Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore» Blog Archive » MacBook Air for the photographer?

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    January 15th, 2008

    MacBook Air for the photographer?

    product-air.jpgApple’s announcement of the new tiny MacBook Air gives Mac users a new alternative if they’re looking for a subnotebook. But does it stack up for digital photography use?

    Display – passable

    The LED display is only 13″ but has a pretty good resolution: 1280 x 800 – slightly less than a 15″ MacBook Pro but the same as a regular MacBook. The video card is the same as the MacBook too, which means it shares some of the main memory.

    Together, this means that on its own, it’s only OK for graphics intensive activities. The good news is that it can power an external monitor up to 1920 x 1200 pixels (an Apple 23-inch Cinema Display, for example).

    Processor and RAM – not great and pretty good

    The standard 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo is a fair bit slower than the 2.0GHz chip that’s the lower of the two choices in the MacBook, but the MacBook Air does ship with 2GB of RAM – the same as the MacBook Pro. It looks like it’s fixed to the motherboard, though, so 2GB is your lot.

    Hard Drive – poor

    80GB might keep you going for a while, but the tiny drive is very slow. This means both writing and reading large-ish files will take a while. Importing several hundred RAW files, and then trying to work with them might become frustrating pretty quickly.

    There’s an option to upgrade to a faster solid-state drive, but that’s very pricey.

    Ports – bad

    One USB 2.0 port. No Firewire 400, no Firewire 800, and (I’ll say it again) only 1 USB port. Of course, you can use a Bluetooth mouse and external keyboard (and you better had if you’re trying to get pictures off your camera at the same time), but even then you won’t be able to plug in any sort of external drive at the same time.

    Apple’s new Time Capsule wireless router and storage device will allow you to backup wirelessly, but if you’ve got a giant archive of photos you want to work on, you could be really stuck.

    No built-in optical drive – bad

    Combined with the lack of ports is the absence of a built-in optical drive (you can buy a color-matched drive as an extra). So there’s no burning backup DVDs (or ones to give to people) without extra hassles.

    Conclusion: I love it, but not for photography

    So let’s review this review. It sounds like I’m down on this little gem, but in fact I think it’s fantastic. It’s tiny and beautiful, and for most computing uses its performance is more than adequate.

    It’s perfect as an extra machine for someone with a desktop computer who just wants to stay on top of things when they’re away from their desk. But it’s not right for someone looking to do a lot of photography-related things on it. It’s too slow to run Aperture pleasurably, and the lack of ports and an optical drive would create headaches all over.

    It would also work well for students and other people who spend more time using Safari and writing papers than adjusting curves and backing up vaults of giant image files. If I was writing my book now, this would be a great machine for me (and not just because I’d have the coolest laptop in the library).

    But if you’ve already got a MacBook, or especially a MacBook Pro (I earn my living on one), there’s not much reason to get an Air. Except the reality distortion field its beauty creates.


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