For photographers, the most important part of their technological arsenal, after their cameras of course, is a good computer. Modern computing trends have seen an increasing number of people shy away from owning a bulky desktop computer, due to its many limitations, leaving more versatile laptops to fill the gap.
A laptop is a smart choice for a photographer because it allows a certain fluidity of movement suited to the potential lifestyle and location changes of the amateur and professional photographer. While a desktop computer chains you to a desk or workstation, a laptop allows a constant stream of different office spaces, making your workflow both enjoyable and effective. Laptops allow photographers to travel with ease, tend to be easier to use, cheaper to buy, and hold more of their original value during resale.
So, what needs to be considered in buying a photography laptop?
The Ideal Photography Laptop
The perfect photography laptop for you as an individual will depend on your specific needs. For example, if you’re just getting started and just want to look at your photos, you might be able to make do with something simple, like run-of-the-mill PC laptop or notebook. However, if you’re more of an amateur enthusiast or a professional photographer or doing a large amount of editing, or you want to make a technological investment, here is what you want to look out for:
Screen Size & Resolution:
If you’re going to be sorting and editing all of your images on this laptop, you want to make sure that it has a screen that will do your images justice. What you want is a screen that is big enough for you to work through your images (13” inches is probably the minimum size) as well as of a high enough resolution that you can edit at a pixel level and have accurate color reproduction.
The big thing you’ll likely be doing on your photography laptop is processing images. No matter the software you’re using to do this, a decent graphics card is a must. You laptop will use the graphics card to open and display images, as well as during the editing and adjustment stage of your workflow, and better a better graphics card will speed this process.
This is not something a lot of photographers think about, but it is important. Not many photographers will recommend using your laptop as the only storage location for your images (cloud storage and portable hard drives are other popular choices). However, it is likely you’ll need space to store temporarily while you work on them, so a reasonable amount of hard disk space is a must.
If you aren’t sure exactly what a processor does, it’s all about speed. The more advanced, and often the newer, the processor on your laptop is the faster it will be able to process images. This means working faster with photoshop and lightroom and an ultimately easier workflow, especially for photographers who shoot in RAW.
For those not familiar with what RAM does in a computer, it’s about how many things your computer can do at the same time. This means that having more RAM might make your computer seem like it’s running faster, especially when moving from one program to another. However, this especially important for photographers editing images as programs like Photoshop and Lightroom tend to be very exhausting on a computer’s RAM, and therefore speed.
As you’re now a little bit more familiar with just what goes into a great photography laptop, let’s have a look at the top five models, both in terms of customer choice as well as specifications and features.
HP’s new Envy 17-j120us looks like a laptop with some considerable potential. It features the new Intel processor, a Haswell i7-4700MQ, as well as better-integrated graphics and the double storage whammy of a hard disk drive and a solid-state drive. Other features of interest include the Windows 8 operating system, 12GB DDR3 memory, 1TB 5400rpm hard drive, 1600 x 900 pixel HR resolution and first year warranty.
For photographers, the benefits of the HP Envy 17-j120us are in the screen size, the display resolution and the memory storage and RAM. With a large 17-inch screen that provides quite good resolution, your images will look smart. Plus, the large storage space and the 12GB of RAM will see higher end editing suites like Lightroom and Photoshop running at their peak speeds.
Some complaints about the HP Envy 17-j120us have been in its keyboard ergonomics, and in the occasional issues that the fan has in keeping up with the computer’s performance, leading to higher internal temperatures. However, these slight issues are offset when we look at the other benefits of the HP Envy 17-j120us.
These include the fact that it has 4 USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, ideal for moving photographs from one place to another. It also comes with a HDMI input, for displaying your images on another screen if necessary. The HP Envy 17-j120us comes with a webcam, incredible quality sound (think 4 x speakers with dual subwoofers), an in-built microphone and a fingerprint reader. These may not all sound totally relevant to any photography laptop, but they are worth mentioning in terms of all-around use of the laptop, enjoyable operation and security.
One of the biggest selling points of the HP Envy 17-j120us is that it combines a number of strong features that are perfect for a photographer, in a package just 6.2 pounds in weight and costing under $1000.
In terms of value for money, you won’t find anything much better than the ASUS N56VM-AB71. It retails for around $1000 while offering features that wouldn’t be standard for computers twice its price. It offers an Intel Core i7-4700HQ processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB 7200rpm hard drive, 15.6-inch HD touchcreen display, a Nvidia GTX850M 2GB Graphics card, Bluetooth and more, all in a package weighing just 6 pounds.
Although the ASUS N56VM-AB71 screen is not as big as the HP Envy’s, it holds the advantage for some due to the computer’s touchscreen capabilities. Now, if you’re not interested in touchscreen, or you don’t know how to use it, the ASUS N56VM-AB71 might just change the way you work with images. The touchscreen doesn’t just allow more flexibility, its display performance for color is noteworthy.
One of the reasons that the ASUS N56VM-AB71 excels above computers more advanced is that it offers a dedicated graphics card. Having a dedicated graphics card means that you can speed up image processing tasks like rendering as well as image editing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop. Additionally, the ASUS N56VM-AB71’s hard drive offers much fast rpms than the HP Envy, meaning it moves faster and keeps itself cooler.
