The new Macbook Pro Retina – One photographer’s laptop to rule them all?

Hi gang,

Quick not-so-photography-related blogpost about the new Macbook Pro Retina.

Amazing screen. Amazing thinness. Amazing battery.

Amazing screen. Amazing thinness. Amazing battery.

I recently bought my first Macbook Pro. I had hesitated for a long time before, but didn’t think the price was worth the product. For the same amount of money, you could buy a much better windows laptop right? Not quite.

What finally caught my eye as a photographer was the release of the first Retina Macbook Pro. The price was outrageous and it was a first-generation product which meant bugs and sorts that would be ironed out in the second-generation of the product.

And in october 2013 Apple released this second-generation of Macbook Pro Retina. This time around, they dropped the price, and introduced it to the 13″ versions. I have a giant main editing tower with dual-displays so I was looking for a portable solution. Didn’t need the 15″ version but most of what I say here is applicable to it to.

The main goal was to use it for tethering in-studio and for editing on the go. Not so much retouching as this is never really practical on a laptop when you have to drag you tablet and whatnot, so I settled on editing.

What you’ll read here are my very own, personal findings after toying and working about with this laptop for the first few weeks.

13 & 15 inch. Incredibly thin. Photo by Apple

13 & 15 inch. Incredibly thin. Photo by Apple


Although I’ve unpacked new laptops before, none comes close to the minimalistic purity of Apple. The box is tiny and basic. Lift the cover and there’s your Macbook. No foam inserts, no cardboard cutouts, just clean. A thin piece of protective plastic. Lift it up and you’ll find the charger and a small booklet. Unlike all other laptops, you don’t get manuals in Philippino, Cyrillic, Portuguese and about another dozen or so languages youll never read. I’m not a tree hugger, but I always found that to be such a waste of paper.

2. The Laptop

When I first lifted it up I had to check the box to make sure it was a Macbook Pro and not a Macbook Air. It is incredibly thin. The power vs package ratio is AMAZING.
I ordered a custom configuration to suit my photo-processing needs. I loaded it up with 16Gb of RAM, 256GB SSD and a 2.6Ghz processor. One of the biggest complaints I had about the device was when I was ordering. NOTHING is upgradeable after your purchase. The RAM and battery are soldered to the motherboard. The device you order is the one youll be stuck with. At first this was almost a deal-breaker to me. Apple’s RAM and SSD are outrageously priced and I loathed the fact I couldn’t upgrade later. That means you have to heavily invest now. However, I bit the bullet and ordered.

I only understood why they did this when I picked it up.Looking back retrospectively now I understand why they are doing this. Every single internal device and piece of hardware is engineered to the millimeter to fit into this machine. That’s how they get it so compact. That’s how they manage to pack so much punch into this package. If you have to design a laptop so that every component can be upgraded afterwards, you will never be able to make such a small package.

The aluminum unibody is also wonderful. One of the things I always loathed about working on laptops for an extended time is the fact that the device gets warm after a time. This aluminum stays cool most of the time.

Not too many ports. Photo by Apple

One definite negative thing is the few ports the device has. I understand the need of portability but this is really on the bad side. 2 USB3 ports, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports and thats it for storage. Ill have to learn to live with it I guess. I did like the SDHC card reader incorporated. Smart move since CF cards are slowly dying out.

3. The Screen

THE thing that persuaded me to upgrade was the screen. Retina displays with 2560×1600 resolutions are fan-freaking-tastic for photo editing. The Macbook delivers on this perspective. Colors are lovely and crisp-sharp. Incredible. Editing in Lightroom is an experience like no others on this machine. There’s really nothing more to say about it. It’s amazing. They got rid of the ghosting issues the first-generation Macbook Retina’s suffered from. Amazing.

If you are buying this laptop for word processing or such, don’t spend the dough, it’s useless. But image retouching has never been this enjoyable.

The Retina advantage is quite clear

The Retina advantage is quite clear

The Retina Advantage.

The Retina Advantage.

4. Battery life

Another important aspect that guided my choice of laptop was battery life. I wanted a laptop that could go for hours. Be it in-studio or on location, its always handy and my experience with windows laptops was never phenomenal.
Once again, Apple blows it out of the water here. Apple says the battery life will last for 9 hours, but with the screen dimmed a bit (but not much) it lasted for a little less than 11hours whilst tethering with my camera during a timelapse sequence. A little less than 11 friggin’ hours. Amazing.
Once again, looking at how the Macbook is engineered, its only because it is non-user replaceable that they manage to obtain this. They cram bits and pieces of battery everywhere.

5. Mavericks OS X

The biggest change was definitely going to be the adaptation to Mac OS X.
I managed it quite well, there aren’t that many differences, and both systems work well.
I’m not going to go into a whole Windows versus OSX flamewar here, but after using it for a couple of weeks I like it. I also like Windows 8. Microsoft amped up their game and it was responsive, fast, and useful. to me both OS’es are about on the same level. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but there is no clear winner.

The only thing I noticed is that lightroom seems a little for responsive on OS X, but that’s no scientific test. My observations.

However, as a product, the Macbook IS superior to almost all the Windows laptops I’ve worked with.
Yes, they are more expensive. Yes, they are less and less upgradeable. Yes, you can get a better setup for the same amount of money probably.
But then there are the advantages of Apple.
OS X only has to take a finite number of hardware pieces into account. There are only 3 processors, RAM types, graphics cards and such that are used in their hardware. This allows them to optimize their operating system for that hardware in ways Microsoft can’t even dream. They are doing a great job, but its a race they cant win. They have to be compatible with millions and millions of software bundles, hardware pieces and configurations. It is impossible for them to optimize it they way Apple does.

Then there is the device itself. The construction, battery and such. These work wonderfully well for this laptop.

All in all, is this the best laptop? Nope. Not at all. If you only need a laptop for word processing or such, you’ll be much better of with a 500$ windows laptop.
Is this the best laptop for photographers? I do believe so. The screen, OS integration, battery life and such are perfect for us. It is more expensive, but the quality is unparallelled.

Heartly recommended.


One thought on “The new Macbook Pro Retina – One photographer’s laptop to rule them all?

  1. Larry M Jones says:

    After researching and comparing 13″ and 15″ Mbps formy needs your article help me to decide on 13″. I have 2 24″ hi def monitors with my pc and I wanted a Mbp to travel and use around the house in different rooms. The 13″ size makes it ideal.

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