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Should Photographers Buy The iMac Pro? Maybe Not…

By Justin Heyes on December 17th 2017

Sans their mobile offerings, the Apple Pro line of computers is characterized by workstation-grade hardware including Xeon processors and ECC memory. Traditionally, workstation-level performance was only in available in the Mac Pro, but the all-new iMac Pro is breaking the mold bring a new level of performance to the all-in-one line.

Starting at $4,999, which is exponentially more expensive than the MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro, the iMac Pro offers a 3.2 GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, 32 GB of DDR4 ECC RAM, 1 TB SSD, Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8 GB HBM2 Memory, 10 GB Ethernet, 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the class-leading 27 Inch 5K Retina display.

In typical Apple fashion, everything is upgradable before purchase, but is not upgraded post-purchase. A fully specced out iMac Pro with an 18-core Xeon, 128 GB ECC RAM, 4 TB SSD, and 16 GB Radeon Pro Vega will run you just shy of $13,200, so considering the impressive numbers on the spec sheet and the price tag, who is this machine geared toward?

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It warrants pointing out here, however, that the benefits of the two-part Xeon and ECC RAM will be lost on photographers versus the more ubiquitous Core i7. Clock-for-clock, Xeon processors are typically slower at most tasks task than the Core alternative. Instead of speed, Xeons rely on precision across their multitude of cores, which is why in the case of the iMac Pro the clock speed drops as more cores are added.

The second part of the equation, Error Checking and Correction (ECC) RAM detects and corrects most common data corruption before it occurs, eliminating the cause of many system crashes and translating to more stable overall performance. Unless you know your application requires ECC memory, future buyers are just throwing money at the hype. So, to answer my question who is the iMac Pro geared toward? The iMac Pro is geared toward ‘creative professionals,’ whatever that means.

The Skylake-based 8-plus-core Xeon W processor and DDR4 ECC memory will benefit those professionals who deal with real-time 3D rendering, High Frame Rate VR, complex simulations/analysis, machine learning, and faster code compiling – i.e., architects, video game designers, developers, scientists, doctors, et cetera.

Even though there are members of the photographic community that are chomping at the bit to get the latest and ‘most powerful Mac ever’, for photographers and videographers, the machine will be as overkill as buying a McLaren P1 to go on grocery runs.

The new iMac Pro will not speed up photography workflows and it won’t  make Lightroom run any faster. Apple knows this, which is why in the majority of their marketing material and initial keynote photography was mentioned at the bottom and in the briefest way possible (see below).

That being said, if Adobe could properly implement programs that took advantage of multiple cores and the huge bandwidth the Radeon Pro Vega offers, the machine would be beneficial, otherwise the more affordable 27-inch iMac will suit photographers needs just fine.

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Thomas Elliott

    My 10core, 128 ram, 4 tb will be arriving Monday.  As a photographer I look forward to the uhs-ii card read capability.  I also use activity monitor, and Lightroom makes a difference with Ram, it uses all of my 32 on 2015 27 iMac so I’m hoping 128 Ram speeds HDR bulk loading like in Photoshop.

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  2. Rob Earnshaw

    I was a long time Apple fan but recently moved back over to PC after my old iMac got to slow to bare. PC is cheaper, ridiculously more customisable and you aren’t paying the logo premium. My PC is similarly specced to this iMac Pro but with a 1080ti which I’d argue was far better than the Vega card (depending on your intended usage). It cost just over half the asking price as this albeit with a 2k 100% AdobeRGB monitor rather than 5k.  The only differences would be the extra resolution, the physical aesthetic and MacOS. None of which are worth $2000 in my opinion unless you have money to burn. 

    Apple don’t know what to do next yet people will still be there to buy whatever they produce. That needs to change to force them to start creating things that are fit for purpose again. 

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  3. Eric Welch

    Couple of things here. First, and most people don’t know this, but the RAM is upgradeable. Just not by average users.  Any Apple service worker can do the upgrade. But the SSD is not upgradeable. Secondly, it’s not aimed a creative pros. It’s aimed at professionals. Not just creatives. 

    Lastly, just to be a nit-picker, it’s champing at the bit. Horses don’t chomp their bits. (Ouch, that sounds worse now I’ve said it!)

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    • Bettina Jax

      Hi Eric, right on about the horse comment.  This is the correct way to express this sentence.  Is the iMac Pro (2017) customisable (after purchase)  if you purchase the 32GB RAM

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