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Published Apr. 15, 2022

We’ve come a long way since photographers were dodging and burning their images in the darkroom thanks to laptops. Nowadays, anyone can easily brighten shadows, lower highlights, and perform any number of advanced edits and from anywhere in the world thanks to portable computers. The increased power and portability of modern laptops have made them a key part of creative workflows everywhere. If you’re a photographer who is constantly on the go, these are the best laptops for photo editing.

How we picked the best laptops for photo editing

I have over five years of experience editing photos, and more than 10 years of experience reviewing consumer electronics for websites like Popular Science, TechnoBuffalo, XDA Developers, and more. I’ve owned a ridiculous number of cameras over the years and I don’t go anywhere without one around my neck (preferably a Fujifilm X100v). 

For this roundup, I pulled from my own experience editing photos and also consulted photographers who write for our sister site Pop Photo. I also looked at editorial reviews, user impressions, and forums from around the industry to gain more perspective on the features photographers value most in a laptop. 

Things to consider before buying a laptop for photo editing

To find the best laptops for photo editing, we prioritized a number of criteria, some of which are broadly important, while others cater specifically to photographers and other creatives. At the top of our list are performance, screen resolution, and battery life. These features allow photographers to perform their best work without the hardware and software getting in the way. We also considered weight and design, connectivity, and price. Your top pick will depend on your own workflow, but these are the main features to look out for when shopping for a laptop for photo editing.

Performance

Editing photos requires ample processing power, especially if you’re editing multiple RAW files, which many photographers prefer over JPEGs for their abundance of image data and editability. We looked at laptops with higher CPU performance, which can be measured in clock speed (GHz), and the number of cores it contains. Most modern laptops marketed to creators come with 10th Generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, which can offer 6 or 8 processor cores.

We also looked at Apple’s lineup of laptops that contain its M-series chip, which can offer up to 10 processor cores. The higher the clock speed and the more processor cores you have at your disposal, the better your laptop will be at performing intensive tasks. The amount of RAM also makes a difference, because it provides applications with a place to store and access data on a short-term basis and can directly impact how fast a computer feels. Finally, a good GPU, like an Nvidia GTX or RTX card, will help the CPU during graphics processing. 

Display

A high-resolution display with good color accuracy is critical for photographers who want their photos to look as close to real-life as possible. You’re going to be staring at your screen for extended periods of time, so you want that high-resolution display to give enough room for an editing software’s interface along with a big version of the image itself. We recommend laptops with a resolution of 3840 x 2160, or 4K, and a screen that’s 13 inches and above. Screens smaller than that can feel very cramped. 

As for color accuracy, you want a screen that covers 99% to 100% of the sRGB color gamut. Some laptops take a step beyond this with support for DCI-P3, which offers 26% more color space than sRGB. This means DCI-P3 offers a greater range of colors for a more saturated and vibrant image.

Weight and design

Looks aren’t everything, but a laptop with a design that’s thin and light will be easier to carry with you in the field. We looked for laptops that offer great performance but are under 5 pounds and around half an inch thick, give or take. We also took screen size into consideration. Anything under 13 inches is too small for longer editing sessions, while screens that are 17 inches feel a bit too large to constantly haul around. Of course, your preferences might differ from ours but, in general, we feel like a good middle ground for a laptop is roughly 3 to 5 pounds with a screen size between 13 and 16 inches.

Connectivity

Photographers carry around a lot of accessories, from external hard drives to CF cards. Laptops that offer a variety of connectivity options allow photographers to connect peripherals, back up their images, and more—ideally without annoying dongles. That means having high bandwidth ports like Thunderbolt/USB-C for quickly importing and exporting files, and an HDMI port to connect your laptop to an external display (and don’t forget the HDMI cables). It’s also nice when laptops have a CF card reader built in—something that disappeared briefly in some circles in the tech industry.

Battery life

While laptops are getting thinner and more powerful, one of the first things to take a hit is battery life. That means you’ll have to monitor your usage when you’re not near a power outlet. The laptops on our list should generally last you a full workday, but if you’re out in the field processing hundreds of RAW files, your battery could drain very quickly. If battery life is your biggest concern, larger laptops typically come equipped with larger batteries, but the tradeoff is typically a heavier machine.

