Skip to main content

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

best iMac
(Image credit: Apple)

The best iMacs are a great choice for photographers and video editors alike. With their signature blend of style and power, iMacs provide one of the smoothest platforms out there for getting some editing done, all displayed on one of the best screens in the business, the Retina display.

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

What to look for with the best iMacs for photo editing

The question is, though, 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. iMacs come in two flavors: 21.5-inch, and 27-inch. As you might expect, for serious editing, 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. If desk space is tight, then the 21.5-inch iMac is where you'd be best off: these are now all Retina display models and they look great. It's basically up to you whether the 21.5-inch screen is enough room for you or not.

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).

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.

The best iMacs for photo editing

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple iMac (27-inch, 2020)

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

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

Stunning 5K display
Hugely powerful when specced up
Quiet under load
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 (27-inch, 2019)

Still a brilliant all-in-one photo editing Mac

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

Stunning 5K display
Quiet under load
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)

3. iMac Pro

The most powerful iMac for photo editing

CPU: 8 to 18-core Intel Xeon W | Graphics: Radeon Pro Vega 56 - Radeon Pro Vega 64 | RAM: 32GB – 256GB DDR4 ECC | Screen: 27-inch 5K (5,120 x 2,880) Retina display (P3 wide color) | Storage: 1TB – 4TB PCIe 3.0 SSD | Dimensions (H x W x D): 65 x 20.3 x 51.6cm

Most powerful Mac you can buy 
Gorgeous, color-accurate display 
Very expensive 

While the 2020 iMac is the best for most photographers, if you're after the most powerful iMac money can buy right now, then the iMac Pro is the one to get. This packs some seriously powerful hardware, which means it can handle pretty much any workload you throw at it. So, you get Intel's most powerful CPU, along with professional graphics curtsy of AMD.

You can also pack it with up to 256GB of RAM and 4TB of storage. Best of all, it comes with a stunning 27-inch 5K display with a P3 wide color gamut, making this the ultimate iMac for photo editing – though many people may find it overkill, and too expensive for their needs.

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 2019)

A great iMac for smaller spaces

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)

Affordable price
Perfect size for a small home office
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

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)

Gorgeous 4K, P3 color display
Excellent value
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.

Read more:

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