The New MacBook Pro, a Photographer's Perspective

The New MacBook Pro, a Photographer's Perspective

Blair Bunting is a good friend of mine, and by far one of the best commercial portrait photographers out there today. He just published a blog post regarding the highly lauded (while simultaneously seriously attacked) new MacBook pro with retina display. While the display is absolutely breathtaking, it has a serious disadvantage. Is the display too good?

"What makes photography easier? The question itself can’t be answered in any one way because it is distal in nature, the proximal being, “who is the photographer?”

For simplicity let’s assume that I am the photographer in this case (saves me from others telling me I’m wrong).

Back to the matter at hand, will the MacBook Pro Retina make photography easier? The answer is simple, it is the most fortunate pain in the ass to hit the photography world in some time.

The excuse of not having the resolution to edit on the fly is gone, replaced by an absolutely beautiful screen that carries more pixels than the 30″ cinema displays on my desktop. The color, latitude, viewing angle and distortion are strong enough that I am comfortable adjusting and proofing from the comfort of the 1′ by 1′ box known as an airplane seat. The speed is there for any file to be manipulated, and since I don’t do much compositing, the depth of the RAM is easily enough. Perhaps it’s enough for video editing, but I don’t do video, so that isn’t a concern for me. Portability is good and weight is more than I expected, but not terrible. Also, the SD slot on the side will make life easier for those shooting the D800, as it make one less peripheral to carry to location. As a tech geek, I also marvel at the design and innovation in the system, truly art in engineering.

So with all this you are thinking, “Hmm, a perfect laptop?” No.

This laptop ushers in a new era that is going to be painful before it gets better. You see, the resolution is a double edge sword in that it looks beautiful to see images on it, but since most of our websites are at 72dpi, they look absolutely terrible. Yes, you can always display them smaller, but the draw of full screen is taken away. Yes, you could always upload all the image at 220dpi, but your site will take roughly 14 years to load (that’s an approximation).

So where do we find ourselves? The laptop is great… for the person that uses it on set, but horrible for the person who’s clients shop photos on it."

Widely recognized for his vibrant and unique imagery and lighting, Blair Bunting's advertising clientele includes Pepsi, General Motors, Addias, Discovery Networks, British Petroleum, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship series. Blair has worked with numerous movie and television personalities, professional athletes, and high profile politicians. His editorial and portraiture work has appeared in countless national and international newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, Business Week, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN Magazine.

Republished with permission.


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Brian Hawkins's picture

I agree, Retina looks amazing, but applications need to catch up before a serious photographer can make use of it.  Here's a quick test I did at the Apple Store of CS5 on the new display

Mother of god, Thats terrible!

Patrick Hall's picture

So wait, expanding an image in PS that has more pixels than Retina still doesn't allow for HD displays?  I had no idea PS or software in general controlled that

Brian Hawkins's picture

Photoshop and other non-Retina-capable applications think they're working with a 1440x900 display, so that is the graphic the program is generating. Meanwhile, the Mac knows it needs to scale all that up to the 2880x1800. This is done by taking each pixel and expanding it to a four pixel area on screen (called pixel-doubling, since each linear dimension is doubled). That's why it looks pixelated. Adobe is working to update this for CS6, but no word on when. I hope Lightroom isn't far behind.

José Tomás Tocino's picture

I don't think that's a problem of Photoshop, but a problem of Mac OS. Photoshop makes no assumption about the resolution of the screen, it's Mac OS the one that is doubling the resolution for non-retina display-prepared software. 

Brian Hawkins's picture

Yes, exactly.

Honestly? You are very narrow minded to post this "scandalous" article. The fact that applications have to catch up by adjusting the parameters to new age Retina display doesn't make the new Macbook Pro a bad laptop.

You must have something smeared in your eyes because I didn't read this as a trash talk towards the new laptop.

"It's not perfect, yet" is more accurate.

Keep your pants on and keep calm....

Haha. Does stupidity hurt? The laptop is perfect, the aplications aren't. It's called progress in techology. Keep your brain on and please do not reply with bollocks.

Eduardo Schäfer's picture

 Fanboy detected

Absolutely, as someone who's day job involves web design the first thing I thought when I saw that new screen is terror. It functionally means ALL websites need to be redesigned for yet ANOTHER resolution now. There was a time we could design a site to fit 800x600 and everyone was happy, now it has to scale from pre-retina iphone size all the way to this new retina laptop. The effort to make that work is rapidly rising but conversely clients aren't open to paying more for their websites so we are rapidly approaching a catch 22. :(

And this is only the beginning..;. wait until a 27" retina display hits the imac scene.  Assuming the same pixel density we are talking 5,184 pixels wide.

