The second most crucial item besides your camera is a computer to see the results and make fine-tune adjustments. And while the laptop was historically not a primary tool in a photographer’s arsenal, things have changed. And once a device reserved for casual browsing has evolved into a full-fledged replacement for large and clunky desktop PCs.
Now, these days, the laptop you choose is equally as important as your camera, as you’ll spend a vast amount of time processing and editing images there. And it’s not an area to overlook. Thankfully, today’s laptops boast the highest specifications seen to date, with ever-increasing speeds and capabilities that easily match equivalent high-end desktops. And today’s photographer has plenty of powerful options well-suited for editing in the field or on the go.
Many even offer high resolution 4K displays with stunning color and detail to match a discerning eye while weighing less than 4 lbs. But, purchasing the best laptop for your needs will prove to be no less than a Herculean task. And it doesn’t help that the top manufacturers are continually releasing new models, with ever confusing model numbers and subtle differences. There are also several significant factors to consider when looking for a laptop dedicated to photography. In today’s post, we’ve compiled a detailed guide covering the main factors to consider between laptops. And we’ll also cover the top ten best laptops for editing photos in the current market.
Jump to a Section
- 12 – Microsoft Surface Pro 8
- 11 – Lenovo Zenbook Duo 14
- 10 – LG Gram 17
- 9 – HP Envy 13
- 8 – Razer Blade 15
- 7 – HP Spectre x360
- 6 – Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga
- 5 – Acer Aspire 5
- 4 – ASUS Zenbook 13
- 3 – Microsoft Surface Book 3
- 2 – Dell XPS 15
- 1 – Apple MacBook Pro
- Buyers Guide
- Why Choose a Laptop for Photo Editing? Laptop vs Desktop, which is best?
- How to choose a laptop for Photo Editing
- How will you use this laptop?
- What should you look for in a laptop for photography?
- Operating System
- CPU & Processor
- Display Color Accuracy
- Type of Display
- Hard Disk
- External Displays
- Graphics card/GPU
- Battery life:
12 – Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Released in 2021, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 launches an altogether new lineage amongst the ongoing Surface line. And it brings a substantial redesign that takes cues from the Pro X and ups its power too.
With the Pro 8 Microsoft refined the design, now introducing a sleeker chassis and a larger display due to its thinner bezels. We also see a welcomed 120 Hz refresh with more resolution, providing an even smoother visual experience with 100% sRGB coverage to boot. Plus, we see the new Slim Pen 2, which capitalizes on Windows 11 for superior translations that closely match the feeling of drawing on canvas, ideal for detailed retouching. Microsoft has even opted for a more environmentally friendly design by using recycled anodized aluminum rather than traditional magnesium alloy.
Together, we get an even more high-end and premium tablet. Yet, one that’s more attractive with display real estate that compares directly to a dedicated laptop. But at only 1.96 lbs without the keyboard it’s far lighter than an ultrabook, making it ideal for those wanting utmost portability. Otherwise, the laptop itself features an 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GBs RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. But you can configure this model with up to 32 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD. Other features include two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, and an IR camera. Microsoft also rates the laptop for 16 hours of battery life and offers a 1-year warranty.
Overall, even though Microsoft sells the keyboard and stylus separately, which bumps up the price point, the Surface Pro 8 remains the top option amongst 2-in-1 laptops. And now it brings higher-end performance, a refreshing design, and a superior stylus to this ever-popular lineup. So if you’re in the market for a convertible laptop or you want maximum portability, this is currently the strongest option around.
11 – Lenovo Zenbook Duo 14
Released in 2021, The ZenBook Duo 14 joins the dual-screen niche and shows the companies vested in the concept. The Duo lineup already had several dual-screen models, but this latest 14-inch variant stands as the smallest of the group.
Even so, it delivers and refines this concept quite considerably. Namely, it has an updated ultra-light design that’s now 3mm thinner and nearly 1 lb lighter than its original sibling. Yet, it still manages to meet the ultra-demanding MIL-STD 810H test for durability. It also brings dual 1080p equivalent touchscreens with 400 nits of brightness and 100% sRGB coverage. The smaller display here, called the ScreenPad Plus, also tilts, angling away from the keyboard for an easier view and offers better air circulation for cooling.
