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Macbook Pro with Retina – A Photographer’s Review

David Bickley | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Jun 17, 2012

Let's talk laptop (forgive the couch, I don't keep a lot of seamless at home).

 

By now anyone that follows Apple knows about the big "uh-oh" with the new Retina edition Macbook Pro. You basically can't upgrade it. The ram is soldered in, the SSD is proprietary, the battery is glued in, and the beautiful new screen is all one piece...meaning that if any part fails there is pretty much no way to repair it yourself. If you care about being able to upgrade or fix your computer on your own this is a major problem. Is it a deal breaker from a professional photographer's perspective?

It's a tough call. The standard 15" Macbook Pro has a gigabit Ethernet port, and firewire 800 ports built in, on the Retina edition you have to buy those accessories separately (as of this writing only the Ethernet adapter is currently available). The non-Retina model's processors can clock a little bit faster, but the Retina model can support up to 16gb of RAM while the other cannot (last year's Macbook Pros could support up to 16gb despite Apple's claim of only 8gb, but it's too early to know for sure on this year's models). If you want to be truly portable then having to carry extra adapters doesn't make too much sense, but the extra RAM has merit when dealing with serious editing work. Then you have the display...

Before the Retina display I would probably never have suggested the possibility of a laptop functioning as a full production machine. Generally speaking laptops fall laughably short of acceptable when it comes to working on images. Color shifts based on viewing angle, lack of depth in blacks, generally low contrast ratios, and the obvious lower-than-desktop resolution all make for a machine that is much more of a chore to work on than a traditional home workstation. I wouldn't even consider retouching a photo on something like what's been available in the past. That is changing. The screen resolution and glare reduction combo of the Retina display is breathtaking. There just isn't any other way to put it. For working images I think Apple just released the best mobile machine on the market. You have to see for yourself how crisp images display. Image processing in Lightroom 3.6 runs very quickly. Lightroom 4.1 is still sluggish as Adobe has yet to address this issue in an update. Photoshop CS6 is as fast as you would expect with a 400mb file with 137 layers loading in just under 5 seconds and saving in 12 seconds. Both programs are slated for a Retina update and it is definitely needed. The UI of each on this display is slightly blurry but still usable.

Once the rest of the world catches up to this new release it will be an even better editing experience. Even finding an adequate desktop wallpaper is difficult right now because the resolution is so outside of the norm.

The display alone is the only reason I didn't freak out when I realized I had something I could never upgrade. The small solid state drive isn't a huge issue because most pros use several external drives already to manage their archives. Not being able to add RAM later or replace the battery though...that's rough. All I can say is this...if you make a living in still visual media, looks matter and the Retina display is a dime. It is definitely fast enough for the average pro photographer workload. The base model handles serious RAW processing with relative ease. I can't speak for video at present as finding reasonable thunderbolt drives is still difficult, but if the speed is what it should be on data transfer I don't see a huge problem coming up.

The verdict?

A definite must for visual artists...but keep in mind that a service plan (Apple Care, BestBuy, whatever) is basically a requirement since non-professional service is next to impossible should something go wrong.

-David Bickley (www.davidbickley.com)