As for the end user, this is going to have a huge impact on ram usage to render so much more information. A 15" MacBook Non-retina Pro with 8gb of ram has tons of memory. That same 8gb will probably barely cut it on the retina display. Especially for editing photos, video, and playing games.

Patrick Hall's picture

I think this is a good thing.  As a graphical artist, I want my viewers and potential clients to see my work at it's best.  It's like saying we'd prefer 56K modems because our websites are designed for them....give me high speed and larger images!

And now that Verizon offers 300 MBS internet, who cares how big websites are, right? It's just a really big inconvenience for everyone, and going to be expensive to match what Apple is already charging a lot for.

That's all well and good for countries like the US who have super high speed internet available. Here in Australia, web is not that fast because the gov't has been very lax with updating lines and technology to allow the companies to expand.
We pay a lot of money for our internet and i'm currently pumping (for me its superfly fast) a whopping 6 Mbps...

I've been concerned about this retina display ever since it was rumoured at!

For users it is. It just means everything takes way more effort to do. When I entered the industry you built a site to work in IE6 and were done so you could focus on being creative. now we have to target 10-15 different browsers and another 10 or so resolutions. 80% of my job now is just adapting to different platforms. Furthermore a site that took 8 hours to do now take 30 hours. But clients still expect it to cost the same.

I'm not saying progression is a bad thing, but its just getting tedious how many different directions things are progressing. Esp since so many people are still stuck in the past so we STILL have to support 10 year old machines.

I don't know, maybe im just jaded hahaha.

So your only problem is argueing with the client, isn't it? Don't be lazy!
I'm so happy we get the sharpness and resolution of printed media, the only thing missing now is haptics, but I'm sure the new new ipad will come with this and so the generation after the "next generation macbook".

There is a lot to do, go for it!

 I'm a developer whom is branching into photography. I'm going to bluntly say ignore the comments. You aren't complaining but merely venting. You are right. This business is getting tougher and tougher. Quality of the work has nothing to do with it.

You are as well up against turn key site services and freebie services and then some people whom don't even feel they need a site and just opt for Facebook. I love what I do but it is stressing at times.

To photographers you should feel our pain. Any photographer whom states the IPhone or high quality mobile phones with apps like Instagram aren't annoying or depressing is just down right either lying or delusional. 

Also don't forget Uncle Bob with the DSLR. These sites are great as is all sites but things have greatly shifted. There was a time when an artist was an artist and this still holds true in some arenas.

However we now live in the world of the 24 hour expert. I thought I was really something when I learned about photography but wait I found out there are 10 dozen guys a day going into the camera shop whom know that and more or at least they think so. Anyways I'm just completely venting not complaining. It is what it is. You either suck it up, reinvent or move on.

Also being local use to make a difference and with some it still does but nothing like it use to. I have been in this business for 15 years and no I'm not too old for it. Got in at 16, now I'm 31. Again I love what I do but I completely understand where Ryan is coming from.

I'll tell you this Ryan that I have learned. You have to sell your skill and adhere to a set of development rules. Don't be the bleeding edge guy as that is a waste of time. I tried it and was playing catch up all the time. I'm not bombarded with work but the clients I have now respect me and I respect them for being with me. Learn to say no but don't be a prick about it.

Anyways in regards to the Macbook Pro. It is fantastic but I lost a desire for it when I found out the drives can't be upgraded and neither can the memory. I found a Early 2011 13" MBP instead for $700. Slapped in an SSD and I'm very happy. I agree with all the comments about the photography and how annoying this will be but luckily most clients won't be buying the Retina display due to price but unfortunately it is in the IPad so that is another issue on its own.

alright then! my speculations on internet connections being shrunk by hi-res pictures&websites were real, thou! that's a shame, since it seems that other monitor manufacturers are going to adopt this kind of tech.. let's see what happens, it simply looks like a giant step forward in terms of quality of the content we look at [same as ipad 3], BUT a huge leap backwards in terms of what needs to be updated to fully experience this great-looking monitors.. we might end up with beautiful screens but connection speeds like in 1998! :D

They make it better, people still complain. 

i don't believe!

Hail Sagan's picture

First world problems.

but since most of our websites are at 72dpi, they look absolutely terrible" 
but will they actually look terrible? No, they will just look as good as a standard monitor. In relation to the super crisp text they will be noticeably less sharp by comparison but it will still look better than any other monitor. Right? My iPad has a retina display and websites don't look terrible.