And it’s ideal when used as a secondary display, handy for, say, Spotify, reference images, or customizable shortcuts for Photoshop and Lightroom. And this functionality delivers a desktop-like feel, which is rare amongst the competition. Otherwise, the laptop itself features an 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8 GBs RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. But you can configure this model with up to 32 GB RAM, a 1 TB SSD, and an optional Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU. Other features include a USB 3.2 port, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, a microSD slot, an IR camera, a stylus, and a headphone jack. Lenovo also rates the laptop for 17 hours of battery life.
Overall, the Zenbook Duo 14 is an excellent option for photographers wanting added screen real estate and general functionality. And it brings an innovative design without the premium price tag that generally comes with this form factor. So, really, if you can live with the smaller keyboard and touchpad, it’s a strong option indeed.
10 – LG Gram 17
Released in 2020, LG’s Gram 17 is their latest ultra-slim laptop that unveils a new standard. LG offers this laptop in sizes ranging from 13-17 inches.
With this release, they set out to push the bounds below the 3 lb gold standard in the ultraportable segment. And with a running weight of 2.98 lbs, they’ve done just that. And the Gram 17 marks the lightest laptop in the class. Indeed, its measurements even match that of several 13 and 14-inch rivals. But, its 17-inch screen offers superior screen real estate and a more comfortable experience. This laptop uses a dark-silver magnesium carbon alloy frame with military-grade durability.
And it features a 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor, up to 16 GBs RAM, and up to a 1 TB SSD. Additionally, it houses a 17-inch WQXA 2K IPS display with brilliant color rendering and razor-sharp details. Other bonuses include a full-sized HDMI, three USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, a MicroSD card slot, a headphone jack, a fingerprint reader, and 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. LG also includes a one year warranty and rates the battery life at 17 hours.
Overall, while pricey, the Gram 17 offers several highlights features few other notebooks of its size can match. And it’s an excellent choice for those wanting a lighter than average 17-inch laptop or travelers who prefer a big-screen view.
9 – HP Envy 13
Released in 2019, HP’s Envy 13 is their latest release in the upscale Envy brand positioned just above the Pavillion line. And it replaces their highly-acclaimed Spectre 13 laptop. HP offers this laptop in sizes ranging from 13-17 inches.
The Envy 13 uses a classic clamshell design. And it uses a sleek anodized aluminum chassis available in two color combinations, either Natural Silver or Pale Gold. But, at only 2.88 lbs, it’s supremely lightweight. The laptop features a 10th generation Intel Core i7, NVIDIA’s GeForce MX GPU, up to 16 GBs RAM, and a 1 TB SSD. And it also has a 13-inch 4K IPS touchscreen with 100% sRGB coverage and 400 nit brightness. They’ve also mounted the display to a cantilever hinge, which props up the keyboard at a more comfortable typing angle. Other features include two USB 3.1 ports, a Thunderbolt 3 port, a MicroSD card slot, IR camera, a fingerprint reader, a headphone/microphone combo jack, and 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. HP also includes a 3-year limited warranty and rates the battery life at 12 hours.
Overall, HP’s Envy 13 is quite the bargain considering its feature set. And compared to similarly configured rivals, it offers an excellent proposition. It’s not perfect, but it’s a powerful contender in the ultra-portable segment. And it’s a solid choice for those wanting an all-rounder that’s a stylish alternative to other ultraportables that cost hundreds more.
8 – Razer Blade 15
Released in 2020, Razer’s Blade 15 is their latest high-end gaming ultrabook. And a release that’s made quite a name for itself given its hardware configuration, elegant design, and balance between power and portability.
The base model sports the same premium unibody design with a CNC aluminum chassis and anodized black finish. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of recent Apple devices. But, considering the primary target demographic, it’s easily the most handsome design available. It also obtains the Chroma backlit keyboard, allowing you to change the keyboard accent color freely for an added flair. The laptop itself also features a 9th generation Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX GPU, up to 16 GBs RAM, and a 256 GB SSD.
