Most people can do basic photo editing software on almost any laptop. However, not all PCs offer advanced features, high performance, beautiful displays, and sufficient storage for those who want to take their photography to the next level.
The laptops on this list provide just those things in a variety of form factors and at prices from extremely expensive premium laptops to affordable budget options. You can also take a look at our list of the overall best laptops to buy in 2021 for more options.
The best laptops for photo editing at a glance:
Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1
Why you should buy this: It’s the best laptop for photo editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an excellent display and doesn’t want to give up performance.
Apple is making a move away from Intel CPUs to its own ARM-based processors, the first of which is the M1 that you’ll find in the latest MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air. It’s incredibly fast when running native applications, like Adobe Photoshop, beating out Intel’s Tiger Lake platform and rivaling its H-series 45-watt CPUs. Not only that, but the M1 runs cool and sips power, resulting in a machine that rarely spins up the fans and that exhibits exceptional battery life.
The MacBook Pro 13 M1 also has a high-quality display that enjoys wider-than-average color gamuts and accurate colors that should please professional photo editors. The combination of performance and display quality is what puts the MacBook Pro 13 M1 at the top of our list.
You’ll also enjoy the MacBook Pro 13 M1‘s robust and portable build, and its excellent Magic Keyboard and large touchpad. All in all, Apple has taken its lead back in making the best laptop for photographers and one of the best MacBooks overall.
HP Envy 13
Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget laptop for video editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a powerful laptop with a 4K display that won’t break the bank.
HP’s Envy line of laptops has become its go-to solution for creative professionals who crave power without the high price of more premium laptops. The Envy 13 is the smallest member of the family, but that doesn’t it can’t handle a photographer’s workload.
For just $1,000, you can get a quad-core Core i5-1135G7 with Intel Iris Xe graphics — enough power to run Photoshop smoothly. That price includes a 4K display that promises solid colors, plenty of brightness, and good contrast — better than most budget laptops can provide. You’ll also get a form factor that’s attractive, well-built, and offers a superior keyboard and touchpad experience.
The HP Envy 13 isn’t the most powerful laptop on our list, but it’s the one that aspiring photographers can afford.
Dell XPS 17
Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful laptop for photo editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants an expansive screen and ultimate power.
Dell’s XPS 17 took what was best about the XPS 15 — the attractive and well-built aluminum and carbon-fiber chassis, the powerful components, and the shrunken bezels — and packed in a larger 17-inch display. The XPS 17 can be configured with up to Intel’s 10th-gen Core i9-10885H CPU, a superfast, full-power (45-watt) processor that’s a champ at running demanding applications like Adobe’s Photoshop. You can also configure the XPS 17 with an NVIDIA RTX 2060 GPU for any applications that can make use of faster graphics power. This also makes it a good laptop for video editing.
If you don’t need quite that much power, you can start out at a Core i5-10300H CPU, and you can upgrade to 64GB of RAM to handle the largest and most complex images and a full 2TB of SSD storage is available to maintain the largest photo libraries. In addition, the XPS 17’s display is one of the best you can buy, with almost 500 nits of brightness, a 1530:1 contrast ratio, and support for 98% of AdobeRGB with color accuracy of an astounding DeltaE of 0.37 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent).
There aren’t many laptops that can match the power and massive display size of the XPS 17, while remaining relatively portable. Better yet, Dell recently announced upgrades to the XPS 17, to Intel’s new 11th-gen 10nm processors and Nvidia RTX 3050 and 3060 GPUs.
HP Envy 15
Why you should buy this: It’s another powerful laptop for photo editing for less money.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a fast CPU and GPU and a color-accurate display for less money.
The HP Envy 15 is the company’s primary laptop aimed at creative professionals. It’s technically a rung lower than HP’s Spectre line, but you would have to look hard to find the differences. It’s well-built and enjoys the same excellent keyboard and touchpad as the Spectres, although its bezels aren’t quite as small and it doesn’t have the same standout aesthetic — even so, it’s a good-looking laptop in its own right.
More important, though, is its performance. It offers the 45-watt Intel 10th-gen Core i7-10750H, a great performer albeit not as quick as the Core i9 available in the XPS 17, and the Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU, which is the same as in Dell’s highest-end configuration. You can also choose up to 32GB of RAM.
