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Top Five Budget Laptops for Photographers in 2016

By Justin Heyes on October 5th 2016

When the world shifted from celluloid to digital, the computer became the main component in developing our images to their fullest potential. Instead of chemical and developing tanks, we now use the programs like Lightroom and Capture One to extract the most from the 1s and 0s that our cameras spit out. The upside is that the whole process can be done at your kitchen table from a laptop, however, the downside is that you have to purchase a computer capable of ingesting the 24+ megapixels that DLSRs now can produce.

Looking for a great laptop for editing can be a daunting. Trying to find a mix of performance, battery power, and style, all for a reasonable price seems almost impossible. So what is the best laptop for a photographer? For the majority of creatives, Apple seems to be the go-to manufacturer, but there are plenty of Windows-based machines that can outperform Apple at their price point.


What Components Should Your Laptop have?

It is important to have a fast processor, such as the Intel Core i5 or the i7. If you need a laptop to work with very high-resolution RAW files, like the ones from the a7RII or the Canon 5dSR, I would recommend a higher-end processor. Pair the processor with at least 8 GB or more. 16 GB is good for future-proofing, unless you are handling advanced tasks like creating a RAM disk.

[RELATED: Super Charge Lightroom and Photoshop With a RAM Disk ]

A few years ago, Full HD was the only and best resolution for creatives., however over time we have gained options such as QHD (1440p), Retina (~1440p) and UHD (2160p). When looking for the ideal laptop to solve your editing problems, size and resolution should be the first two components addressed, with 13 in. to 15 in. being the best trade off for screen real-estate and mobility.

Sabine Liewald Retina Display Apple

For any creative visual work an IPS display is almost a necessity. They offer better viewing angles with better contrast and color representation in general. High contrast is essential for editing photos and splicing videos, while low contrast displays lead to overproduced and oversaturated images.

Manufacturers paid little attention to color representation for years; it took brands like Apple to make screen metrics sexy. Most laptops fall between 800:1 and 1200:1 ratio. A good starting point is 1000:1, but anything above 1200:1 is good enough for visual work.

Using integrated graphics are fine for daily tasks, but if you are working with video, you will definitely need something more powerful. Dedicated graphics cards have more cores than even the most high-end laptops and Lightroom and Photoshop can tap into these cores to help with developing tasks.

It can be difficult to find most of the features above within an affordable price range so at some point you must be willing to compromise between features or cost. Here is a list of 5 laptops under $1000 that will be a great choice for any photographer.


Asus ROG GL552VW-DH74 – $999


  • 2.6 GHz i7-7600HQ
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 1TB HDD
  • 15.6 Inch 1080p IPS Matte displays
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2 GB of RAM


Dell Inspiron i7359-5984SLV – $726


  • 2.6 GHz i7-7500U
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 500 GB HDD + 8 GB SSD Storage; Optical Drive Not included
  • 13.3 Inch 1080p LED Touchscreen
  • Intel 520


Razer Blade Stealth – $999


  • 2.7 GHz i7-7500U
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 128 GB PCIe SSD
  • 12.5 Inch IGZO Touchscreen
  • Thunderbolt 3
  • Intel 620


MSI GL62 6QF-893 – $942


  • 2.6 GHz i7-6700HQ
  • 12 GB RAM
  • 128GB m.2 SATA SSD + 1TB 7200RPM Storage
  • 15.6 Inch 1080p Matte displays
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2 GB of RAM


Apple Macbook MD101LL/A – $999


  • 2.5 GHz i5-3210M
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 500 GB 5400RPM HDD
  • 13.3 Inch 1280×800 Glossy Display
  • Intel 4000


No list of recommend laptops isn’t complete without at least one Apple product. To keep us under the price point, the “101”, as it’s known by Apple employees, is one the oldest notebooks that is still available for purchase with ample upgrades.

A good laptop is one of the most important tools for a photographer in the field, and for those who don’t have a dedicated office to work from, like myself, finding one with the features you need within your budget has the capacity to change the way you work.

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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. Kayode Olorunfemi

    Just swapped my MacBook (was on its last legs) with a Surface Pro 4 {i7, 256GB, 16GB RAM}… Loving it!

