When you are just beginning photo editing in Lightroom or Photoshop or are looking for a portable laptop to work on the go, you will immediately begin searching for the best laptop for photo editing on a budget. Then you understand how challenging it is. I have reviewed affordable and the best laptops that will perform all image retouching tasks but won’t leave without money. So what are the Best Laptop For Beginner Photo Editing, budget laptop for photo editing and best laptops for video and photo editing options?
laptop requirements for photo editing
1. Screen quality matters
Laptop screens used to be more eye-sore than eye-candy, with appalling contrast and viewing angles. Thankfully IPS display tech fixes this and you shouldn’t settle for anything less.
2. Speedy storage
An SSD (solid state drive) is a must in any new laptop. All our options in this buying guide include one, but don’t get stuck with a small capacity: 512GB is a minimum if you’re working with 4K video.
3. Graphic novelty
Dedicated graphics cards are great for gaming, but they’re not a necessity here. Today’s processors can fill in for them, and they pack enough pixel-pushing punch for photo editing.
4. Which processor (CPU)?
Laptop processor model numbers are practically impossible to decipher. Just focus on the ‘base frequency’ (speed, measured in GHz), and number of processing cores (two, four, or six).
5. Mac or PC?
The MacBook is favoured by many photographers, and for good reason. But don’t rule out comparably priced laptop PCs, which can offer more bang per buck, with better upgradability.
Best Laptop For Beginner Photo Editing
1. Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019)
This MacBook Pro is the ultimate photo-editing laptop
Processor: Up to 9th-gen Intel Core i9, 8 cores, 2.4GHz base frequency | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 8TB SSD | Screen: 16-inch IPS LCD, 3072×1920
$2,499View at AmazonSee all prices (4 found)Blazing fast and stunning screen Touch Bar great with PhotoshopPoor connectivityNo touchscreen
Our MacBook Pro aced our benchmark tests and felt lightning fast in Photoshop. Along the top of the keyboard you’ll find Apple’s Touch Bar. This row of virtual buttons dynamically changes according to your current app, and Photoshop makes great use of it. The Touch Bar automatically displays adjustment buttons and sliders depending on your selected pallet or tool.
The main Retina display has an aspect ratio closer to 3:2 than 16:9, making it better suited to displaying photos from most cameras. The 3072 x 1920 resolution may be slightly less that 4K, but it’s easily crisp enough. It also sports Apple’s True Tone technology that automatically tweaks the screen’s color to compensate for ambient lighting.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro can be specced up to incredible levels, with RAM up to 64GB and storage up to 8TB. But do this and the price rockets into the stratosphere. We reckon the best value is to go for the 2.3GHz 8-core Core i9 processor with 32GB RAM, a 1TB SSD and Radeon 5500M graphics with 4GB VRAM. Should you need additional storage, it can be purchased more cost-effectively by getting one of the best portable SSDs.
2. Dell XPS 15 (2020)
A great all-rounder, and the best Windows laptop for photo editing
Processor: Up to 10th-gen Intel Core i7, 6 cores, 2.6GHz base frequency | RAM: Up to 32GB | Storage: Up to 1TB SSD | Screen: Up to 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 3840×2400, touchscreenNo price informationCHECK AMAZONSee all prices (1 found)Decent displayFast performanceGood selection of ports, with SD slotRelatively small touchpadScreen not as well specced as 2018 XPS
The Dell XPS 15 range can be confusing: there are lots of different spec configurations to choose from, and pricing can frequently fluctuate. We reckon the best config for photographers is one which includes Dell’s best 4K screen, which boasts 500-nit brightness and touch sensitivity. The only issue with that is very few XPS 15 configs come with this display, and they’re inevitably at the pricier end of the range.
The extra cash does also buy you plenty of performance courtesy of a 10th-gen, 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and you can choose between 16GB and 32GB of RAM – we’d recommend the latter only if you’ll be editing very high res images or Photoshop PSDs with lots of layers.
The selection of ports is also pretty good, with Thunderbolt 3, USB-C 3.1, plus adapters for USB-A and HDMI. There’s even a built-in full-size SD slot; something that’s sadly becoming a rarity in premium laptops.
3. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
A great choice for on-the-go photographers
Processor: Intel Core i7-8565U (4 cores, 1.8GHz base frequency) | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 14-inch IPS LCD, 2560×1440$1,399.90VIEW AT AMAZON$1,499View at Amazon
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon can be specced with several screen options – all 14-inch – but don’t be tempted to cheap out on anything that isn’t ‘IPS’, as contrast accuracy will be compromised. Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolutions are available, but the extra crispness of our preferred 2560 x 1440 option makes for a noticeably crisper viewing experience. However, it’s a pity Lenovo has dropped its range-topping display from the 2018 sixth-gen X1 Carbon – a Dolby Vision-certified panel, boasting 500-nit brightness and a huge 1500:1 contrast ratio. It’s ultra-high end displays are now reserved for the ThinkPad X1 Extreme range, but these are priced too close to MacBook Pro territory.
We reckon you should choose the 4-core Intel Core i7-8565U processor option, as it gives a great balance of speed and power-sipping battery life. Naturally, performance falls somewhat short of rival laptops packing 6 and 8-core processors, but there’s still get enough performance for all but the most intensive Photoshop tasks. If you need to travel light and won’t always have access to mains power, this X1 Carbon config makes a lot of sense.
