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Saturday, 20 July 2013


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Right now Best Buy has the MacBook Pro on special for $999.99 (200 bucks off). Personally, I can't tell much difference in the Retina screen, and anyhow you'll be using your big screen most of the time.

Might be jumping the gun a bit if February 2014 is your deadline. A new round of iMacs and MacBook Pros should be out before the year is out. A much better decision to wait and choose once everything is on the same CPU revision.

It doesn't sound like you're going to use the nice Retina screen at home much. On the go, in most cases the low weight, 1440x900 screen real-estate and 12 hour battery of the Air outweigh the tiny pixels and color reproduction of the Pro. Other than that they're very close, performance wise and such.
So, it boils down to: are you going to be doing a lot of processing for prints on the road? If you don't your back and wallet will appreciate the Air.


I just had this debate myself. I opted for the Air with its new battery life. Admittedly I'm not a photographer (I'm a grad student in history), but my work does require viewing/uploading images throughout the day. Having used the machine for several weeks I can confidently say that the gains in battery life are real such that I am now able to easily work a full day without being tethered to a power cord. If that isn't a priority, then the debate becames a little different, but until the Pro gets a similar upgrade, the battery life of the new Airs is worth considering.

Since you describe it as the center of your system, I would recommend the MBP over the Air. For my main system, I use the Mac MINI equivalent and it works great for CS6 Lightroom and Aperture, along with the office suite,etc. I still use my late 2010 MBP for travel, upgraded with an SSD making it quite peppy. You will have more weight with the MBP, but I think it's quite manageable. If you were traveling very frequently, the Air would be something I would add as a 2nd lapdog.

The Retina display is the most worthwhile upgrade to come in a long time, in my opinion. It's well worth the premium.

I work for a well-known graphics engineering firm. I bemoaned for a decade that the state of displays was still roughly defined by the last high end CRTs made. Since buying my Retina MacBook Pro, I have completely shut up about this. The bar has been moved, finally.

The first Oh God moment comes when you open Lightroom and you realize you can see hair texture in *thumbnails*. The second one is when you zoom in 1:1 on a 10 or 12 MP image and it barely changes what you see.

This being said, the Air is a very sweet machine. Also, fair disclaimer, I don't make a dime on either machine you mentioned (the 13 inchers). Now the 15 inches... :^)


I suggest Pro. I have had both, and have run Lightroom and Photoshop on both. The Air works well but it seems to me that Photoshop seems to work noticeably better with the extra memory in Pro. I also have carried both on business travel. The Air is the most enjoyable travel computer I have ever owned but the extra pound or so of the Pro doesn't bother me.


I thought through exactly this a couple of months ago, when my previous Macbook Pro bit the dust (through an accident — otherwise, it would easily have had another few years of good use in it).

The big question, in my estimation, is whether the Retina Display makes the difference for you. Without a doubt, it is a stunningly beautiful display, and the resolution is obviously unmatched. You may decide that, as someone whose entire livelihood revolves around photographs and their derivatives, it is worth it (and, perhaps, necessary).

If so, your decision is made for you. For me (and I do work with photos a good bit, as well as typography and design), I determined I didn’t need it YET.

Two reasons went into this determination: first, very few sources are at a level where that sort of resolution is required (though a pro photographer would dispute this, for good reason). Also, like you, when I “dock” my laptop I use a second, larger display as my main display (thus losing the benefit of the Retina on my primary screen anyway).

With this in mind, I opted for the MB Air. I got the “maxed out” version, with the most amount of RAM and the largest internal hard disk (a skeuomorphism that will probably soon be inadequate, with the rise of solid-state storage). It was about the same price, or maybe a little less, than a MB Pro without similar upgrades (I would have instantly increased RAM, adding to the cost), but it is oh-so-much lighter and easier to carry around.

I regularly run multiple applications (18 are open and running right now), and it doesn’t “choke” on these in the least. If anything, it runs faster than its predecessor, though it’s conceivable that the MB Pro would have run faster still, with its better CPU and graphics engine. Or maybe the solid-state storage makes up for this a bit. I can’t tell, and don’t really care as long as it does what I need it to do.

As for expansion: true, I can’t upgrade the HD size like I could have with a MB Pro, but I can add external storage and cloud-based storage if I need it, and re-evaluate how much data I really need to tote around with me all the time.

As with everything, your mileage may vary. That’s my story, though, and thus my tacit recommendation for you.

The two biggest issues are how much processing power you need/want and RAM.

The Pro will always have processing power than the Air. And the Air's memory isn't upgradeable. Once you choose your amount, that's it. The Pro will let you get up to 16GB of RAM.

It depends a little on your primary use cases. The retina display really is very nice.

But if you think you'll be traveling a lot, the Air is the only way to go. The weight difference doesn't seem like much, but the power adapter is smaller too, and if you have to lug it around on your shoulder all day you'll notice the difference. The air also has better battery life, which I find to be a huge advantage.

If you'll mostly be doing car travel, the weight doesn't matter as much so it's probably worth the better display even at the cost of lower battery life.

I personally use an 11" air and find it to be sufficient for nearly everything I need it to do. Although I do have a 27" display at home, I don't use it much.

If you're going to buy a Pro wait until they are updated with the "Haswell" processors like the recently updated Air. Battery life will be greatly improved if nothing else.

Your link for the air points to the previous generation device. The newer model has same cpu performance, but much better ssd speeds, gpu, and battery life. It also runs cooler. It is considered a major update.

The pro with retina has not yet been upgraded this year, but you should see it updated by November at the latest.

If you are primarily using it with the 27" monitor, I don't see a good reason to get the retina.

Got the Retina 13 Pro with SSD memory as my travel lap dog. After a month in Jordan and now spending the summer in Kauai I love it. It's fast and much better screen than my old Mac lap dog, also much lighter. I considered the Air but am glad I went with the Pro.

I work at a large institution, and both MBPs and Airs are popular. When I last upgraded my system six months ago, the IT guy who brought it to my office told me that they saw many more broken Airs than MBPs: people pick it up by the screen, and the lid is so thin that they squeeze the screen and it breaks.

So if you opt for the Air, be careful how you treat it.

You are going to use your lapdog as your main computing engine at home. Then I would buy a pro, in case you need to upgrade the memory in case you find you need to. True the Air is lighter, but I think the pro is light enough, I carry around my second 15" pro and I don't find the weight to be a problem. So unless the extra battery time when you travel really makes a difference, I would go for a pro.

I bought a 13" MBP 2011 refurb with 8 G ram and added a 240G SSD using a data doubler, keeping the 750G HD. The Apple Store Photoshop expert said that I would be happier with the MBP over the MBA. I love the MBP 13". My experience with Mac laptops is to always buy the Applecare. It's hard to resist the retina display on the new machines. I have been an Apple user since 1988.

What about optical disk handling when you're travelling? - the Pro can do it, the Air can't; you'd have to take the out-board superdrive with you. How often do you think you'd be using optical disks in that situation?

My household (my partner and myself) have seven working Macs, three laptops and four iMacs spread over two houses (we're both writers and we travel a lot.) So, we have some experience with these things.

