…The aftermath of the last great Mac versus PC debate, circa 2008…
(Photomatix Pro 5, available for both Mac and PC)
(Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, FotoPro C5C Tripod)
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The Mac versus PC debate seems to be much more heated among photographers, and for good reason. Photographers are (mainly) creative types whose brains are wired a certain way, and whose visual attention to detail and aesthetic are (usually) much more heightened than “the masses.”
Based on the above paragraph’s use of quotes and parentheses, you can probably already tell which side of the fence I am on. Yes, I prefer Mac, and generally speaking, I believe that Macs are better suited for photographers and creative types. But that’s just me.
However before we start throwing rotten tomatoes, (or rotten apples?) let’s see what the core reasons are behind people preferring one or the other.
Personally, as much as I am a fan of Mac computers and the Apple OS, I have never accepted people’s emotional biases and arguments that seem to lack specific detail. In other words, “I just prefer Mac, you PC people wouldn’t understand” is not a valid excuse for spending 2-3X more on a computer!
My Personal Story – Both Mac & PC
Unlike most people who might never even try the other side of the fence, or have made their long-term decision based on a single, brief negative experience, I have personally been using both Mac and PC computers very extensively for over 10 years now. I have built a few fully custom PC towers, I have owned and used quite a few high-end PC laptops, from the original IBM Thinkpads to the latest Asus “Republic of Gamers” laptops. I have also owned or used numerous Macbooks, Macbook Pros, iMacs, and Mac Pros.
Which reminds me of rule number one regarding articles and Internet advice such as this: Don’t listen to people who only ever know one side of the story! Even if you collect a bunch of singular opinions from both sides, you will never get the whole story. Of course, in general, you should always question every opinion you hear on the Internet, even if someone claims to be an expert. I know I sure wouldn’t take my own advice as gospel, so neither should you!
Suffice it to say, however, that it is my job to know these things. I don’t get paid to “push” one product or another; that is so 1999! Thankfully, these days I am much more valuable if just speak my mind based on extensive experience. This is why I also put time into mastering both Nikon and Canon, and similarly heated subjects. But I digress!
Why Photographers Prefer Apple & Mac
First, let’s talk about why I think photographers (and probably, people in general) prefer the Apple experience. Obviously, there are the shallow reasons which I won’t dwell on too much. In short, yes, Apple products are very sexy looking and like it or not this can affect your business as a professional. Of course, these days there are more and more sexy looking PC computers out there, such as for example the Asus Zenbook UX32VD-DH71 laptops. If you’re on a budget (or even if you’re not on a budget, but you simply prefer PC) then these are great machines.[ Rewind: SLR Lounge's Asus Zenbook Laptop Reviews & Performance Tests ]
However, let’s be honest, the Apple logo itself is a status symbol. PC’s can look pretty, but they’re still PC’s. Like I said, this is a pretty shallow reason to choose Apple, and lately it has been on the decline. I’m sure that if a well-known, high-end photographer were to show up to a client meeting with a sleek PC Netbook, it wouldn’t affect whether or not they get the gig!
The bottom line, for me at least, is something else. Simplicity and reliability. All of the Apple computers I have ever owned or used have run very smoothly with almost zero issues. Oppositely, literally every single PC computer I have ever owned, or even borrowed, (sorry friends!), have wound up with some small bug or quirk. Many of them have had complete meltdowns that cost me 1-3 days of work. Not because I lost data, but simply because it took me that long to get the computer back up and running again!
Are Macs perfect? Certainly not. In fact anyone who knows a general history of the Apple brand will shudder at the phrase “bad logic board,” among a few others. Yes, Macs fail. Sometimes catastrophically. I personally have never experienced such a total failure, but I still have minor frustrations from time to time. The bottom line is that, for me, a PC is just far more trouble than a Mac.
Keep in mind, I just don’t like computer maintenance in general. I am a camera geek, not a computer geek. If my trackpad or optical drive stops working properly because of a missing driver or firmware issue, I’d rather smash my computer than waste 30 mins trying to fix it. The term “overclocked” doesn’t do anything for me at all. If an app crashes on my Mac, it somehow manages to do so with grace. Whereas on my PC, Windows likes to use phrases such as “fatal error,” and everybody knows what “BSOD” means. (Blue Screen Of Death). Let me ask you, who at Microsoft thought it would be a good idea to use the word “FATAL” in a user interface? Seriously!?! Just thinking about it raises my blood pressure.
In other words: I don’t feel like smashing my Mac nearly as often as I want to smash my PC. That pretty much sums it up. If you can relate, then an Apple computer is probably the right choice for you. (Remember that photocopier scene from “Office Space?” Yeah, that’s how I feel sometimes).
