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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Previous comments
Mark Guinn's picture

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.

michaeljinphoto's picture

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.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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.

michaeljinphoto's picture

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

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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.

michaeljinphoto's picture

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?

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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.

michaeljinphoto's picture

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.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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

michaeljinphoto's picture

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.

Ian Oliver's picture

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

Jason Lorette's picture

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.

Biff Stephens's picture

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!

Wasim Ahmad's picture

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)

Brandon Friend-Solis's picture

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.

Keith Meinhold's picture

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?

Stuart Carver's picture

To be fair, the complaining about trivial problems is far wider than just laptop use in the photography community.

How many times do you see people inventing completely unrealistic scenarios as the reason they want XYZ feature etc.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I have to do a fair amount of walking for my commute to work so I'm always trying to shave every ounce. I keep a charger in my desk at work and one at home so I don't have to carry it, also (now because of the MBP's lack of ports) a USB hub.

michaeljinphoto's picture

If your body is registering the weight difference in your bag from a USB hub, you might want to go see a doctor about that... I get the difference between something like a Sigma ART lens and much lighter first-party lenses, but something as light as a USB hub or a charger really shouldn't be making a difference to your travel unless you're running a marathon or doing timed laps on a track. Even then, the general rule of thumb is around 30 SECONDS lost per MILE per POUND of weight (that's RUNNING the entire time).

Yeah, little weights can certainly add up. If you have a bag full of chargers, cables, hubs, etc. then you'll certainly feel it. If you're looking for weight savings, though, there are often a number of solutions better solution before you finally get to the point where that single charger or that single hub is the difference maker. Even something like getting into the habit of using the bathroom before your commute would theoretically save more energy. (Yeah, yeah... weight distribution... but you get the point.)

going with that logic, who's pro user? There are a ton of different photography niches, you can shoot with 100mpix digital medium format or 20mpix dslr, you can make 20.000 clicks a year, or you can do it in three days, is there a barier that you need to pass to become "pro user"? :D

My dad has been a professional photographer for the last 45 years or so. I've helped quite a bit when I was younger so I've seen some of the struggle.

I'd agree to some extent with what is being said here but the solution isn't a Type-A port and SDCard support. It's better wireless access and a few (cheap) USB-A to USB-C cables in your camera bag. (Or more likely mini/micro USB to Type C)

Wasim Ahmad's picture

If only camera manufacturers would do something as simple as Airdrop.

michaeljinphoto's picture

I definitely agree that camera manufacturers really need to get with the times. Wireless tethering should just be a thing right out of the box with any modern camera just like they should have wireless shutter releases that just connect directly to a camera rather than requiring you to stick something stupid on the 10-pin connector or accessory port...

Fred Teifeld's picture

Apple didnt get a pass in some cases. A few highly prominent photographers very publicly declared their feelings about Apple removing all the ports (and card slot) useful to photographers and migrated to Windows based systems. I walked away from iOS and went with Android devices when I got tired of Apple telling me how I could manage MY images on MY system(s) and having to actually pay monthly for the "privilege" of managing my images across two iPads, one iPhone as well as two MacBook Pros and two iMacs.

In a studio, I shoot tethered and dealing with dongles would be a pain just for cable management alone.

As my Macs become obsolete or die (Which ever comes first) I will be considering my options in the PC area.

Robert Grenader's picture

Ever since Jobs passed, Apple has lost its way. Form over function is not a good design ethos.

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