Before I get to that experience, a minor rant about the facsists at Apple. One problem with all Macs is that Apple always tries to do what's good for Apple, as opposed to their customers (the mass of whom, I'm convinced, are sold more on style than on function.) This has led to major functions being thrown overboard. The new Pros (at least the one my partner just bought) no longer have an internal DVD drive, because Apple wants to sell you movies through the iTunes store, and wants you to put your information up in the Apple Cloud. So, no DVD drive for you. Her Pro also has two Thunderbolt ports along with two USB ports. Since Windows machines don't use Thunderbolt ports (as far as I know), there just isn't much Thunderbolt hardware out there, but Apple put two Thunderbolt ports on the Pros because, well, Apple wants you to use their* Thunderbolt ports, even though additional USB ports would, in my opinion, be far more useful.

Now. I'm a writer, as you are. Computers are essential for me -- I doubt that I could write without them, anymore. I find laptops to be a pain in the ass for serious work. I know, I know, a lot of people use them, but almost always (IMHO) as the best compromise, rather than as an ideal situation.

The key difference is the large screen on an iMac - you can have several different windows open at the same time, and actually keep track of them. I find it extremely useful to have a number of screens instantly visible and available -- one may have a Google map of the area I'm writing about, one may go to an on-line dictionary, one may go to the wiki, and one may be my main document...and so on. At any given time, I may also have a couple of dozen of desktop icons that I want to refer to -- past works that I need to look at from time to time. So, screen real estate is critical for me.

Ergonomics are usually better with an iMac, and that's also crucial for me, because I spend so much time in front of a computer screen. You need the screen to be high, and you need it to be a constant distance from your eyes, to encourage good posture. You can actually buy racks that will hold a laptop up high, and I have one, but still, the arrangement inevitably moves around, messing with that eye-distance thing, and the height is never quite right.

Then, there's the problem that when you travel, you have to unplug all the peripherals, and then replug them when you return. Not a big deal, but an annoyance.

I have a Mac Air for travel, and I often take a separate full-sized keyboard, packed in my luggage, to make it easier to work with it, if I'm writing on the road. I find the screen far less useful, and I'm always happy to get back to my regular iMac. (In this regard, note that Logitech sells a full-sized Apple-specific wireless keyboard with a calculator key-set, which Apple does not.)

I don't want to sound like a jerk, but given your job, I'm a little amazed that you don't have both a laptop and an iMac. I mean, it seems to me that having two separate machines would be critical -- if your power supply gets torn up by a tornado or a blizzard, you could at least get out of town to a Starbucks, somewhere, and get on-line. Or if the motherboard blows...

I think what you might need to do is either find a tutorial (that you can take seriously) or a consultant, to teach you about the Cloud (about some Cloud), then keep the old iMac going and buy a new Pro both as a travel machine and as a backup for the old iMac. My partner is an idiot when it comes to computers (she's actually melted two separate Mac Pros) but somehow, she's managed to get all of her music, emails and documents up in a Cloud, and can instantly access them from whatever machine she's on, including her iPhone. If she can do it, you can. I think you need to hasten in that direction before you start adding hardware.

Just my opinion.

Go for the MBPro. I needed to upgrade OS from an older MBB for a project that couldn't wait till the new MBP, so I had to get a 13" Air. The shortage of ports is a big limitation and I now have a ridiculous number of USB to DVA and other adaptors. It comes with an SD card reader - useless for a Nikon user - and a thunderbolt collection which is equally useless as I don't want to spend money on overpriced peripherals. I like the Air's size very much, although the edges of the body are quite sharp exactly where your wrists rest while typing. The MBP is better finished and much more practical.

A few corrections to make from previous posters.

The pro with retina cannot have the ram upgraded after purchase.

The air can have its solid state drive upgraded.

Graphics chips are the same (or will be when the pro is upgraded).

I upgraded from a MacBook 13" unibody (2008 vintage) recently. I decided to go with the 15" MacBook Pro (non-retina) because I wanted a quad-core processor vs. the dual core of the 13" Pro and Air. I also went with the 1TB drive ... something that would be very expensive as an SSD.

I am usually connected to an older 24" Cinema display, so the Retina display wasn't that important. And when the I travel with it, the extra weight over my old 13" hasn't been that bad. I need the exercise anyway ... ;-)

I lean towards heavier computers, lighter/mirrorless cameras nowadays since I'm more likely to carry a camera around.

When I used to travel much more as part of my work, I wanted a light laptop because let's face it, who wants to drag around a huge brick around airports and cities? Laptops are pretty darn fast these days, there are some limitations, mainly storage, but you will tackle that with an external drive anyway.

On the other hand if you don't move around much or do it primarily by car, then the weight isn't such a big deal. I do my photo work on a beefy desktop and I work on files from the Nikon D800, which require a powerful computer to deal with so that experience doesn't remind me too much of the 90's. If your photo files are typically in the 16 mpix range then this won't be much of an issue. Memory, however, is a limited resource; my current Macbook Pro has 8 GB and it runs ok until Chrome has too many tabs open and the thing has been on too many days, which results in slowdown's.

So pick your poison, mobility or power, but do keep in mind that you still have 6 months left to make the choice.

I suggest the Air. The size/weight is absolutely incredible. The 11-inch MB Air... it ain't heavy and its my bro.

If use is for on the road, light as possible so the Air, if use is in the office go for power so the Air. I guess that setlles it for the Air (only if you need a lot of ports the Pro would beat the Air).


Greets, Ed.

Who would never buy an Apple but hey I'm a PC man....unless I use an Arduino.

I have considered this myself, but I have opted to keep the processing power of my iMac and will buy a new one when processing my D800 files becomes too much of a chore. There is no hassle keeping two machines up to date with each other if you just make a decision that your desktop machine is just for processing your photos, storing your iTunes, etc. Your MacBook Air is for everything else.

This plan is cheaper in the long run too. You will have to upgrade your desktop once every few years, but probably not much in the future as MP seem to have peaked. The stuff you will use your MacBook Air for is unlikely to stress it for many years.

Even cheaper and lighter and not requiring a special airport unpacking, an iPad with one of those Logitech keyboard covers. And if you get one with a build in phone will handle data anywhere without a contract, something a laptop cannot do even withextra equipment.

Unless there is some truly functional need to replace your current machine it seems to me that expiration of Applecare is a pretty soft reason to spend that kind of money. "Need" vs "want"?

If you do, consider the refurbished machines listed on the Apple site. This will save you some cash. They list current machines in lots of different configurations. I've been told that rather than production line spot checks these refurbs have been thoroughly tested.

They update the lists once a week so you may have to keep an eye on it if you want a specific configuration.

I have now bought two of these, had nary a problem.
I don't buy Applecare.

The computer spec should be whatever is the highest spec at the size you want. One thing tho' I'd avoid time capsule,IMO it could be the worst thing Apple have ever made. Mine has been nothing but trouble from new and has now gone wrong a way that leave me needing to restore/reinstall the system after manually backing up!

The Air is lighter and has a longer battery life but if you are replacing a working computer like the iMac I might be tempted to go with the Pro as it will be more rugged and able to withstand day in and day out use.

Really though either will do for most things. Neither will have a CD/DVD drive so you will need to budget for that ($80 I think).

Look to see which can hold more memory because if you use photo editing programs you will need to bump the memory.

Good luck with your decision.

I use both and I strongly prefer the MBP with retina screen for editing photographs. It's a gigantic difference especially when using it with Lightroom, Aperture, or Photoshop which are all retina aware. It is very hard for me to go back to a laptop without a retina screen. It just looks terrible to me now. The air's display is fairly high resolution, higher than the standard MBP, but not comparable to the retina MBP screen. The screens on the Airs are also lower quality (viewing angle mostly as well as gamut) in my experience. That said, if you travel a lot with your machine, an Air is really handy and light although the 13" MBP retina is actually not that far off. Working with the retina made me update my blog and website to show higher resolution images to retina display users. I know there are not many of those out there but it just makes me feel good to surprise those folks on HiDPI/retina machines.

