In order to narrow down the best laptop for photo editing, we looked for computers with good graphics processing, fast memory, a good display and at least some monitor adjustability for color representation.
Our top pick and the best laptop for photo editing, the MacBook Air 13-inch, is powerful enough to run Adobe CS Photoshop, InDesign and LightRoom smoothly, while being amazingly light and portable and offering nine hours of battery life. Plus, like all the best laptops for photo editing, it offers an excellent display with accurate color reproduction. Also check out the best gaming laptop under $1500.
Top 7 Best Laptops for Photo Editing Compared
#1 MacBook Air – Top PickWHY WE LIKE IT: Compact and portable, with 9+ hours of battery and enough memory to run pro photo editing software. It’s great for photographers who travel a lot and want to be able to send in finished work from on the road, without lugging around a heavy workstation.
The MacBook Air has long been a favorite of students and professionals on the go, and this 2017 model is still easy to recommend, thanks to the significant discounts available and its more-than-adequate performance for photo editing. Which makes it the best laptop for photo editing hands down. With its core i5 processor running at 1.8 GHz or 2.9 GHz turbo boost, a 3M cache and 8 GB of RAM it supports pro-level photo editing software while remaining one of the easiest laptops to carry around. Built-in 128 GB SSD is plenty for most photoshoots, and this version of the MacBook Air, unlike the 2018+ models, still includes a built-in SD card reader, a pair of USB 3 ports and a Thunderbolt 2 port, which may save you from having to buy an extra “dongle.”
Another plus is that Mac OS is particularly friendly for the photo editing workflow. From the ease with which you can drag and drop files in and out of the Adobe CS programs, to the custom color representation options for the display, it’s arguably easier to optimize your photo editing experience within this operating system environment. The MacBook Air 13.3” also has a great battery life, lasting for up to 12 hours of web browsing. This is also one of the best laptops for programming.
#2 Asus Chromebook C202SA – Honorable MentionWHY WE LIKE IT: A rugged Chromebook meant for use in schools and outdoor work environments, which still offers enough performance to run Chrome OS or Linux-based photo editing software. It’s great for event, wedding and nature photographers or photojournalists looking for a laptop for photo editing they can travel with and use just about anywhere.
The Chromebook C202SA makes an excellent travel laptop for photographers who may need to quickly do some editing on the go. Drop resistant and spill resistant, this “ruggedized” Chromebook is great for when you may want to throw something in your travel bag and not have to worry too much about a fragile, and expensive, laptop. It’s the kind of thing you can use at the truck stop to run some quick edits of your nature photos, or take with you to an event. This makes it an easy recommendation for travel, wedding and news photographers as well as for bloggers and journalism students. It has a long lasting battery, too, around 10 hours with average use. Plus, it has a real, built-in SD card reader.
Among the caveats for this low-priced and durable machine are that it only has 16 GB of internal storage, so you may want to invest in an upgraded solid state drive. It also takes some tech know-how to make Chrome OS work for pro photo editing. Alternatively, with a similar degree of skill you could run this as a Linux machine and use an editing software like Gimp. If your kid is rocking this laptop, make sure to look at the best kids computer case.
#3 Microsoft Surface Go – Best TabletWHY WE LIKE IT: A flexible tablet with a stylus, a high quality touchscreen display, fast connectivity and enough internal storage for most photo editing projects. It’s great for photo retouchers and digital graphic arts students who benefit from the flexibility of the Surface Go’s tablet/ studio and laptop modes.
The Surface Go is one of the most portable and versatile tablets on the market. A relative bargain as well, coming in at a few hundred dollars less than the MacBook Air, our top pick, this 2-in-1 laptop and tablet offers photo editors the option of using its stylus on the screen to help with precision retouching and the kind of “pixel peeping” tasks that are especially tedious on a computer with only a track pad or mouse. It offers 128 GB of built-in SSD storage and comes standard with 4 GB of RAM, though an upgrade to 8 GB is offered, too, making it more than adequate for Adobe CS and most photo retouching software, if not quite up to video workstation specs.
