In a world where the photographer is looking to travel lighter, mirrorless cameras have made a big impact. We can now go out into the street and the field with a whole kit in a small shoulder bag rather than a large packsack. This miniaturization has allowed more discrete street photography without compromising quality. Landscape photographers are able to travel lighter and I would think get farther and deeper into the scene. If you are one of these photographers then an important issue, when travelling, is the need to stay connect and likely do some minimal post processing to ensure the capture you got during the day was worth the expense of your trip. Up until now the best way to do this has been either an iPad or perhaps a small MacAir, I can’t speak to the alternative universes of PCs, chrome books, or tablets I will leave that up to someone else.
The new MacBook is so miniaturized that almost makes an iPad out of a laptop. Which makes one think if I need to replace my iPad or my MacAir, would this new device be a better investment? Could it replace either device as the ultimate miniaturized device for a photographer in the field? So what are the issues with this machine?
The Single Plug
The Macbook has only one peripheral port, no USB, no VGA, no SD, just a USB-C port capable of connecting both power and peripherals. The computer comes with a power cable, so to do anything else you need purchase an additional USB-C adaptor. There are three the largest is a three way adaptor, from which you can power the device, connect a TV and one USB device. However in the field I think most photographers would simply use the power cord while working and if wanted to download an SD card simply disconnect the power cord and connect the much cheaper USB-C to USB adaptor. Into this you would connect a USB to SD adaptor that most people likely already own. So really you are only carrying one additional very small $25 connector. If this is your field computer, this arrangement would not really present problems. With this computer you would not need a lot of peripherals in the field, as the hard drive on the computer is large enough to provide the necessary backup to your SD cards.
Is the Processor Robust Enough?
I spoke with the local Apple sales representatives about how this computer fits into the line up. They told me it had a slower processor than the MacAir and the Mac Pro, and so was targeted towards users that don’t do any “heavy lifting.” This immediately raised the issue of how well would it run Lightroom 6? Some “googling” on the topic netted a video demonstrating how quickly it moved from image to image, this demonstration ran without a hitch, and another review that suggest that there were no problems running both Lightroom and Photoshop. In general there did not seem to be a problem with the processor and Lightroom. There were also some other reviews warning that you could not really make this computer your home computer and do extensive photography work on it, something this article is not contemplating. So it would seem there is more than enough processor to drive Lightroom. However I would not recommend merging nine 56 megapixel files into an HDR file, that might not be within the capacities of this machine.
If you look at the table below you will see that the iPad is not significantly smaller than the MacBook. The MacBook is wider and deeper but this does mean you are getting more screen real-estate, which is important when examining your day’s capture. It is twice the weight of the iPad, but the up side you have a keyboard, a very useful tool for those of us touch typist who are updating our blogs in the field; I think this is better than throwing a keyboard into your suitcase for the iPad. In addition to the screen size and keyboard it is a great deal more versatility since an iPad is not a computer. So I think given its size it could fit nicely into a small bag in much the same fashion as an iPad would. (You will notice I have overlooked the MacAir 11″ as I find this just too small for doing any real work.)
Cost Comparison to the MacAir
Finally what about the cost are you getting the best deal as the MacAir is much cheaper and the MacBook Pro has a faster process and is the same price? If you look at the chart above you will see that the MacAir only has 4Gigs of RAM compared to the MacBooks 8Gigs, further more the MacAir’s SD drive is only 128Gigs compared to the MacBooks SD drive of 256Gigs. If you bring the MacAir up to 256Gigs you begin to close the price gap, but you can not upgrade the SD drive, despite the fact that the MacBook can be upgraded to 512Gigs. In addition MacAir does not have a Retina screen. Given the enhanced SD drive, Retina screen and enhanced RAM and the ability upgrade the SD drive the MacBook does seem to be more of a bargain than the MacAir, even though it is more expensive. Keep in mind it MacBook is also lighter and smaller.
Comparison to the MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro also comes with a smaller SD drive but this can be upgraded, however once you upgrade the drive it becomes more expensive than the MacBook. It is also twice as heavy and more than twice as thick. Portable here is compromised as it is not going to fit into a small bag and is much further away from the size of an iPad than would be desirable. I think it is safe to say if you only want one computer for home and the field this would be a good purchase. However if you already have a home computer and you need either an iPad or light weight field computer, the MacBook Pro is definitely not something to consider and price wise it is more expensive.
The MacBook looks like it could very well be the photographer’s dream, light weight but still having all the attributes of a computer. In addition I think if one has an iPhone 6+, which as its’ owners know means you are consulting you iPad far less than you used to. This might mean you could use this laptop for a dual purposes both in place of the iPad and a field computer to do your post processing and keeping up with your social media.