There’s a common notion among the less tech savvy that a great laptop is a great laptop, period. Invest enough money, aim for the highest specs possible, and you should be fine, right? That’s not quite the case. Chasing down the beefiest specs can result in you spending way more than you need, and working on a budget means that you run the risk of prioritizing the most important aspects for your work.
This is especially true of photo editing laptops. The demands here are different than what you’ll need in a gaming rig or an all-purpose computer. That’s why we’ve created a list of the 11 best laptops for photo editing and provided you with a handy guide for determining the factors that are most important in your search.
- The Best Laptops for Photo Editing
- 1. Microsoft Surface Pro 6
- 2. Razer Blade 15 Gaming Laptop
- 3. Acer Aspire E 15 Laptop
- 4. Apple MacBook Pro 15″
- 5. Dell XPS 15 4k Touchscreen display
- 6. ASUS ZenBook UX433FA-DH74
- 7. Microsoft Surface Book 2
- 8. Huawei Matebook 13 Signature
- 9. Lenovo X1 Carbon Ultrabook
- 10. LG Gram Thin and Light Laptop
- 11. HP Spectre x360 15t Touch
- Best Laptops for Photo Editing Buyer’s Guide
The Best Laptops for Photo Editing
1. Microsoft Surface Pro 6
For the travel photographer, portability is critical, and you'd have difficulty finding a more portable device that better meets your needs than the Microsoft Surface Pro 6. It transitions easily between tablet and laptop mode and even comes with a stylus. That makes it potentially the best laptop for photo editing for photographers who frequently find themselves traveling. There's no doubt that this is more tablet than it is laptop, but its performance puts the Surface Pro's conventional touchscreen counterparts to shame. The stylus in particular is highly responsive.
The fact that this is a tablet hybrid doesn't limit you on using a good photo editor either. The built-in Microsoft Photos suite is actually a pretty respectable choice for some quick work on the go, but you also have support for mobile software like Fotor and Fhotoroom as well as full professional platforms like like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
2. Razer Blade 15 Gaming Laptop
The Razer Blade 15 may be marketed squarely as a gaming laptop, but the same specs that make it great for playing the latest version of Call of Duty also make it a good laptop for photo editing. The crisp FHD resolution and 15" screen offer a level of detail that's really top grade, but that doesn't mean much if you don't have the processor to keep pace. Fortunately, the Blade 15 comes with a meaty RTX 2070 Max-Q card. It's more than enough to meet the needs of any professional.
An important consideration for photographers who don't want to invest in a laptop that will become irrelevant in a year or two is the quality future proofing at work here. A Thunderbolt 3 port is built in, and the dual-channel memory can be updated as needed. It's also primed for an SSD if you need faster, more reliable storage.
3. Acer Aspire E 15 Laptop
If you're looking for a laptop for photo editing under 1000 dollars that won't let you down, the Acer Aspire E 15 has you covered. This budget laptop for photo editing sports surprisingly strong specs. The FHD screen weighs in at a full 15.6 inches, and it's packed with a respectable GeForce MX150. By scaling down the GPU, Acer has managed to justify a lower-range CPU, and that allows them to chip a lot of price off without losing too much in value. It's certainly not the highest performing laptop, but it excels way beyond it has any right to given the price tag.
Especially valuable is the huge number of ports built in. USB ports are especially abundant, with a 3.1, two 3.0s, and a 2.0, and the requisite HDMI, VGA, and SD ports are present as well. In a somewhat retro flourish, there's even a DVD-RW drive.
4. Apple MacBook Pro 15″
Macs were once seen as in an entire different stratosphere from Windows machines for photo editing, and while that discrepancy has drawn far closer, the MacBook Pro is still recognized by many as the best laptop for photography. The flagship feature of this latest MacBook photo editor laptop is the touch bar, and while it may have seen conflicted reception in the general community, it's a revelation for photography editing. The ability to have all of the important functions and macros for your favorite editing software so readily accessible is a great ideal that excels in its implementation.
Beyond that, this is the same old MacBook Pro in terms of specs and performance. It's the fully-optioned version of the world's most luxury laptop for photo editing photography. The bright, big screen is accompanied by a seriously weighty combination of GPU and CPU, and the memory is strong as well.
5. Dell XPS 15 4k Touchscreen display
If the MacBook Pro has a competitor in the popular conversation for the title of best computer for photo editing , it's the Dell XPS. And this laptop for photography retails for a good thousand dollars less. In fact, it does quite a few things better than Apple's high-end machine. The 4k display is truly phenomenal, and this laptop is absolutely loaded with ports that aren't hindered by the proprietary model that Apple is so fond of.
