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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best laptops for photo and video editing

Last Updated May 2019

Technology has changed everything for us — especially how we document our lives. We take hours of video and thousands of pictures with our phones, tablets, and 4K video cameras, and they all make sure everything comes out in stunning detail. It’s pretty great, although it’s created an interesting problem: most of us have a huge backlog of media to edit.

Whether you’re a serious videographer producing videos using Adobe Premiere, or a casual user with a ton of photos and videos to comb through, you’ll need a machine that’s powerful enough to handle it all and reliable enough to keep everything safe. Not just any laptop will do: you’ll need to find one that can keep up with you without breaking the bank.

Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect laptop for editing photos or videos: the specs to invest in, the gimmicks to watch out for, and the right amount to pay.

Historically, photo and video aficionados have maintained that you need a Mac for creative work. While that was true once, it isn’t anymore. All major creative applications are available for both Windows and Mac OS X, and all related file types are similarly agnostic. Go with whatever operating system you feel most comfortable with.

Photo- and video-editing laptop features to consider

Laptops for photo and video editing are standard laptops, but they have more power than usual for tasks like rendering graphics or indexing directories with hundreds of files. Pay the closest attention to the following specifications:

CPU

The central processing unit (CPU) is in charge of all of the tasks a computer does, everything from opening files to editing them. Because most editing applications demand so many resources, it’s important to get a CPU that can keep up. In most cases, the best bet is to buy a laptop with a processor from the Intel i3/i5/i7 series or one from the AMD Ryzen 3/5/7 series. If you see a laptop listing that isn’t upfront about what CPU it uses, don’t buy it.

GPU/video card

The graphics processing unit (GPU) is often referred to as a video card. For photo and video editing, graphics are critical, so the right laptop should have some beefy video hardware on board. Most good photo- and video-editing laptops have a video card made by either NVIDIA or AMD. If you see a laptop stating it has “on-board video,” don’t buy it. That just means that there is no separate video card and it relies on the CPU for all of its video rendering.

A powerhouse laptop that doesn’t compromise

Dell’s XPS line has always been the home of their sleekest computers, and now it’s also home to some of their most powerful hardware yet. The XPS 15 boasts 4K resolution, has a jaw-dropping 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB solid-state drive. Laptops don’t get much better than this.

Screen resolution

The screen resolution controls how detailed images look, so for creative work, it’s important to get a laptop that can display as many pixels as possible. Laptop screen resolutions typically range from 1920 x 1080 (1080p HD) to 2160 x 3840 (4K UHD). Most users find 1080p screens to be too blurry, so for best results, get a laptop with a screen resolution of 2560 x 1440 (1440p) or higher.

Ports

Think about the peripherals you might use with your laptop. Do you plan on connecting an external hard drive? USB mouse? Phone charger? External monitor? No matter what extras you plan on bringing, you’ll need a laptop that can connect plenty of them simultaneously. Consider everything you’ll be connecting and determine how many ports you’ll need before you start shopping.

Screen size

In addition to the laptop’s screen resolution, you’ll also need to pay attention to its screen size. Smaller screens can make it hard to see minute details, which can be critical when it comes to photos and videos. On the other hand, larger screens increase the weight, cost, and battery consumption of a laptop, so you’ll have to choose a size that represents a reasonable compromise. Laptop screens range from 11.6 inches to 17 inches, and most creative professionals opt for the biggest screen they can afford.

EXPERT TIP

Some laptops, dubbed “2-in-1s,” are hybrid laptop/tablet devices that have a touchscreen that can typically be flipped around or detached. If you prefer to use a stylus, or you’re a Windows user interested in what Windows Tablet Mode has to offer, look into buying a 2-in-1. If none of those things appeals to you, save some money and avoid laptops with built-in tablets.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If you’re buying a laptop with an Intel i3, i5, or i7 processor, check to see which generation of processor you’re getting and compare it to the most recent generation. If you see a laptop with an intel processor that’s more than one generation old, don’t buy it.


