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.

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.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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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...

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

For the Google Pixel, connect the phone to the macbook using iTunes to pull off your files and photos. For the iPhone, instead of using airdrop just sync everything through icloud. Your iPhone's photos will automatically show up on the macbook within seconds. Easy-peasy.

A built-in SD card slot is pretty limited. You can't upgrade it when a new standard comes out and you're pretty much always going to be better off with a good dedicated card reader anyway. Also, not all professional cameras use SD cards and even among ones that do, sometimes it's the slower of two slots which means you probably want a dedicated card reader to take advantage of the faster transfer anyway.

As for the USB-A thing, you can just get a cable that's USB-A on one side and whatever other USB variant you want on the other side, so I don't really see the lack of a specific USB-A port as a big deal as long as the computer has a sufficient overall quantity of available ports.

My almost 7-year-old MacBook Air's slot has been reading every SD card I put into it just fine until I retired it a few weeks ago.

I've also had to buy all new cables for everything just to work this laptop. Yes, the cables exist but Apple needs to stop making me repurchase everything. Three Mac laptops and I also have three completely different chargers now (I always buy an extra to keep one at work). Ugh.

Was it UHS-II? If not, then you were probably wasting a good amount of time transferring files.

The time I saved in not searching for a dongle or converter that maybe fell out of the bag or was in my car or back at home made the in-built slot worth it.

I have 2 card readers. One stays attached to my computer at home at all times. The other stays in my camera bag in a dedicated pouch. It's never lost or dropped. I always know exactly where it is because I make sure to put it back in that dedicated pouch. I'm not sure what's so complicated about this. Are you in the habit of losing things that are important to your business? Yes, technically, the bag could be stolen, but that would mean my laptop and several lenses are stolen as well so I'm SOL either way in that instance and I doubt that I'm all that worried about a lost card reader.

Admittedly, my current camera uses XQD so I have no choice right now anyway, but even for the brief time that I had a Sony I never used the built-in SD card slot on my laptop because it was slow as sin. I always used a dedicated card reader and I always kept a pair of UHS-II cards in the camera even though one slot was technically only USH-I because in the event of a failure of the UHS-II slot, I still would have full speed transferring the files off the card in the UHS-I slot. When I had cameras that had a 1 SD card and 1 other card (XQD or CF), I still always used the other card because the transfer speed was faster. I've no clue why anyone would want to sit there and spend double or triple the time transferring files just for the convenience of using the built-in slot in their computer. I suppose you can go eat or make some coffee, but it seems like a massive waste of time to me.

When you're transferring dozens of gigabytes of data (or hundreds), the difference in time between UHS-I transfer speeds and UHS-II transfer speeds is ridiculous—particularly when you add up the time difference over the course of days, months, or years. The same applies (to a lesser degree) between using an SD card and an XQD card. Why slow down your workflow like that?

This could be because I'm using 12-24 megapixel cameras for all of my work, including professional stuff, so there isn't really all that much data to transfer, especially in the case of sports shooting where I'm shooting JPG on these cameras.

Well shooting small files would certainly mitigate the impact. I use a higher megapixel camera and large cards so even at XQD speeds, I usually go make a coffee while transferring files off my card. Doing it at UHS-I speed when I used SD cards would have probably involved taking a nap.

The connectivity is a pain sometimes but the author is constructing problems that are easy to be solved. You can get a Lightning to USB-C cable ... Problem solved. The issue is the Lightning connection which makes it indispensable to have an extra cable with you but in reality we are a long way from having “one plug that rules them all” situation.

We had one plug to rule them all for years ... USB-A

It was never that simple. Yes, you had USB-A on the computer side, but that was divided into USB 1.0, USB 2.0, and eventually USB 3.0 which all looked exactly the same, but made it ripe for people who didn't know what they were doing to end up with sub-optimal performance. On the device side, you had USB-B, USB Mini A and B, and USB Micro A and B. So despite surface appearances, it's always been rather complicated.

USB-C allows for faster data movement, is more rugged, can be fully waterproof, plugs in either orientation, and is much smaller and small enough that it can easily be incorporated in to phones, iPads, cameras, etc. It's a much better standard.

My complaint is why I can't get EVERYTHING w/ USB-C. That'd make my life much easier.

You sound like the people who complained that when they traded in their horse & buggy for a car that they had to start buying petrol or people today who complain that if they buy an electric car that they have to plug it in. I'm not for change purely for change sake but USB-C is a much much better standard just like digital cameras are better in many ways or electric cars are better than petrol or today's laptops are better than my first portable which was a suitcase sized Compaq w/ a 9" B&W display.

Bullsh*t. Don’t rewrite history you know you never had a single plug! How about DVI, VGA, Mini DVI, Firewire, eSATA? Ethernet. How about Power? You have different plugs per country with power. Then there’s Lightning, the 12 pin plugs of old iPhones. USB-A, various shapes and forms of USB-B, USB 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and so on.

USB-C can indeed replace many if not all of these plugs - actually Thunderbolt can - same plug but much faster.

In that sense you’re peeing up the wrong tree. USB-C isn’t the issue. USB-A is

I have an early 2015 13" MBP...still going strong but I can see in the near future having to change the way I do things. I doubt you'd get me to go back to PC because Windows just irritates the heck out of me.

The reason I stay with my Mac is the love of OSX and the build quality. It is hard to explain unless you have used it. I support many many Windows 10 or 7 machines so I know the difference. Apple is always on the cutting edge, they push things and some time a bit too soon and a bit too far. The dongles don't work well...there are some little differences with the dongles. Like trying to create a bootable USB drives.

I think talking about the lack of support for raw files from a pixel 3a XL is a bit much. We all clicked on the article thinking it was for us. I don't have problems getting photos from my Fuji or when I was Canon.

I am waiting for the 16 inch MBP. I will welcome the extra few inches. Going to USB-A seem like a big step backwards...I will keep the dongles....for the most part they work in everyday life. I rarely unzip the pouch.

Lots of other reasons to bash Apple Laptops but then it just becomes an Apple VS PC article....I would not have clicked on that and maybe that was the point.....go for the clicks!

The Pixel 3a stuff applies to most Android phones. But agreed about Macs and OSX. The MacBook models (all of them) have always had the most comfortable trackpads and keyboards (I don't hate the new design)

I have never desired a card reader in my MacBook Pro. I do a lot of digitech work and I read a lot of cards, but rarely SD. I welcome a larger (hopefully brighter) screen and more processing power.

As someone who spends typically 6-8hrs a day in the Adobe Suite (not just photoshop), screen real estate is a huge benefit. Frankly a 15" screen, is unusable for publishing let alone a 13". I could once get away with my demised 17", but now I need an external monitor. Apple always was different about connectivity - never offering a docking station like other laptop manufacturers.

While I use my SD card slot frequently, I would welcome a cardless workflow that something like the ZX1 proposes. The iPhone (smartphone) if anything has demonstrated that sharing images does not require removable media - in fact photographers and consumers constantly lament that cameras lack the connectivity of a simple smartphone.

Unless we can see a shift to USB C Gen 2 peripherals, we need more ports!

Honestly I don't understand why photographers consider themselves pro users. And you don't need tons of dongles you can end all your peripherals problems with juts one USB-C/Thunderbolt Hub. You already carry a laptop and its power adapter, so throwing in a usb hub in the same bag isn't a problem at all. For the most part photographers and content creators are always complaining about trivial problems like sending files from their peripherals to their PCs. Like, what is wrong with you all? do you seriously consider yourself a "Pro" user?

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