(A frequent sight on one of my most recent PC machines)
Why Photographers Prefer Windows & PC
Of course, if there are people out there like myself who prefer the simplicity and smooth operation of a Mac, could there be others who actually enjoy a more advanced, complex computing experience? Sure! I have lots of uber-geek friends who just love getting their hands dirty with the latest Windows operating system, or building their own machines from scratch, and in general, having more control and customizability over their computers.
I do understand this, because that’s exactly how I feel about cameras. I absolutely require extensive customizability and advanced control, otherwise, I will not be able to shoot at my full potential. In fact, if I had my way, camera menus and customizations would be even more extensive and complex!
If you prefer to have full control and lots of customization, then you will probably be very frustrated with a Mac. Apple has a tendency to completely hide things that it thinks you shouldn’t mess with, and to over-simplify the few customizations they do make available.
In fact, in many cases Apple has made things downright idiot proof, with interfaces that could be borrowed from the pages of a “for dummies” book. For example, consider Apple’s “Time Machine” feature. Apple makes it sound like a magical, mysterious backup system that can fix all manner of troubles. Really, all it does is simplify a process known as “incremental backup” which has been around in the PC world forever, and with much more extensive features available.
Is Time Machine far more simple and easy to use than all the PC backup options? In my opinion, yes. Is that a good thing? Not necessarily. There are barely any options (I count just SIX?) for customizing how Time Machine works, whereas there are numerous high-powered PC applications that can perform practically any backup task you might imagine.
In summary, it just depends how much you like computers, and what you want them to do for you. Do you dislike computer maintenance? Hate it with a passion? Or do you not really have any issues with your Windows experience, and prefer the more universal compatibility and customizability?
If you’re happy with what you’ve got and you’re simply curious about how green the grass is on the other side of the fence, that’s just human nature. Don’t over-think it, though. I only recommend seriously considering a switch from one to the other if you’re truly dissatisfied with your overall experience.
Are There Wrong Reasons To Switch To Mac Or To PC?
I hate to say it, but a single computer crash should not incline you to completely abandon one system for another. Any computer can crash. Even though I have personally had zero catastrophic Mac failures and over a half-dozen complete PC meltdowns, I know of quite a few people who have had a half-dozen Mac meltdowns and zero serious PC issues. My beloved MacBook Pro that I’m using right now to write this could “brick” itself in five minutes, you never know. (Pardon me while I click SAVE!)
Another thing I see quite often is people who switch simply because their computer is getting slow. Sorry, but this phenomenon has nothing to do with Mac or PC. All computers get old eventually, plus software gets more resource-hungry and cameras have more and more megapixels. If you want your computer to never get slow, go buy a 6 megapixel DSLR and edit the photos with Photoshop CS2!
The name of the game is usually to buy the fastest computer you can afford at the time, and just expect to replace it in 2-3 years. You could argue that a Mac will last a little bit longer than a PC, however you would probably still break even with respect to long-term costs.
Similarly, as I said before I think that the prestige factor, the status symbol of a Mac, is not a strong reason to buy one. It is mostly just in your head. Of course buying something just because it’s cool is pretty common in every aspect of our lives, and I understand that. Just don’t feel like you’re missing out because of visual aesthetic alone.
Last but not least, it used to be true that Apple computers were inherently better for photo and video editing. This might have been the case ~10 years ago back in the days of the Powerbook and whatnot, however nowadays there are plenty of PC machines out there with photo and video editing capabilities that match or totally surpass a Mac.[ Rewind: See how the Asus G75 compares against a Retina Macbook Pro! ]
Is Mac More Expensive Than PC?
One of the major arguments that I haven’t discussed yet is price. Yes, if you’re buying new products directly from Apple, you could easily pay $3,000-$4,000 for a laptop or $5,000+ for a desktop computer. Apple charges a hefty premium for their latest models, and a similar premium for any pre-installed upgrades. Their upgrades aren’t as over-priced as they used to be, but they’re still not cheap. Any time you see nice round numbers for every specific part and the service hours required to install it, you know their profit margins are high.
Oppositely, PC laptops and desktops abound for just a few hundred dollars, and even the high-powered ones seem to be priced at almost half what a new Mac would cost. Plus, you can upgrade almost any machine for dirt-cheap.
However there are a handful of things that we’re not considering. Most importantly is the quality of parts that go into each machine. An Apple doesn’t run smoothly by magic, they hand-pick every single piece of hardware based on both quality and compatibility.
For example, two computers might tout similar i7 quad cores and RAM specs, yet the manufacturers of the PC are probably just slapping together a bunch of other parts that they got from the lowest bidder.
Admittedly, this isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Also, for every low-budget PC out there that costs 1/4 the price of a Mac, there is also a high-end PC that doesn’t skimp on parts and is tested to professional reliability standards.
The last thing that we haven’t considered yet is the vast market for used Apple computers. A Mac is like a car- It depreciates quite significantly the minute you drive it off the lot, however, if you buy a used one at a good price it will hold its resale value quite well for a year or two.