Price

Laptops designed for creatives are generally more expensive than something you’d use to write term papers and browse the web. If that’s more your speed, you should check out an ultrabook, which is thinner, lighter, and less powerful than laptops designed for creative work. You get what you pay for, as they say, and a pro laptop has increased performance, screen resolution, and port selection. Most high-end laptops start around $1,500 and can be more than $3,000. Prices can quickly climb if you upgrade things like RAM and internal storage. Some companies also give you the option to upgrade a laptop’s screen resolution and technology.

As you’re doing your research, you should ask yourself how serious you are as a photographer. Do you consider yourself a hobbyist who will occasionally edit photos? If so, you might not need 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage—a base pro model will likely suffice. If you plan to edit thousands of RAW images, spending the extra cash on upgrades will be worthwhile thanks to the time it will save you.

A laptop in the $1,500 to $1,800 should provide plenty of power for hobbyist photographers who do light editing. If price is a real concern, I would recommend upgrading RAM but going with a lower storage option. Your computer will last longer and keep up with the demands of modern applications. You can always purchase an external hard drive, which tends to be less expensive than upgrading a laptop’s internal storage.

The best laptops for photo editing: Reviews & Recommendations

RAW images can be as big as 200MB—and even larger if you own a medium-format camera—which can quickly push a high-end laptop to its limits. That’s why your next laptop needs a powerful processor, plenty of RAM, and the right ports. It’s also nice to have a high-resolution display, so you can see every detail in the images you’re editing. Depending on your needs, you may not want to upgrade to the highest possible RAM your machine supports, but with photo editing software requiring more powerful minimum specs, paying a little extra could be worth it in the long run.

Best overall: MacBook Pro 16-inch (M1 Pro)

Stan Horaczek

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Why it made the cut: Apple’s newest MacBook Pro offers excellent performance, battery life, and a variety of ports. 

Specs 

  • Processor: Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max
  • GPU: Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max
  • RAM: Up to 64GB
  • Storage: Up to 8TB
  • Screen size: 16 inches
  • Screen resolution: 3456 x 2234

Pros

  • Excellent performance
  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Amazing display

Cons

  • Display notch

Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models come equipped with the latest Apple M1 silicon, which integrates the system memory with other components, including the CPU, GPU, and neural engine. This results in an efficient, seamless experience between Apple’s hardware and software, and provides users with desktop-like performance and fantastic battery life. 

Apple’s newest MacBook Pro models also bring back the ports that creators actually use, like the SD card reader and HDMI port. The high-resolution screen features Mini-Led backlighting, can achieve a peak brightness of 1600 nits, and supports the P3 color gamut, so you can get your images looking exactly right in post-production. We recommend the 16-inch model with M1 Pro for editing photos because it offers the best balance of performance, features, and price; the M1 Max is a nice bump in power, but better suited for people who do a lot of video editing.

Best portable: MacBook Air with M1

Stan Horaczek

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Why it made the cut: The MacBook Air with M1 chip is the perfect blend of performance and portability.

Specs

  • Processor: Apple M1
  • GPU: Apple M1
  • RAM: Up to 16GB
  • Storage: Up to 2TB
  • Screen size: 13.3 inches
  • Screen resolution: 1680 x 11050

Pros

  • Portable design
  • Fantastic battery life
  • Excellent performance

Cons

  • Lacks SD card reader and HDMI port

The MacBook Air may not have “pro” in its name, but it still offers plenty of power thanks to Apple’s M1 chip (you can check out our Air vs. Pro comparison for more head-to-head details). Even the base model is good enough for light photo editing, and its thinner design makes it easy to haul around. The battery also lasts long enough that you won’t need to worry about a charger when you’re on location.

While there’s a lot to like about the MacBook Air, there are a few downsides. It doesn’t include an SD card reader or HDMI port—features that are only found in the Pro model. Luckily, there are plenty of USB-C hubs and adapters available, so connecting your accessories shouldn’t be a huge problem. If you need a little more oomph, the 13-inch MacBook Pro offers basically the same hardware with the addition of a fan-based cooling system, which helps boost performance during long editing sessions. It doesn’t add much bulk or cost. 

Best Windows laptop: Dell XPS 15

Why it made the cut: The Dell XPS 15 offers great all-around performance that continues to be one of the best Windows laptops money can buy.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel Core
  • GPU: Nvidia RTX
  • RAM: Up to 64GB
  • Storage: Up to 2TB
  • Screen size: 15.6 inches
  • Screen resolution: 3456 x 2160

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Gorgeous OLED display
  • Ample upgrade options

Cons

  • No HDMI port

The Dell XPS 15 sports a gorgeous 15-inch 3.5K OLED display with a resolution of 3456 x 2160 and a 16:10 aspect ratio (check out our TV screen tech primer for more on why OLED impresses). The taller screen gives users a bit more space to get work done, and the minimal bezel eliminates distractions. The cherry on top: The XPS 15’s display is 100% AdobeRGB, so colors look rich, saturated, and accurate.

