Recommendations for a new photo editing computer (+ info on system performance)

Which option would be your pick?

  • Refurbished iMac 27" 5k (late 2015)

    Votes: 5 8.3%
  • iPad

    Votes: 1 1.7%
  • Macbook Pro

    Votes: 1 1.7%
  • New iMac 27" 5k (late 2019)

    Votes: 10 16.7%
  • Custom build PC

    Votes: 43 71.7%

  • Total voters
    60
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Hello all,

I'm currently using a MacBook Pro 13" Late 2015 (2,7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8 gb ram). For Lightroom, the performance is becoming a problem. I don't really care about import/export speeds but editing gets really slow (especially after doing local adjustments).

I tried moving mostly to Lightroom CC which is definitely faster than Classic, but still, the experience is mediocre at best. I do most of my edits now on my iPad mini but I am looking at a better option for my editing.

Currently, I am looking at different options. Ranked from affordable to well... more expensive:
Oh and I included the iPad Pro. As it surely will be blazing fast. My iPad mini handles Lightroom CC way better than my Laptop. The pencil seems very practical (use a Wacom tablet right now with my laptop). But it sure is quite expensive for "just" an iPad.
  • Refurbished iMac 27" 5K (late 2015)
    • + Intel QuadCore i7 4,0 GHz, 16 GB, 2gb video card
    • + Ram upgradable
    • - no SSD options available right now
    • Pricing at €1600,- / $1.769,72
  • New iPad Pro 12,9" 1TB
    • + very practical for editing with the pencil
    • + 1TB storage and more ram vs other iPad pro's with less storage (smart of you Apple...)
    • + Blazing fast with Lightroom CC
    • - not cheap as it's still an iPad and somewhat limited
    • - locked into Lightroom CC (and/or iPad apps)
    • - Sometimes I need to soft proof images (workaround could be to do this on the aging MacBook)
    • Pricing around: €1750,- / $1.935,59
  • New MacBook Pro
    • + 6 core i7 with 16 GB, 4gb video card
    • + should have quite a bit of power
    • - Pricey for a relatively fast model
    • - No upgradability
    • -/+ Portability not really needed (use the iPad mini on the go). For basic laptop purposes the MacBook I have right now works fine.
    • -/+ Could replace my current MacBook
    • Pricing €2600,- / $2.875,73
  • New iMac 27" 5K (2019)
    • + Intel i7 3,7‑GHz 6‑core, 8 GB, 8gb video card
    • + Ram upgradable (but to get to let's say 2x 16 gb will up the final price even more)
    • + SSD
    • Pricing at €2700,- / $2.986,34
  • Custom build PC
    • + can be custom configured (AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32gb, 8gb video card, super-fast SSD)
    • + definitely most performance for the € / $
    • + system is completely upgradable
    • - Windows (I do prefer to use OSx but Windows wouldn't be a huge issue)
    • - Monitor not included in the price
    • Pricing around €2000,- / $2.212,10 (configured to the PugetSystems recommended specs for Lightroom/Photoshop) + €900,- / $995 for a very good photo editing monitor.
So this is my shortlist and I am curious about what your experiences are. I am aware that the newer systems would be faster than the refurbished iMac, but is it needed?

So my question is what are your experiences... does anyone currently use a comparable late 2015 iMac... what are your thoughts on running Lightroom/Photoshop. Does anyone have build a custom PC? Is anyone using only an iPad Pro for editing?
 
Last edited:

BosseBe

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Hello all,

I'm currently using a MacBook Pro 13" Late 2015 (2,7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8 gb ram). For Lightroom, the performance is becoming a problem. I don't really care about import/export speeds but editing gets really slow (especially after doing local adjustments).

I tried moving mostly to Lightroom CC which is definitely faster than Classic, but still, the experience is mediocre at best. I do most of my edits now on my iPad mini but I am looking at a better option for my editing.

