More Inches Is Not What Photographers Need in a MacBook Pro

More Inches Is Not What Photographers Need in a MacBook Pro

I’ll admit it, I’ve jumped on the MacBook Pro bandwagon a lot later than most. Just a couple of years ago I was beating the drum about how great the old Macbook Air was for photographers. The thing is, after a few weeks with the 13” MacBook Pro, in some ways, I still feel that way.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some great things about the MacBook Pro (the design of which has been kicking around since 2016, more or less), like the huge, responsive touchpad, and the wonderful display. And unlike most, I actually don’t hate the butterfly keyboard. Performance is kind of a wash, with most of the enhanced specs seeming to go to that pixel-dense display rather than raw speed (though Adobe is equal parts to blame for this with its bloatware).

But for photographers, Apple has taken a notable step back in one of the most important ways: camera and smartphone connectivity.

One of the big issues keeping common folks from embracing DSLRs or mirrorless cameras was the confusion about how to get photos out of the camera. In a recent article about the Google Pixel 3a XL’s portrait mode, I talked about some of the software features of the camera, but I didn’t talk about how hard it was to get the photos off the phone. It was incredibly hard because Apple has made it so.

It used to be you could plug most phones and cameras into Apple’s computers and Image Capture would be able to read and capture the images. But it seems like with MacOS’s Mojave update, that this is no longer possible with most Android phones. It seems like a huge oversight to exclude Android smartphones from this key feature, and for obvious business reasons, one that Apple doesn’t seem in a hurry to fix.

What’s stranger, is that my Google Pixel 3a XL has the ability to connect with my MacBook Pro, but I can’t get the photos off without third-party software (Google recommends Android File Transfer). But on the flipside, I can’t hook up an Apple iPhone directly to the MacBook Pro with the included lightning cable to transfer photos. Sure, I can AirDrop, but then I can’t transfer raw files shot with third-party camera apps on an iPhone. So to sum it up, I can plug an Android-based USB-C phone directly into my Apple laptop, but I can’t plug an Apple phone into my Apple laptop, and once I do plug in that Android phone to transfer photos, I can’t do it easily since Android File Transfer makes me hunt through all the photos on the phone. Oh, and it also gives me a message about not working on the next version of MacOS, so there’s that.

What. A. Mess.

Apple’s Excuses

Come on, Apple. There is plenty of room for more ports.

Come on, Apple. There is plenty of room for more ports.

None of this even begins to touch transferring photos from a “real” camera, of which most include an older USB-A style cable, if they’re still including one at all. Without an SD card slot or any other direct way to get photos in, photographers will need dongles on dongles just to get a photo in if they don’t want to buy all new card readers.

Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller’s take on removing the SD Card slot? People didn’t like the card sticking out halfway. I think every photographer could take that compromise just to have the slot built-in.

So while Apple is pondering adding an extra inch to the screen of the MacBook Pro, I’d suggest that they think about adding back some features to its pro-oriented laptop, namely USB-A and an SD-card slot. Maybe there isn’t space on the models with 4 USB-C ports, but on the models with only two, it seems like it would definitely be doable. I’d sacrifice an inch of screen to get more functionality back.

It's not unusual for photographers to call out, for instance, Canon, when they sense a product being crippled for no reason, and so it's surprising that Apple gets a pass.

What do you think? Is this like me calling for Apple to add DVD drives and floppy disks back to computers or do other pros really want ports? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Tony Clark's picture

Who moves a lot of pictures from their phone? I simply use Air Drop in those instances. I'm on a Mid'15 MBP and use USB3 when shooting tethered or importing via USB card reader. Your review seems to be centered around phone issues, I think that most photographers are fine with the lineup except for the dongle issue. I'm looking for the best combination of display, CPU, GPU, storage and RAM in my MBP, no external GPU and affordable RAM or even better would be user upgradable components. Want to talk about problems? Let's remember when Apple didn't even offer matte or retina displays...

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I own a desktop PC to do 360 video work but Windows 10 (and Adobe, while we are on the topic) is a hot mess in many different ways.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Love Windows 10, but as for Adobe Lightroom, well, it is a mess.

I'm a windows user and i have to agree. Win 10 is hot steamy garbage. I'd still pick it over a mac any day specifically because of apple hard ware. The thermals in macs are bad causing performance throttling of already low spec for the money hardware. Also cheap components leading to bent pins on ribbon cables and burned out fuses as well as apples lack of care when repairing their customers computers is horrid. The MAC OS is more or less pretty decent. Especially for those that want an OS that just works with out having to tinker or know how computers function. I like to tinker and know how things work so windows is right up my alley. I think the thing that really cheeses me off with windows is that it's trying to be like mac and failing. it's hiding things that power users need and disabling others in an effort to seem more "user friendly". It's not working. it makes thing s MORE confusing. They need a better UI designer. Now if Ubuntu can get off the ground with software compatibility with editing software I would move over to that instantly.