The ASUS N56VM-AB71 has caught some criticism over manufacturing faults, however the computer comes with a one year parts and labor warranty that should sort any unexpected problems out. Certainly, for a photographer looking for a PC option in their photography laptop, the ASUS N56VM-AB71 performs very well in its price range.
Apple’s Macbook Air has been a popular computer since its first release in 2008. Now, after a few years of perfecting the idea, Apple has been able to release a laptop that is not only lightweight, but also durable and high performing. Like a number of computers in the Apple range, the Macbook Air has optional additions and extras, depending on your budget.
The particular model we’re going to look at here is the newest basic level model, which retails for around $1000. This model offers a 13.3-inch LED backlit glossy widescreen display with 1440 x 900 resolution, Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 4GB onboard memory (RAM) and 128GB flash based storage.
The first thing that most people think about the Macbook Air model is that it seems to come up short in two major areas: the storage and the RAM. Yes, 128GB is probably nowhere near enough space, and the 4GB RAM will quickly fall behind the needs of both photographers. But, at this price range offering more wouldn’t be an option. A 256GB drive and 8GB RAM are available on higher priced models.
Where the Macbook Air more than makes up for this is in its impressive battery life. For standard tasks, the Macbook Air boats about 12 hours of battery life, possibly because of a larger battery. This means the computer works for an entire day of various tasks, and even when using photo-editing programs, the battery holds up well. Its flash based storage also means that the Macbook Air boots up faster, and is generally faster during use, a must-have feature for the busy photographer.
Of course, what is easy to love about the Macbook Air is the amount of freedom it gives for those who love Apple computers. Offering lightweight transportability at less than 3 pounds in weight, along with all the Apple bonuses, the Macbook Air is a competitive option.
There are a few different models of the popular ASUS Zenbook, so if you like the basics but want to change something there very well may be an option to suit you. The specific one we’re looking at today in comparison with our other photography laptop options is the ASUS Zenbook UX301LA-DH71T.
This particular model, which is a higher range model retails for around $1700-$1800, features the Intel Core i7-4558U processor, a 8GB RAM, two 128GB solid-state hard drives (for a total capacity of 256GB) and a 13.3-inch touchscreen display with 2560 x 1440 resolution. The entire laptop is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 3, offering durability and scratch-resistance, and weighs just 2.6 pounds.
As with the other ASUS, the ASUS Zenbook shines with its touchscreen technology. Although this particular model has a smaller screen size, the higher resolution image potential, hand-in-hand with the touchscreen capabilities, but the Zenbook above the ASUS N56VM-AB71.
Another notable feature of this laptop are the solid-state drives. If you aren’t familiar with them, solid-state drives have only been added to laptop computers in the last few years. For photographers, they offer a lot more security and stability (at a cost). The drives have a longer life expectancy, perform faster and more effectively, are smaller, and are more shock resistant (therefore boasting a lower fail rate). This means that your images, precious as they are, are in good hands on a solid -tate drive.
What ultimately sells the ASUS Zenbook as a great photography laptop is the fact that it’s lightweight and transportable, without sacrificing anything in terms of quality or performance.
The first thing that you need to be aware of when you’re thinking about getting a Macbook Pro is that they’re very expensive. Buying one is a financial investment of between $1200-$2000 or more. Although this guarantees that you’re getting one of the best laptops on the market, certainly the best in Apple’s line-up, it isn’t cost-effective for everyone.
The Macbook Pro we’re going to be looking at now is not the highest range laptop, as it would be too out of the league of the other photography laptops we’re comparing. Instead we’re going more midrange, around the $1,500 mark. This is still a big investment, but for this the Macbook Pro offers a 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 resolution screen, Interl Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB flash-based storage and Intel Iris Graphics card.
The Macbook Pro is the perfect laptop for looking at your images, at editing at your full potential. The gorgeous screen isn’t just high resolution, it’s a Retina Display that offers incredible pixel density and reduces glare for high-quality effective use. Along with the large RAM and 256GB flash-based storage drive, both of which work towards a faster machine, the Macbook Pro can handle a variety of different editing apps and needs.
For the real investment, consider upping the already impressive Macbook Pro to include a 512GB hard drive, 15.4-inch Retina Display and 16GB RAM.
Making The Decision
There are so many things to look into when trying to decide on a photography laptop to suit your needs. Cost is certainly important, but so too are the specific features that best service your individual photographic needs.
For example, if you’re looking for ease of transport, the lighter weight Macbook Air is a fine option, but if its quality at cost then the HP Envy or the ASUS N56VM-AB71 might be more your style.
In the end though, cost aside, it comes down to just two. For those who aren’t comfortable working on Apple’s operating system, the ASUS Zenbook offers the highest quality PC option out of our selection. But for those that love Apple for their design-conscious layouts and sleek finishes, the Macbook Pro stands above and beyond all of its competitors with an artistic freedom that must be experienced to be believed.