And it has a factor calibrated 1080p full HD display with 100% sRGB coverage and 300 nit brightness. Other features include two USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, HDMI, a headphone/microphone combo jack, IR webcam for Windows Hello, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity. Razer also rates the battery life at 7.5 hours.
Overall, the Razer Blade 15 not only dominates the latest triple-A titles, but it does so in style. And it’s an excellent option for those wanting a more gaming-oriented machine as a bonus. But one that carries forth this line’s legacy and is easily attractive enough to show off in public.
7 – HP Spectre x360
Released in 2020, HP’s Spectre x360 marks their latest flagship release in the Spectre lineup. And it aims to impress with quality, style, and a high-end feature set. HP offers this laptop in sizes ranging from 13-15 inches.
It sports an anti-glare aluminum chassis resisting flexing and fingerprints available in either Nightfall Black or Poseidon Blue. This laptop shines in its 2-in-1 convertible design, which flips, converting it into a tablet. And this design is ideal for presentations or working in tight spaces such as airlines or cars where traditional clamshell designs are limiting. HP’s also slimmed things down a bit from earlier models to 4.24 lbs, making it one of the lightest convertible laptops around. The laptop itself features a 10th generation Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce MX GPU, 16 GBs RAM, and a 512 TB SSD. Alternatively, you can upgrade to get the latest 11th generation Core i7 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU. But, easily the highlight feature, without a doubt, is the optional 4K AMOLED touchscreen with 10-point touch support.
The AMOLED technology sets this display apart, delivering intense and rich blacks and excellent contrast. And it’s also bright at 340 nits and covers 100% of the DCI-P3 gamut. But, you can switch color spaces via HP’s Display Control App, if needed. Other features include two USB-C ports, both supporting Thunderbolt 3, 1 USB 3.1 port, a headphone/microphone combo jack, a MicroSD card reader, IR camera, webcam kill switch, a fingerprint reader, HDMI, and 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. HP also offers a one year warranty and rates the battery life at 7.5 hours.
Overall, HP’s Spectre stands alone as the only 15-inch 2-in-1 laptop with a high-end AMOLED screen and latest processor. And it offers unmatched functionality that’s a must for those wanting the added versatility with plenty of performance that refines this entire niche. And it’s their best iteration yet.
6 – Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga
Released in 2019, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, now on its 5th generation, is lighter and even more flexible. And it shows the lineup doesn’t need carbon fiber to compete while putting a new spin on the traditional business laptop.
It sports a CNC aluminum and magnesium chassis rather than the previous model’s traditional carbon fiber. However, this change has allowed Lenovo to make the laptop both thinner and lighter. And weighing only 3 lbs, it’s lighter than many other 13-inch rivals. Yet, it remains equally as durable and robust, still passing 12 MIL-STD tests across various extreme conditions. The new Iron Grey color is also a nice change of pace in their design, instead of the traditional matte-black. However, compared to their X1 Carbon, which uses a classic clamshell design, the Yoga uses a convertible 2-in-1 design. And this allows it to transform into a tablet or tent for easier viewing. The laptop itself features a 10th generation Intel Core i5, a 1080p IPS touchscreen, up to 16 GBs RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. You can also add the optional WQHD 2.6K IPS display with 100% sRGB coverage and 400 nit brightness. Or really step things up to the 2020 model, which debuts a 10th generation Core i7, 4K IPS panel, and a 1 TB SSD. Other features include stylus storage, two USB 3.1 ports, a Kensington lock, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a network extension port, HDMI, a headphone/microphone combo jack, a fingerprint reader, optional IR camera, and 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity. Lenovo also includes a one year warranty and rates the laptop for 10 hours of battery life.
Overall, Lenovo’s X1 Yoga provides several conveniences and a high-end feature set not offered by rivals. Plus, it does so, boasting a sleek, durable design with everlasting battery life. And it’s quite a powerhouse if you want a better than average 2-in-1 laptop.
5 – Acer Aspire 5
Released in 2020, Acer’s Aspire 5 is aimed at budget-conscious users wanting a no-fuss option with a simple design. This laptop is available in a single 15-inch size.