But all of that is tempered by the truly exceptional specs on display here. A generous stash of memory combines with a top of the line GPU and CPU to produce great results even when you find yourself handling multiple tasks at once. This superb PC for photo editing can't quite match the MacBook Pro in sheer performance, but it easily clears the bar of what most photographers will likely need.
6. ASUS ZenBook UX433FA-DH74
The Zenbook is one of the slimmest photo editing laptops around, making it great for those who travel often and prefer to travel light, but ASUS has packed a lot in to this little baby. Great around-the-board features mean the Zenbook can suit not just your photo editing needs but everything you need to accomplish with a computer. It's also a relatively affordable laptop for photo editing.
The i7 processor this laptop uses is an incredibly capable CPU, and an integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics card rounds out those core specs. It won't be able to really thrive in incredibly high resolution editing, but it can accomplish what 90% of photographers will need to achieve with no difficulty. It can serve as a dedicated laptop for hobbyists and semi-pros or a travel companion for serious professionals.
7. Microsoft Surface Book 2
If Microsoft and Apple are like the yin and yang of the personal computing world, the MacBook Pro and the Surface Book 2 are their champions in the arena of high-end laptops. This is by no means a cheap laptop for photo editing, but it's undoubtedly one of the best. Like the Surface Pro 6, it can easily transition between traditional computer and tablet mode. It's remarkably light when used as a tablet but specced and featured with everything you'd want from a high-end machine.
It uses an eighth generation i7 and really manages to make the most of it, and the Nvidia GTX 1060 complements it well. This isn't a one trick pony. It's a highly functional laptop with top end specs that just happens to implement the tablet conversion mode so well that it feels essential rather than just a trendy gimmick.
8. Huawei Matebook 13 Signature
The Huawei Matebook 13 Signature blows the competition out of the water in one category: pricing. This budget laptop for Photoshop comes in at less than a grand, and while it might not meet the demands of the most exacting professional photographers, it's perfectly capable of meeting the needs of most. The trackpad and keyboard are both exceptional, minimizing the sort of navigational frustrations that are so common in more budget-priced laptops.
For the price you pay, you get a lot here: an eighth gen processor, a truly exceptional cooling system, and a sturdy SSD drive that you don't have to worry about getting banged up. All these things, along with the very lightweight design, add up to a laptop that you can take with you anywhere. Nature photographers in particular will love the portability and ease of use here, and they'll also love the lightning fast charging.
9. Lenovo X1 Carbon Ultrabook
The ThinkPad used to be the high watermark for professional design in a laptop. In a market where laptop quality could vary wildly, Lenovo's durable and powerful little machines were perhaps the most trusted names in the Windows market. And while there's more worthy competition today, models like the X1 Carbon still manage to excel. The aesthetic design hasn't changed much over the years, but neither has Lenovo's commitment to quality.
This is an ultraportable laptop, weighing in at roughly two and a half pounds and sporting a very slim profile. The variety of ports, long battery life, and quality keyboard are all standard for ThinkPads, as well as being essential to most photographers. But this ThinkPad really shines through with its color quality. The X1 offers some incredibly solid color reproduction, and it offers a wide breadth of brightness without losing integrity. That's an unfortunate rarity in the market.
10. LG Gram Thin and Light Laptop
The LG Gram is a slim laptop that still manages to pack in a nice 17" screen. That's certainly a rarity, but the combination of portability and a spacious display is one that should especially appeal to photo editors. And despite weighing only a kilogram, there's some muscle behind this laptop. The CPU is a new model i7, and it comes with a number of outlets, including one for the latest Thunderbolt cables.
While the storage may be modest, the SSD's performance is actually pretty impressive. You can look forward to a read of 550.6 MB/sec and a write of 504.9 MB/sec. Similarly surprising for a laptop of this size is the quality of the battery. Doing everyday activities, it can last almost a day, and you can get at least half of that while regularly dealing with the rigors or photo or video editing.
11. HP Spectre x360 15t Touch
The HP Spectre x360 doesn't do much new, but it does a lot right. That's especially true for photographers looking for a good editing computer. The display is bright, vibrant, and most importantly, 4K capable. It offers a clear and crisp resolution without making you charge a fortune for it. The fact that it's a 2-in-1 on top of that gives it additional cache. Three different performance modes allow you to adapt to your circumstances and more comfortably perform your photo or video editing tasks.