I absolutely agree on your opinion about the OSes. I use Mac on my 15" MacBook, and it is just throttling about every tiny bit of power it should have, that's not how a i7 should feel like in such a expensive piece of hardware. But you're right, it works without tinkering around much, not like Windows or even Linux. I use Windows 7 (the last Windows which has been really good after XP) but only for gaming, for working and surfing I use Mac and my Servers are running Debian, so I try to use every advantage of every OS to get the most fulfilled life with computers.

Damn sorry to hear that my dude. i7's, when working like they should, are really nice. I have a lenovo e431 with an i7 3632QM. It's older but it sure is a workhorse. It does everything i need it too. Only paid 200 Shmeckles for it too. I only use windows for work because of editing software reasons and for gaming also at home. I did get WOW working on ubuntu and honestly I only play it on ubuntu now. For me it actually runs better in the sense it gives me less fits. The latest windows update pretty much half broke my razer wireless headset. The mic will not work and I've tried everything short of an os reinstall to get it working. the weird thing is if you go to the properties of the headset in the sound panel and you use the test mic feature i can hear my self just fine but it will not work anywhere else. I booted into ubuntu and it installed without the crappy synapse software no problem. Works perfect, but not in windows.There is always some dumb bug with windows i gotta iron out but ubuntu seems to just work for the most part. Even my xbox controller worked out of the box. That blew me away. Nvidia driver support is pretty bad though. Took me a few hours to get that sorted but alls well now. I have an old dell gaming tower with an i7 I'm thinking of turning into a server to tinker with. What version of debian are you running if you don't mind my asking?? I absolutely agree with the multiple OS uses. They all have their pros and cons and are all useful in many different ways!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Best phone camera around these days is the Pixel, and that has no Airdrop capability. And when I was iPhone, you can't Airdrop a raw (DNG) file off the phone and you can do so much more with an iPhone DNG file. The stock iPhone camera app throws away so much detail compared to something like ProCam.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't think I've ever plugged my iPhone into my MacBook.
I'm still using a 13in MBP, the last one with sockets. Even then.

I use PhotoSync App to get images on and off laptop in a breeze, look It up, it might help you.

Marko Bradich's picture

Advocating for USB A is so couple of years ago. Most new pro cameras come with USB C, as do modern smartphones. And as for the SD slot, if you shoot with something like Nikon Z7, you don't use SD cards. There are numerous different pro equipment storage formats that are not SD compatible. So a pro computer anticipating different pro formats and not opting for any in specific is not so surprising.

Sorry, but the whole idea of doing a volume of any photo work on a laptop makes me weep.

Deleted Account's picture

Sometimes an unavoidable issue though, especially on fly-away jobs that need a quick turnaround.

Stuart Carver's picture

Or people like me who don’t have room for a home office at the moment.

I completely understand. I use a laptop on assignments when I am a long way from my studio and need to deliver.
I still weep.

Android File Transfer is from Android... Google makes Android, that isn't a "third party app". If you're using a Pixel, why aren't you using Google Photos? They provide unlimited photo storage on Google Photos for Pixel owners (at least for Pixel, Pixel 2 and Pixel 3, not sure about the Pixel 3a). No need at all to physically connect/transfer photos from the device if you are.

I'm with quite a few of the other commenters, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is the future of peripheral attachments, so much so that USB4 will basically be an open form of Thunderbolt3 and continue to use the USB-C connector. Also, so many current devices are coming out with USB-C out of the gate. My phone, headphones, iPad, etc all now are USB-C... Yes, it's slightly frustrating to need to connect my D850 w/ a USB-A cord to transfer files off since it doesn't support USB-C too but with a Thunderbolt3 docking station that's solved.

And all future/current high end/pro cameras I've been seeing are not using SD Cards at all... They're all XQD or CFexpress. Even my D850 that has an SD card, it's the secondary mirror or overflow storage and I've yet to actually utilize it since I tend to not exceed my 2 large XQD cards before I'm at a point I can offload all the photos taken.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Sadly the Pixel 3a series only has unlimited uploads for compressed versions of the photos, unlike the higher models.

Tony Northrup's picture

Lack of an SD card slot is probably my #1 complaint with my MBP. Having to travel with, fumble with, and not forget my USB-C SD card adapter is a real-world problem for creators. I take a trip and want to import my pictures on the airplane back - have to wait for the fasten seat belt sign to go off to open up the overhead and dig through my bag. Also, I'm on my THIRD USB-C SD card reader bc for some reason they keep breaking... and then I'm connecting my camera to my laptop with a USB-C cable like a literal caveman. OK, maybe I'm not being literal.

My coping mechanism is to pack extra card readers and cables in all my bags.

Can't switch back to PCs because FCPX is my life now.

Stuart Carver's picture

Buy a WD my passport pro and sync your SD after each session then.