Tam Nguyen's picture

72dpi or 1dpi makes absolutely NO difference on a monitor. Read this, and try it for yourself:

Adam's picture

But they still do look pretty bad... The iPad gets by for two reasons. One, it's only 2048 pixels on the longest side. It's still a lot, but not like the Retina MBP. The main reason, though, is that text is scalable on a lot of these sites. But check out the fstoppers home page on your iPad (I just did on mine). The text is sharp, etc., but the images are already noticeably 'degraded.' That only gets magnified on a display like the new MBP's display. And pixel-doubling doesn't quite equate to the same quality of a previous-generation screen. It's not as sharp (i.e. iPhone apps being doubled on the iPad...).

To other comments here:

   The Retina MBP isn't a 'bad' computer, per se. But we can't ignore that it's not going to be the best experience until other apps do in fact catch up. And until then, what's the use? How 'good' can it be? I'm looking forward to a year from now when it'll have pushed everyone to adopt retina resolution support...then we can really make use of this...

but still we'd have to deal with heavier images and longer websites loading times. I live in some third world country called italy, and as my studio has super fast optical fiber connection [100mbits, i love that!], my house, as most of the rest of the country, is reached by prehistorical 7mbits ADSL. and i'm lucky to have it! *_* 
then again, computer memories will get saturated pretty fast by processing websites with such big images [please everyone, DPI relates to print]! my late '11 MBP has 16gb ram so i couldn't care less. but the average pc has 2 to 4gb. 
i think we'll need much more than 1 year to see a wide adoption of hi-res monitors. how long did it take to see CRTs disappear? we should expect pretty much the same behavior in the consumer market...

Photoshop interface is scaled up. This is similar to what happens on iPhone if the app was not created for retina display. App is scaled up by the iOS. I believe this is what happened here also, so Photoshop has no idea of the actual screen resolution. Apple should have thought about this. I would prefer to be able to use my resolution and not wait for ALL apps to update. Apple kinda sux more. You should all buy a PC, resolution is always 1:1.

Albert Zablit's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but 220 ppi doesn't mean your physical image resolution gets (or needs to be) augmented. You can upload, to same sized screen, a 960px wide image in both 72 or 220ppi, it'll take the same physical space, the file size isn't going to take much of atoll either. 
The MBP retina display, then, isn't displaying more information than an older 1440px wide monitor, just sharper one. 
How much sharper for complex photographs with loads of pixel information remains to be seen. If the OP could provide actual comparison shots and analysis, that'd be appreciated. Otherwise, I'm just afraid we're all speculating for the sake of it at this point.Websites wise, things shouldn't be much of an issue if you've started designing yours with a responsive approach. By using as much CSS and vector based graphics as possible instead of pixel based ones, you're making sure your site can scale to any resolution and thus adapt effortlessly. Retina or not, people have been taking that route for some time now.Albert 

I have to agree with Pat and Lee here.  Who cares if the web is optimized for 72 dpi?  You think that's going to be the case forever?  I laugh at the notion that in 50 years anyone will be looking at any images in 72 dpi.  It's going to have to start at some point and internet connections are going to get faster at some point, too.  

If this display looks better, I prefer it.  It's that simple.  If my images look better, than I want it.  If I really have to then I'll switch the display to something more standard for surfing the web but I doubt I'll care that much. 
And for those arguing about apple already charging a lot and the cost of adapting everything to conform to their new display is going to be expensive.. hahahahahah  Apple charges a lot because they can.  It's that simple.  They make shit we want.  That's all.  If you walk into a college lecture these days all you see are laptops with little glowing apples on them and a bunch of kids who probably don't really know how to use it to it's potential or why they "need" it but the point is the world with catch up.  

It's moronic to argue that the display is too good.  And like I've already said, you don't have to keep the display at that resolution either.  

I'm in the market for a new MBP, and visited the Apple Store this weekend to look at the new Retina model. Full disclosure: I'm a web developer by profession, and am amateur photographer by passion.  I put the new model through its paces, and I'm convinced: I'm getting the old style 1440x900 MBP now. The reasons laid out here about how websites look is one reason. The other is the difference between Retina/Non-retina wasn't enough for me to lose the expandability offered by the old model. I routinely swap out hard drives in my Macbook Pro's, and losing that feature is a step backwards for me. Also losing the Ethernet port means carrying another dongle. And the final reason why I'm going for the standard MBP is that, as a rule, I try not to buy Rev A products. I've been burnt by buying Rev A Powerbooks/Macbook Pros in the past, and each time, it comes back to bite me in the rear with QA issues that mean losing my machine for 3-6 days while it gets repaired by Apple. The current form factor is 3 years old, and tried & true, and quite solid from a reliability standpoint.

I'm sure next years line up will be all Retina style machines, and much of the pain points (price, non-Retina apps) will be moot by then.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Sir, the whole 72dpi deal is no longer correct. All the images I've uploaded onto my website/blog are 1dpi. Yes, ONE DPI. You can't tell the difference. Monitors and print resolution has NOTHING to do with each other. Read this for for info:

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