Sooner or later your desktop or laptop computer will require replacement and that usually happens at the worst possible time, with little time to research your replacement options.
One option that has become completely viable is for photographers to substitute a lightweight laptop and external high-resolution monitor for an existing desktop / laptop combination. This reduces the hassle associated with transferring files between computers while providing both mobility and a large-screen image editing experience.
With this in mind, we are looking at some best in class laptop computers so we can prepare for that day when we have to move quickly.
First, lets look at a few of the top laptops keeping in mind that they are intended to be taken into the field and so should not be too large. This first examination is purely technical and does not include an evaluation of other important issues such as software, ease of repair and technical support,
It is difficult to find fault with any of these machines, and with these specifications, any one of them is likely to have at productive lifespan of at least five years. All of the laptops in the comparison can be configured with a 7th generation i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SDD drive.
- You’ll be happy with any of these displays. They are all big, bright, and beautiful with wide gamut color. The XPS computers have the highest native resolution.
- The Surface Book 2 and XPS Touch can be optionally configured with a 8th generation i7 processor which promises higher speeds and increased battery life.
- The XPS Touch can be configured with a 1TB SDD drive.
Two of the laptops on the list have a convert-to-tablet feature, and one has a touch screen. Tablets are handy for impromptu presentations to clients and for using on airplanes, but with the advent of smartphones with larger screens, I find I use my tablet significantly less than I did a few years ago. Another option is a conventional laptop with a touch screen such as the XPS Touch. If you require touch, and don’t mind the tradeoffs in durability/complexity or the hassle of keeping your screen clean, the Surface Book 2 or one of the XPS computers are your choices – Apple does not currently offer a touch enabled MacBook / MacBook Pro.
A field/travel laptop, particularly one that does double duty as a desktop, requires a variety of different cables and connectors. The Windows laptops in this comparison offer a variety of ports and include an SD card reader, whereas the Apple laptops have standardized on USB-C throughout. I’m a fan of USB-C , and like HDMI and USB-A before it, USB-C promises to simplify our lives via the convenience of standardization. In the meantime, however, a dongle, docking station or adapter is required to connect non USB-C devices. In my opinion, a photo laptop requires a minimum of two USB-C ports (ideally Thunderbolt 3). An internal SD card reader is also a definite advantage.
Thunderbolt 3 connects via a standard USB-C port and is capable of data speeds up to 40GBs, while simultaneously driving 4K monitors, charging the laptop, and daisy chaining USB-C devices.
- The MacBook Pro has a total of four Thunderbolt 3 ports – two ahead of the nearest competitor
- The proprietary Surface Connect ports on the Surface Book 2 support Thunderbolt 3 capabilities but are not USB-C.
- The XPS 2-in-1 includes only a microSD reader which is not compatible with the full size SD cards used by many digital cameras.
If you live in or near a major city, both Apple and Microsoft have storefronts where their laptops can be taken for advice, repair, or replacement. In addition, both companies optionally offer comprehensive support and repair packages. Dell, on the other hand, offers only online support and has no storefronts. Support is one of those things that I tend not to think about much until I need it, but when I do need it, I prefer face-to-face support.
Most users will already have an established operating system preference – Windows or OSX. Depending on the software you already own and the devices you integrate with, operating system may be a major factor in your selection process. Both operating systems will run all of the software needed to support a professional photographic workflow.
The Surface Book 2 has a better selection of ports but costs $600-700 ($CDN) more than the XPS computers. The MacBook Pro offers the ultimate in connectivity with four Thunderbolt 3 ports, but requires dongles or a dock for legacy devices. Apple and Microsoft offer comprehensive support infrastructures.
For Apple users, the choice is an easy one. The MacBook Pro outperforms the smaller and cheaper MacBook and is your best option for a photo laptop. For Windows users, unless you absolutely require the convert-to-tablet feature, the Dell XPS Touch laptop with its 8th generation chipset, touch screen, full size SD reader, and 1TB SDD drive offers the best bang for your buck.