In spite of what the Internet seems to believe, photo editing means a lot more than just some people who have too much free time and have fun moving somebody’s head on somebody else’s body. True photo editing is an art, and it encompasses more than just making people on the Internet laugh. It starts with small things, such as removing somebody’s annoying forehead pimples from their wedding pictures. Then you go on adding a bit of color where it’s lacking, improving the contrast, shades, hues, lighting, adding filters and various other elements, and you end up having an idealized form of the picture you started with. Finally, you can simply create your pictures, and make them as realistic as if you just shot them yourself, even if they show the Earth having five moons, an asteroid belt, and a herd of floating space dogs.
What we’re trying to say is that photo editing has a good number of applications, starting with practical things like removing non-permanent skin problems such as pimples from somebody’s photos or generally modifying a photo to fit a certain standard, and going all the way to doing things for the sake of the art itself and creating images out of nothing. In order to do that, you will need a good computer, as not just any cheap model can handle high-resolution picture modification, especially since Photoshop software is quite demanding.
In order to give you a little bit of extra help when you’re doing the actual search for a computer, we also compiled a list of what we think are the best laptops for photo editing you can currently find. Here they are:
1. Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW – Editor’s choice
Our top choice for video editing, graphic design, and Photoshop altogether, is a high-performance laptop that doesn’t look like one. In stark contrast with hardcore gaming rigs, this model is instead beautiful and classy, with the well-known Asus brushed aluminum frame. It has an astonishing display, probably the best on this list, a 15.6” UHD IPS 10-finger multitouch, which comes already color-calibrated by Asus for the exact purpose of catering to visual artists.
The processor powering this beautiful item is most commonly found in high-end gaming laptops: an Intel Core i7-6700 HQ, 2.6GHz base frequency and up to 3.5GHz with Intel Turbo Boost, 6MB cache, which comes with the integrated graphics chip Intel HD 530. However, you won’t need to rely on that too much, as this ZenBook also has a nVidia GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5, which is enough for all photo editing apps (at the same time, if you want to). It also has 16GB DDR4, as well as a 512GB SSD which deals with both storage speed and capacity at the same time. In short, it’s the best-suited laptop for visual applications we could find, apart from professional-grade workstations.
2. Apple MacBook Pro MJLQ2LL/A
Apple laptops are extremely popular among visual artists, and it’s easy to see the reason why. After all, you can see everything on the QHD+ IPS Retina display, one of the best on the market and one of the most beloved. This particular model comes with epic resistance to viruses and an interface particularly user-friendly and easy to use. What’s more, it’s also really beautiful, which apparently matters.
This MacBook Pro is powered by a Crystalwell-generation i7, specifically built for MacBooks, 2.2GHz base frequency and up to 3.4GHz with Turbo Boost. It doesn’t have a discrete graphics card, but the integrated Intel Iris Pro is more than enough to handle anything you throw at it, as proven by the excellent reviews. Add 16GB DDR3L @1600MHz, and you’re all good, performance-wise. The Achilles’ heel is that it only has a 256GB SSD, but if you can afford to pay such a price for a laptop, you can afford a 4TB external HDD for $100.
3. Dell XPS 9350-8008SLV
A minimalistic beauty, this model is part of Dell’s most premium class of laptops. It integrates a 13.3” 400-nit QHD IPS Infinity Edge wide-angle display into a minimalistic aluminum frame, only 0.6” thick and 2.8lbs dark. It’s one of the most beautiful designs around, and we’re not talking only about photo editing laptops – it’s one of the most attractive designs in general, definitely on par with any Apple model.
The performance itself is shockingly good for something so small. In fact, it’s quite on par with the MacBook Pro, with an i7-6560U, 2.2GHz and up to 3.2GHz overclocked, which comes with the integrated chip Intel Iris 540, designed for workstation-oriented users. The same 16GB DDR3L are present, and also a little surprise: unlike the MacBook Pro, this model has a 512GB SSD.
4. ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH54
What if you could get performance not too far from the XPS, but for half the price? Our other minimalistic model is another ZenBook. It seems that when Asus is set to do business, it does business. At only 0.5” and 2lbs, this is the tiniest, slimmest, and lightest laptop around here, and it has a beautiful FHD IPS display (quite enough for 13.3”) protected by Gorilla Glass 4, as well as an aerospace-grade aluminum frame.
This ZenBook is equipped with a latest-generation i5-7200U, 2.5GHz and up to 3.1GHz overclocked. It’s a low-voltage unit with excellent performance, and it comes with Intel HD 620 integrated video chip. It has 8GB DDR4 and a 256GB SSD, but that’s quite excellent for a laptop and, in all honesty, it will perform just fine for whatever photo editing software you may need to use.
5. Lenovo Yoga 710 14
Some people may prefer a tablet for visual applications, and that’s completely understandable, especially considering that it’s a lot easier to draw and move things around with your fingers or a stylus than using a mouse or touchpad. This 14” model has a 360o flip FHD IPS 10-finger multitouch display, which is somewhat integrated into a case 0.7” thick and only 3.6lbs heavy.
Performance-wise, the configuration is exactly identical to that of our 13.3” ZenBook, with the same i5-7200U with the subsequent Intel HD 520, 8GB DDR4, and 256GB SSD. It’s also in the same price range. However, the Yoga 710 has the advantage of a bigger display and also being a touchscreen model.
6. Dell XPS 15 Touch
Another expensive model, this XPS is a full-size laptop instead of a 13-incher like the other one above. It is, however, no less slim and in no case less beautiful; in fact, it seems that every laptop designed for photo and video editing is a lot prettier than normal business models. There’s also the fact that it has a 4K UHD IPS Infinity Edge display, which is more than you could possibly ask.