Stop wasting money on tech toys? Drive your old gear into he ground and only buy a new laptop when absolutely necessary. Invest a few bucks into training or handholding so you can use an iPad and keyboard to write and post from the road. If you're going to spend money, put it into a proper website design that is search engine friendly, easy for readers, properly indexed, and has its domain addresses sorted out. It should be easy to back up, update, expand... Optimizing and managing your livlihood, i.e. this website, will end up making you more money as well as saving you a lot of time and headaches.

Just saying. I used laptops for 12 years and find that I am more productive without them.

Not sure but your friendly "neighborhood" Apple store may allow a speed test of a D800 file on each of the models.

I should be the last person in on this conversation since I only use a Mac anything when I'm in NYC and use the Big Mac Daddy store to view my email and visit TOP and a few other blogs for the allotted time allowed.
But it's pretty obvious the only reason for the Air is if you're gonna be physically lugging it around all the live long day- otherwise, it just doesn't add up...

I haven't looked at either one lately, but if the MBP takes more memory I'd go that way. Memory is speed with PS and similar apps

I have a 15" retina MBP and it is hands-down the best computer I have ever owned. However, from what I understand from reading about the 13" variant, the smaller one is somewhat underpowered as it lacks a proper GPU and I think the CPU is lower spec too. Obviously the air is going to be lower in spec again.

If you are intending to use this new machine for all of your photographic work I would seriously consider the 15" retina MBP over the 13". And if you're worried about portability, it is also still pretty small. In fact the whole thing is smaller and thinner than just the plastic screen part of my old Sony laptop!

I'm not really answering your either/or question, am I? Never mind, eh :-)

The advice to delay purchase until the Pros with Intel's new Haswell chips are released is spot on. The Airs have already received this upgrade (hence the 12hr battery life). The Pros have not, yet.

Note that on both the Air and 13" Retina MBP you're stuck with a (non-user-upgradeable) max of 8gb. Perhaps the Haswell upgrade for the rMBP will also address this.

While I understand the appeal of the MB Air, especially to folks who travel frequently, I have a different take.
If you are a highly visual person, and don't do a great deal of travelling, I can't imaging not picking the retina display.

But more than that, given what you do and the size of the files that your cameras produce, AND, that it will be the business's ONLY computer, I would recommend the 15" Retina with the BTO graphics card and 16GB Ram.
It is still incredibly light given it's power and a true desktop replacement that fits in a shoulder bag.. Plus, at home the 15" is quite useful in extended desktop mode. Not to mention the fact that the 15" Retina screen is large enough for real work so while at TOP World HQ, you can 'Moderate" poolside, or on the veranda , or from your bed.; -))
If you do an honest assesment of what percentage of time you will be on the mother ship, and what percent doing air travel (I don't think the additional weight matters much for car travel) you'll have an answer.
On the other hand, you may hate this idea, which is ok too.

The only real reason to get a Macbook Pro is that it's processing power is much greater than an Air. (I imagine your D800 files might be sluggish on the Air). If you're patient and don't mind a bit spinning beach ball, then the Air would be very nice indeed. Do you anticipate traveling very often? Do you envision yourself working on a couch with your feet up on the coffee table? The form factor of the Air is wonderful for these tasks. I own a Macbook Air myself, but it's a satellite for my main computer.

My advice: if I know you (I do not), I don't think you'll be traveling enough to justify an Air. I also seem to recall that you have a dedicated and ergonomic work area at home, so you won't be a couch potato. Get the Pro. It's extra computing power will translate into an additional year of use before the inevitable replacement.

Same decision to make, and I decided on the mbp when (a) I realized that my iMac's pixels could all be displayed on the retina display with room to spare (and I do remote desktop connections to my iMac regularly) and (b) when I compared mbp's with and without retina at the Apple store. My needs are different from yours: I write code and use text windows a lot, and the difference in displays is a big deal for me. But since you just look at pictures and never write anything ... oh, wait ...
Anyway, it's a real toss-up: my coder son-in-law is very happy with his air because of the battery life.

the Macair is a great device for surfing and stuff, the screen is not good enough for photoediting -certainly the iMac 27" i use is far far easier.
the retina screen is equivalent to the iMac and i would recommend that you go for the Macbook + retina

roger fisher

I agree with John Camp and others... keep the iMac and get an Air. I use a program called SYNK to keep my documents across both systems, well, in sync–it works locally over your wifi, in the background, so nothing goes into the cloud. Perfect for me. I do photo, video, and design on the desktop (I have an older Pro driving two 23" displays), and most else on the Air.

Winsor is right about the upgrade path, too–the air should last a while for writing, correspondence, and light PS work. I can do plenty in Indesign on my Air, it's more display size that gets in the way of serious work on that.

If you wanted only one machine, 15" macbook pro retina would be the way to go.

You don’t travel *that* much, do you? Consider the 15”, the extra screen space is super-nice, and I find the moderate amount of extra CPU oomph really makes Lightroom go just a little faster, which really matters as we find ourselves wrangling bigger & bigger raw files.

I would get the 13" Retina MacBook Pro with a SSD drive. As someone is presently using their laptop with Lightroom and Photoshop open at the same time, it's clear that one needs all the processing power you can get, especially if you also start using the more sophisticated plug-ins like Silver Efex Pro. I find my 15" MBP gets slow even with processors that are almost twice as fast as in the Macbook Air. Also, the new MacBook Pros are mighty thin, and the 13" Retina MB Pro only weighs 1.5 lbs more than the Air, but has double the processing power. I also find that you need more processing power when driving larger displays, so that's another check in the box for the 13" MBP. If you start using Capture One, (which IMHO, still does the best job of RAW conversion of any app on the market) in conjunction with LR and PS, then you will definitely need the additional processing power

As you'll be using it for photography when traveling, the Retina display will be a great addition to working on the road when you don't have access to your large display.

If it were my only computer and I were doing a lot of Photoshop/Lightroom work... and the use is more at home than on the road... then I would get the MacBook Pro - with as much memory as I can afford. Can't have too much horsepower and memory for Photoshop. HOWEVER, I would wait for the next version of the MacBook Pro with the energy-efficient Haswell processor for long battery life. The new MacBook Pros are rumored for release this fall.

(That said, I am very, very happy with my 13" MacBook Air – but it's not my main machine. I have an 8-core Mac Pro that I use for all my photography work.)

I never work with my MacBookPro on a table. It is always on my lap. It sounds like that might be your circumstance too. In that position the screen is an arm's length away, about 2 feet. I have looked at the Retina display at the Apple Store several times. I defy anyone to see pixels on the standard screen at a distance of two feet, or to see an improvement with the more expensive screen. If you habitually put it on a table and lean forward about a foot to work then the Retina display might be worth it. Maybe. There is no night and day difference.

So in my opinion there is no reason to pop for the extra weight, short battery life, and cost of the Retina screen.

As an aside, the eyestrain I associated with looking at a computer screen for long periods is not present with an iPad which is held at a more normal reading distance.

It's ultimately your choice. If it were me I'd get the retina display because I spend the majority of my time being annoyed that the Lightroom panels take up half of the display width. Personally I like having a larger machine and am fortunate to have picked up the last of the 17" MBPs. But I rarely hike with my computer except to and from the car and to and from the airport check-in.