Currently, I am looking at different options. Ranked from affordable to well... more expensive:
Oh and I included the iPad Pro. As it surely will be blazing fast. My iPad mini handles Lightroom CC way better than my Laptop. The pencil seems very practical (use a Wacom tablet right now with my laptop). But it sure is quite expensive for "just" an iPad.
  • Refurbished iMac 27" 5K (late 2015)
    • + Intel QuadCore i7 4,0 GHz, 16 GB, 2gb video card
    • + Ram upgradable
    • - no SSD options available right now
    • Pricing at €1600,- / $1.769,72
  • New iPad Pro 12,9" 1TB
    • + very practical for editing with the pencil
    • + 1TB storage and more ram vs other iPad pro's with less storage (smart of you Apple...)
    • + Blazing fast with Lightroom CC
    • - not cheap as it's still an iPad and somewhat limited
    • - locked into Lightroom CC (and/or iPad apps)
    • - Sometimes I need to soft proof images (workaround could be to do this on the aging MacBook)
    • Pricing around: €1750,- / $1.935,59
  • New MacBook Pro
    • + 6 core i7 with 16 GB, 4gb video card
    • + should have quite a bit of power
    • - Pricey for a relatively fast model
    • - No upgradability
    • -/+ Portability not really needed (use the iPad mini on the go). For basic laptop purposes the MacBook I have right now works fine.
    • + Could replace my current MacBook
    • Pricing €2600,- / $2.875,73
  • New iMac 27" 5K (2019)
    • + Intel i7 3,7‑GHz 6‑core, 8 GB, 8gb video card
    • + Ram upgradable (but to get to let's say 2x 16 gb will up the final price even more)
    • + SSD
    • Pricing at €2700,- / $2.986,34
  • Custom build PC
    • + can be custom configured (AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, 32gbm 8gb video card, super-fast SSD)
    • + definitely most performance for the € / $
    • + system is upgradable
    • - Windows (I do prefer to use OSx but Windows wouldn't be a huge issue)
    • - Monitor not included in the price
    • Pricing around €2000,- / $2.212,10 (configured to the PugetSystems recommended specs for Lightroom/Photoshop) + €900,- / $995 for a very good photo editing monitor.
So this is my shortlist and I am curious about what your experiences are. I am aware that the newer systems would be faster than the refurbished iMac, but is it needed?

So my question is what are your experiences... does anyone currently use a comparable late 2015 iMac... what are your thoughts on running Lightroom/Photoshop. Does anyone have build a custom PC? Is anyone using only an iPad Pro for editing?
Since I haven't used Mac I vote for a custom built PC.
The AMD processor is a cheaper choice than Intel, from the link to PugetSystems you seem to have chosen a 12 core processor, I don't know if LR/PS utilizes all 12 cores, if they do by all means go for it. Otherwise maybe fewer cores are cheaper.
A SSD for the system is a must these days, you don't want it to be slow. But I would suggest that the you have a second SSD for your pictures while processing and a HDD for storage.
Having the system on its own disc is great when you need to reinstall.

For a monitor I would suggest that you first invest in a calibration tool (XRite or Datacolor) to calibrate the monitor you use, I use a calibrated ASUS ProArt 23" monitor and I'm happy with that, it cost about €250 some years ago. The thing with calibration is that I calibrate all my monitors (Workstation and Laptop) and the colours are consistent, also I know that I have provided the best colour I can for others out there.
 

mumu

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Yeah I'd definitely go for a PC. Good bang for your buck, easier/cheaper to upgrade over the years, plus it's also easier to replace parts if they fail (usually drives or power supply). I work in a university school where a lot of people work with 3D design and virtually all the faculty are choosing PCs and only a handful of iMacs. Most laptops are Macbooks (60-70%) but for the heavy lifting it's 95% Windows machines and most of those are custom-built.
 
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The AMD processor is a cheaper choice than Intel, from the link to PugetSystems you seem to have chosen a 12 core processor, I don't know if LR/PS utilizes all 12 cores.

I had the same feeling (based on some research) and would opt for an 8 core processor. The 12 core seems to be only faster for exporting but that isn't really a decisive factor for me.
AMD seems to be the faster choice vs Intel although I don’t know how big the difference would be.

I will definitely look into two SSD (one smaller and one a bit bigger could work for the situation you described)

For a monitor I would suggest that you first invest in a calibration tool

Yes, have one. Best investment I've made (for basic editing but certainly for printing).

@BosseBe and @mumu thanks for expressing your support for the PC option. I included it more as an outlier, but I guess it should be the top contender as upgradability it a huge benefit. It would only be a photo editing workstation so not having OSx running isn't really a big deal. And it is way faster than the Mac options in the price range (almost iMac Pro level).
 