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  2. David Bruno

    ha, ha, ha! Whose budget are we talking about here??? I wish I had 500 bucks to spend on a refurbished desktop, never mind a grand on a laptop!!

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  3. Domingo Claro

    You cannot be seriously be recomending that macbook pro… i5 with 2 cores… 4GB of RAM… nobody will me able to get anything done in that… it can bearly run chrome with a few tabs with that RAM.

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    • Justin Heyes

      Thanks for the feedback. It is the only currently sold Macbook Pro under $1000. It still meets the minimum requirements to run Lightroom.

      RAM is cheap and unlike other Macbook Pros that in the current roster, one could upgrade to 16GB easily.

      What alternative Apple product would you suggest that is budget friendly?

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    • Callib Carver

      I’ll have to disagree with you as I run the full adobe suite, several high end games, and numerous other graphics, animation, and video/photo programs on my Macbook Pro (2011) with no problem at all. There’s no lag, no freezing, no slow down, and I haven’t tuned any of the settings down at all.

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  4. Aliza Keya

    I am using ASUS laptop and I think it is satisfied me.And their price is very reasonable.My editing process gives me satisfaction to use my ASUS laptop.Thanks for your informative post.

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  5. Mark Romine

    Editing on a laptop sucks, I really don’t know how people do it and not go cross eyed. LOL I’d rather wait till I got home and got on a machine with some real estate to it.

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  6. Pye Jirsa

    Great write up! Really nice selections too. Great budget options for togs.

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  7. Justin Haugen

    don’t spring for anything with a spinning disk drive. Cripples performance. I originally had a 1TB 5400rpm drive in my ASUS laptop before I did an SSD install. It’s agonizing using a laptop without an SSD for the main drive.

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  8. Pentafoto Tm

    The Mac configuration is just hilarious with that puny screen and 4 Gb of ram. My Capture One pro would die laughing if it had 4Gb of ram in total (it uses around 6.5 on its own when I edit my 24 Mp files.)

    When fully loaded with Photoshop, Mozilla, Capture One and Indesign open, I need about 8-10 Gb of ram and I really felt a change on my desktop when I upgraded to 16.

    And this is a weird list, it tops up at 1000 and some of the reccomendations have 13 inch screens, even non-IPS. Have you tried editing photos on 13 inch screens ? It’s my version of a nightmare.

    I do agree that the best tool for photo editing on the go is a Macbook, but not 13 inch, not 4 Gb of ram and not 1280×800 screen. Preferably 16 inch or higher, 16 gb of ram, SSD.
    My 24 inch IPS seems rather small now that I spend 10 hours a day in front of it :))

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    • Justin Heyes

      I have owned the 101. You can upgrade it to have 16GB of ram and a 1 TB hybrid drive (500 SSD + 500 HDD) for about $250 making it a killer option.

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    • Luis Luna

      but still keep the 13″ screen, I agree that it is too painful for photoediting

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    • Mark Romine

      Ok, wait a minute Justin, a laptop is never a killer option. Never, ever. Granted it’s an option, it’s a ‘this is the best I can do in this situation with this amount of money,’ option. But ‘killer,’ no. A tricked out desktop with multiple displays can be a killer option but something with a 15″ or smaller display is never going to be ideal for photo and video editing.

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    • Ed Rhodes

      i’ve done all my photo editing on a 15″ laptop for several years now. Hasn’t bothered me one bit. I actually prefer not being tied down to a desk.

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    • Mark Romine

      I know lots of people do it that way I just can’t get past the pain of tripping over myself by working on a 13″-15″ display. No room to move. If you are doing editing no matter how you look at it the reality is you are tied to a machine whether it be a desktop or a laptop, just in different locations.

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    • Justin Heyes

      Have you tried editing with duet?

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    • Mark Romine

      that would at least allow you to get your pallets out of the way but still a 13″-15″ laptop display is too painful for me.

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    • Audrey Blake

      Budget? with 4 gb of ram is a joke. Agree you need at least 16 and more if you can get it.

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