Another big draw for the Surface Go is its size. Despite packing 1800 x 1200 pixels into its display–more than the top pick MacBook Air offers unless you opt for the Retina display–it’s only 10 inches across and weighs only 1 pound, making it even lighter than the MacBook Air. To see how it truly stacks up against the competition, read our best upcoming laptops for college students list.
#4 Lenovo Flex 11 – Best 2-in-1WHY WE LIKE IT: One of the least expensive Windows laptops on the market, it has 4 GB of DDR4 RAM and, crucially for photo editing, an adjustable anti-glare screen. It’s great for students and photographers looking to save on a portable, easy to use editing platform.
This laptop, as the name implies, is a flexible device that can also be used as a tablet thanks to its 180-degree rotating touch screen. This screen is also a boon to photo editors since it supports convenient two-finger zoom gestures and you can use it for airbrushing as well. It also resists glare and does a pretty good job of representing natural looking colors.
Another big plus for photographers is that the Lenovo Flex 11 comes with a built-in card reader, making the camera-to-computer workflow that much smoother. It also has an HDMI port, handy for connecting to an external monitor, TV or projector for displaying your work. While its 1.1 GHz intel processor generally does a good job handling basic editing tasks, those who do more heavy edits with many layers or who need to process very large photos, may find this single core processor more limited than the multi-core processors of the MacBook Air (our top pick) or the Surface tablet (our #3 pick.) And if it’s a gaming laptop you are after, read about the best gaming laptop video card.
#5 HP 14” Chromebook HD – Best ChromebookWHY WE LIKE IT: A large 14” screen with clear colors, plus a built-in SD card reader make this one of the more convenient choices among Chromebooks for photo editing. It’s great for students looking for something easy to carry that delivers fast web and photo editing capability and who don’t mind the limited internal storage.
A big, good looking screen and a built-in card reader are some of the selling points of this capable and generally good performing Chromebook. For those comfortable with native Chrome OS photo editors, the HP 14” Chromebook HD is an easy recommendation, since it has a powerful enough processor to run Chrome’s image editing applications and works well with web-based editors like Pixlr.
It’s also one of the slimmest computers offered today that comes with a built-in card reader. The screen is a full 14” diagonal and comes with 1366 x 768 pixels, making it comparable in resolution to the Lenovo Flex 11, our #4 pick. The Chromebook HD, however, has a faster 2 core Intel processor. Where the Chromebook is more limited is in terms of storage; it comes with 16 GB flash built-in, which is upgradeable; however, Google does offer cloud storage, and you can always plug in an external hard drive. Speaking of Chromebooks, check out our best Chromebook apps list.
#6 Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Core i7 – Best ScreenWHY WE LIKE IT: A high performing 8th generation Core i7 processor and a TB of built-in storage make this a fully functional photo editing workstation capable of running demanding tasks with large photosets or multi-layered images. It’s great for designers, photo editors and retouchers and photographers looking for a fast laptop to handle a busy workflow.
This full featured Windows laptop comes with a fast 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8 GB of built-in DDR4 RAM and, importantly for photo editing, the highest resolution screen, at 1920×1080 pixels, of any computer on our list. While the Inspiron 15 is larger and heavier than most of the laptops for photo editing we recommend, coming in at 4.4 lbs versus the 1-3 pounds of various Chromebooks and the MacBook Air (our top pick) it makes up for it with a built-in hard drive, a hybrid drive using a 128 GB SSD paired with a 5400 RPM hard drive for 1 TB of space, making it tied for the most storage among any laptop on our list. Speaking of Chromebook, check out the best Chromebook cases.
If you use a laptop as your main editing machine, a full featured model like this 8th generation Core i7 Dell Inspiron might make a more sensible choice than relying on a Chromebook or tablet. However, you do give up some of the convenience of the tablet form factor as well as the option of using a stylus. It also runs hotter and uses up its battery more quickly than, for example, the similarly priced MacBook Air.
