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
Alec Kinnear's picture

It's great to be using a 17 inch from 2011. Recently add a huge 2TB SSD myself (was 500GB for a long time), great big bright matte screen, all the ports you need.

With Magcozy adapters, we've got ten compatible power adapters stashed around the house and at the office between my wife and I. Apple with its endless games with ports and power adapters and the most ecologically unfriendly computers on the planet since 2015 have really lost their way.

Built-in ports are good. Dongles are bad. Apple finally figured that out around 1996, only to have a regression a few years ago.

Sad to see otherwise sensible photographers justifying Apple's very consumer and environment unfriendly policies. If you think it makes you look hip, you're wrong. It makes you look like corporate weenies who can't think for themselves.

Just wait until you get AirDrop on all cameras and laptops and your event competitors or bad-tempered guests at a wedding are hacking their way into your cameras and image storage and either deleting it or corrupting it. Those will make for some fun stories on fstoppers!

Marc Andreoli's picture

Apple should include a Ligthning to USB-C cable with the iPhone since that is their play, but in the meantime why not get a cable on Amazon for 10 bucks?

Gary B's picture

Non apple tablet and laptop makers aren't any better. The latest tendencies are to change to microSD reader, as less as possible usb-ports and abandoning of the 3.5mm earphone port. I don't know who is their target audience but certainly not me.

As a photographer I want to pack as light as possible so a tablet with an sd reader, 1tb internal memory and at least 2 USB ports will offer all I need now and be future proof.

As a family man I often need to calm my kids on the backseat/flight until we arrive to a destination. So 2 standard 3.5mm ports (in addition to the large internal memory) would be more than welcome. I find regular earphones a lot more convenient, durable and better sounding than wireless. Not to mention much cheaper. We can do without sophisticated cameras and sim card support.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Not gonna lie the headphone jack was a big reason I went with #TeamPixel (or at least the 3a)

NRK Studio's picture

What we really need is good wireless tethering. Leave your WiFi ssd in your bag capabilities, or otherwise camera to laptop via WiFi capability. I used to use EyeFi (WiFi) sd cards and it sent files direct to my MacBook. Wish the new A7r4’s WiFi tethering is good enough I don’t fumble with SD cards at all anymore.

This is the wave of the future. Direct photo transfer to the cloud or computer. No SD card fumbling required. (Just like my iPhone using LR to take and cloud store pics, or even iCloud syncing raw files from the photo app).

Bernard Languillier's picture

Yes, absolutely. I am sticking to my 2013 Macbook pro because it has USB A and SD card reader built-in. The focus of Apple on design is ridiculous because it ignores the fact that we need to have a dock lying around permanently on our table to compensate to the lack of these basic capabilities on board. Grrrrr...

Simon Says's picture

Removed the SD slot because people didn't like the card sticking out.... Surely, we prefer the dongle MEGA stick out.. WTF?!. Patent for apple i-stick money logic.
RIP Apple 2011. Game over.

C.R. "Kroy" Brown's picture

I have to agree with some of the comments here - neither the lack of a SD card slot nor the USB-A is a real issue. USB-C is where it's at and where it's going to be. I do think there should be more USB-C and USB 3.0 inputs.
Ironically, contrary to this article's headline, I DO think that MBP's small screen sizes are a limit to pros.

But back to the SD card reader thing. I find that if you're using UHS-II cards (Panny GH5 for example requires those if filming at the highest quality level) then you'll need a UHS-II reader anyway, since AFAIK the built-in SD card reader, such as the ones in older MBPs, can't do UHS II speeds. Soon most if not all pro level cameras and camcorders will require UHS-II and then the only way a built-in SD card reader in a MBP makes sense is if it supports UHS-II speeds.
So if Apple were to bring an internal SD reader back, it had better support UHS-II. Also, the SD reader must not share lanes with other USB buses, something that many laptop manufacturers do unfortunately.
But instead of making compromises with an internal SD reader, I rather see 1 or 2 extra USB-C or at least USB 3.0 ports.