The Aspire 5 uses a classic old-school design, which remains simple and unobtrusive. And it sports a sandblasted aluminum chassis, which is on par for the entry-level price point, with five color variations. But, at 4.19 lbs, it’s reasonably lightweight given its size. And the laptop itself houses a Ryzen 7 processor, integrated Radeon Graphics, a 1080p IPS display, 8 GBs RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. However, you can configure the laptop with the latest Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce MX card, 12 GB ram, and a 1 TB SSD. Other features include an HDMI port, three USB 3 ports, a USB-C port, 802.11ax, and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. And Acer rates the laptop to deliver 10 hours of battery life.
Overall, while the Aspire 5 may not be the most existing design around, it’s an excellent everyday option. And it’s the ultimate laptop for budget-conscious shooters that can deliver hardcore CPU muscle when the going gets tough.
4 – ASUS Zenbook 13
Released in 2020, the ASUS ZenBook 13 is their best and most recent entry into the long-standing high-end ZenBook lineup.
This latest release comes to market as the world’s smallest 13-inch laptop, weighing only 2.6 lbs and smaller than an A4 sized paper. It also sports a new frameless NanoEdge design for more immersive visuals, the ErgoLift hinge for more comfortable typing, and Screenpad for a second display, handwriting input, or shortcut keys. And while it’s handsome in either Royal Blue or Icicle Silver, it also meets several demanding MIL-STD standards for reliability and durability. The laptop itself features a 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce MX GPU, a 1080p IPS display with 100% sRGB coverage, up to 16 GBs of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. Other features include two USB ports, a USB-C port, a MicroSD card reader, a headphone/microphone combo jack, HDMI, an IR camera, 802.11ax, and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. And ASUS rates the battery at 14 hours per charge.
Overall, the Zenbook 13 substantially improves earlier models and heralds a new era of ultraportable designs. And it’s a laptop traveling photographers will find proud to own.
3 – Microsoft Surface Book 3
Released in 2020, Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 is their ultimate 2-in-1 device to blend flexibility, portability, and power. Microsoft offers this device in two sizes ranging from 13-15 inches.
Book 3 sports a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis with a platinum-silver color scheme. And it merges a conventional clamshell, a 2-in-1, and a detachable PC into a single unit. And this configuration allows you to use the laptop as a standard notebook, an easel, kiosk, v tent, or a standalone tablet. And combined with the optional Surface Pen stylus, it’s arguably the strongest platform for the digital artist. This design also allows the device to sport two additional batteries and a discrete GPU for added power. However, the base model features a 10th generation Intel Core i5, Iris Plus graphics, a 3K IPS touchscreen, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. But, you can configure the device up to a 10th generation i7, NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU, 32 GB RAM, and a 2 TB SSD. Other features include two USB 3.1 ports, a USB-C port, an IR camera, a headphone jack, an SDXC card reader, 802.11ax, and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. Microsoft also includes a one year warranty and rates the battery at 15.5 hours.
Overall, the Surface Book 3 is quite an ambitious device. And given its extensive technical specifications and versatility, it defies the traditions of this category. Sure it’s expensive, but it’s a powerful device with enormous capabilities and the ideal jack of all trades.
2 – Dell XPS 15
Released in 2020, Dell’s XPS 15 is their latest flagship model, now boasting a fresh new design and the latest hardware.
With the 2020 model, Dell’s given this line a facelift. And it uses a CNC machined aluminum chassis, which is 8% thinner without sacrificing essential functionality. They also added diamond cut sidewalls, which are anodized to create a scratch-resistant surface to prevent repeated unplugging damage. This laptop is available in a large range of parts and features. But, the base model offers a 10th generation Intel Core i5, Intel UHD graphic, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. But, you can easily step things up to a 10th generation Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPU, 64 GB Ram, and a 2 TB SSD. Additionally, there are several display options of either 1080p or 4K with touch support, offering 94% DCI-P3 coverage, HDR 400, and 500 nit brightness. Other features include a USB 3.1 port, 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports, an IR camera, an SD card reader, a headphone/microphone combo jack, 802.11ax, and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. Dell also rates the battery at 17 hours.