4. Asus ZenBook Duo UX581
A laptop that’s stunning to behold and refreshingly innovative, if slightly compromised
Processor: Intel Core i9-9980HK (8 cores, 2.4GHz base frequency) | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 3840×2160, touchscreen | ScreenPad Plus: 14-inch, 3840×1100$2,299.66VIEW AT AMAZON$2,999View at Amazon$2,999View at Microsoft USSee all prices (7 found)Top screenUseful ScreenPad PlusVery fastScreenPad Plus image quality not greatMediocre battery life
The big talking point with the ZenBook Duo is its huge touch-sensitive secondary screen above the keyboard. Asus calls it the ScreenPad Plus, and you can use it as a genuine secondary monitor to display another app to that on the main screen, or it can be split into two or three columns, each containing a different open app. There’s even a screen extension function that lets you spread a single app over both screens. It’s a far more versatile set-up than the original ScreenPad incorporated in the old ZenBook Pro UX580 – our only criticism is the ScreenPad’s viewing angles and colour vibrancy aren’t on par with the main screen, so there is some discrepancy of colour and contrast between the two displays.
This is noticeable in part due to the supreme colour and contrast of the primary display. We verified its advertised 100% Adobe RGB colour space coverage, and the quoted DeltaE <2 colour accuracy is also accurate, as our calibration tool measured an impressive 1.07. Outright screen brightness isn’t quite on par with the MacBook’s Retina display, but you’re unlikely to notice during real-world viewing.
The UX581 is equipped with a blazing-fast 8-core Intel Core i9 processor and you can equip the ZenBook with up to 32GB of RAM – great for heavy Photoshop editing. There’s a good balance of two USB-C, two conventional USB ports, an HDMI port and headphone socket, though the Micro SD card slot is of limited use to photographers.
5. Razer Blade 15 4K
The Blade is an impressive all-rounder if you work and play hard
Processor: Intel Core i7-8750H (6 cores, 2.2GHz base frequency) | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 3840×2160, touchscreen
$2,299.99VIEW AT AMAZON$2,999.11View at Amazon$3,299.99View at Microsoft USSee all prices (7 found)Healthy performanceQuality display and well madeFast graphics card not that useful for photographers
Razer’s brand focus is on the gaming market, and the Blade 15 4K is primarily a gaming laptop, but the styling doesn’t shout about it like many laptops targeted at gamers. Only the illuminated green Razer logo on the front and the colour-changing backlit keyboard give the game away, but the latter can be muted to keep things more sober.
What makes the Blade 15 a good photo-editing machine is its 15.6-inch 4K screen, which boasts 100% Adobe RGB coverage and factory colour calibration. It’s a gorgeous display and a pleasure to view.
This particular Blade 15 configuration also comes equipped with a blazing-fast GeForce RTX 2070 graphics card. That’s great for gaming at 4K resolution, where it’ll give a noticeable performance boost, but apps like Photoshop won’t really use the extra oomph. Solid build quality with excellent heat ventilation, as well as the three conventional USB ports are easily-overlooked plus points, though the absence of an SD card slot is a shame.
6: LG Gram 14″ (14Z90N)
Need to travel as light as possible? The 14-inch LG Gram could be for you
Processor: 10th-gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 (4 cores, 1.3GHz base frequency) | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 14-inch IPS LCD, 1920×1080
$1,046.99VIEW AT AMAZON
$1,129.99View at Amazon$1,199.99View at AmazonSee all prices (4 found)Extremely light and slimIPS screenGreat battery lifeLacks some outright speedScreen res not the best
LG makes the Gram in three screen sizes: 14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch. All have their pros and cons for portability vs. viewing ease, but the svelte 14-inch model is especially appealing for on-the-go photographers. You get a Full HD 1920×1080 resolution; less than many rivals here, but it’s enough to produce a crisp viewing experience, while IPS screen tech ensures good color and contrast accuracy.
The Gram range as a whole is all about portability. The 14-inch version is only 1kg – compare this to the equally small Lenovo 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon that weighs around 1120g and the Gram is noticeably lighter in the hand. The slim design still has room for a versatile selection of two USB-A ports, one USB-C port and an HDMI port, plus a microSD slot.
While satisfyingly quick in general use, the 4-core Intel Core-i7 processor in our Gram struggled in our speed benchmarks and can take a while to apply more complex Photoshop filters. However the payoff from using a processor geared towards efficiency over outright speed is stellar battery life: LG claims up to 18.5 hours per charge.
Factor LG’s keen pricing for the Gram and it’s a tempting option if you value portability over speed.
7. HP Spectre x360 Convertible
An acceptable photo-editing laptop if you prioritise portability above all else
Processor: Intel Core i7-8550U (4 cores, 1.8GHz base frequency) | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 13.3-inch IPS LCD, 3840×2160, touchscreen$1,199.99VIEW AT AMAZON$1,329View at Microsoft US
$1,468.62View at AmazonSee all prices (27 found)Very portableNifty tablet conversionPen input for graphics appsVery limited port selectionSmall screen for Photoshop use
If you regularly take your laptop out on shoots, the compact 30.6 x 21.8 x 1.36cm, 1.29kg HP Spectre is a tempter. The x360 moniker refers to the touchscreen’s ability to flip round through 360 degrees so the laptop can convert to a tablet. Windows 10 automatically detects the screen’s position and adapts the interface to be more touch-friendly, but the Spectre isn’t particularly comfortable to hold in tablet mode.
The 13.3inch screen may be good for portability, but it results in a restrictive Photoshop workspace that requires pallets to be minimised for an acceptable image area. The touchpad is also quite small. A 4K resolution across a screen of this size does at least make images look extremely crisp.
Just a single normal USB port is present, along with two USB-C ports and a Micro SD slot. We do at least like the automatic facial recognition for Windows sign-in. This isn’t the best photo-editing laptop here on a performance level, but for portability and versatility it does score highly.