Interaction here is impressive as well. The keyboard offers just the right amount of resistance for quick typing, while the trackpad is soft, light, and incredibly responsive to gestures. The HP Active Pen that comes included works well on the high-sensitivity touchscreen, and it even has two programmable buttons built in. The expansive security features include a fingerprint reader and a facial recognition camera.
Best Laptops for Photo Editing Buyer’s Guide
Just because you’re an accomplished photographer doesn’t mean you know your way around computer specs. Fortunately, you don’t need to get a masters degree to understand the basics. Below, we compare photo editing laptops towards those focused on gaming as an illustrative example for what features are important. We also outline the benchmarks you should look for when shopping for a photo editing laptop and cover the specs in a little more detail. Finally, we get briefly into the debate of Macs vs. PCs for creative work.
What’s the Difference Between a Photo Editing and Gaming Laptop?
You may have noticed the presence of the Razer Blade 15 – a laptop targeted specifically towards gamers – on our list. That isn’t a mistake. Fundamentally, gaming laptops and photo editing laptops aren’t that different. Both emphasize a strong GPU as one of the most important hardware components. For gamers, that’s to maximize the graphical processing power. For photo editing, it’s to offer crisper and more authentic images. But there are a few distinctions that set these two types of machines apart.
First is the screen. A good image quality is important to both types of consumers, but gamers tend to emphasize a quality that matters little to none to photographers: refresh rate. This determines the speed at which your computer refreshes the pixels on the screen. It’s a significant factor when you’re trying to navigate a virtual character in a virtual environment but matters next to none when dealing with a still image. Photographers will rather want to focus their attention on the quality of the screen.
Resolution is important here, but just as important is the color gamut. Better color reproduction allows for more genuine and nuanced editing results. An IPS display is the standard all photographers should look for, and you should evaluate any gaming laptop you’re looking at to make sure it uses IPS. Many gaming machines use TN screens instead. They offer worse color reproduction for the sake of a better refresh rate.
Gaming machines tend to emphasize the GPU as the most important piece of hardware. And while a good GPU is critical for photo editing, it’s not the be all and end all. A graphical processor with 8-bit color should be enough to make most photographers happy, but there’s a greater state of diminishing returns than there are for gamers unless you insist on a 10-bit processor. Also important is the VRAM, or video memory, as this will have a major effect when dealing with more complicated images.
For photo editing, your CPU is going to be more important than your GPU. Whether you’re working with Microsoft picture editor or doing Photoshop video editing, any software designed for professional creatives is going to be a resource hog. While the value of GPUs tend to have plateaus for photo editing, each little extra bit of power you can squeeze out of a central processor can have a meaningful effect on your performance when photo or video editing. If there’s any spec you should scrutinize carefully, it should be the CPU.
All that said, these two types of machines aren’t that fundamentally different. Computer build design is all about matching components that complement each other well, and that means that any photo editing laptop worth its price will offer a balance between those components. If there’s one major difference between these laptops in practice (apart from the panel type), it’s the garish designs and bright RGB lighting of gaming laptops. A gaming rig will almost always work perfectly well for photo editing and vice versa.
What to Look For
Not every hardware or spec is equally important when shopping for a laptop for photo editing, and you won’t find a laptop that offers you all the best qualities across the board. That means establishing priorities and making sacrifices. Below we outline what you should look for in your computer.
The CPU is the brain of your computer, and serious photo editing can really push it to its limits. You won’t need a top of the line processor to get your work done, but you will need something reliable. All of our listed laptops apart from the MacBook Pro make use of an Intel Core processor. They’re the leading choice for mid-range and high-end laptops, and they’re going to be a practical necessity if you’re serious about photo editing.
You want to make sure to not settle for anything less than an i5, and you ideally want an i7. Also take the generation carefully into consideration. While generational shifts between processors are often modest, the shift to the eighth generation (known as Coffee Lake) was significant. An eighth generation i5 can often outperform a seventh generation i7.
Desktop users have the luxury of upgrading their monitor as necessary. That’s unfortunately not an option if you’re opting for a photo editing laptop. And since most of these models cost at least a thousand dollars, that’s something you’ll carefully want to consider. The smallest models we feature come in at 12 inches, while the largest come in at over 15. Considering how cluttered the various menus on sophisticated photo editing programs like Photoshop can be, a bigger screen is about more than just how clearly you can see your photos.