My issue with MBP is that for the money you're shelling out, you're simply having to put up with too many compromises. Meddling hardware, although blessedly, the 2018 version does allow one to finally upgrade to really good CPUs at least; but imitations in available inputs/ports, and no 17-inch or larger screen options really are deal breakers for IMHO. That dongle nonsense just ain't happening.

But of all the things that bug me, I think being limited in screen size is the biggest one. I don't see how anyone with a serious business can or is willing to put up with working on a tiny 15 or even 13 inch screen on a regular basis (if you're on set or traveling, fine. But too many folks use those tiny screens for ALL their work, which I find ridiculous).

I read someone here claiming the reason he has to work on a laptop is that his home is too small for a desktop computer. Seriously? Don't know where to even start with that one. This isn't the 1960s where computers took up entire rooms or buildings. Anyway...

Personally and in my business, I/we do use Apple products extensively, including an older MBP. So my opinion isn't Apple-bashing at all. We love 'em for some purposes, and we use 'em a lot. But not for serious content post-production work. It's great for admin, basic adjustments while traveling, stuff like that.

I do love the screen quality and color gamut/space, but again, at 15 inch, and at "retina" resolutions, it's very limited to what you can reasonably do, especially long form. External monitors are OK but frankly, it's an...odd workflow I personally can't get in to. So my business' main workstations are still (PC-based) desktops.

For travel and mobile workstation level work, I got the new Alienware Area 51m (17 inch) which is admittedly amazing. Had some bad experiences with Alienware in the past but this one makes up for it. We upgraded it with the 9900K CPU and a 2070 GPU, added a fast SSD drive (in addition to the internal NVMe) and the thing flies. The final cost was a little less than a comparable MBP, although not by much.

We did some informal comparisons with a colleague's 2018 MBP that also has an 9900K chip. Not only was getting anything done on his MBP more of a chore due to the smaller screen, encoding times were also slower by about 1/3. I don't know why (his AMD GPU vs my NVIDIA GPU?) and it wasn't a scientific test. But considering what he spent on that thing, and all the workarounds he puts up with (dongles, dongles, overheating, dongles...) I'm glad I went with the Area 51m.

I personally prefer the MBP's keyboard, and think that the Area 51m needing 2 (!) power adapters is kinda silly. But I love that it has a 17 inch screen. When I look back and forth between my personal MBP and the Alienware, it's always funny to me to think that a lot of people work (or try to get work done) on that little 15 inch thing.

Screen quality on the Macbook Pros is always outstanding, and pretty consistent across the range. Alienware can be hit and miss from what I've heard (I got lucky apparently). I also like the simplicity of Mac OS. Win 10 is great but Mac OS just feel subjectively more stable to me, especially after having had to deal with some recent Windows updates that caused major issues for us. Design and "feel" of the Macbook is just amazing. Hard to explain but everything is smooth and cool and tight. But smooth edges and pretty form factor don't get the bills paid for us.

But most importantly I just can't argue with PC platform's performance, hardware options, as well as price to performance ratio, and screen size availability. And for those points, PC-based solutions win, hands down. SD card reader or the lack thereof simply doesn't matter in the greater scope of things.

If Apple ever comes out with a 17 or 18 inch MBP (and keeps the Intel i9 series, in particular the 9900K), and lets us put in a NVIDIA GPU (it just works better for Adobe than AMD), I'll gladly pay that Apple tax and get one.

Tim Durham's picture

I recently built me a very nice Hackintosh but I want to get a used MBP to teather my GH5 in the field. I can say with 99% certainty that I won't do any editing on it. Is there any reason I should not just pick up a 2013 MBP 13" for $250-$300 on eBay? I have never had a MBP and relatively new to the Mac world. If getting an older MBP will work like a champ, then I don't want to get any more than I need. I am running Mojave on my IMP, so are there any considerations for what version of MacOS to be using?. I want a MBP for compactness and battery life. Thanks for any input.