Although you can pick up any laptop for basic photo editing, professionals need a specific “environment” to produce optimal results for print and digital publishing. We talked to our staff photographers here at Digital Trends and they recommend the Dell XPS 15 over anything else out there. It’s got great hardware, Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a great touchpad.
But that’s not the only one they like. With our extensive laptop testing experience, we’ve put together a list of the best laptops we could find for photo editing.
Why you should buy this: The Dell XPS 15 has everything that makes a laptop great — good looks, a solid build, excellent performance, and long battery life — to go with its creatives-pleasing display.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a top-notch display and doesn’t want to give up performance.
What we thought of the Dell XPS 15:
Dell lands in the top spot of our list of the best laptops for photo editing — and the main reason is for its screen. XPS 15 configurations include an option for a Full HD resolution, as well as a UHD resolution with full touch support. More importantly, the display is based on IGZO panel technology, which results in a high-performance screen that supports near 100 percent of both the sRGB and AdobeRGB color spaces, which is pretty rare. It should be noted that even though we prefer the XPS 13 overall as a laptop, its display doesn’t perform quite as well in the AdobeRGB spectrum.
Overall, Dell offers some powerful configurations, including up to six-core Intel 8th-gen Core i9 CPUs and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics — and that’s being updated soon to 9th-gen processors and the upcoming GTX 1650 GPU. It’s base design is the same across the board, providing two memory slots supporting up to 32GB of system memory, a Thunderbolt 3 port with full 40 gigabits per second of performance, a wide complement of ports, and an SD card slot. This should give you everything you need to support both legacy accessories and high-speed connections — both of which are essential for the modern photographer.
Read our Dell XPS 15 review
Why you should buy this: It’s powerful, enjoys a super-premium build, has one of the best displays around, and it’s the standard for creative professionals everywhere.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a powerful laptop with a color-accurate display — and isn’t married to Windows.
What we thought of the Apple MacBook 15:
Macs are still the go-to devices for ad designers, graphic artists, and all other creative individuals. The love relationship between Apple and Adobe still burns after 30 years, as students became teachers only to pass their Mac-based Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign knowledge to students over the past three decades. Sure, Windows-based devices work just as well, but Apple and Adobe have put a lot of work into making sure that MacBooks remains the first choice for photographers.
However, our photographers didn’t love the options Apple presented in its most recent update of the lineup. In particular, they weren’t all that impressed by the functionality of the Touch Bar, which was supposed to be this laptops’ killer feature. Similarly, the choice to move completely to Thunderbolt 3 ports was controversial, and it’s sure to upset photographers who still rely on USB-A external hard drives and SD cards. You can make it work, so as long as you’re willing to use a fair share of dongles.
That being said, we chose the MacBook Pro 15 for Mac users thanks to its fantastic display that marries a crazy max brightness of 500 nits with extensive support for the DCI-P3, sRGB, and AdobeRGB color spaces. It’s among the best displays you can buy on a laptop, and that’s absolutely worth it to some photographers. The cherry on top is that the 15-inch version comes with a discrete AMD Radeon Pro graphics card and isn’t as overpriced as the 13-inch version.
Best budget option
Why you should buy this: It’s a solid budget laptop that offers a very good display and great performance for a fraction of the price of our leaders.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs to edit photos — but has a pretty strict budget.
What we thought of the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333:
The ZenBook 13 UX333 is our cheapest laptop here, but it’s not “cheap” in performance. Configurations include an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and integrated graphics powering a 13.3-inch IPS display with Full HD resolution, but you won’t find touch input. The screen supports roughly 100 percent of the sRGB color space but only 74 percent of the Adobe RGB color space. That’s not as good as the XPS 15 or MacBook Pro, but it’s in line with laptops that sell for hundreds of dollars more.
According to the specifications, the display has a maximum brightness of around 265 nits, making it great for all but the most brightly-lit environments. Contrast is excellent at 1350:1, though, while color accuracy is 1.68 (less than 1.0 is perfect) — not as great as the more expensive options here but very good for a budget laptop. The 50 watt-hour battery provides excellent longevity, and the build is both solid and conservatively attractive.
You can spend a lot more on a laptop for photo editing, but unless you need the best possible colors in your display, the ZenBook 13 UX333 proves that you don’t have to break the bank.
Read our Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 review
Best Compact Option
Razer Blade Stealth
Why you should buy this: The Razer Blade Stealth is a gorgeous little laptop with enough power for your photo editing but without needing quite so much space in your backpack.
Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t want to carry around a super-heavy laptop for photo editing on the go.
What we thought of the Razer Blade Stealth:
Okay, so Razer is best known for manufacturing products for gamers. But you have to admit: the Razer Blade Stealth should suffice as a great laptop for editing photos. The 13.3-inch IPS display is “just” average at around 72 percent of AdobeRGB, but its contrast is very good and it’s incredibly bright at over 400 nits. It offers 8th-gen Intel CPUs, but its real secret weapon for a small and light laptop is its GPU. While the Razer Blade Stealth can’t keep up with the most expensive options on our list, it features the faster 25-watt version of the entry-level Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. That’s enough to help edit complex photos in a pinch — and if you need more power, plug in the Razer Core external GPU enclosure.
In addition, you’ll find that the Razer Blade Stealth makes for a great laptop for everything else you’ll do. It’s fast, offers good (but not great) battery life, and it has that Razer design aesthetic with RGB lighting that lets you stand out if you’re so inclined — or not, if you aren’t.
Read our Razer Blade Stealth review