Overall, it’s clear why the XPS line is such a popular option amongst many creators. It’s a near-perfect premium 15-inch laptop and true desktop replacement. This latest model simply ups an already well-respected platform.
1 – Apple MacBook Pro
Released in 2020, the MacBook Pro ditches the long-standing keyboard, adds more speed, storage, and debuts an industry setting processor. Apple offers this laptop in two sizes, either 13 or 16 inches, with two colors and a sleek aluminum finish.
With this release, Apple unveiled their brand new M1 8-core CPU and GPU, designed specifically for Mac. And this combination delivers up to 2.8x faster general performance and 5x faster graphics processing. They’ve also added their latest Neural Engine, which provides 11x faster machine learning. And this engine assists various automated tasks such as video analysis, image processing, and recognition. The base model features the M1 chip, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. But, you can opt for a higher-end configuration with 16 GBs RAM and up to a 2 TB SSD.
Both setups, however, feature their gorgeous 13-inch Retina Display with a 2.6K resolution, DCI-P3 support, and 500 nit brightness. They also have Apple’s True Tone display, which optimizes the white balance based on the current ambient light to ensure white remains consistent. Other features include two Thunderbolt ports, a fingerprint reader, a headphone jack, 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity. Apple also rates the laptop at 20 hours of battery life, their longest yet.
Overall, the MacBook Pro has long been a status symbol and the inspiration that has given rise to legions of similar windows devices. And with their latest release, they’ve taken their highly acclaimed series to an entirely new level. Sure, it’s expensive, lacks a touchscreen and a convertible design. But, as it stands, the MacBook Pro remains the ideal choice for photographers. And it’s the long-standing top choice for a good reason.
Why Choose a Laptop for Photo Editing? Laptop vs Desktop, which is best?
Many assume that power-hungry applications such as Photoshop, Luminar, and Exposure require a dedicated desktop PC. But these days, the gaps between notebooks and PCs are relatively marginal, particularly when photography is concerned. Even so, there are pros and cons to choosing a laptop over a desktop.
The main reason to opt for a laptop, ultimately, is if you value portability and versatility. Many current laptops feature convertible designs, which flip, rotate, or transform into tablets. And considering they weigh less than 4.5 lbs, they’re more portable and versatile than any desktop. However, the con is that desktops will always offer more power and better raw performance for the same price. They’re also easy to upgrade if you want a different configuration, which isn’t always possible with laptops. So, comparing a notebook to a desktop at the same price, the desktop will always provide a better hardware configuration. Nevertheless, having the freedom to work wherever you prefer is an enormous advantage in practical applications.
In short, you’ll comprise a small amount of processing power for the added portability. Though as a whole, laptops are advantageous to photographers. But, how advantageous depends on your working style.
How to choose a laptop for Photo Editing
Well, this is where the complications start. Editing RAW photos requires a relatively powerful computer as you stack on effects or perform advanced merging. And, in general, choosing the best laptop for photography isn’t about weighing the price to performance ratio, then picking the most powerful. There’s a lot of major manufacturers making high-end well-configured laptops right now. And unless you’re computer savvy, you may not easily understand the difference between a multimedia laptop and a photo editing one, especially if they’re the same price.
So, when it comes to a laptop for editing photos, specifically, you’ll want to weigh the factors differently. Below, we will cover which components are most crucial in order. This will give you a better understanding of what will satisfy your needs without making sacrifices or spending unnecessarily.
But first things first.
How will you use this laptop?
Laptops for “photo editing” can mean various things, from viewing photos to performing complex AI-assisted photo manipulations. But luckily, most of the photography-related tasks require similar hardware capabilities.
So, the next question here is, what else are you doing? Do you also film and produce videos? Do you also want a general productivity-based computer that would double in 3D design, rendering, or other mediums? Or do you have different needs such as gaming or media consumption requiring high-end graphics and sound capabilities?
These are the kinds of questions to consider beforehand, as finding the right computer across all the mediums will vary based on these questions.
What should you look for in a laptop for photography?
Once you have a proper understanding of how you plan on using the laptop, then we can begin assessing the factors. But know, a laptop for photography has different requirements than one aimed at video editing, gaming, or 3D design. Below are the most critical factors for photography laptops ranked in order.
