A good laptop for photo editing should have a decent amount of RAM, fast SSD storage and be able to support professional-grade color gamuts. Additional handy features should include ports for attached hard drives and other accessories and dedicated graphics cards.
Ultimately you'll want something fast that can keep up with the needs of high-powered photo-editing programs. This buying guide will introduce you to some of the best laptops for photo editing this year.
How We Picked the Best Laptops for Photo Editing
The laptops in this buying guide were selected through a mixture of hands-on experience, editorial reviews, and user feedback. When selecting the products that appear in this guide, we considered options from a variety of brands that would suit a few different budgets. It was also important to select products with enough processing power to run popular photo editing software.
Best Laptops for Photo Editing: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: 2021 MacBook Pro 16-I inch
Why It Made The Cut: With its large screen and high-capacity RAM capabilities, the new MacBook Pro is our top pick for best overall laptop for photo editing.
— Processor: 10-core Apple M1 Max GPU
— RAM: 16 GB to 64 GB
— Storage: 1 TB to 8 TB SSD
— Massive RAM capabilities
— Beautiful display screen
— M1 Pro Chip
The MacBook Pro’s large display and powerful processing system make it our top choice for photo editing. The newest version of the MacBook Pro also benefits from Apple’s heat-reducing tech so you don’t have to worry about the computer heating up and slowing down while you are editing images. The keyboard has been redesigned as well, making it much more comfortable to quickly edit images using shortcuts or for rating and sorting images after a shoot. It’s one of the more expensive laptops currently on the market, but its massive screen and processing capabilities make this an ideal choice for photo editing.
Best Dell: Dell XPS 15 9510
Why It Made The Cut: The Dell XPS 15 has plenty of ports, a dedicated SD card reader and a nice display.
— Processor: 11th Gen Intel Core i9
— RAM: 8 GB to 64 GB
— Storage: 512 GB to 2 TB SSD
— Fast performance
— Has SD slot for reading cards
— Plenty of ports
One of our favorite Windows laptops for photo editing is the Dell XPS system, thanks to its large display, powerful processing system and plenty of ports. This particular model has a 4K screen, 500-nit brightness capabilities, and a touchscreen. In addition to the dedicated SD card reader, you will find Thunderbolt 4, USB-C, USB-A and HDMI ports — making it easy to plug in a variety of photo editing accessories while using the Dell XPS.
Best Two-in-One: Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Why It Made The Cut: This hybrid laptop tablet is a great lightweight tool for editing photos on the go.
— Processor: 11th Gen Intel Core i7
— RAM: 8 GB to 32 GB
— Storage: 256 GB to 2 TB SSD
— Responsive touchscreen
— Unique design
— No ports
The Microsoft Surface has an intuitive touchscreen that was designed to be used by visual creatives and can be used as a laptop or a tablet, thanks to its unique dual hinge design. Although it lacks ports, if you are someone who stores most of their files in the cloud, this could be a good choice for you. The 11th-Gen Intel processor and its RAM capacity make it an excellent tool for editing photos on the go.
Best Under $1,000: 2020 MacBook Air
Why It Made The Cut: The M1 chip, lightweight design, and reasonable price point make the MacBook Air one of our favorite lower-cost editing machines.
— Processor: Apple M1
— RAM: 8 GB to 16 GB
— Storage: 256 GB to 2 TB
— Lightweight design
— Excellent battery life
— Lower cost than MacBook Pro
— Limited ports
Look for models made in 2020 or later of the MacBook Air to take advantage of the powerful Apple M1 chip, rather than the older Intel CPU chip. The new chip makes the Air nearly three times faster than previous models. The new chip also means longer battery life, as the newer MacBook Airs can run for nearly 18 hours on a single charge. This model includes the same scissor-switch keyboard that's found on the MacBook Pro. It has a 13-inch display and only weighs 2.8 pounds, making it one of the best lightweight laptops on the market. This combination of features all come in at slightly under $1,000, and given its photo editing capabilities, it’s a steal.
Best Budget: HP Chromebook 14
Why It Made The Cut: This ultra-budget laptop runs on Google’s ChromeOS and only costs a few hundred dollars, making it one of the least expensive tools on the market for photo editing.
— Processor: 1.1 GHz celeron
— RAM: 64 GB
— Storage: 64 GB
— Low cost
— Good battery life
— Compatible with Google Play apps
— Limited RAM
— Can’t use Windows software
The extremely budget-friendly Chromebook operates on Google’s ChromeOS, making it compatible with apps in the Google Play Store that you’d typically download on your Android phone. Although it won’t be able to run Windows software — like Photoshop — apps like Lightroom Mobile or Google’s Snapseed are compatible and will allow you to edit images. Despite its bargain price, the Chromebook has a great 14-inch Full HD 1080p screen and up to 11 hours of battery life on a single charge. Although it lacks the high capacity storage and RAM of some of the other laptops in this buying guide, you simply can’t argue with the price. This is a good budget choice for image editing.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Laptop for Photo Editing
RAM and Storage
RAM and storage are two of the most important specs to pay attention to when shopping for a laptop for photo editing. RAM determines how fast the computer can process data, which affects how fast photo editing programs will run. A laptop with more RAM will be more efficient at running powerful programs like Adobe Photoshop — especially if you are taking advantage of some of the advanced AI-powered features. Storage refers to how much space a laptop has for storing files. We’d recommended storing files on an external drive and in the Cloud rather than taking up valuable storage space on your laptop, but you’ll also want to make sure you have a laptop with enough storage to be able to store photo editing programs and work-in-progress files.
Laptops are designed to be portable machines and if you are editing on the go, it's important to have something that will continue working even when you aren’t close to a power outlet. We’d recommend looking for something with a battery life of at least eight hours, although with today’s advanced processors it's not unusual to find laptops that can run for nearly 18 hours on a full charge.
Q: What laptop do most photographers use?
The majority of professional photographers use an Apple laptop for photo editing, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t photographers out there who prefer editing on a Windows laptop. Apple is typically the preferred laptop for most photographers because it’s been the industry standard in the creative world for a number of years and is probably the system that most pros learned on at school or during the early part of their career.
Q: Which laptop is best for Photoshop and Lightroom?
Laptops that have at least 16 GB of RAM are the best choices for running programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, but the more RAM your computer has the more efficiently the program will be able to run. This is especially true if you are looking to take advantage of advanced features with the program that use AI technology.
Q: Do I need a 4K laptop for photo editing?
You absolutely do not need a laptop with a 4K screen for photo editing. In most cases, a laptop with a 1080p and 99 to 100 percent sRGB should be plenty for editing images. If you want a 4K screen to zoom in on the tiny details of an image while editing, we’d recommend connecting your laptop to a separate 4K monitor rather than splurging on a laptop with a 4K screen.
Final Thoughts on Laptops for Photo Editing
The best laptops for photo editing will have plenty of RAM, fast processing speeds, a decent amount of storage and a great screen—but for this mixture of features, you will probably end up paying somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000. Although budget options certainly exist, they’ll likely have less internal storage and less RAM, meaning they won’t be ideal for running programs like Adobe Photoshop.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.