What I can say is that I have been running the laptop/27"display/external drives thing for just over a year and love it. Before that I did the desktop/laptop thing and was constantly annoyed that the file/image/post etc I needed was on the other machine. The cloud was great until you were in a spot where you couldn't access it, which is, in fact, most of the planet. I have more than enough grunt for my photography needs and being able to just unplug and go without copying files etc is a joy.



Once, my dad asked me the analogous question about Thinkpads instead of Macs. His company would issue them, so it was for the same price. I suggested he go with portability over performance, which he did. People mostly chose the other way, and it was pretty lopsided, so at meetings he would reliably the only one with the small laptop. And you know what? They were all jealous over how small and portable his was.

The lesson I took away is that I think people overestimate how much they will need computing power and underestimate how much they want portability. A new Air is probably faster than your old iMac anyway. And I don't think you'll miss the retina display all that much since most of the time you'll be connected to your desktop display. Given what you said about how you'll use it, it seems that the only time that the retina screen/portability choice is really matters is when you're traveling. And when you're traveling, portability becomes paramount.

Oddly enough, a friend asked me the very same question last week...

...and I've been asking myself since.

Like others mentioned, I'd say you're in a rather good position: if you only need to upgrade by next February, then you should most definitely hold out and see what the new MBPs will offer.

Retina may not be of the essence - since you obviously will use the 27" screen for the actual work - but the update should bring Haswell's great battery life to the MBP line.

Plus there's a chance of better-still integrated graphics: one can imagine (and I most certainly do!) Apple will use Iris GPUs in the next MBPs, a step above the 5000 GPU they used in the newest Airs.

So my answer to my friend, to you and to me is: try to resist a few more weeks!


I have a 13 inch MBP (along with a Mac Mini). The wife has a 13 inch MB Air. If she's not needing it, I always ask to borrow her one when I go somewhere. For portability, the Air is incredible. Far and away better than my MBP. Now that they have decent innards, I'd get an Air if buying today.

Why spend money when that iMac still does the job? If it's still working well and you've not had to get it repaired under warranty
it will probably be working till the next greatest update from Apple next year. I'd save my hard earned cash. I'm just saying ...

Mike, I recently replaced an older (6 yrs) MacBook Pro with a 13" MacAir and a 25" monitor for all my work. I love the smaller laptop for travel, and it has plenty of horsepower for me. My only disappointment has been with the monitor. I bought a 25" HP, and connected via HDMI. Just not as sharp as I hoped. I did spend about $80 for the best HDMI cable I good get at BestBuy, and it improved the sharpness some. I was not willing to spend $1,000 on the Apple monitor, and I"m not sure it would make much difference.

I have huge problems judging photo's "by eye" with the average laptop screen (even Macs), the angle has to be perfect to make visual adjustments..so plus one for retina screen, which doesn't have the problem...

...I've been laptop forever, and this problem is making me want a big desktop screen...

It's been a while since I shopped laptops so my information may be dated, but just in case, the one thing I would add to all the advice you're getting is that not all Retina screens are created equal. "Retina" promises only super-high resolution. There are, obviously, other aspects to a display that are just important, or even more important, to photographers, writers and editors. And in something portable, all those qualities need to be adequate over a reasonable range of conditions and usage scenarios.

So, Retina or not, you want to make sure the display technology is IPS or better, and not TFT, and that the display on that particular model is known to be well calibrated out of the box or if not can be calibrated. If I'm going to be doing most things (especially the critical things) on a 27" display, I'd prioritize overall visibility and usability in my portable device--things like glare-resistance or a reasonably wide viewing angle--over mere resolution.

(Anyway, I'm not sure that I--nearsighted and presbyopic--could tell the difference between a Retina and a merely 150ppi laptop display in a real-world scenario, all other things being equal.)

OK there is one more thing: I hope the high-gloss fad is over. Nothing annoys me more in a portable display than a mirror-like finish.

Either machine you're considering sounds wonderful. I hope you enjoy the choosing, and the choice. If it were me I'd go with the desktop (iMac or Mini) + Air solution as some have suggested. It would work better for me, and I also like the idea of some redundancy, just in case. But that's just me.

I would go with the Air. I currently use the last generation 11 inch Air as my computer at work. Fits easily in a Hadley Pro bag. At home it drives my NEC 26 inch monitor with no problems. My model maxed at 4 gb RAM, and it can be sluggish some times with Silver Efex Pro, for instance, so I'm also looking forward to replacing my Air with the latest Air soon after my Applecare runs out in the new year. I will definitely max out the RAM at 8 gb (can't with my current one). I'm not sure whether I will max out the solid state drive; the new model's default is twice what I have now, and I am used to using small external drives for storage, though definitely not for doing PS work on. I don't have any computers with the Retina screen so have not been seduced by it. If I were not intending to continue to use my NEC for most of my photoshop work, I would consider it. That said, I do do editing on the Air without the NEC when I'm not home (um, at work), and it's surprisingly good. If I need final colour corrections, I do those before printing, and do them on the NEC. I have owned portable computers since the Kaypro, including models by Compaq and Toshiba, as well as earlier Mac laptops. The Air is simply the best I've ever used.

Dear Mike,

There aren't that many significant differences between those two models (the 13 inch MacBook Air and the 13 inch MacBook Pro Retina). Both have approximately the same dimensions and take the same maximum amount of RAM (8 GB). For your needs that's enough, especially when coupled to an SSD. Neither machine comes with a built-in optical drive.

The MacBook Pro weighs 0.6 pounds more. That's probably an insignificant difference for you, but if not…

Both models will take a 256 GB SSD, which is probably the sweet spot for you unless you're a computer-turtle like me and like to carry your whole house on your back when you travel. Even then, for what Apple charges for a 512 GB SSD upgrade, you might decide you're just as happy carrying one of the portable USB-powered hard drives when you travel.

The standard processor in the MacBook Pro is twice as powerful. You'll notice the difference in Lightroom and Photoshop for sure, so that's an argument in favor of that model. For everything else you're doing, it won't matter. I would not buy the processor upgrade; it will not make a large difference in performance.

The battery life is better in the MacBook Air. The new MacBook Pro will improve on the current one in that respect, but it won't match the MacBook Air because the Retina displays are more power-hungry (and so is the faster CPU). Might get up to an official nine hours vs. an official 12 for the MacBook air… and remember you'll never get battery life anywhere near that good when doing something that is CPU and graphics intensive like photograph processing.

The primary importance of the Retina display in the MacBook Pro does NOT lie in its resolution, not for photographers. Reviewers and commenters seem to obsess on that for some reason, but it's like deciding the most important characteristic of a lens is its resolution. Resolution is nice, but it's really missing the major point:

The Retina display, like the one in your iPad, is a full 24-bit full sRGB color space display, the same as in your desktop machine. It's studio quality in a portable device. The display in the MacBook Air, while remarkably good for its kind, is a typical laptop display with a much more limited color gamut, only 16 bits of color (with dithering to fill in the missing colors), and a poor viewing angle which causes the gamma to vary significantly from the top to the bottom of the screen when you're looking at it in a normal viewing position.

