Technology

Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Air Is Superb for Pro Photography Work


Apple’s MacBook Air ultrathin laptops are primarily designed for lightweight office and school work on the go. But as Apple’s own M-series processors have become more capable, so too have the MacBooks they’re in. I’m a professional photographer, and I’ve spent the past couple of months with the latest 15-inch M2-equipped MacBook Air, putting it through its paces on photo shoots, both in the studio and on location. I’m impressed. 

For me, its 15-inch display is the perfect balance between size and portability. It’s big enough to comfortably edit photos in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop without needing a bigger monitor. It offers plenty of screen space for all my tools, as well as providing ample room for video timelines when working with video in Premiere, away from my desk. 

But the narrow display bezel and the laptop’s 11.5mm thickness means it’ll still slip into the laptop pouch of even my smaller camera backpacks. Sure, it isn’t the lightest Air ever made, but its 1.5kg weight is an acceptable addition for my spine to cope with when I’m out on shoots. Though it feels every bit as well put together as most of Apple’s gear, I do worry that the nice, deep, dusky blue of my test model could easily get scratched and scuffed over months or years of photoshoots. Still, I managed to avoid any major blemishes during my time with it.

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A quick import of images on top of my car after a photo shoot.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

With Apple’s M2 chip and 16GB of RAM, my test model was extremely capable for most uses. It handled all my photo editing in Lightroom and Lightroom Classic, importing 1,000-plus batches of raw photos from my CFExpress cards extremely quickly and showing zero slowdowns as I navigated the library and batch-applied editing presets. For my work on location, this has been a real treat, being able to quickly back up my files after a shoot before I hit the road. 

But I increasingly work in video and still imagery, both for CNET and on my own YouTube channel, and I found the Air capable of blitzing my edits in Premiere and DaVinci Resolve. I edited multiple 4K videos for my channel on this Air and imported my test Premiere project that utilized high bitrate, 4K C-Log video files, with effects and stabilization applied to many clips. I could scrub through and play back the project at full resolution without any issues, and export the final 4K file in a little over nine minutes — not bad, considering that the M2 Pro-equipped Mac Mini I tested recently did it in a little over seven. 

Overall I found it to be an extremely swift machine, easily handling any of my professional editing needs for photos and 4K video production. Then there’s the battery life, which I found to be solid, barely dropping while importing and culling photos and generally allowing me to work on it without even needing to consider whether I’d get through my edits before needing to find a plug. And I haven’t even mentioned that it does all this with no fans whirring while I work. 

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There’s no SD card slot, but I’ve moved on to CFExpress anyway. 

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

So, it’s perfect? Well, no, and let’s address the elephant in the room: price. The 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299, but that’s with only 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and if you’re using it for photo and video editing, you’ll blow through that in no time (the cards I use in my camera are 2TB). Opting for more RAM and storage always means a big jump in price for Apple devices. My choice, if I were buying one, would be the model with the max 24GB of RAM and 1TB storage, but that brings the cost just north of $2,000. My review model comes in at $1,499.

But that’s still cheaper than the base 14-inch MacBook Pro and a lot cheaper than the base 16-inch Pro, so I do think the Air represents relatively decent value here. Would I choose a Pro model instead? If money were no object, then sure, I’d maybe go for the 14-inch Pro with M2 Max chip, 64GB RAM and 2TB storage, and I’d laugh about the $4,000 price tag while I drove off into the sunset in my new Lambo.

But here in the real world, I’d need to think about what I actually need and how much that’s worth. I work out and about a lot, frequently editing in cars, trains, cafes or maybe just from my bed when I can’t be bothered getting up and sitting at my desk. Traveling light is crucial to my workflow. The 15-inch Air is ideal for this, and it’s more than powerful enough to plow through my photo and video edits without breaking a sweat. And against the lofty prices of the Pro line, even the $2,000 for the 24GB, 1TB configuration I’d recommend seems reasonable. 

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Adobe Lightroom is handled no problem. But so is Premiere Pro, even with demanding 4K files.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

Oh, and sure, the latest Pro models have SD card slots to appease creatives. But those slots returned just as I — and no doubt many other pro shooters — upgraded all SD cards to faster CFExpress cards. Having that slot would simply be a redundant hole I’d rarely need, and I’d still need to carry a dongle.

For power video creators, editing feature films with huge numbers of 8K video tracks, effects and whatnot, then no, the MacBook Air isn’t going to cut it, at least not for full-time use. But professional photographers like myself who work largely in stills, with a bit of video production on the side — perhaps wedding photographers or event shooters who also want to offer video packages to their clients — will be well catered for with the 15-inch MacBook Air.