Personally, I actually buy all my Apple computers used. I paid less than $300 for a 13″ Aluminum Macbook that probably cost over $1,000 originally, and it works fantastic as an around-the-house and/or travel laptop. I paid about $1,000 for a tricked-out i7 quad-core MacBook Pro that might have cost $2,000 or $3,000 originally. In fact, both of these computers are still going strong, even though they’re 2-3 years old.
On the other hand, you don’t really hear people raving about the 1-2 year old used PC that they just bought, and how smoothly it runs.
The point is that if you compare any Mac against a high-end PC that has truly equal components, you’re going to pay almost the same price. Then, introduce older generations and used “mint condition” options to the equation, and in my opinion price becomes almost a non-issue.
Just as a bit of ironic trivia, here’s two of my personal purchases from over the years. My, how the times do change!
Asus G73 17″ – 2011 – MSRP $1499
2 GHZ Quad-Core i7 – 8 GB RAM – 1.5 GB Graphics
Apple Macbook 13″ – 2006 – MSRP $1499
2GHZ Intel Core Duo – 2 GB RAM – Shared Graphics (ew!)
Photo-Specific and Other Mac Versus PC Arguments
There are a few final details I’d like to leave you with in the PC versus Mac debate. In no particular order, here they are!
- Specialized Apps
For sure, PC’s have an advantage with respect to specialized applications. Off the top of my head, I love two PC-only applications: Paddy, (for customizing your keyboard hotkeys in Lightroom, for free!) and Fast Picture Viewer. (a culling app much like Photomechanic, but only ~$40!) There are many other programs out there that are only PC-compatible, and plenty that are only Mac compatible. Please comment below if you know of one! Then again, Apple has its own photo/ video apps, Aperture and Final Cut. Some people are madly in love with these apps, however I personally prefer Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premier Pro.
- Affordable Power
If you absolutely must have the latest and greatest hardware such as PCI SSD hard drives, or that insanely fast new graphics card, then a PC is your best bet. In fact, quite often certain things (*cough*USB 3.0*cough*) take quite a while to be adopted by Apple. (Then again, I owned one of the first PC machines to have a USB 3.0 port, and it was nothing but one firmware/driver mess after another!)
- Proprietary Connectivity
Apple has a fickle habit of intentionally obsoleting hardware. Firewire is gone from all of their latest laptops, and I lost count of how many times Apple has forced a new external display connector on its laptop owners. In short, if you have a lot of FW800 external drives with all your old photos, or a really nice display monitor that doesn’t need to be replaced just yet, get ready to buy lots of cable adapters, at the very least.
- Lightroom Catalog Preview Files
For some weird reason, Apple’s OSX has Lightroom’s Preview system stored as one single file, making it easier to transfer, while Windows stores Lightroom previews as thousands and thousands of tiny little files which can take forever to transfer.
- RAW Thumbnail Previews
One thing I’ve noticed on my PC computers over the years is that they always seem to have trouble displaying RAW image thumbnails in Windows Explorer. There are codec thingies that you can install that support some cameras but not others, it seems, but Apple’s Finder app seems to have no problem displaying RAW thumbnails right out of the box without any special updates.
- Out-Of-Box Colors & Displays
Apple displays seem to be pretty awesome right out of the box. Yes, high-quality displays are available quite affordably from many different manufacturers. That’s not what I’m talking about. Sure, the new Apple Retina displays are gorgeous. However, even if I plug a Dell display into my Macbook, the un-calibrated colors are nearly identical to the calibrated colors. Yet the same exact display seems to just look less perfect when plugged into various PC’s.
Apple Macbook Air – Starting at $999, fully loaded at over $2,000Asus Zenbook – Starting at $559, fully loaded at over $2,000
Do You Prefer Mac Or PC?
So, which type of person are you? Hopefully, in this day and age, you already know.
The main question is, are you happy with the computer you currently have? If you are, then stick with it. Upgrade it when you have to. However, if you’re not happy with your current computer system, then you have to ask yourself a few questions. Is it simply because the computer is old and slow, or because you had a single hard drive failure? Sure, it might be nice to test-drive a different computer system. Just remember that it still might be better to just buy a newer, faster version of whatever type of computer you already have. I only ever recommend that people seriously consider “jumping ship” if they’re truly unhappy with their overall experience with their current operating system.
There are so many different factors that weigh into the equation. For example, cost is not as cut-and-dry as you’d think because it involves whether or not you are willing to buy a used machine, or perform upgrades by yourself… Or for example user-friendliness and simplicity might be highly desirable for some, and yet extremely frustrating for others. For photographers specifically, both Apple and Microsoft have advantages and disadvantages. Having extensive experience with both, I cannot imagine trying to decide which I prefer if I had only a few minutes’ experience with one or the other. So that is my recommendation to you: As with any major debate, the best thing you can do is to invest a lot of time in really getting to know both options.