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Professional photographer tests Apple’s M1 MacBook

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Andrew Hoyle / CNET

As a professional photographer, I was intrigued when Apple abandoned Intel’s chips and started using its own M1 silicon in its MacBook lineup instead. The performance gains Apple promised were just as appealing as the expected battery life improvements, but I have professional software on platforms that aren’t yet properly supported by some of the tools I use every day. I was nervous about what I had to do.

I’ve now spent some time on a 13-inch M1-based MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM and ran various tests to see how well it worked. Is it a safe upgrade for photographers and other creative professionals? Or do you have to wait for the promised software update?

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Apple, which uses its own chip, may seem like a small change that you don’t have to think about, but it has a big impact on how your software runs. For best performance, you need to rewrite your program to make good use of your new hardware.

This is a potential problem as software developers need to support two versions of the product. Intel version and Apple M1 version. At the time of this writing, Adobe released the M1 version of Lightroom, but not Lightroom Classic (the version I use with most photography professionals). Industry standard Photoshop only supports M1 if you download the beta version. Also, Adobe does not provide an official timeline for when all Creative Cloud app suites will fully support the Apple M1.

Is Andrew Hoyle / CNET useless for photographers?

You are welcome. These apps aren’t optimized, but they will continue to run thanks to Apple’s Rosetta 2 software, which allows you to run Intel versions of the software normally. In other words, the apps you normally want to use on your MacBook will work the same way and can run on newer models. There is little performance degradation, but it varies from app to app.

Practical testing has shown that the M1 version of Adobe’s app runs very fast. Lightroom ran very fast and was able to edit and export very quickly. Even Lightroom Classic (Intel version) continued to work fine when used via Rosetta2.

If you use the version optimized for M1, the improvement will be noticeable. Photoshop (both Intel and M1 beta versions) has tested the time it takes to align 19 full resolution RAW images and merge them into a focus stack image. This is a technique I use every day in product photography, so it’s important to be more efficient here.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Intel-based Photoshop took 50.3 seconds to align layers and 1 minute 37 seconds to merge layers via Rosetta 2. I compared it to a very powerful Windows desktop PC built with AMD Ryzen 9 3950 X CPU, Nvidia RTX Titan graphics, and 128GB RAM. Especially the beast that edits photos and 8K videos. The PC took 20 seconds to align the layers and 53 seconds to merge. This is an obvious victory for the PC.

However, I ran the same test on a beta version of Photoshop that supports the Apple M1. It took 22 seconds to align the layers and 46.6 seconds to merge. This was an overall faster time than my very powerful editing rig could achieve.

In the M1-enabled version of Lightroom, the MacBook took 6.4 seconds to import 100 RAW images, reducing the PC’s 7.1 seconds to complete the same task.

Total time to complete focus stacking in Adobe Photoshop (layer alignment and merging)

MacBook Pro (Intel version of Photoshop)

MacBook Pro (Photoshop Beta Optimized for M1)

Note: The shorter the bar, the better the performance.

The same was true when exporting videos in Premiere. The Intel-based version of Premiere took 6 minutes and 25 seconds to export to the M1 MacBook, while the optimized M1 beta version took about half the time, 3 minutes and 24 seconds. For reference, my desktop did the same export at 1:20.

Total time to export full HD video in Adobe Premiere

MacBook Pro (Intel version of Premiere)

MacBook Pro (M1 Optimized Premiere Beta)

Note: The shorter the bar, the better the performance.

Other non-optimized software continues to run normally, and the overall performance of the machine is still good, so you can’t tell that you’re running an “emulated” version of the software. It took 51 seconds to import 100 RAW images into the professional image editing software Capture One, and the desktop didn’t come to the fore in 48 seconds. Capture One says it will update the version optimized for M1, but I’m not sure exactly when this will happen.

We found that the professional video software DaVinci Resolve Studio is also available in beta of M1 and has no problem previewing 4K files on the timeline and can be used very quickly.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

I was impressed overall. Even if you’re running a non-optimized version of the app, the M1 MacBook Pro struggles to fight the super-powerful editing PC. And the fact that M1-optimized beta apps can perform better than PCs in some tests is amazing. .. I’m certainly excited about what performance gains will be seen as more developers fully optimize their software for Apple’s silicon.

If you’re a photographer and you’re considering an upgrade, I definitely think the M1 MacBook is a safe bet. At a minimum, you can use all your current software normally through Rosetta 2. With the release of the official M1 version, these performances can be improved and battery life can be significantly reduced.

See also: MacBookAir M1 Review: Major changes from Apple Silicone and Big Sur

Currently playing: Watch this: Experience the all-new Apple Mac M1 lineup

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