Last edited:

BosseBe

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I had the same feeling (based on some research) and would opt for an 8 core processor. The 12 core seems to be only faster for exporting but that isn't really a decisive factor for me. I will definitely look into two SSD (one smaller and one a bit bigger could work for the situation you described)



Yes, have one. Best investment I've made.

@BosseBe and @mumu thanks for expressing your support for the PC option. I included it more as an outlier, but I guess it should be the top contender as upgradability it a huge benefit (it would only be a photo editing workstation so not having OSx running isn't really a big deal I guess).
With a custom built PC you also have the option to choose water cooling for a ultra silent PC or using silent fans in a silent chassis. (I use Fractal Design because they are silent and Swedish! ;) )
But now I have begun talking about building your PC yourself, that may not be what you want to do. It takes time to choose the parts that you want and time to assemble, but it is very satisfying when you use it.
I built my current PC about 8 years ago, I am thinking about upgrading but that is still idle thought, I have added SSD's and HDD but the MB, processor and RAM is still the same.
Dator.JPG
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Good luck with your purchase!
 
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(I use Fractal Design because they are silent and Swedish! ;) )
But now I have begun talking about building your PC yourself, that may not be what you want to do.

It would indeed be something I want to do. I used the pugetsystems just as a baseline for the parts but they don’t ship to my country and I have build quite a few PC some years ago (worked in a computer store).

I also have a Fractal Design case (mostly as I like the design) on the list.
 
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Recently picked up a machine for the same purpose.

I would note that the hard drive and memory are very important.

When given a choice, choose higher memory speeds. For instance, XXGB DDR4 at 2666MHz . Not sure what the top speeds are but something to consider.

I would also consider a CPU with fewer cores and higher clock speeds over a CPU with more cores and lower clock speeds. Some tasks are not parrallelized yet and the high clock speed will help.

Next, and something I consider very important is the HD speed. SATA SSD drives are good but have been surpassed by the PCIe M.2 NVMe SSD drives. The typcial SSD drives plug into the SATA bus (like drives have been doing for many years) and this limits their speed. The M.2 NVME drives work on the PCIe bus. This is noticeably faster for the programs and OS. You may only have one M.2 slot, however. My setup has a 512GB M.2 Drive for the OS and Editing programs (and scratch files) and then a 1TB SSD drive on the SATA bus (the old standard for SSD) for some working photo storage. A final 4 or 6TB old school spinning disk drive is a good idea for longer term and cheaper bulk storage.

Finally, I would suggest you look at the DELL XPS 8930 series while shopping around. We have two in the house and they can give you alot of bang for the buck. They seem very well built and are easy to work on.
 

davidzvi

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I prefer PCs, so I'm a little bit bias, and I tend to build my own.

One reason I prefer them is I can change my storage options. I built a new PC at the end of 2017. The mobo I selected supports 2 NVMe drives. they weren't really in my price range at the time, now I have one. Another few months and I plan on changing my main 2tb drive to another. I've also changed my other drives around and upgraded from 16gb or RAM to 32gb. It's simple with well made PC.
 

BrianMc

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I recently built a custom PC for photo editing. I haven’t tried Lightroom on it yet, but I have trialed DXO PL3 and Capture One 20. Performance with PL3 seemed fine, but not amazing. There was a little bit of lag with adjusting sliders to seeing the effect. However, Capture One is positively snappy. The photos adjust almost instantaneously while moving the sliders. I had previously been using an iPad Pro 10.5” for editing. The Capture One performance on the PC is better than the Lightroom Mobile performance on the iPad Pro. I’ll have to give Lightroom CC a try next. I don’t like being stuck on a subscription, but it might be worth it to be able to work on both the iPad and PC.

Editing on the iPad is still sort of nice, but file management became a huge pain when I started running out of space. Even with the latest iOS updates moving files around and making sure you’re sending the right version of a photo (raw vs jpg) was extremely frustrating. Amongst other small annoyances. Adobe has done a good job of continually updating the app though.

