still interface with modern peripherals.

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple MacBook Air (2018)

Still a great productivity machine

CPU: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology | Storage: 128GB – 1.5TB SSD | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56cm; W x D x H)

Small and light design
Beautiful screen
A bit underpowered
Only two Thunderbolt 3 ports

Here's a sneaky little secret: although Apple released a new MacBook Air in 2019 (which is featured higher up in this list), it actually didn't upgrade any of the internals compared with the 2018 model. Instead, it merely added True Tone technology, and if that's a feature you can live without, then the 2018 model offers even better value for money, as its price has been discounted since the 2019 model came out.

Again, Apple doesn't sell the 2018 model directly any more, but there are plenty of places that still do, and there's still enough power in this older hardware to handle most photo editing tasks.

Read more

The best iMac for photo editing

The best photo-editing laptops

The best laptops for video editing

The best photo-editing software

The best video-editing software