It has been said before, but the Mac Pro is not for the average person. The price alone tells you that much. But who, then, is it for?
I spoke with a content creator who seemed like the ideal target audience, Vincent Laforet. He’s one of the first creative professionals to have been using the Mac Pro for a couple of weeks.
For his purposes, the Mac Pro isn’t a luxury. It is a necessity — and it has been a long time coming.
A tool for the job
Laforet is a photographer and videographer, but he’s not your average cameraman. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world, including Nike, Pepsi, National Geographic — and yes, even Apple. He even won a Pulitzer Prize from the New York Times for his photojournalism of 9/11.
These are exactly the kinds of professionals Apple has targeted in the past. But until the new Mac Pro, Laforet had become a bit dissatisfied with the state of Mac hardware.
“I had the first-generation Mac Pro, but I skipped the so-called trash can,” said Laforet, speaking of the previous 2013 Mac Pro. “It was not expandable enough for me, and the performance increase wasn’t quite justifiable for me to make the investment.”
The limits were off, and for a photographer of his ilk, that had a substantial change on his workflow.
Laforet takes his investments seriously. The success of his work and career depend on those investments.
After using the new Mac Pro for a couple of weeks, it was clear to Laforet that this was something else entirely. The limits were off, and for a photographer of his ilk, that had a substantial change on his workflow.
Laforet shoots in two preposterously massive mediums. 8K video on his RED camera and stills with a 150-megapixel image sensor.
“The data adds up ridiculously fast,” said Laforet. “Last night as I went to bed, I was copying about 17 terabytes of data, and I got a request for stock footage. They wanted me to output 8K footage in ProRes 4444. I was able to let that run overnight without the machine really breaking a sweat.”
Inspiring the act of creation
Laforet came most recently from a fully-loaded iMac Pro, which Apple launched in late 2018. At the time it was the most powerful PC the company sold. But there was still a serious bottleneck on performance. All videographers will be familiar with the hours of waiting for clips to export in Da Vinci Resolve or Final Cut Pro. According to Laforet, the biggest pain was not being able to render his footage in full resolution as he’s editing.
“The real pain is that you can’t look at your work at full resolution. I can’t tell exactly how sharp an image is, or the noise structure, or the tones from light to dark or color gradations, to the same degree as when it’s rendered. You’re not maximizing the quality of your imagery. On the iMac Pro, that was set to half or quarter resolution at all times.”
The performance is a relief on the post-production process that actually inspires him to get out and keep shooting.
Laforet says that with the Mac Pro, he’s able to playback his RED clips in 8K at full resolution while color correcting or editing. For the first time, he doesn’t have to wait until after exporting to see the fine details of what his camera lens captured.
That increase in performance doesn’t just help him get his work more efficiently. According to Laforet, it’s a relief on the post-production process that actually inspires him to get out and keep shooting.
“I can’t tell you how much stuff I have that I have yet to ever look at on my hard drive,” Laforet said. “There’s a whole folder that I’m creating called ‘to edit.’ It’s stuff I fell behind on — stuff from five years ago. I’m actually getting to that now for the first time. That speaks volumes to me.”
Like any great tool, in the capable hands of a professional with actual need, the Mac Pro seems to truly flex. The crazy part? Laforet’s configuration isn’t even the most powerful one you can buy.
Laforet’s Mac Pro came with a 16-core Intel processor, a Radeon Pro Vega II Duo graphics card, and just 96GB of RAM. If you really wanted to, you could spend over $50,000 on a 28-core model and 1.5TB of RAM. Though Laforet admits the extra cores would have sped up his process even more, not all the improvements are needed for the work he does.
Take the Afterburner card, for example. Apple’s $2,000 proprietary card is meant to help speed up workflows for videographers, but right now, not all cameras support ProRes RAW. For Laforet, it’s a “build it and they will come” scenario.
“This is the definition of the cutting edge,” he said. “They have these technologies right now which is ready, but now the camera manufacturers and software developers have to catch up. Every time a beautiful machine comes out, a new camera comes out that shoots even more data in a higher resolution. No matter what you do, you’re always behind. Catching up. This is the first machine that just plays everything I shoot. And does it effortlessly.”
Spending 30 to 40 thousand dollars on the best machine with the best configuration is reasonable. And that’s a crazy thing to say. But that’s the world I’m in.
Laforet hopes the more the Mac Pro gets out in the world, the more support for ProRes RAW will commonplace. The same goes for the powerful AMD graphics included, which don’t currently aid Laforet as much as the multi-core processor. That’ll change, according to Laforet, when more software supports and optimizes for Apple’s Metal API.
Does that mean, until then, the Mac Pro costs more than it’s worth?
Laforet doesn’t seem to think so. He says the sticker shock might cause the average person to balk, but in his industry, it’s an investment that pays off.
“If I have to spend a thousand dollars in the real world, that’s a lot of money. If I have to spend a thousand dollars in the cinema world, that can be a filter or a series of cables. A RED package is a fifty to a hundred thousand dollar investment, depending on what you get. Suddenly, spending 30 to 40 thousand dollars on the best machine with the best configuration is reasonable. And that’s a crazy thing to say. But that’s the world I’m in.”
Laforet says the expandability of the Mac Pro is also an important factor in the worthiness of such an investment. He sees the machine as a five to seven-year investment, largely thanks to both the current processing power available and the potential for making upgrades in the future.
For creators like Laforet, the Mac Pro is a return to form. It’s a change in focus from only catering to the needs of the general public with iPhones and iPads to sending some love to the professional community.
“When you look at the amount of their consumers, we’re a very small percentage,” said Laforet. “Shooting 8K, 150-megapixel stuff. As a business, it makes sense to focus on a wider swath of people. It’s really nice to have them focus on us, because we rely on their products to do our work and push the boundaries.”
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