There are a few different versions to configure with 12- or 14-core Intel processors, and you can upgrade the RAM all the way up to 64GB, which is more than enough for editing a large batch of images. The laptop also includes an SD card reader and three Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports. This has been one of the top models for several generational refreshes now. Dell has figured out what works and stuck with it, which we’re glad about.

Best rugged: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

Lenovo

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Why it made the cut: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is the ultimate workhorse for adventurers.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel Core
  • GPU: Nvidia RTX
  • RAM: Up to 64 GB
  • Storage: Up to 2 TB
  • Screen size: 15.6 inches
  • Screen resolution: 3840 x 2400

Pros

  • Extreme durability
  • Beautiful 4K display
  • Great performance

Cons

  • Thicker design

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme is the perfect laptop for adventurers. Featuring an Intel Core i9 processor, 64GB of RAM, and a 4K display, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is powerful—and built to last. It was tested against 12 military-grade requirements, including withstanding extreme temperatures, mechanical shock, and altitude. This means it should be able to handle the elements, whether you’re taking pictures at your local park or on assignment for National Geographic. 

Best 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360 15

Why it made the cut: The HP Spectre x360 15 takes hybrid work to a whole new level.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel Core
  • GPU: Intel Iris Xe
  • RAM: Up to 16 GB
  • Storage: Up to 1 TB
  • Screen size: 15.6 inches
  • Screen resolution: 3840 x 2140

Pros

  • 2-in-1 design
  • 4K display
  • Stylus support

Cons

  • Limited to 16GB of RAM

Featuring an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 15.6-inch 4K display, the HP Spectre x360 would be great even if it was a typical clamshell laptop. But HP went the extra step by turning the Spectre X360 into a laptop/tablet hybrid that comes with a stylus. The stylus features 1024 levels of pressure and supports the Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP), so you can use it with other Windows devices that also support MPP. The 2-in-1 design makes it easy to get precise with your edits when tweaking colors and boosting shadows; there’s something about editing photos with touch that makes it feel more immediate. 

FAQs

Q: Should I buy a Mac or Windows laptop?

If you’re already tied to a particular platform, you should stick with the one you already use. Neither Mac or Windows is necessarily better for editing photos and both have access to the most popular apps and services. For example, Lightroom, one of the most widely used services for editing photos, is available on Mac and Windows. In the rare situation when there is an app exclusively on one platform, you can likely find an alternative for the other platform that’s just as good. Personally, I would recommend an Apple laptop. Not only has the company worked to optimize the hardware and software of its newest machines, but if there’s an Apple Store nearby, you can make an appointment to get it fixed—something that’s harder to do if you own a Windows laptop.

Q: Is 32GB of RAM overkill for photo editing?

Popular photo editing software continually adds features, which can increase the power it requires to run smoothly. As a result, faster processors and more RAM are necessary to run big programs. Lightroom requires a minimum of 8GB of RAM to run but recommends 16GB of RAM for the best performance. These requirements will likely increase at some point, and while you may not need 32GB of RAM right now to edit photos, you may need it in the future. If you plan to edit a large volume of RAW files, having more RAM will make a big difference to how quickly you can process, edit, and export photos. For people who make a living shooting weddings, upgrading to more RAM will make a big difference.  

Q: What processor is best for photo editing?

There’s no “best” processor when editing photos, but the most popular photo editing programs do have minimum and recommended requirements. At the very least, you need a processor that includes 64-bit support and a clock speed of 2GHz. Like we mentioned earlier, you should look out for a laptop with six or eight processor cores. These will ensure you get the performance you need without generating too much heat and eating up too much battery. Intel, AMD, and Apple make powerful CPUs that can deliver the performance needed to edit photos.

A final word about the best laptops for photo editing

The best laptops for photo editing should offer a blend of performance, screen resolution, and battery life. The choices on our list offer plenty of power and color-accurate screens—features that will help photographers get the most out of their images. At the end of the day, no specific laptop will make you a better editor or photographer—that comes with practice. But the one you choose will keep up with your workflow and the demands of modern software. 

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