Ken's Blog


Macbook Pro Retina Review For Photographers

Posted 16/07/12

Let me start by saying that this is a non-technical review. There are enough technical reviews of the new Apple MacBook Retina out there. This is a hands-on preliminary review after a week of using the new MacBook Retina.
My first impression of the new Apple MacBook Pro Retina is WOW! It is simply the best computer (both laptop and desktop) that I have ever owned. I was not going to get one. I was going to wait until an iMac Retina came out, hopefully later in the year. Then I went in to my Local Next Byte store (We don’t have an Apple store here in Townsville, but Next Byte is the next best thing) and had a play with the new MacBook Pro Retina.
I immediately noticed how sharp the display was. Ever since I got my new iPad with Retina display back in March, every other computer screen (except for my iPhone 4s) has looked like crap. There is no other way to put it. Even my 27” mid 2010 iMac display looked fuzzy and pixelated compared to the retina display on the iPad. Part of me wanted to purchase this badass computer right there and then. Then I came to the obvious questions every professional photographer has to ask before buying a computer, “Can I calibrate the display to accurately display color?” No one knew. I could not find any reviews on the Internet from someone that had actually calibrated one using a Spyder Pro or other professional calibration tool. I also was hoping that Apple would release a retina iMac sooner then later.
After a couple more weeks of reading over reviews, I finally found a review where someone had said that they had in fact calibrated the retina display and that it calibrated correctly. I could not wait any longer, I had to have one. So off I went back to my local Next Byte store and got my hands on one.
This was a really huge decision to make as I was used to using a 27” iMac . For a professional photographer, screen real estate is important and after using a 27” iMac for the past couple of years, I had been spoiled with screen real estate. I also knew that once I started using the retina display, I could never go back to using a non-retina display. Hopefully Apple will release a 27” retina cinema display and I can go back to enjoying my much missed screen real estate.
Ok, lets get into it. First things first, the screen is just as sharp as Apple claims. No doubt about it. I have good vision. I am a professional photographer. I can see pixilation in images that most people would not. The display is razor sharp.
Color calibration. The first thing I did when I got the new MacBook Retina home was to calibrate the display using my Spyder Pro 3. I had no problems calibrating the display. The colors look amazingly accurate. This is a very big deal. I have steered clear of laptops for the past few years as I had not been able to find one that you can actually color calibrate accurately. That is until now. I can now actually process images in the field. As I am primarily a travel and landscape photographer, I have not had the requirement to rush images out to clients. I shoot thousands of images in the field and it normally takes me about a month to edit through and process all of the images. Having a laptop that can accurately display colors means that I can now process in the field to check my work before leaving a location. Yes I know pros have been doing that for years, but as I said, I have yet to find any laptop that could accurately display colors.
Performance. I went from using a 27” 2010 iMac with a 2.8GHz i5 and 16GB of ram to the base model MacBook Pro Retina with a 2.3GHz i7 and 8Gb of ram. I was not sure of the base model would be fast enough, but I knew I could always give my wife this one and get the higher end model if it wasn’t fast enough. I am glad I made that choice. It saved me over $700 from going with the top end model at $3199 here in Australia. The $2499 model is actually still faster then my high end 2010 iMac. That’s right, faster. And I tested it using not just Photoshop CS6, but Premier Pro CS6 , After Effects CS6 and Final Cut Pro as well. I am not going to talk about benchmarks. As I said in the beginning of this blog, there are enough reviews out there for that.
Adobe CS6. What can I say, all CS6 programs look like absolute crap on the new retina display. The interface on Lightroom 4 looks better then the interface for Photoshop CS6, but both are unusable for a professional photographer. There is just too much pixilation in the images. Zoom in, zoom out, no difference. The images just look like shit. There is really no other way to describe it. This means that I am currently without a way to properly process my images until Adobe updates CS6 for retina display. I am hoping that this happens sooner then later. In the mean time, I will just keep all my raw images from my shoots, until such time as Adobe updates their software.
Office for Mac 2011. Looks like even more shit than the Adobe programs does. I am writing this blog using Word and it is so pixilated, I am getting a headache looking at the screen. Given Microsoft’s track record for updating their software for Mac, I don’t expect a fix form them until at least the next version of Office for Mac is released.
Aperture and Final Cut Pro. Both of these programs look amazingly sexy on the new MacBook Pro Retina. I could not believe how good my images looked using Aperture. Unfortunately, Aperture is not really compatible for Photoshop files with layers. I don’t really do much work to my images in Photoshop, but I do use Photoshop heavily for web graphics and logos, etc. And I had to make a choice between using Lightroom or Aperture and that was the deciding factor for me. Lightroom can open any multi layer Photoshop images, Aperture can’t. I do use Final Cut Pro as much as I use Premier Pro and Final Cut Pro truly does look good on the retina display.
Other programs and the web. As soon as the new iPad with retina display came out in March, I had been working on upgrading my website to be retina display compatible. That basically meant completely redoing all of the images and graphics on my website. No small feat. I am glad that I did though, because unlike most other websites, mine looks razor sharp on a retina display.  Check out my website, then compare it to another one that is not retina compatible. You will see the difference. In regards to other programs, it is hit or miss, most non-Apple programs do not look to good on the retina display, but in time, I am sure most programs will get with the times and do software updates to be properly retina display compatible.
Final Thoughts. If you are a professional photographer that needs to process images immediately, either wait for adobe to update their CS6 software, or ensure that you have access to a non-retina display to use in the mean time. Beware though, once you get used to using the retina display, all other non-retina displays look fuzzy and pixilated. Or if you use Aperture, then no worries at I said before, Aperture looks amazing on the new MacBook Pro Retina.
Overall, I am happy that I made the decision to get the new Apple MacBook Pro Retina. It looks oh so good, and it is fast, really fast. I just wish Adobe would update CS6, really soon.