You may be able to live with all of that. Best way to find out is to go to a store that has the MacBook Air with an Internet connection and bring along your iPad. Take a look at these two files on both the MacBook and the iPad:


Pay attention to contouring, out of gamut colors or tones that clip, and how the midtone and shadow brightness and detail vary from the top to the bottom of the screen in the MacBook air. Then decide if you can live with that. Some people can.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

As a retired electrical engineer who photographs with film cameras and uses his PC for surfing, reading TOP and email only, take my input with a grain of salt.

My wife, a retired teacher who was inducted into the Apple Crapple cult during her decades in schools, has a Macbook Air. She has been working on a presentation to be delivered next week at a convention. The Apple Store folks have been assisting in its development. Today was to be the final session before departure. While working with the "trainer," her Air began to act funky. One of the "geniuses" hooked up a diagnostic box and determined that a bad circuit board is the culprit. Despite her current "Apple Care" status on that relatively new machine, they suggested that *she* purchase an external drive and back up the hard disk before bringing the Air back to drop off for service. Due to the circuit board's bad behavior, I'm sitting here watching it estimate another 20 hours to complete the backup.

With no particular knowledge of Apple internal configuration, I'm guessing that the Air's tight packaging results in marginal cooling flow. You might want to go with a Pro just to avoid heat-related problems.

I still say Apple products are overpriced, underbuilt Veblen goods. :-)

I have a Retina 13 inches and for me is all ok. The only think that I don't like is that I have problems with my wifi connection using last updates on Mountain Lion. The Change of ports are more or less logical but in a third world, where I live, this mean a lot of problems to find the cables. Retina display is a must for a photographer.

Haven't read all the comments, so this may be answered already.

The retina screens are worlds apart. They're pretty much native sRGB, colour doesn't shift with angle and the sharpness makes you never want to use a regular screen again. None of that is true with the Air.

Any photographer who says there's not a big difference is quite frankly delusional.

A quality external USB DVD drive costs about $50. I haven't needed one for over a year. My wife receives CDs and DVD from friends occasionally so I picked up a USB DVD drive for her ( she has a 2011 13" Air).

I faced a similar decision to yours a few weeks ago and purchased a fully loaded mid-2013 13" Air.

The Air is the most cost effective solution at ths moment in time.

The top end Haswll CPU is quick. The 8 GB memory limit is not an issue unless you must have many other Apps open when you are processing images. I do not own PS, my experience is based on LR 5 and the current version of the NIK Collection. If you happen to process numerous images daily - every day - then the extra 8GB of Pro memory might make a difference. Maybe older versions of PS would benefit from an extra 8 GB. You can find out using the menory tools in Activity Monitor. The mid-13 Air SSD storage is very fast. It is true the current Pros are not that much heavier than the 13" Air. But when I fondled each laptop at the local Apple Store, I could tell a difference. For me, the Air is better for travel.

I am very pleased with the Air. It is a back up for my 2013 Mac Mini I use daily for client work. The battery does last about 7 hours for typical surfing/email usage. The Air is so convenient, I use it instead of my iPad whenever I do tasks that involve significant typing. I rarely used my soon to be sold 2010 MacBook Pro for any purpose when I stared using the iPad.

I hope this helps.

i have also been using exclusively macs for many years, and have had MANY of their laptops, along with several desktops.
having owned 2 macbook air laptops, my advice to you is do NOT buy it if you intend to use it for photographic work - if you want it for emailing, web use, word processing, etc. it is more than adequate and a pleasure to carry around, but it is NOT nearly good enough for photo processing.
i do a lot of traveling and enjoy having the option of reviewing and processing my pictures on the go, it saves me a lot of time when i get home, but after a while i gave up even trying with the air, too many limitations, the screen being the first one.
my advice is to get a refurbished Pro from apple; you will save money and have an excellent machine that you can actually work on (i ended up getting an older MBP 17, i can do on that thing everything that my home computer handles; yes, it is heavy....).

don't get why you need to replace the imac just cuz its applecare expires. i didn't bother with applecare on my late 2009 27inch. it had one of the defective seagate drives but apple replaced that without charge. otherwise it's been issue free.

however, for 2¢ on which macbook, i had a really unhappy time with the top of the line air and finally sold it back to apple and got a retina pro. no regrets there. the retina machine is incredible. what a screen.

Wait for the processor upgrade to the Hasewell class. They buy the pro. As an imaging professional you need the Retna display. The new, soon to be released, OSX operating system version upgrade will be included as well.

I have owned a Macbook Air and a Macbook Pro Retina (my current machine). Both are great tools. I switched to the Pro for both the Retina Screen and the better processor (and 8GB of memory). If I had to choose again, I would not hesitate to spend the extra on the Macbook Pro Retina. Once you've gone Retina you can't go, er, gettin'a... 'nother type of screen.

You should not worry about the upgradability of the two. You will not upgrade them ;-)

I have had many MBs and MBPs and Airs. The 13" Air and the MBP are pretty much the same size. Don't worry about the size too much.
The main advantage of the Air is the battery. It should last a couple of hours longer. Again, not much difference between 8 to10 hours.
They're both fast enough for normal use. MBP, however will do much better in Lightroom/PS.
However, the BIGGEST difference is the screen/monitors. THE MBP Retina has a much better graphics card and screen, and most importantly has a much larger color pallet. You will be able to see different shades of gray much, much better.

My recommendation: Get the 13" MBP Retina with 512GB SSD. If you can afford it, get the 16GB RAM.
- Much, Much better screen resolution and color pallet
- Much better CPU (faster Lightroom RAW conversions)
- More USB3 ports (external drives will be almost as fast as your current system)
- Supports the 27" monitor better with upgraded graphics card
- Almost the same size as the 13" AIR
- Battery will last you most of the working day (mine is plugged in more than 90% of the time)
- Higher resolution screen is a blessing when working in Lightroom on the road
- Can go up to 16GB of memory

Currently, I have the 15" Retina model (which replaced the 13" Air). It's the best COMPUTER i've ever owned . (I bought my first computer in 1982!)

I won't even recommend Windows 8 to long time PC users...

I'd go for the Air, but if you spend most of your time in the office, the extra weight of the Pro won't be an issue.

I have problems with video output to my monitor (the typeface is fuzzy) using the Air. Caution advised. Might be best to take your monitor to the store and make sure it works to your satisfaction.

One of each - 15" MBPro Retina for the desktop and 13" MBAir for travel and portability. This has worked out quite well for me.

I really truly have not missed having a DVD drive. Seems like software is all downloadable these days. (And, no, you do not have to use iTunes for movies or music.)

I used to think Apple products were overpriced until I started using them. Then I went and bought more.

I have never owned a Mac but I do travel with a laptop every week. I'm an airline pilot and half my life is spent on the road. If I were you, I wouldn't get too caught up in size comparisons. A13 inch laptop is a 13 inch laptop. Air or Pro is gonna cause about the same level of inconvenience. I lug around a giant 15.4 inch desktop replacement windows laptop. It comes along on every trip with me. I've noticed that the crew members who carry smaller machines suffer the exact same hassles as me -- airport security and the danger of luggage toppling and damaging the computer. I'd rather carry the more useful machine instead of the lite weight. But then, I'm also the guy who carries around a giant 5D and heavy, fast lenses.