#7 HP 15.6” HD 2019 – Best ValueWHY WE LIKE IT: A full featured touch screen laptop with 8 GB of RAM and a built-in 1 TB HD, making it among the best of both worlds when it comes to laptops for photo editing. It’s great for students and editors looking for a laptop they can edit large photos or large sets on, and which has enough internal storage to allow for leaving the external drive at home.
The built-in 1TB hybrid drive and the ample ports are among the draws of this bargain-priced full-featured Windows 10 laptop. It also has 8 GB of ram as listed, upgraded from the HP 15.6’s original 4 GB. This should make it able to comfortably run Adobe Photoshop and most digital cameras’ proprietary software. The least expensive terabyte laptop on our list, the HP 15.6” 2019 HD is a usable primary photo editing and storage laptop, at about half the cost of the Dell Inspiron (our #6 pick) or the MacBook Air (our top pick.)
However, this Windows 10 laptop lacks the full HD display found on the Dell, and it has a shorter battery life, at around 4 hours, than the MacBook Air, whose battery lasts up to 12 hours. That said, this is a solid choice for a full featured, 8 GB of RAM laptop at a price point similar to what you usually find with Chromebooks. HP is one of the best laptop brands.
How We Decided
We selected a variety of laptops, tablets, 2-in-1s and even Chromebooks to provide laptops for photo editing on the go for all budgets. We narrowed it down to models with at least 1300×700 screen resolution, with added bonus points for full HD.
We also only included computers with at least 4 GB of RAM and with processors and graphics cards speedy enough to handle photo editing tasks.
Finally, we looked for battery life. At least three hours on a full charge is a must when doing display and CPU-intense photo editing tasks. Plus, if you’re a photographer who works on location, you may not always have an outlet handy.
Best Laptop for Photo Editing Buyer’s Guide
The Most Important Features to Consider
- System Memory
Photo editing isn’t as system intensive as video editing or 3D rendering of course, but if you work on larger projects or edit big files in photoshop– the 30+ megapixel RAW files of modern digital cameras can easily run to the tens of megabytes each–then more RAM is definitely better. We limited our search to laptops and Chromebooks with at least 4 GB of memory. You may not need the biggest, multiple core processors on the market for photo editing, as you would for video, nor the kind of massive storage that video editing requires, but depending on what program you use to edit, at least 4 GB of RAM is best.
- Display Quality
For portable photo editing, a quality display is a must. You want at least 1300 x 700 resolution for a 10-inch or larger display, and the more adjustments to color and anti-glare features, the better. The stand outs in this category are the MacBook Air, our top pick, which offers a pleasing 1440 x 900 screen even if you don’t pay extra for the Retina model, and the Dell Inspiron 15, our #6 pick, with its full HD 1920×1080 display.
One feature that can make some laptops more convenient than others for photo editing is the presence of a built-in SD card reader. While not a deal breaker per se, it’s nice to have one less dongle to worry about. Of course, if you shoot on a digital camera that only uses CF cards, you’ll likely need an external reader anyway.
- Can these run Photoshop?
In general, all the Mac OS laptops and the Windows 10 laptops like the Dell Inspiron 15 and the HP 15.6” 2019 HD can run Adobe Creative Suite smoothly. On Chromebooks like the ASUS C202SA (our #2 pick) and on laptops set to Windows 10 in “S” mode it’s a little more challenging. There are plenty of photo editing options for Chrome OS and Linux however, it may just take a little more tech savvy to set them up.
- How much space is enough?
For the most part, when it comes to choosing a laptop for photo editing, how little built-in space you can live with depends on your willingness to use external drives or cloud storage. Both have their pros and cons, but if your laptop has at least about 128 GB of storage built in, you should have no problem with the average sized photo shoot or project.
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