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Most people can do basic photo editing on almost any laptop. However, not all PCs offer advanced features, high performance, beautiful displays, and sufficient storage for those who want to take their photography to the next level.
With the Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1, you won’t have to worry about performance issues with its ultra-high-resolution display. While this high-performing device is our top pick for photo editing, we talk about other options for those on a strict budget and photographers who value lightweight designs for portability.
Best laptop for photo editing: Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1
Why you should buy this: The MacBook Pro 13 M1 uses Apple’s ultrafast CPU to make easy work of editing complex photos.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an excellent display and doesn’t want to give up performance.
What we thought of the Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1:
Apple is making a move away from Intel CPUs to its own ARM-based processors, the first of which is the M1 that you’ll find in the latest MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air. It’s incredibly fast when running native applications, like Adobe Photoshop, beating out Intel’s Tiger Lake platform and rivaling its H-series 45-watt CPUs. Not only that, but the M1 runs cool and sips power, resulting in a machine that rarely spins up the fans and that exhibits exceptional battery life.
The MacBook Pro 13 M1 also has a high-quality display that enjoys wider-than-average color gamuts and accurate colors that should please professional photo editors. The combination of performance and display quality is what puts the MacBook Pro 13 M1 at the top of our list.
You’ll also enjoy the MacBook Pro 13 M1‘s robust and portable build, and its excellent Magic Keyboard and large touchpad. All in all, Apple has taken its lead back in making the best laptop for photographers.
Read our MacBook Pro 13 M1 review
Best budget laptop for photo editing: HP Envy 13
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends
Why you should buy this: It offers an 11th-gen Intel CPU, excellent build quality, and a 4K display for just $1,000.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a powerful laptop with a 4K display that won’t break the bank.
What we thought of the HP Envy 13:
HP’s Envy line of laptops has become its go-to solution for creative professionals who crave power without the high price of more premium laptops. The Envy 13 is the smallest member of the family, but that doesn’t it can’t handle a photographer’s workload.
For just $1,000, you can get a quad-core Core i5-1135G7 with Intel Iris Xe graphics — enough power to run Photoshop smoothly. That price includes a 4K display that promises solid colors, plenty of brightness, and good contrast — better than most budget laptops can provide. You’ll also get a form factor that’s attractive, well-built, and offers a superior keyboard and touchpad experience.
The HP Envy 13 isn’t the most powerful laptop on our list, but it’s the one that aspiring photographers can afford.
Most powerful laptop for photo editing: Dell XPS 17
Why you should buy this: It’s a powerful laptop that manages to fit a massive 17-inch display into a diminutive chassis.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an expansive screen and ultimate power.
What we thought of the Dell XPS 17:
Dell’s XPS 17 took what was best about the XPS 15 — the attractive and well-built aluminum and carbon-fiber chassis, the powerful components, and the shrunken bezels — and packed in a larger 17-inch display. The XPS 17 can be configured with up to Intel’s 10th-gen Core i9-10885H CPU, a superfast, full-power (45-watt) processor that’s a champ at running demanding applications like Adobe’s Photoshop. You can also configure the XPS 17 with an NVIDIA RTX 2060 GPU for any applications that can make use of faster graphics power.
If you don’t need quite that much power, you can start out at a Core i5-10300H CPU, and you can upgrade to 64GB of RAM to handle the largest and most complex images and a full 2TB of SSD storage is available to maintain the largest photo libraries. In addition, the XPS 17’s display is one of the best you can buy, with almost 500 nits of brightness, a 1530:1 contrast ratio, and support for 98% of AdobeRGB with color accuracy of an astounding DeltaE of 0.37 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent).
There aren’t many laptops that can match the power and massive display size of the XPS 17, while remaining relatively portable.
Read our Dell XPS 17 review
Best portable laptop for photo editing: MacBook Air M1
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Why you should buy this: It’s incredibly fast, has the best keyboard and touchpad on the market, and is eminently portable.
Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t want to carry around a super-heavy laptop for photo editing on the go.
What we thought of the Apple MacBook Air M1:
As we indicated in the MacBook Pro 13 M1 listing, Apple’s ARM-based M1 CPU has made some waves since its debut. It’s faster than Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake processors and even challenges the faster 45-watt H-series CPUs in a number of demanding tasks. And it does all that while staying cool and sipping power.
The MacBook Air M1 makes great use of that powerful CPU, packing a ton of power into a very small laptop that’s just 0.6 inches thick and 2.8 pounds in weight. It’s easy to slip into a backpack and carry around, but once you pull it out you’ll make no compromises when it comes to performance.
The display isn’t the MacBook Air M1‘s strongest feature, offering good but not great color support and accuracy. But it’s good enough for work on the go, and there’s an advantage to having so much power in such a tiny machine.
Read our Apple MacBook Air M1 review
Research and buying tips
How much RAM do you need for photo editing?
That all depends on the size of your photos and the complexity of your editing needs. You’ll want 8GB as a bare minimum, but 16GB or greater would be preferable, particularly if your photos tend to be larger. Of course, more RAM is always a good thing with demanding tasks like photo editing, and so if your laptop and budget support it, 32GB or more can easily be recommended.
What laptops are good for Photoshop?
Start with the laptops on this list. Each of them offers something that makes them a good choice for Photoshop, such as quality displays, fast CPUs, plenty of RAM or the ability to upgrade to more, and fast SSD storage that will keep up with Photoshop’s demands.
What do you need in a laptop for photo editing?
As mentioned above, what you want in a laptop that will meet your photo editing needs includes a powerful CPU to keep up with demanding applications like Photoshop along with plenty of RAM and SSD storage. You’ll also want a high-quality display that offers a wide color gamut and accurate colors, to ensure that you’re getting the best representation of your work. Beyond that, you’ll want a laptop that meets your requirements in terms of portability and battery life, in case you tend to work remotely, and all of the expandability that you’ll need.