Mac book pro for sure with retina and max out the ram....buy the apple care later , can get it much cheaper online on sale

Dear Shadzee,

Not wanting to introduce too much thread drift, but you brought up a matter I brought up with Mike (in previous email)-- namely, running a laptop that's more-or-less constantly plugged in. That's the way I work and with any of the interchangeable-battery MacBook Pros, that was a pretty good way to kill the battery pack: If it didn't have reasonably regular full-discharge cycles, it'd start to permanently lose capacity (no, reconditioning doesn't fix that kind of damage). Keeping it on more or less constant trickle charge, like I do, pretty much guaranteed me buying a new battery pack every year or so. Decided it was just part of the cost of the way I do my work.

With the new non-removable battery pack laptops, I was recommending that Mike frequently pull it off the charger and let it run down, to insure he still had a full-capacity battery when he needed to travel. Are you saying that you've found that's no longer true?

(note to lurkers-- I don't give a crap what Apple's official statement on this is-- they've been reliably wrong in the past.)

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Of note for all here, I just went through this exact buying decision. I did not make the choice I thought I would...

I am a serious amateur photog, who sometimes gets commissions for head shots, family portraits etc. I am also a working consultant in commerce, who earns his living on his laptop. My (windows) laptop died on me last week, and I needed a replacement within 24 hours... I had been holding off on a mac replacement, because I am a skinflint... This appeared to be the perfect opportunity to justify a luscious upgrade to a pro, which would be a tax deductible purchase.
On actually pricing and researching, I realised 2 things:
a) I wanted 8 Gb RAM in the machine, but that made an air a 'build to order', 'wait 2 weeks' machine - unacceptable for mortgage paying reasons.
b) The retina display is a serious power consumer... Conversely, the air will run for a full day without connecting. In addition, if you go and pick the machines up, the pro is noticeably bigger and heavier.

In the end, despite misgivings, I got a 4 Gb RAM, 256 Gb flash drive air. It has LR 5, and PS CS6 on it. I figured that if it didn't work, I'd hand it off to my partner, and buy a more photo orientated machine.

Bottom line? Opens LR5 in under a second, runs PS with D300 and RX 100 DNGs at a very acceptable speed, weighs 'nothing', and I can take it with me all day without chargers and get a full day's use out of it.

It is not a photographer's optimised machine, but it is a bloody good balance of functions and performance - I am converted, despite expecting to be disappointed. I would probably not use it as my only machine, but I could do if I had to - it is spectacularly faster than my 2011 Imac 27inch, which I have never felt hampered by as my main machine.

Lesson? 'the best is the enemy of the good'... Do you really need that retina display? I do not when on the road... Conversely, I do benefit from battery longevity, and lightweight, when all the other crud is in my briefcase...

Be under no illusion: unless you are working in a professional studio under time pressure, cranking through 5 post-processing tasks every 10 minutes, the Air is 'sufficient unto the day', and significantly cheaper too...

These are all solid options (with at least 256Gb of diskspace and 8GB of RAM, since you have that dragoon thingy) - buy with confidence.

What everyone typically tends to forget is that expansion via USB gives you the ability to work around limitations in hard drive space.

I wanted a laptop for work on the road, so I bought the cheapest lightest option available - an Asustek S200E (about 400 USD). An MBA or MBP with your iMac at the ranch would be more than an acceptable combination.


By way of background, I've been a "computer person" for most of my working life. (Programmer, analyst, computer shop backroom bod, et cetera.) A couple of years ago I bought a mac mini (mid-2010 [1]) for a project, upgrading the RAM to 8GB, 2.4GHz core 2 duo, 320GB HDD (60% free). It happily crunches away on my medium format photos, likely due to the 'elbow room' afforded by the RAM.

When I sold my windows notebook, I looked around and decided to go with the then just-released 15" retina mac book pro (mid-2012), 2.3GHz i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD (60% free). (There was no word then of the 13" retina mbp.) Although it's effectively a 'closed box' [2], if it lasts out the 3-year 'apple care', it'll probably keep going for quite some time.

However, the core of my system is really a Network Attached Storage (NAS) box, with oodles of hard disk space (5x 2TB HDD configured as RAID-6, giving 6TB of storage, with two redundant drives). That means I can skimp on the computer storage, get a good-enough processor, and plenty of memory. Only current projects stay on the computer's storage, and are regularly saved onto the NAS box. Time machine backups are done to the NAS box. It's the NAS box that is then backed up.

What computer to choose among the air and mbp? For me, the retina screen is the real point of differentiation, and would lead me to pick the mbp. Though today's choice is between the 15" and 13" models. The 15" is decidedly faster, bigger and heavier, but the 13" is probably sufficiently fast. So I'd probably choose the 13" over the 15" mbp. And either way, at least 8GB of RAM.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_Mini#Specifications_3
[2] http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/MacBook+Pro+15-Inch+Retina+Display+Mid+2012+Teardown/9462/1

I upgraded my old Powerbook G4 (RAW import time: 1 minute per image) to a 15" MBP with Retina earlier this year. I couldn't be happier. The rMBP is much lighter and thinner than the previous generation, so the 15" is actually carryable. The Retina screen is beautiful.

I chose 15" and Retina because this is my primary photo workstation; I don't have a desk or any space for an external monitor. I'm sure a giant monitor would be better, but I'm finding the 15" Retina display easy to do real work on. The battery life (~8h) is plenty good too.

Now, I understand the portability argument. My coding machine is an ultra-portable Thinkpad, and it has been for three generations. So if you have the external monitor, get the 13" by all means. But get the Retina display. You'll thank yourself for it every time you are away from your desk.

I relly don't have an opinion on the Pro's (but have tried one with retina, felt like I had been blind all my life and now I could see), but I have been using an Air in the field (and for surfing on the couch) for a while now. I have a 3-years old iMac at home to do most of my work, but the Air (mid 2011 make, basic config.) is actually just as fast, only has a small display. While I suspect some people will deem the Air not fit for anything other than surfing, it is not to be underestimated. Most of my master thesis in urban design was made on an Air, involving Word, Excel, LR, PS CS5, AutoCAD (only app that crashed), Sketchup with redering, Illustrator and InDesign. A lot of theese programs (save for ACAD) could run simultanously. A lot of people are comparing the Air to a netbook, which is very unfair.

So, no conclusions here, just saying the Air, even a 2-years old basic config, is fit for most jobs.

"I have to replace the iMac by February at the latest (when its AppleCare protection runs out)."

Have to...? Why not keep it as long as it works? Might be years. Unless, of course, you'll be able to sell it for a good price.

I understand you're using Lightroom. So, you'll want all the power you can get. 8 GB of RAM is the minimum. Since you don't hike much and mostly travel by car there's nothing wrong with the little extra weight of the Pro. Oh, and make it 15 inch instead of 13.


Have you considered getting a mini plus an air?

I went from a 13" MB to a 15" MBR and I would never go back to a 13" screen again. Way to small, especially for aging eyes.

BTW - Heat being the #1 killer of many computers I would highly suggest getting SMC FanControl for your iMac. My 5-year old iMac has to be replaced due to heat causing the screen to turn brown along the edges and in the left-center area where a lot of heat builds up. I sensed from the beginning that the design of the iMac is inherently flawed when it comes to heat dissipation but there wasn't an app like this [until recently] that allowed you to control the fan speeds as you deem necessary. When my iMac case starts to rattle then I know it's running too hot. When that happens I jack up the speed to 1500rpm over the factory minimum and if it's really running hot [like when I'm crunching massive amounts of images in LR] I turn them up full bore.

FWIW - Apple sets the fans speeds at the lowest possible speed in order to insure the "maximum user experience". I run my lowest speed at 500rpm above the factory minimum.