Another aspect you can’t exactly upgrade out of is the resolution. FHD is the standard for most of the laptops on our list (with a few strange variations for more tablet-sized screens), but the high watermark are those that offer 4k resolutions. With a level of clarity approximately four times greater, a 4k resolution can be a huge boon for professional photographers, but it also tends to cost significantly more. If you’re a hobbyist or semi-pro, 4k may be unnecessary, but you also want to consider your intended growth as an artist. If you see yourself taking things professional in the next few years – and you’re committed to it – investing a little more in 4k could be worth it to you.
Finally, you need to consider the color quality. It’s an integral component if you want to do photo editing in any serious way. As we mentioned about, investing in an IPS panel is a practical necessity. The color quality is much better than on TN panels, and the refresh rates that TN screens offer are largely inconsequential for photo editing. If you’re really looking to get deep into comparisons, you may want to dig up some more technical benchmarks for the laptops that interest you to see how their color quality looks in practice.
The random access memory of a photo editing laptop is arguably even more important than the GPU. As cameras, both professional and those built into our phones, become more sophisticated, so do the file sizes of a single photo. RAM references the amount of data that can be stored into your computer’s short term memory, so having easy access to it is critical in high-level tasks, and you ideally want something that more than comfortably outweighs the size of the files you’ll be editing.
If you’re doing just casual or semi-professional editing, 8 GB should easily be enough RAM for you. Even larger editing projects can fit comfortably in the memory here. But if you find yourself using Photoshop on an everyday basis, an upgrade may be in order. The complexity of all the layers and effects that go into a Photoshop project can greatly expand the amount of information you’re dealing with. But even then, a good 16 GB of memory should be able to meet the needs of professionals.
We’ve already mentioned how bulky modern photo files can be, especially when you’re working in something like RAW format, and that’s why the storage capacity of your hard drive is going to be important. If you’re a serious photographer, you could be taking hundreds of photos a day, and you want to make sure that you have enough space for your prodigious shooting. And while a terabyte worth of space is something that photographers should ideally aim for, we didn’t make storage space a high priority in ranking laptops.
The display, CPU, or GPU you get are all things you’re largely stuck with, but there are a number of easy options for expanding your storage capacity. The My Passport offers an expansive amount of storage capacity in an external drive the size of your passport, and more and more photographers are looking at cloud storage solutions. If you want to learn more about your options, check out our guide to the best hard drives.
All of the units we list have about a quarter or a half of a terabyte in storage. That should be enough if you have a plan in place for how you organize your photos. We recommend that instead of using the onboard storage as a clearinghouse for all of your photos, treat it as a workspace for works in progress, and employ external methods for anything you’re not actively working on.
The Needs of Video Editing
As more cameras offer both video and still shooting, and the quality of both is improving, more photographers are becoming interdisciplinary. If you have an interest in video, and you’re buying a computer for photo editing, you may want to invest in a laptop that can suit your video editing demands as well. The demands of video editing aren’t all that different from the demands of photo editing, and the spec priority is understandably pretty similar as a result. The CPU and RAM take the highest priority, and a processor with four cores is pretty much a necessity.
A good video editing laptop is essentially going to be the same as a good photo editing laptop but just with more. The demands of the CPU is higher, as are the amount of memory you can expect to use. If you’re taking video editing seriously, you’ll definitely want to check out one of the higher end models like the MacBook Pro or the Microsoft Surface Book 2. You should also keep in mind that the graphical processor is a bit more important, so getting a dedicated rather than integrated GPU is crucial. Avoid any laptops that use the Intel UHD 620.
If you aren’t serious and maybe just want to do a little bit of video editing on the side, don’t worry. Any of these laptops should be up to the task. But you can plan to spend a little more if you want something professional grade.
PC vs. MacBook
There was once the consensus that MacBook photo editing was leagues above what you’d find on a PC. While there was once some truth to that, the reality is a whole lot more different today. The amount of diversity in the Windows PC market means you can’t say anything definitively about what every PC is good for, and there are plenty of specialized models that excel at photo editing.
Make no doubt, the MacBook Pro is probably the best photo editing laptop on our list, but that’s to be expected given its high price tag. Retina brand screens offer maybe the best color performance anywhere, and their screens are universally bright. PCs, by contrast, have a tendency to offer better processing power than Macs. More importantly, they offer better value. With a Mac, you’re paying a premium for the brand name and the reputation for quality.
In short, if you want the absolute best photo editing laptop on the market, look to the MacBook Pro. But you may want to consider exactly how much you need before you decide to throw down the money for it.
If you’re a photographer, a good laptop is going to be your second most important tool (obviously behind your camera). That, and the fact that photo editing laptops can quickly become costly, is why you need to be informed about your purchase. We hope our guide can help you find the direction you need. Happy hunting!