Which is the best Apple Mac for a Wedding Photographer?
I must get asked this question at least once a week. If I don’t get asked direct then it comes up on wedding photographer forums constantly. To save myself the trouble of retyping my reply each and every time, I’m writing a very short article about my recommendations.
Written 27th May 2022
As Apple are always going to be bringing out faster machines, this advice is always time dependent and subject to change. Example, as of today, in one weeks time on June 6th 2022, Apple will be holding it’s world wide developer conference. It’s extremely likely, based on the rumour sites, that they will launch a new Mac Mini, with a pro level chip. Potentially the M1 Pro. Same chip as inside my MacBook Pro 16″ bought last year.
There is a lot of confusion about what these are. Most important to understand is one M1 chip is not the same as all the others. They come in different versions and the version is the most important factor.
These are the four types currently available. Next week, we may well get an M2 to join the club. This is likely to be around 20% faster than the original M1, judging by the rumour sites.
How fast is an M1? In theory it’s about as fast as the last top of the range iMac Apple released in 2020. That’s my i9 10 core model. So the M1 is fast! However, should you buy a machine with an M1 processor? Answer is No!
But why not? Because if you upgrade to an M1 Pro or Max, you get a processor that is approximately twice the speed of the original base M1 processor. You won’t even find the M1 in any pro level machines. It was never built for professional use. You can find it in the consumer level products such as the Mac Mini and the 24″ iMac. Neither is a pro machine.
But you said the M1 base is as fast as an i9 iMac? Yes, it is (in theory). However, there are lots of other factors to consider when buying a machine. It’s not just about the chip inside. My advice will always be to go for the M1 Pro or above.
M1 Pro versus the M1 Max
These two chips for all intense and purposes are identical. They are the same chip. If you are a wedding photographer, then there is pretty much ZERO benefit to buying an M1 Max machine. Because I repeat, it’s exactly the same chip as the M1 Pro.
So why is it called Max? This is because it has more graphics processing power. But don’t I need that for photos? No, you don’t., Lightroom and Photoshop use very little graphics processing power. The M1 Pro already has plenty of graphics power, more than enough for the job of a wedding photographer. Oh, so who is the Max for? It’s for videographers. They need far more graphics processing power than photographers do.
But I shoot some video. My kids etc. Don’t worry, the M1 Pro will handle those tasks with ease. The M1 Max is only useful if you’re processing video day in, day out for your job.
What about the M1 Ultra?
Most photographers are going to balk at the price of the Ultra. For my own setup (planning) it’s about £1800 more than the nearest compatible M1 Max. Is the extra spend worth it? This is always going to be a topic for fierce disagreement among photographers. It is faster. About twice the speed of the M1 Pro/M1 Max. It has double the amount of cores. When Lightroom maxes out processing images, sometimes it is able to use ALL of those cores. Hence twice the speed of creating 1:1 previews, exporting images for example.
The thing to remember though is for many tasks Lightroom doesn’t use multi cores. It’s not programmed to and Adobe are too lazy to update it to do so. Therefore many tasks will only use one single core. You can have 20 cores, but 19 of them will be doing nothing!
Personally I’m still interested in the Ultra for my workflow. If I can afford it. Because even though it’s only saving me a little bit of time during certain processes, that time saved adds up. It’s saved for every wedding I process and time is money. I also hate waiting for a computer to work. I want it done now!
So What Mac Should I buy?
Minimum spec, M1 Pro processor. These can be found in the 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pro’s released in 2021. The base level 14″ has less cores. Personally I’d make sure it had the most cores, 10 if I remember correctly.
If Apple releases an M1 Pro version of the Mac Mini next week, then this would also be worth consideration. They may however slightly cripple this machine, as I don’t see how they could aim it at Pro’s when they want to sell Mac Studio’s to the pro’s. But who knows. We’ll have to wait till the 6th June.
Your other choice would be the Mac Studio. This has the M1 Max inside, you cannot get an M1 Pro version, which is a shame. But as the M1 Max and Pro are essentially the same processor, you’re not losing anything. You’re just gaining some extra graphics power that you’ll never use in LR or PS.
Either way, if you want a big screen, i.e. bigger than your MBP 16″ you’re going to need an external monitor. My advice, just cough up and buy the Mac Studio Display. It’s a superb monitor with many advantages over all the other choices. It’s not cheap, but it’s a 5k monitor that will serve you well. I won’t be needing anything more than the standard version. If I want to raise the monitor, I’ll stick it on some books. My wife does this with her 27″ iMac.
Always Customise Your Mac!
Why? Because it’s rare that the standard amount of memory and hard drive size is ideal for a wedding photographer. I can’t remember the last time I bought an off the shelf Apple Mac. Probably never. I always tweak them to customise them to work optimally for me. Example, my MacBook Pro is a M1 Pro, with 32Gb memory and a 2Tb hard drive.
How Much Memory?
Why, Isn’t 16Gb enough? You can easily see how much memory your Mac is using, by taking a look in the Activity Monitor. You’ll find the app in the Utility folder inside your Applications folder. At the bottom, centre, it tells you how much memory your Mac is using at any one time. During intensive use, my MacBook Pro uses over 17Gb of memory. Sometimes more! It also uses all 10 cores at full whack. This is when more cores are better. When you can clearly see that they are all being used.
What happens if you only have 16Gb, will the computer not work? Modern computers are very clever. If you run out of memory, you can still keep working. How? Because the computer will start using a portion of your hard drive as virtual memory. Why is that bad? Because this virtual memory isn’t as fast as real memory. So it will not be as fast. Will you notice? Probably not, but its’ hardly ideal. Personally, I’d rather load my Mac with enough memory, so it never needs to call upon the hard drive for extra. Any other reason not to use hard drive for virtual memory? Over time it will wear down the drive. Modern Macs don’t have hard drives they don’t even have SSD’s. They have Flash Blades aka NVMe drives. These look like a memory chip. They are just a circuit board with chips on them and they are extremely fast. However, as with anything in life, over time they will wear down. It’s debatable how quickly this happens. Personally I think it’s unlikely in normal use, approx 5 years, that you’d ever notice the wear down. But it is something to be aware of and another reason why I’d prefer to use real memory, not the hard drive.
So if more memory is better, should I upgrade to 64Gb? No, there’s zero point. I’ve not seen my MBP get anywhere near it’s 32Gb limit in the last year.
NB – M1 memory is NOT the same as Intel memory. It’s far, far, far more efficient. So you need approx half the amount of memory you would for an Intel machine. My iMac 2020 has 64Gb, as it’s an intel. Any new Mac I buy will only need 32Gb. However, if it comes with 64Gb, so be it. You’re not losing anything if there’s no option to choose a lower amount. It just means you’re unlikely to ever use that extra memory.
Hard Drive Size?
I’ve always considered 1Tb as the ideal size for an iMac. However, if you can afford to upgrade to 2Tb, then it will just give you more breathing room on the Mac. I’ve already found that it’s excellent to be able to download at least 4 weddings to my MBP and work on them. And they are running at mega speeds, as those internal Flash Blades are exceptionally fast. So when I’m doing convert to DNG for example, it’s flying. It can use all 10 cores and the full speed of the Flash Blade. I will be upgrading my Mac Studio to a 2Tb model when I buy it.