Best of all, our review configuration including the Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, a 4K OLED display, and the RTX 2060 costs just $1,600. That’s about $1,200 less than a similar XPS 17 (only with a 1TB SSD), and the Envy 15’s OLED display is arguably superior. It might not be quite as fast as the XPS 17, but it costs far less and still provides creative types with a powerful laptop.
MacBook Air M1
Why you should buy this: It’s the best portable laptop for photo editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t want to carry around a super-heavy laptop for photo editing on the go.
As we indicated in the MacBook Pro 13 M1 listing, Apple’s ARM-based M1 CPU has made some waves since its debut. It’s faster than Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake processors and even challenges the faster 45-watt H-series CPUs in a number of demanding tasks. And it does all that while staying cool and sipping power.
The MacBook Air M1 makes great use of that powerful CPU, packing a ton of power into a very small laptop that’s just 0.6 inches thick and 2.8 pounds in weight. It’s easy to slip into a backpack and carry around, but once you pull it out you’ll make no compromises when it comes to performance.
The display isn’t the MacBook Air M1‘s strongest feature, offering good but not great color support and accuracy. But it’s good enough for work on the go, and there’s an advantage to having so much power in such a tiny machine.
Dell XPS 13 OLED
Why you should buy this: It’s the best portable Windows 10 laptop for video editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a highly portable Windows 10 machine with a color-accurate display.
The latest Dell XPS 13 is one of our favorite laptops, and a case can be made that it’s the best laptop you can buy. It’s incredibly portable for a laptop with a 13.4-inch 16:10 display, and the only thing holding it back from making this list was its average color gamut and accuracy.
Dell has now released an OLED version of the laptop, and we suspect that the display will be as good as every other OLED panel we’ve tested. That is, it will likely provide 95% or better of the AdobeRGB color gamut and 100% of sRGB, with a color accuracy less than a DeltaE of 1.0 (which is considered excellent).
That means you can get the same awesome built quality, performance, keyboard, and everything else that makes the XPS 13 such an excellent laptop with a display that will thrill photo editors. We haven’t reviewed this model of the XPS 13 yet, but we’ll report back when we’ve put the new display through its paces.
HP Spectre x360 14
Why you should buy this: It’s the best 2-in-1 for photo editing.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants the flexibility of a 2-in-1 for their photo editing tasks.
We rated HP’s Spectre x360 14 as the best convertible 2-in-1 you can buy, and for good reason. It looks awesome with its gem-cut design and it has a build quality to match. It sports one of the best keyboards around and a spacious touchpad, with a pen-enabled touch display that’s great for digital drawing. It’s also fast when its HP Command Center is configured for performance mode.
Its standout feature for photo editors, though, is its 13.5-inch 3:2 OLED display, which offers additional vertical space for editing to go with wide colors (96% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB) and a color accuracy of DeltaE 0.69 (well under the preferred 1.0 threshold). This is a display that’s made for creative pros, and it’s a joy to use.
Of course, the Spectre x360 14 is also a 2-in-1, meaning it offers the flexibility of four modes — clamshell, tent, media, and tablet — and so stands out from the crowd. There’s really nothing wrong with this laptop, and that’s not something we can often put in print.
Research and buying tips
How much RAM do you need for photo editing?
That all depends on the size of your photos and the complexity of your editing needs. You’ll want 8GB as a bare minimum, but 16GB or greater would be preferable, particularly if your photos tend to be larger. Of course, more RAM is always a good thing with demanding tasks like photo editing, and so if your laptop and budget support it, 32GB or more can easily be recommended.
What laptops are good for Photoshop?
Start with the laptops on this list. Each of them offers something that makes them a good choice for Photoshop, such as quality displays, fast CPUs, plenty of RAM or the ability to upgrade to more, and fast SSD storage that will keep up with Photoshop’s demands.
What do you need in a laptop for photo editing?
As mentioned above, what you want in a laptop that will meet your photo editing needs includes a powerful CPU to keep up with demanding applications like Photoshop along with plenty of RAM and SSD storage. You’ll also want a high-quality display that offers a wide color gamut and accurate colors, to ensure that you’re getting the best representation of your work. Beyond that, you’ll want a laptop that meets your requirements in terms of portability and battery life, in case you tend to work remotely, and all of the expandability that you’ll need.