Until recently, MacOS was considered the unofficial standard for photographers and creatives. And many would happily pay a premium for their high-end design, luxurious screens, and long term reliability. And while Apple’s lineup of laptops remains a powerful choice, Windows has thoroughly closed the gap. And many Windows-based devices offer similar capabilities at a much lower starting price. So, the once widely believed myth is no longer factual. And there’s little difference between Mac and Windows today. Both platforms are equally intuitive, powerful, and user friendly. And both support all of the leading photo editing applications, be they free or paid.
But, if you’re not already tied to a particular ecosystem, this is a top consideration. However, this decision is ultimately a personal preference. So choose whichever platform you find the most attractive and user-friendly.
CPU & Processor
The CPU is the brains and the primary controller of a computer. And it single-handedly determines the overall computing performance of a device.
When we edit RAW files, these images can easily exceed 50 MB in size, which is a lot of data to process. And the faster the processor, the better it handles complex batch editing, HDR merging, and photo manipulation. It also will help, not hinder, the real-time rendering and export process, speeding up workflow. Additionally, a fast processor speeds up image culling, preview, and applying effects.
Today’s processors come in four variants, Core i3, i5, i7, or i9. In general, the highest processor in the latest generation is the fastest. With that, a 10th generation Core i7 processor is better than an 8th generation, and the Core i7 is better than the Core i5. Many photo editing applications take advantage of multiple cores to boost general performance and responsiveness. So it’s well worth getting a higher-end CPU if it’s within budget. Right now, this would be an Intel Core i9 equipped laptop in an ideal world, but they’re quite expensive. So, Core i7 options are the next best. However, if you do go with a Core i5 model, look for ones that offer a 7th generation or newer CPU. An example of how far to go back would be the mid-2017 MacBook Pro, as the difference between these latest three generations is quite striking during day to day use.
The next most crucial area to consider is the display. But this particular factor has several subsections, so we’ve ranked them in order below.
The first thing you’ll want to consider here, above all else, is the color accuracy.
Display Color Accuracy
Most people throw around specifications regarding size and resolution when talking about displays. And while these factors are important, they pale in comparison to color accuracy.
Every display has a set supported color range, known as a “gamut.” And the gamut refers to the range and percentage of colors it accurately displays. And the two biggest industry-standards are sRGB and Adobe RGB.
Most displays focus on producing vivid, saturated colors, but not the accuracy needed for professional work. And color accuracy is what ultimately determines whether the colors you see are what your viewers see. For most photographers, you want a display that offers 100% coverage over the sRGB color gamut. Thankfully, this is the most widely used color range used on nearly every device. So for those concerned accuracy, having a display offer 100% sRGB coverage is not negotiable. But, if you’re too worried, look for options with a minimum of 90% sRGB coverage. Otherwise, skip getting a laptop altogether and consider editing on a tablet instead. They’re several affordable options with DCI-P3 support, which is a slightly larger gamut than sRGB.
Type of Display
Today’s laptops generally have one of two majorly display types. They have either IPS (in-plane switching) or TN (twisted nematic).
IPS panels are the most expensive but are the recommended display panels for photographers. With an IPS panel, you’ll get the most accurate color rendering and the best viewing angles. Additionally, they also provide better contrast and more vivid colors. TN panels, however, are the cheapest panels and the default choice. They offer superior refresh rates, which makes them well suited for video games and timing-critical applications. But, they’re not nearly as color accurate as IPS panels. So they’re generally not recommended.
The brightness of the display is another area to take note. Brightness is measured in Nits, usually ranging from 300-600 nits. At a minimum, look for laptops with 300 nits. Otherwise, you’ll have difficulty editing in direct sunlight. 500 nits and up works well outdoors.
The resolution, measured by the number of pixels displayed, is another area of consideration. Although, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Most laptops offer 1080p full HD (1920x1080p) displays as standard. But, you can quite easily find ones offering 2.6K or 4K displays. But, do know, larger screens require higher resolutions to look as sharp as a smaller screen. And they also consume more battery power. Nevertheless, higher resolution displays do provide more fine details and deliver a clearer view.