The setup is in every way identical to that of the ZenBook Pro, with an i7-6700HQ, a nVidia GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5, and 16GB RAM. For this price range, we’d like a 512GB SSD, or at least an SSD+HDD combo, but the only problem with this laptop is that it has a 256GB SSD only. Well, you can buy an external HDD whenever you want anyway.
Laptops are not as easily upgradable as desktop computers. In fact, it’s a bit harder to find a good laptop for photo editing than it is to find one for gaming or office use. You have to consider your budget very well because laptops with the appropriate configuration for photo editing tend to be a fair bit more expensive than you’d think. Why is that? Well, here’s what a laptop for photo editing needs to have:
Although there are more important components in general, this particular one makes the difference between a gaming laptop and a photo editing laptop, between something that will allow you to let your art run free and something that will make your photos look entirely different (and worse) in printing.
Unlike with a gaming laptop, you WILL need a display with as high a resolution as you get. QHD is recommended for most applications, while FHD is the minimum requirement and UHD is a bonus if you can get it. There’s nothing more annoying than not being able to see a big photo on full resolution or having your precious details blurred. Also, don’t forget that screen resolution is always connected to screen size. An FHD display on a 13-inch laptop is fantastic, while the same FHD display on a 17-incher is barely meh. If you want a big 17.6” screen, make sure it’s at least QHD to make the most out of it.
Visual artists make a big deal out of having an IPS display, and they have all the rights to do it. Indeed, true IPS displays are miles ahead of the usual TN panels regarding color rendering, the level of blacks, viewing angle and so on. All of these characteristics affect the quality of your work as a photo editor. If your color gamut is not full enough, you will not be able to see the colors properly, i.e. as in real life, which leads to the picture you thought you edited perfectly looking a bit different when printed or on another display because you overcompensated by increasing the contrast and changing the hues. The same goes if the blacks are not black enough, due to a poor-quality backlight. As such, you must seek a perfectly color-calibrated display if you want to get the best out of your skills.
While individual office workers need a narrow viewing angle, so that the colleague sitting next to them cannot see their screen, it’s the exact opposite for photo editors. If the display has a narrow viewing angle and it’s big enough (17.6” laptops are big enough for that to happen), you will see differently the colors at the center and those at the edges of the screen, which is a big problem. As such, a wide viewing angle, of 170o or more, is essential.
The problem with all that is real IPS displays are a bit harder to find than you’d normally think. Read the reviews for the model you want to buy before doing it. Trust us.
As a bonus, a touchscreen laptop will enable you to work using your hands and a stylus instead of a mouse, which is great for managing those annoying little details. While it will be more expensive and consume some extra battery, it’s definitely worth the shot if you can afford getting one.
Just as essential for photoshop as it is for everything else, a good CPU is a must-have for photo editing. This is especially true if your laptop of choice doesn’t have a discrete graphics card, as all the heavy-duty work will fall on the processor.
What’s recommended? Well, anything at the level of or above an Intel i5 of the latest two generations should do. These processors are quite power-efficient and won’t let you down regarding performance either. For more demanding applications, an i7 is advisable, especially since the integrated video chip associated with an i7 will be proportionally more powerful.
AMD processors have an integrated graphics chip miles ahead of their Intel counterparts and, for desktop models, they will do the job perfectly. On the other hand, laptop models are nowhere near Intel processors regarding performance and, as such, we’ll go with Intel on this one.
The graphics card
Is a dedicated graphics card necessary for photo editing? Not really. It’s necessary for video editing and video games, that’s unquestionable, but photo editing will most likely not force your computer enough to justify a discrete graphics card.
For photo editing, just about any modern integrated graphics chip will do, such as those associated with newer i5 and i7 processors. You may see the Intel HD 520, 530, 620, 630, Intel Iris, and so on, all of which are good for photoshop and have 3D rendering capabilities, should you need that. Intel Iris, in particular, is designed for exactly this kind of purpose.
If you want to do some light to medium gaming on the side, you can get something with a nVidia GeForce GTX 940MX, 950M, or 960M, with 2GB GDDR5, and that’s the most you’ll ever need.
The more, the better. No need for much consideration, just get something that has 8GB or more. Pay attention to the type of RAM as well and go for DDR4, which is both the fastest and the least draining the battery. This will enable you to properly use visual tools, which are among the most demanding applications when it comes to memory usage. What’s more, it will allow actual multitasking.
It’s a question of capacity versus speed, for the most part. If you get something with an HDD, that will provide you with enough storage capacity for many, many thousands of pictures. However, copying those images, among other things, will prove to be incredibly slow, especially if you have many smaller files.
On the other hand, an SSD is more expensive and smaller in capacity, but incomparably faster. It will make your applications load a bit more quickly and your OS load a lot faster, and copying files will happen in a flash. It’s not essential for a laptop for photo editing, but it is certainly useful, and we recommend, if possible, to get an SSD-HDD combo, such as 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD. The SSD will be used for the OS and whatever you need to load quickly, and the HDD part will provide you with enough room for everything you need.
Not the most important thing for photo editing in particular, but it is quite significant if you want to do your job outdoors. If you’re a traveling photographer, for instance, and you like editing your photos a bit before publishing them on the spot on a social network, you will need a laptop you can carry with you and a battery that will not fail you after an hour of work. Smaller laptops have the edge on battery life, due to two main factors: they have a smaller display, which is a huge power consumer, and they often lack a discrete video card. As such, it’s not uncommon at all among 13.3” laptops to have 10-hour rated battery life, and even some 15-inchers benefit from 8-hour ratings.
That’s about all when it comes to photo editing. There are other essential characteristics as well, including design, portability, and overall build quality, but they are not as significant for this purpose as the ones listed above.