My PC specs are:
Ryzen 5 3600
16 GB RAM - 3200 MHz
AMD RX 570 4GB graphics card
XPG 1 TB pcie nvme drive
 

robcee

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I just upgraded and after almost 20 years as a mac user, I switched back to PC. I built an all purpose, creative / development / gaming machine around an i9 9900K, Nvidia RTX2700 Super and 32GB of RAM. All packed into a Fractal Design case (hi @BosseBe! I have the Meshify C Tempered Glass edition!). All-in with lots of fast storage, I spent just over $2500CAD. I’d say it’s worth it over the current Mac lineup.

edit: I still have lots of room to upgrade if I want to add more storage or RAM. They’re both super cheap these days.

I wouldn’t go with an iPad (pro or otherwise) as my main editing rig, as powerful as they are. They’re just not versatile enough.

Good luck! let us know what you go with.
 

Bushboy

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Roel, have you tried the affinity app on your MacBook?
I have the MacBook under yours and I don’t find the processing of pics slow at all.
A big screen seems like a no brainer.... iMac 50”. :)
 
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Thanks for all the feedback! Really helps getting my mind around which route to take.
Here's my current thinking:

iPad = was already an outlier option but after a bit more research yesterday is definitely off the list. Read quite a few experiences by photographers that running out of storage space makes it a real hassle to work with (even when you can hook up external disks now).

Refurbished iMac = still potentially an option, yesterday's technology, maybe still fast enough (have to look in to this more). If it is fast enough it offers a good package for the price (including a high res screen which is decent for editing).

new iMac vs custom build PC = looked more in to the performance difference but custom build PC would run circles around an new iMac (at approx equal cost). And upgradability would be a problem. So a new iMac is off my list.

But the custom build PC is definitely at the top of the list thanks to all the feedback. I will have to do a lot of reading in to custom building a PC as I'm not familiar with some of the technology/terminology (any more). The remarks about the faster SSD's for instance is certainly something I need to do more research. I guessed all disks where still SATA :whistling:. Getting to a final parts list is the goal for the next couple of days. And decide between "budget" option of the refurb iMac vs building a custom PC.

I will update this topic with future information which could maybe be of help to someone also looking for a new editing machine.


@Bushboy I will look in to affinity for Mac. Planned to look more in to it for some time now (as a PS replacement and do use it on iPad), but maybe it would also help with the processing right now.
 

Stanga

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Whilst many have advised on the number of cores of the processor, for graphic work the type of graphics card required would be of far more interest to me. A lot of the modern day graphics packages make use of the GPU in the graphics card to process images at far greater speed. Check if the software you intend to use makes use of the GPU for improved speed. And check which graphics card they support, before committing cash to the card you eventually decide on.
 
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I was about to buy a MacBook pro but for less monies I could build a Ryzen machine. I opted for mini-ITX format and the whole thing is amazingly small about the size of a shoebox. It goes into my travel bag easily.
Best decision ever! That was 2 years ago. Since then I upgraded OS drive to 1tb SSD and storage HDD to 8Tb on the cheap - something that I couldn't do with a laptop let alone Mac.
My specs were : Ryzen 7 1700x, 16gb DDR4 3000, RX 560 mini, 256gb WD nvme and 2tb Toshiba HDD, last two components are now upgraded as mentioned above. This kind of configuration is BIG bucks in Mac but on desktop you can get away cheap.
 
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In the past I have normally built my own windows PC's but after my last PC died I decided to give iMacs a chance. To build my own PC with a decent monitor was just about the same as a 2019 iMac 27" so I bit the bullet and purchased one.

Still learning the darn thing which is hard after a lifetime of windows, but things like reinstalling is so much easier since the operating system knows all the hardware. You can boot into recovery mode and the iMac will install over the web. No drivers to install, changing boot options no longer needed or tweaking the BIOS at least for my standard reinstall. I just had to try it :doh: on my new iMac.

The screen looks great with image display very crisp. I have installed On1 that I purchased two years ago and never used.

Good luck which ever way you go, but as has been mentioned more and more programs are using the graphics card to help with processing so keep that in mind.

Only thing I would not get an iMac for was if I was still into gaming, but those days are long gone.
 
Last edited:

BPCS

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AMD CPU'S scale with RAM speed over 2400mhz... Intel don't (except in a few isolated benchmark conditions like zipping files there is a few percent improvement). So for about a $100 dollars extra over 2400mhz, something around 3600mhz will provide noticeably snappier performance... just be sure the motherboard manufacturer has validated the particular model module of RAM.
 

robcee

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Thanks for all the feedback! Really helps getting my mind around which route to take.
Here's my current thinking:

iPad = was already an outlier option but after a bit more research yesterday is definitely off the list. Read quite a few experiences by photographers that running out of storage space makes it a real hassle to work with (even when you can hook up external disks now).