In general, 1080p screens are great for smaller laptops between 13-14″. While 2.6K or higher is recommended for 15-17″ laptops.
As a factor, this ultimately becomes a personal preference based on how you work. It’s the least important consideration, but it could prove useful if you enjoy using multiple windows or tabs without eye strain. In that case, 17-inch laptops give you the most screen real estate and are ideal for multi-tasking.
When editing photos, your laptop will move large chunks of data, and adequate RAM (access memory) is invaluable here. RAM is where your computer temporarily stores open software and ongoing files. And it’s a substantial factor in determining how well a laptop responds to constant demands, especially when running other programs alongside a photo editor. Simply put, the more memory you have, the better the computer will run when multitasking. And the more smoothly it’ll perform without lagging or crashing.
If your computer doesn’t have enough RAM, it’ll slow and eventually crash the most consuming application when full. Alternatively, it may freeze, forcing you to restart the computer manually. Photoshop suggests a minimum of 2 GBs of RAM. However, we recommended 8 GBs at a minimum, which is typically the standard across today’s laptops as the default configuration.
The only time you’ll need more than 8 GBs is if you plan on multitasking while doing advanced photo manipulation with 50 or more layers. Or you’re using a medium format camera and working with HDR. But, almost all laptops provide the option to upgrade the RAM after the fact. So it’s not a deal-breaker.
Hard drives come in two varieties, traditional disks (HDD) and solid-state disks (SSD). We have a detailed post discussing these differences in depth. But, in short, SSD drives are better across all measures of speed, responsiveness, and reliability. Sure, editing single images in isolation wouldn’t prove to be significantly slower on an HDD. But, considering how they improve overall speed in loading assets by upwards of 4x, they’re a massive advantage. The downside, however, is that they’re more expensive than traditional HDDs. Even so, they’re a must.
Depending on your workflow, the input/output (I/O) setup on a laptop could be of particular concern. For example, a full-sized HDMI port to allow you to connect a secondary display. Or having older USB 3 ports to interface with external hard drives, phones, and other devices.
Eventually, as you hone your skills, you’ll want to get your work’s most accurate representation before printing or publication. And in this case, an external color-accurate display is a must. Very few laptops offer high-end displays that match a dedicated monitor. And at best, they can only get you 90% of the way.
The graphics card (GPU) is responsible for what appears on screen. But, you may be surprised to know that photography doesn’t require a powerful GPU. However, that doesn’t mean that having one doesn’t help and isn’t a valuable tool. Several photo editing applications can capitalize on a GPU via hardware acceleration. And they leverage the GPUs processing power to assist the CPU to speed up rendering and asset loading. But, even so, the effect isn’t drastic enough to make it a deal-breaker or necessity. So, a powerful graphics card is best suited for 3D animation, CAD, gaming, or video editing instead. Or if you want to run dual 4K monitors via USB C or HDMI. But otherwise, the benefits are relatively marginal. And you won’t see a substantial improvement.
Do know, most laptops come with integrated graphic cards built into the CPU, which handles all visual related tasks. So, if you use a graphics-intensive 3D effect or AI-tool, it will load slightly slower.
Size is a personal preference and will vary based on the portability you want. If you prefer a large screen to avoid zooming unnecessarily, you may find a 13-inch laptop too small. Larger laptops also provide better internal cooling, reducing thermal throttling. And their added size also affords better hardware configurations. Poor temperature regulation is an issue that plagues smaller ultra-compact laptops. So it’s an area of consideration if you want the best possible performance available.
However, if you want maximum portability and are willing to compromise slightly on performance, then a 13-inch laptop is perfect. But for many, a 15-inch laptop is the best, as they strike the right balance between size, portable, and performance.
Higher-end laptops will consume more power than a compact ultrabook with lower specifications. And that means they’ll typically have substantially lower battery life. So much so that spending a full day away from an outlet isn’t realistic. In general, expect 7-8 hours for a high-end laptop or 14 hours for a lower-end one.
Some of the extras here include convertible form factors that transform into tablets, touchscreens, stylus support, fingerprint readers, IR sensors, to name a few. If some of the bonus features mentioned are important, look for them while shopping around.