Staff  | BestReviews

Photo- and video-editing laptop prices

Because these laptops are designed to use high-end hardware, they’re typically more expensive than other laptops, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a bargain. Keep these price ranges in mind so you know how far your money will go.

Entry-level

You’ll find good entry-level laptops for photo and video editing for between $900 and $1,499. Models in this range are generally good machines, but they typically make a few compromises that may concern photo and video editors, like low resolutions or anemic amounts of RAM. If you’re just getting started in the world of editing videos and photos, a laptop in this price range will still be a bargain, but if you’re a power user, you’ll want to look at more expensive models.

A creative’s best friend

Apple’s latest Macbook Pro builds on their legacy of elegant, capable computers and is perfect for any photo or video editing job you throw at it. We love how the 6-core processor handles everything effortlessly, and its seamless iPhone integration is a huge perk.

Mid-range

Most laptops between $1,500 and $2,399 strike a good balance between price and performance. Models in this price range are fast enough for any application and often pack extras like 4K resolution and plenty of RAM. Unless you’re a professional photographer or videographer, there’s no need to spend more than this to get an outstanding value.

Expensive

Expect to see laptops powerful enough for pros in the $2,400 to $6,000 range. Laptops in this price range take every component and max it out, so if you’re looking for a 17-inch screen with 4K resolution accompanied by a current-generation processor and as much RAM as the computer can handle, it’ll cost you.

Video editing uses more battery life than other applications, so if you take your laptop everywhere, it’s a good idea to carry an extra AC adapter plug, too. If you’re often in places with no outlets, consider buying a power bank for laptops so you’ll always have a backup plan if your battery dies.

Staff
BestReviews

Tips

  • Decide what editing software you plan on using before you buy a laptop. Most software applications will publish minimum hardware requirements, that is, how fast a computer needs to be to run an app. By selecting the software you plan to use ahead of time, you can consult the developer’s hardware recommendations and then buy a laptop that meets or exceeds those metrics.

  • Develop a strategy for backing up files from your laptop. Sadly, laptops can get stolen or damaged, and if you don’t back up your files, a single accident can make all of your content unusable. Always be ready for the worst-case scenario. Sign up for a cloud-based backup storage service or buy a portable hard drive and use it regularly to keep extra copies of your files safe.

  • Look for a laptop with an SD card reader. Most digital cameras and digital video cameras record to Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, so to get your pictures and movies on to your laptop, you’ll need one that has an SD card reader. Memory card readers are common on many laptops, but if you buy a laptop without one, you can buy a USB card reader adapter later.
Most creative professionals use Adobe’s PhotoShop and Premiere, part of its subscription-based Creative Cloud service. You get access to its full suite of applications, so if you’re serious about improving your photo- and video-editing skills, or you’re a pro who needs fully featured software, look into signing up for Adobe Creative Cloud.

FAQ

Q. What’s the difference between hard disk drives and solid state drives?

A. Computer hard drives come in two different types: hard disk drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD). HDD capacities can get higher than SSDs (for now), but SSDs have no moving parts, so they last much longer and typically perform faster. Many creative professionals opt to use SSDs in their laptops for their software and operating system, and then also use external HDDs to store their digital video and photo content.

Q. For editing videos and photos, which type of screen is better: glossy, or matte?

A. It’s a matter of preference. Some users swear by glossy screens and love how they can make even the dullest images look shiny. Others say that glossy screens have too much reflection and make fingerprints more visible. While you’re considering which one you prefer, think about where you’ll be using your laptop most often. If it’s an area with a lot of light, you might want to opt for a laptop with a matte screen.

Q. Can I use a Chromebook for editing photos and videos?

A. It depends on how powerful the Chromebook is. Google’s Chrome OS operating system supports the most popular web-based video- and photo-editing services, including Adobe Creative Cloud. However, not all Chromebooks are fast enough to use the software because many Chromebooks are designed to be entry-level laptops. If you’re interested in buying a Chromebook for editing photos and videos, look for a high-end model.

The team that worked on this review
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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