Photo editing is no longer an exclusive skill limited to photographers and graphic designers. Photoshop is a flexible application that can be used by anyone who requires the use of a powerful photo editing suite, whether they are removing backgrounds from e-commerce products or creating a featured image for their blog.
The growing number of professional tutorial videos on YouTube have also helped along the beginners out there and allow anyone to search for a specific photo editing technique and master it in under twenty minutes. Accessibility to education and availability of Adobe’s tools have given rise to a huge number of Photoshop users. It doesn’t end with premium tools, though. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open-source image editor that has been constantly updated by its developers. Originally written by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, and now contributed to by hundreds of authors.
With this in mind, we must also consider the increased number of laptop owners, as technology constantly delineates the line between desktop and laptop usage.
“The increasing popularity of the laptop is further demonstrated by the soaring sales value of laptops, notebooks and palm-top organizers. The total value reached 58.79 billion British pounds in 2017, up from 39.84 billion British pounds in 2008.”
Whilst there are many desktop PCs that can handle photo editing, there’s also plenty of laptops with specifications more than capable of this type of workload, and if you need to keep your workflow moving when you’re mobile, then there are laptops out there for you.
Macbook vs. Windows Laptop
It would be very silly to create an article like this without giving at least a mention to the Macbook Pro. But probably not for the reasons you think. This article is intended to guide those who would like to have powerful photo editing capabilities without having to take out a second mortgage. As much as the Macbook Pro is seriously good at what it does when it comes to graphics editing and video editing, the price point can scare off anyone who is just getting into photo editing, those who will not be using the laptop for photo editing full time, and of course - students.
If you are going to be editing photos full time, and you are going to be using applications on the move, then we can basically sum up this article in a TL;DR right here:
If you want a direct comparison, then you need to buy a Macbook Pro 16 or a Dell XPS 17 9700. Pound for pound, the Dell stands up to the spec of a Macbook Pro, and is in a similar price bracket, too.
Now, with that out of the way, if you are looking to explore what kind of specification you can achieve for a low, medium and high budget, then read on.
The Photo Editing Laptop Challenge
Balancing the specs of a laptop specifically for photo editing is not very hard. Once you have got Photoshop or GIMP loaded on to your laptop, there’s a raft of settings you can play with to speed everything up, too.
The challenge comes in defining the very fine line between each make and model and choosing from the hundreds of laptops in each class.
ASUS, Dell, MSI and Microsoft have all got excellent laptops in most of the budget brackets; some of the laptops also have features that cross-budget brackets. For example, for a medium budget laptop, you may find that you get the same memory as a high budget laptop but have to sacrifice an inch of screen size. While that might not bother many people, it will certainly bother those who intend on using the laptop for Photoshop and Lightroom exclusively and making use of all the docked toolbars they possibly can.
Herein lies the challenge.
Our buyers guide will attempt to find the sweet spot of budget and features for the following:
- Low budget (Light users): Under £400
- Medium budget (Light-Medium users): Under £700
- High budget (Power users): Under £1000
There are ways to pinch every penny in each class, too. For example, some of last year’s models (2020) are still powerhouses that shouldn’t be overlooked. Just buying a 2021 model when it comes out is not the best way to get value for money.
Note: We have not included features such as trackpad comfort and laptop weight. This is mainly because the needs of travelling photographer (light laptop, great battery life) are vastly different from a photographer who will use the laptop with a mouse in the studio. We have tried to provide an all-round guide for anyone who spends time using photo editing software rather than specialist requirements. We do plan on providing a specific guide for photographers & photo editing soon, though, so watch this space!
Specifications Of A Photo Editing Laptop
- To make use of everything inside of your applications, you will need around 15.6” of screen size or more.
- Colour gamut capabilities (AdobeRGB and sRGB colour space) are features that will be helpful for photographers and designers. The higher the gamut, the better.
- Good memory size will enable you to multitask between programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom if you’re a power user, or if you’re just a light-medium user, you’ll be able to run your email, Chrome and other essentials too.
- Processing power means you can load up big old images quickly. For the power users, this will mean working with raw images faster, and calculating those effects will take much less time. Coupled with decent memory, you will have an ideal workstation.
- SSD is required for maximum speed of loading images and applications here. Even for light users, you still want fast access to your stored images & programs, so it is essential to have that quick fire SSD on board.
Best Photo Editing Laptop (Low Budget – Light Users)
Lenovo V V14 14" 8GB 256GB Ryzen 3 Laptop
|Lenovo V V14 ||Spec |
|Screen ||14” / 50% Colour Gamut |
|Memory ||8GB |
|Processor ||AMD Ryzen 3 3250U |
|Storage ||256GB SSD |
|Price ||Under £400 |
First up, we have the Lenovo V V14. Coming in under budget by a few pounds, the Lenovo V V14 ticks many of the boxes we need in terms of power and price.
Our prerequisite for an SSD is met here with the Lenovo’s 256GB fast storage, and the Ryzen 3 3250U processor performs well against the most common laptop processors:
Best Photo Editing Laptops (Medium Budget – Light-Medium Users)
MSI Katana GF66 11SC 15.6" Core i5 Gaming Laptop
|MSI Katana GF66 ||Spec |
|Screen ||15.6” / 53% Colour Gamut |
|Memory ||8GB |
|Processor ||Intel Core i5-11400H |
|Storage ||512GB SSD |
|Price ||Under £700 |
While this may look and feel a lot like a gamer’s laptop – which, of course, it pretty much is – there’s plenty of features that align with the needs of user who will be editing photos.
The extendable memory can be upgraded from 8GB up to 64GB, which is ideal for those who want a bit more from this workhorse, and the 512GB SSD is perfect as a starting point for those large files.
The GF66 11SC also has a GeForce GTX 1650 MaxQ Graphics, and this is of huge benefit to those using Camera Raw and other advanced features in Photoshop. GPUs are generally not used unless 3D rendering is needed, and the CPU is mostly going to be doing the heavily lifting.
We can see that the Core i5-11400H processor performs at the top end of the mobile CPU benchmark, but it is worth noting that this is for a 2.7GHz benchmark, and the processor in the MSI GF66 11SC operates at 2.2GHz – 2.7GHz. However, with Turbo Boost, “it can perform up to 4500 MHz”.
Best Photo Editing Laptops (High Budget – Power Users)
MSI Katana GF76 11UC 17.3" Core i7 Gaming Laptop
|MSI Katana GF76 ||Spec |
|Screen ||17.3” / 51% Colour Gamut |
|Memory ||16GB |
|Processor ||Intel Core i7-11800H |
|Storage ||512GB SSD |
|Price ||Under £1,000 |
Sticking with the MSI Katana range, the GF76 comes with a much bigger screen, double the memory of the smaller GF66 model, and has a huge 512GB SSD to store and access images & programs.
The Core i7 11800H processor performs right at the top of the leaderboard of most common (similar) laptop processors:
In this class (under £1000), the MSI exceeds expectations, and will be comfortable multitasking your graphics programs and day to day business activities, too.
Hopefully this buyers guide has helped you decide on which laptop will be best for your photo editing, whether you’re using it twice a day or eight hours a day.
Whilst there is an argument that we might find better value in laptops that are overpowered processor & memory combinations, rather than having a graphics card that eats some of the budget, the MSI Katana range of laptops provide the user with a valuable Turbo Boost feature that means when the extra oomph is needed, it will be there. You see, it’s not just for gaming; the technology will be boosting performance when loading those hungry programs and complex editing of images.
Look out for our future article that will line up the best laptops for professional photographers.