Refurbished iMac = still potentially an option, yesterday's technology, maybe still fast enough (have to look in to this more). If it is fast enough it offers a good package for the price (including a high res screen which is decent for editing).

new iMac vs custom build PC = looked more in to the performance difference but custom build PC would run circles around an new iMac (at approx equal cost). And upgradability would be a problem. So a new iMac is off my list.

But the custom build PC is definitely at the top of the list thanks to all the feedback. I will have to do a lot of reading in to custom building a PC as I'm not familiar with some of the technology/terminology (any more). The remarks about the faster SSD's for instance is certainly something I need to do more research. I guessed all disks where still SATA :whistling:. Getting to a final parts list is the goal for the next couple of days. And decide between "budget" option of the refurb iMac vs building a custom PC.

I will update this topic with future information which could maybe be of help to someone also looking for a new editing machine.

If you're looking for inspiration, here's my completed build from PCPartsList.

https://ca.pcpartpicker.com/b/HtcYcf

For advice, I tend to stick with ASUS, Gigabyte and EVGA for motherboards and graphics cards. They tend to have better integration and software. For photo processing, more cores are better. I've been an Intel+NVidia user forever (except for the short, dark foray into PowerPC on my earlier macs), but the current line of AMD Threadrippers look pretty impressive.

Cheers! 🍻
 

Dinobe

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I would always pick a custom build pc. I've been doing so for over 25 years.
In case of a photographic workstation: any modern cpu (Intel or AMD) will do. AMD has a very nice series with the Ryzen Gen3 cpu's. So you could get a better performance/money choosing an AMD cpu, the motherboards also tend to be cheaper.

Most processing software does not benefit from lots of cores. I would choose a cpu with highest clockspeed/euro. Something like a Ryzen 5 3600x could be a sweet spot.

Enough memory is important, but again there is probably a sweet spot around 16GB. You could higher with 32GB or even more but I doubt you will benefit from it.

Motherboards: any well-known manufacturer will do. I've had good experiences with ASRock, Asus, Gigabyte, MSI
The more you pay the more features you get. Question is do you need them?

I/O is makes a computer feel responsive. I would use a 250GB M.2 drive for Operating System and software. I would put my current catalog of photo's on a large, fast SSD and keep an archive on a large, but slower HardDrive.

Graphics card: more and more photo and video editing tools can benefit from the GPU, but I would investigate what cards are supported and recommended by your software.

I would spend a nice amount on a good quality monitor 27" or larger 1440P display. I don't know if a 4K monitor would be worth it. I would also invest in a calibration tool like an XRite.
 

robcee

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I/O is makes a computer feel responsive. I would use a 250GB M.2 drive for Operating System and software. I would put my current catalog of photo's on a large, fast SSD and keep an archive on a large, but slower HardDrive.

I found a 1TB HP M2 SSD for $148CAD. They've come way down in price and I wouldn't limit your OS drive to a mere 250GB in 2020. Also, if you buy a board with more than one M2 slot, you can have a fast OS+apps drive and a fast, dedicated drive for processing photos.

Once you've gone SSD, it's impossible to go back to slow storage.

I'm pretty sure Lightroom and photoshop will take advantage of either AMD or Nvidia for GPU acceleration, though the returns are most-likely diminishing. You might find a less expensive NVidia GTX 1060ti that does the job for a lot less than the 20x0 RTX cards and runs cooler and quieter to boot.
 

wjiang

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FYI I'm running an AMD Ryzen 3800X (upgraded from a 1600X), 16 GB of 3200 MHz RAM, and a GTX 1060 6GB, and ACR does not tax the GPU at all. On export it is able to max out all 16 CPU threads, however. I'm using a SATA 860 EVO SSD as my OS/application and working drive, and Windows boots in 8 seconds, so I'm not all that tempted to upgrade to NVME at this point.

Even with that setup, as soon as I start using adjustment brushes, it starts feeling sluggish while brushing. Other than that it's pretty good.

Don't forget a fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 card reader, if you don't already have one.
 

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