Id recommend a 15" MBP non-retina for these reason-

- Retina MacBook have their memory soldered in, so no upgrades possible. Right now the max offered is 8gb. However you can upgrade the non-retina to 16gb currently.

- The processor in the Air is pretty underpowered, especially compared to the quad core chips in the non-retina MBP.

My wooden nickel's worth. Get a 15"rMBP, but wait for new model. As a replacement for a desktop, and as a synced mobile unit, the 15" has a lot more going for it than the current 13" rMBP. Quad core i7, discreet GPU, 16GB upgrade. Get as much ram as you can, even over drive capacity. Yes more $$ but over the lifetime of use, worth it. At least that is what I told my wife. With my old eyeballs, 13" no longer cuts it.
For photographs and video, the retina is so totally worth it. You will not regret it, nor will you ever want to return to a lower DPI. Ctein's comments were spot on about the advantages of the retina over the Air's display. In addition, being able to zoom in for corrections at the incredible resolution of the retina is the way to go. Apple does a good job with color gamut. Of course rumor has it Apple will have 4K resolution monitors by fall as well. Dreaming doesn't cost anything.
Owned Macs since 87(SE20), Bought the rMBP 15 when it came out to replace a G4 laptop and I also use a MP1.1(hacked with upgraded GPU's) with dual monitors. Keep your iMac if you want, the new lapdogs are amazing and work really well with external monitor(s). I think even when you connect to your external monitor, you will find the retina display useful. With Mavericks the multi-monitor mode will be vastly improved.
The next generation should see Haswell, better GPU's and maybe larger flash drives for the same $$.
OK send wooden nickel, I'll send you 6 copper pennies in change. Love the site, Greg

The Air is smaller and lighter for trips.

The Pro's screen is about 4x better.

That's pretty much the whole decision.

No matter what you do, get the max memory and SSD.

Oh, but if you get the pro, get the 15.

Backing up for a second, it seems that the reason you're considering a laptop is because you can't update this blog via the iPad. I assume you were trying to do this via the TypePad web interface? However there are also some nice looking apps that will let you post to TypePad as well. Blogsy seems to be well regarded, have you tried that? It might let you put off that laptop purchase a bit longer.

Dear Ctein;

The battery recycling/charging issue has been much discussed, and like you, I don't know which way is better.

However, I switched to the 15" MBP Retina from my previous 13" Air for a couple of reasons (I would have picked the 13 MBP Retina if it was available then);
- Multiple USB 3 port
- Multiple Thunderbolt ports

1. I wanted to connect TWO external monitors to the laptop, with the MBP, I can used HDMI to connect to one monitor and Thunderbolt to connect to the second one.
2. I can use USB 3 to connect to external drives at a very reasonable (I'd say very fast) speed/cost. I even keep a Lightroom Catalog on an external USB 3 drive.

Battery Issue:
- In my current setup, with so many external hardware attached to this little laptop, it has to be plugged in. Dual monitors act erratically, if I operate the MBP in battery mode.
- I take the MBP to client meeting, and work outside (coffee shops) frequently. The battery lasts about 4-5 hours (it is the 15" model) which is plenty for me. My 13" Air did more than 8 hours.

Battery solution:
BUYING the extended warranty ;-) This will give me 3 years of use with the MBP. I imagine, with the rate the technology is moving, 3 years is a long time ;-)

Extended Warranty / Apple Care:
I've had a few MBPs, the Apple Care is a MUST purchase. With the older models, you could open them up and change the HD, or add Memory. You could extended their lives a bit longer. With the new models, with sealed memory, and SSD, that's no longer an option.

If I were you I would be very nervous about taking the computer that my whole business relies on, on trips out of any length. While it is in your house it is in an environment that you can control. When out and about or on long trips it isn't.

If you want to replace your present Mac because the Applecare is running out, isn't that because you rely on the machine to earn you a living? Then buying a laptop as a replacement and taking it out of the house is the last thing that you should be thinking.

By all means buy a laptop so that you can travel and still look after the TOP site, but as an additional machine that will keep you going if the main computer at home goes toes up.

Another issue is that you can buy the laptop best suited to your travelling needs, instead of compromising with something that isn't quite right for either task.

Dear Shadzee,

Thanks very much for that information. Just to make sure I understand this right, you're saying that AppleCare now covers the internal battery in the MacBooks? Back when the laptops had external, interchangeable battery packs Apple did not cover battery deterioration from misuse, which keeping it constantly plugged in qualified as. I have always been a big believer in AppleCare, would never own a machine without it. So, that pretty much relieves my worries if it now covers the battery.

I'm not looking to buy immediately, but in the next year+ I will be. This laptop is getting a little long in the tooth. Unlike Mike, though, I tend to carry my house on my back and I buy for the long run. I buy near the top end and get, typically, 6-7 years life out of the machine. So, the MacBook Pro system that I want to buy ends up running close to $5000 out-of-pocket when *everything* is taken into account (taxes, extended warranty, external monitor, etc.). Ain't gonna happen immediately. But the time is approaching…

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

No recommendation for which machine here, but I'm in total agreement with John Camp.

I wouldn't be caught dead with only a single computer. My livlihood depends on my computer, and if it dies or goes out for repair I don't make a living.

Get a laptop, but hang onto your iMac, and continue using it as your main machine. Learn how to sync the two, and keep multiple backups. It's not that difficult -- in my opinion, it's easier and more convenient than disrupting your working setup by plugging and unplugging multiple peripherals whenever you want to work out of the office.

John's comment about Thunderbolt ports (and removal of DVD drive) are interesting but, I think, a bit skewed. Thunderbolts snail's pace in the market has more to do with Intel licensing and difficulty of implementation, from what I've heard, than any Apple conspiracy.

Need an optical drive on the road? Not many people need that. I think the market has moved to digital downloads/stream to the point that Apple could remove the drive, not vice versa. The mass of the market wants convenience, and having a lighter device is a ... convenience.

I have to agree with Thingo on the NAS recommendation. I built my first NAS box years ago using a Pentium 2 processor and the operating system runs from a floppy disk. It's never missed a beat.

I recently bought a new NAS since my old one is full and has no more upgrade options for me. The NAS market has come along considerably and they are a much more accessible option for everyone. I bought a Synology one with four 4TB NAS-class drives. It's faster than my USB3 external drives, extremely quiet and very energy efficient.

A NAS unit is also a very secure option as you can hide it away anywhere in your home you can get a network cable and power to it. If you have a break-in nobody will know about it and your valuable data stays safe. It'll appear on your home network like any other machine and you can manage it through any web browser. Mine creates a java based "desktop" in the browser to allow administration.

It's very handy by always being able to access my files from any machine I want on my network so while my main machine upstairs is chugging through hundreds (thousands) of photos to batch process my astrophotographs I can use a small netbook from my comfy lounge to tag other photos with metadata while watching HD movies playing off the same NAS device.

NAS devices these days are much more than a different type of external hard drive. There are lots of features and additional "apps" that many NAS units support to take care of scheduled backups (even to online cloud storage solutions), built in antivirus options (handy if you want to use a built in torrent downloader), they are much safer than a USB drive using RAID and built in repair/mirroring features of the drives etc. For people who travel a lot or have a separate studio but still want to access the same photos from home many NAS units can be configured to allow the built in web server to be securely available through a web browser anywhere. So when travelling why dump your memory cards to Flickr and risk them being pilfered by anyone when you can securely put them on your own NAS from anywhere?