Unless you connect your camera to the WD Passport and transfer files directly, the above is still valid. In that case, you will need two ports as opposed to one. Either you can have SD Card reader (at least on the pro models) or extra USB 3/Type-C ports.

I don't get this dealbreaker mentality with lack of SD card slot on a Mac. I have an older Macbook Pro with SD card slot and it is slow as hell compared to the USB-C Prograde Digital Dual SD card reader that imports RAW files as if they were jpegs. I also have Nikon gear that uses XQD and CF. I carry 2 readers with me and leave a few spares in the car. Even if you had the last mac with sd card slot the new uhs-iii readers will probably smoke that built in slot.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I don't get the move to XQD and other formats because I've been shooting sports just fine for years on CF or SD cards. I'm speaking from experience using a 1D Mark IV, 1DX and 1DX Mark II. While the buffer was a bit deeper with CFast on the new model, I never had complaints about the other two. Having a standardized format across multiple cameras just makes sense and so having an SD card slot is a big selling point to me for both the camera and the computer.

For me the need to offload the data quickly is why I would love for Sony to transition to CFAST or XQD although their cameras are too small for that to happen. I shoot RAW and 4k video clips and often have to offload a lot of data quickly and that is where CF is obsolete for my needs. I think the theoretical maximum read speed of CF cards is about 167mb/s. I am using Sony SFG cards and the maximum advertised read speed is about 300mb/s. I did extensive tests using Prograde Digital dual sd card using USB-C connection to 2.8ghz i7 macbook pro 13" 2019 and copying about 40gb of files. The actual read speeds from SD card to laptop were about 220-261mb/s on one card and 340mb/s copying two cards to the laptop. I am using the sony a9 and want to get the a7riv but dread how much slower file transfer will be. I really wish companies would standardize to one card but the varying size of cameras will make that impossible.

Stuart Carver's picture

That’s not something I had considered previously, I normally take the SD card out of the camera and have the passport set to auto upload when the SD is plugged in. I’ll then plug the SD directly in the my passport and return it to the camera.

I’m going to experiment with direct USB uploads from the camera though, although that could potentially create yet another folder in the folder tree (I wish the images uploaded directly into a master folder each day rather than retaining the cameras folder structure).

Tony Northrup's picture

Yeah I do use the WD Passport Pro when we're at press events because we're always in a rush and I end up trying to offload 4 or 5 SD cards while crammed into a bus. It works great.

Stuart Carver's picture

Since getting one I very rarely use the slot in my MacBook. The WD can certainly be improved but for any photographer who is doing it for a living I think they are essential now.

In my case I upload each day then plug it into the laptop, rename the file with whatever I was doing that day (keeping the date intact) then import into Capture One from that location.

I dare say you guys wait until you get home and upload the contents onto RAID then access them in LR from there?

the wireless pro takes ages to do this, hardly ever connects without issues when using it in the wireless setting, SD card slot isn't really a worry but i would appreciate at least 1 USB -a, have forgotten to get a dongle multiple times and its always a pain. love the USB-C speeds though.

Stuart Carver's picture

I’m not sticking up for Apple at all, it’s stupid what they did, but I think the passport pro is a must for photographers now which renders the SD card not needed in most cases.

Until my 2015 MBP is finished I won’t be changing to a new one I must admit. I don’t use the app on the passport either I just bought a longer USB cable and do all my editing directly from there.

Robert Grenader's picture

I use a LaCie DJI Boss drive to backup from XQD and SD cards. It also has the added benefit of letting you watch MP4 movies on flights on my iPad.

While I would never disagree with Tony, mostly because he does so many more and such a larger variety of projects than I do, I will say that I had similar thoughts before I bought my first MacBook Pro a month ago. But since I’ve gotten it, I’ve been amazed at how fast the transfers between my XQD card reader and the USB 3 UHS II card reader I have are. The first time I started an import to Lightroom, it finished before I could get out of my chair to go and get a cup of coffee, which I usually do when I start an import. I thought I had done something wrong, it went so fast, I couldn’t believe it. Of course I’m comparing it to a 10 year old PC, so there’s that.

Still I hope to keep this MacBook for a long time. I assume that there will be changes in the peripherals over the life of the laptop. The USB-C seems like the most likely to be “future” proof. Already I see that there is a new specification USB4 approved, which is compatible with the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on my machine. I can always upgrade the chip reader, as long as it isn’t built into the computer. So I see the dongles as a necessary evil.

I’d like to know more about the WD drive you are talking about.

FYI, I also like working on the iPad Pro. The MacBook, iPad Pro, and iPhone all work pretty well with Lightrooom CC, though I am still working on the best way to store files on my old PC.

Richard Bradbury's picture

WTF. Removed the SD slot because people didn't like the card sticking out. I'll stick with PC's going forwards.. unless they are going the same stupid dongle / no SD card slot route.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Is yours the 2015 MBP? Great machine (I had one) but it's getting a bit long in the tooth now.

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