So you've decided that you need a new photo editing machine, but you're not sure if you should go with a Windows based machine or spend the money on an Apple Mac?
Let me help you decide.
Before we get into this article, just a warning: If you hold strong opinions on the Mac vs PC debate this article may cause you to feel rage. This article is designed for those who genuinely don't know weather they should choose a Mac or PC based system - not for those who have already made up their minds :)
The Simple Answer
When looking purely from a photography perspective the answer to the Mac vs PC debate is easy: It doesn't matter. As long as the hardware you buy is powerful enough to run your software well, the Mac vs PC debate is purely personal preference.
Not the answer you were hoping for? Let me explain.
When it comes to processing photos there are few key things we need to achieve:
- Get the photos from the memory card to the computer
- Edit the photos to turn them into masterpieces
- Print, Export or Share the photos
There are a few other non-workflow things that also matter
- Monitor and Printer colour calibration
All of the above can be achieved equally well on either a PC or a Mac.
In fact, once you are using any of the major software packages (Lightroom, Capture One, PhotoLab, On1, Photoshop, Affinity Photo.... the list goes on) you would be hard pressed to notice the difference between a Mac and a PC. Aside from a few keyboard shortcut differences and menu locations - all of these products are essentially the same on both Windows and MacOS.
The More Complex Answer
Of course, most people use their computers for much more than just photography. Weather you prefer to work in MacOS on an Apple machine or in Windows will largely be a matter of personal preference.
Of course, if you work with an application that is only available on one of the platforms and there is no alternative on the other - your choice becomes much easier.
MacOS certainly looks 'prettier' than Windows (in my opinion) - but there are much more important considerations to be had.
The internal parts that run Apple machines is functionally the same as that which runs windows machines* - the only real difference is the MacOS operating system that runs on Apple machines.
Of course, there is a much larger selection of Windows based machines to choose from than Apple ones - so you do need to be careful in making sure you get hardware that is up to the task. Before buying, do your research to make sure the hardware you are getting will do what you ask of it.
An underpowered machine is going to give you a bad experience editing high resolution photos no matter what operating system it runs.
*as of November 2020 this has started to change - read the 'A Spanner In The Works' section below
The Cost Factor
Cost is an argument that is used against Apple Products. Macs are certainly expensive, there is no getting around that. You can often buy a Windows PC with equivalent hardware powering it for much less than an Apple machine.
The increased cost of Apple hardware is somewhat offset by their excellent quality and after-sales support.
The Quality Factor
On the other side of the cost argument is quality. Aside from a few recent issues (keyboard-gate anyone) Apple products are generally very well built, and their after-sales support is also top notch if something does go wrong.
Windows machines are a mixed bag, and you generally get what you pay for. Lower cost machines have to compromise somewhere! It is certainly possible to get a fantastic quality Windows PC
Windows on a Mac
Right now it is possible to run Windows on Mac hardware with very few issues. You can either use a Virtual Machine and have Windows run on top of MacOS, or you can boot directly into Windows with a program like Bootcamp.
This however is likely to change in the very near future. Apple are in the process of transitioning away from traditional x86 based CPUs to their own custom built ARM chips. As of late 2020 they have released several products that run on the so called M1 chip. This brings complications when it comes to running Windows on a a Mac and it currently isn't possible on the new M1 chips.
Mac on Windows
You can't easily run MacOS on a Windows based PC. MacOS is only licensed to run on Apple produced hardware. There are certainly things you can do to build a 'Hackintosh' (MacOS on non-Apple hardware) or put MacOS in a virtual machine on Windows - but the results are generally not worth the hassle.
A Spanner In The Works
Apple have recently released some new hardware that has made this article much harder to write.
Over the next two years Apple have announced that they are moving away from Intel based x86 CPU chips and will be using their own in-house ARM chips. These chips have the potential to be very performant and if the prices of the higher-end machines remains reasonable when they are released could give ARM based Macs a huge performance boost over their x86 PC cousins.
Three entry level devices have so far been released with the Apple M1 chip. A MacBook Air, A 13" Macbook Pro and a Mac Mini. These devices max out at 16GB of RAM and have some other limitations that would make me hesitate to buy them for a photography machine - but the performance of these devices is very promising indeed.
So Which Should You Buy?
Only you can answer that question - but from a photography perspective you can rest assured that you will be able to get great results from either.
There are many people who will argue black and blue that you should buy either a Mac or PC for many reasons - almost all of those reasons won't change how your photos look.
If you're looking for 'Bang for your buck' then you're better off going with a Windows machine.
If you love how Apple hardware and software looks and you can afford the higher prices of the equivalent machines then by all means buy an Apple machine.
Whatever you do, make sure that the hardware (CPU, RAM, Storage, etc) you buy is up to the task. Don't buy a lower-end Apple product because you like how it looks but you can't afford better hardware. You'll regret an underpowered machine much more than you will notice a difference between MacOS and Windows in the long run.
What Do I Use?
Currently - I use both a Mac and a PC daily. I have a powerful custom built desktop PC that runs Windows. The majority of my photo editing happens on this machine and it gives me no issues.
So why a Windows based machine? This this case: cost.
I built the machine with the following parts:
- Ryzen 9 3900x CPU (12 cores / 24 threads @ 3.8GHz)
- 32GB DDR4 RAM @ 3600MHz
- Vega 64 Graphics Card
- 1.5 TB NVMe Storage + 6TB Hard Drive
To build new it would cost around AU$1800
To get a similar performing Mac I would need to step up to a Mac Pro and choose a few of the upgrade options. The total cost would be... AU$12,400. Even if I went for a lower-specced (but still excellent for photography) iMac Pro it would cost me AU$8200. Of course the iMac Pro does include a 27" screen.
So the difference between my Windows PC and a similar specced (for photography) Mac Pro is over AU$10,000. If I chose an iMac Pro for slower (but still excellent) performance and added $1800 for a nice screen to my windows PC it would still cost AU$4500 more for the Apple machine.
The Mac I use is a 2018 15" MacBook Pro. I use this machine for editing photos while travelling and also for writing/office type tasks while away from my desk (eg, I'm writing this article on it right now while sitting on my balcony enjoying the sunshine and a Sunday afternoon beer).
The MacBook pro also does an admirable job of editing photos. It is slower than my desktop machine, but handles things just fine.
So, if you're tossing up between a Mac and a PC - rest assured that from a photography point of view you can't go wrong with either. Just make sure that whatever machine you buy has the appropriate hardware to handle what you want to do with it.
If you want to keep your costs down and want to get the most bang for your buck then you should probably go with a Windows based machine. Your photos will turn out just as pretty on Windows hardware as on an Apple machine.
If you love the look of Apple hardware and the MacOS operating system and you can afford to buy the machine with appropriate hardware for your needs - go for it. Your photos won't turn out any better or worse.
It will be very interesting what the new Apple ARM chips bring to the table. The M1 that has been released into some of their base models does seem very impressive for what they are. I will watch with anticipation when they bring out the higher-end machines over the next year or so. If they can keep costs reasonable it may very well introduce some very compelling reasons to buy a 2021 MacBook Pro or even an iMac or iMac Pro.