FWIW...At the moment only the Air is equipped with the latest wifi, 802.11ac, 3x faster,clearer, stronger....blabla..:) when used with the 'new' Airport Extreme . The fall macpros will undoubtedly have this new standard available.

If you commute (which I don't think you do), the MacBook Air is the better choice. If you just like the idea of being able to fold up your computer, the MacBook Pro with a hard drive (the thicker one) is the better choice. You can upgrade or replace the hard drive inexpensively, which makes it better for storing and moving photos.

It's not that hard to bring an external drive if you love the idea of the Air, though, so then you'll want to look carefully at the relative processing power of the two choices.

As a commuter myself, I'm wishing my 13-inch MBP were an Air, because it would be better if I had it with me every day; it's heavy enough that I usually leave it home. If I didn't know Airs existed, and there were no iPads, I'd be quite content with my MBP.


Almost any modern desktops will still run around the new notebooks. If you're looking to upgrade your computer, ask yourself if you really need a laptop or not. A new iMac in February (or later) will still be considerably more powerful for photo editing than either of the two machines you're considering now.

Your iPad will handle most everything else, save for photo editing.

I travel a lot for work, always have a laptop (PC) with me. Always small (12"), normally bought used from Ebay, so not very expensive. I have a cloned disk at home, so I can replace it with anther one from Ebay if it's stolen, and put the disk straight in.

Keep the iMac you have at the moment, work it until it dies of old age. It's a machine. Not very important.

Your data is the valuable thing - have at least three copies on three external hard disk kept in three different places.

Buy a used very clean 11.6" Macbook Air from Ebay as soon as the new model comes out and fashion victims start selling off the old one.

Air or Pro? Silly question.
The Air is a thing of beauty.

Like others say, wait until the MBP13 Retina update comes, presumably in the fall. The battery life of the Air has doubled with this update, and the rest of the system is faster.

Personally I would probably go for the MBP, but that is because I am a developer, and compiling and other related tasks can benefit from the extra power. If you primarily write, use spreadsheets and browse, then the Air is sufficient, and 0.3Kg lighter (1.6 vs. 1.3). Note that if you have a favorite bag, you might want to measure it. The Air is 1cm wider and 1cm deeper, although it is of course thinner.

In your situation, I would probably go up one step in storage, but I don't think there is any other upgrade which you would need. Keep two backup harddrives for Time Machine, of course, one preferably offsite.

That is exactly what I have done - I replaced my ageing 24" iMac with a Macbook Pro 13' and a 27" display. The laptop is the heart of my digital workflow, and powerful enough to handle Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 5 with a large catalogue (over 100k images), but is also portable for those times when I travel. No headaches about having to synchronise two machines, either.

I would recommend the Macbook Pro over the Air. You want as powerful a machine as you can get that is still very portable, not the most portable machine that compromises on performance (especially since this will be the hub of your digital workflow at home as well as on the road).

Probably too late for anyone but Mike to notice this but here goes anyway. I was a Mac early adopter (does 1987 count?) and sung their praises until the early 90s at which point I'd become sick of the instability and excessive pricing. The developing utility of Win NT was a major factor too. I've used PCs ever since.

Why would anyone want to pay almost double - or even triple - for a computer that runs, in the main, identical software? Beats me. Of course the answer, in the main, is Marketing. People just guzzle the Apple Kool-Aid (which, in the UK, fortunately, we lack.)

Meanwhile this monstrous company has transformed itself into the very beast that we all accused Microsoft of being. I won't bother enumerating Apple's rapacious methods of business because I've noticed that the Apple-intoxicated simply blank out even the most egregious manifestations.

I had planned on replacing my MacBook Pro 15" and MacBook Air 13" with one model, but I find I can no longer afford to do so but, my thoughts on what to do may help you decide onmwhichmMac you should go,for.
I wanted a lighter laptop than the bulky 15" but I also wanted a much better screen too. The Air is now much faster and more powerful now than the one I have but it still retains the lower resolution screen that it originally came out with. So I decided that the best option was to go for either the 13" MacBook Pro for weight and the better screen. Not as powerful as the 15" and lacking on hard drive space but you could get around that with an external drive. Still, I find my Air to be the computer I access first as it fires up a lot quicker than my MacBook Pro and is great for general use. Heavy duty photography editing and gaming is the main use for the 15".
My idea setup for home would be a an,iMac 27" as a TV and 15" MBP replacemnet, a MacBook Pro retina 13" for every day use, photography editing and taking on holiday. Roll on the big lottery win!

Mike, I just got an HP 9470, which is much like the Mac Air. Portable. Powerful. BUT no CD/DVD drive. I have a peripheral. It's a pain. The MacBook Pro in our house has the HP beat.

I am a technical writer. I work for Apple.

I chose a MacBook Air 13" as my current primary work machine on the last round of new equipment. Mine is a late 2011 machine with 4G RAM and 128 G storage. *All* of my technical writing work is done on it, it runs all our software and interfaces perfectly with all out systems. I also have LR 5 on it and do some occasional image processing with it when traveling, if I have it along. When at home or in the office, it is connected to the Thunderbolt 27" display and thence to FW800 and USB2 mass storage systems for access to my entire LR photo library and Time Machine backup system. While it's plenty powerful for the photo work casual photo work I do with it, if it were my personal machine I'd want the latest with faster processor, 8G and larger storage built in.

The rMBP is wonderful and a step up in processing speed and display quality. And you can configure it more expansively. If I were to choose a new machine today, I would likely go with one of those.

(My home system for image processing is a current series Mac mini stuffed with i7 Quad-core 2.26Ghz processor, 16G RAM, and 1T hard drive. It's much more efficient for image processing due to the quad core processor and huge RAM.)

Couple notes:

Like others have said, max out the RAM, it's not upgradeable on either option and is the most likely aspect to need upgrading. Storage is upgradable on the Air's, I'm not sure about the rMBP's though. If you keep all your archive data on external drives you shouldn't need more than 256GB and 128GB can be quite adequate.

If you choose the MBP, wait for the Haswell refresh, it will improve the battery life by 20-25%.

For dual monitors, ShadZee, remember that if you have a Thunderbolt Cinema Display, it has a second Thunderbolt port that can be used to daisy chain a second thunderbolt display OR a standard display with a Mini Displayport cable/dongle. Functionally a Thunderbolt display is a hub as well (it has 3 USB 3.0 ports, a Firewire 800 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port in addition to the extra Thunderbolt port). The only cables that should be connecting to the MacBook should be your Thundrbolt cable and your power cable when you are docked at home. If you need more ports, a Thunderbolt hub can be placed in the Thunderbolt daisychain at some point.

NEVER use HDMI to connect a PC display if it can be avoided. Generally PC makers skimp on the HDMI conversion circuitry and you get a lower quality image, comparable to the VGA input rather than DVI or DisplayPort. This can be very noticable on displays like LG's inexpensive IPS panels (which are great values, ~$200 for a 24bit gamut IPS display). Use DVI or DisplayPort connectors in preference. With Macs and 3rd party monitors I'd recommend using a DVI adaptor (Mini DisplayPort to DVI) and a DVI cable or an HDMI to DVI cable (for the HDMI port on a Mac Mini)

Try the One Breath Method: Close your eyes, ask your self: " Air or Pro?" Then take a deep breath. The first thing that pops into your head is the answer. Don't re-do it or analyze it anymore.
This saves hours headaches.
(Aka: Use the Force, Luke!) :)

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