Which Is Better for Digital Photography: Mac or PC?

Before you get any ideas about drafting a posse and coming after me with tar and feathers because of my computer platform preferences, let me explain—please. Because I write about digital photography I must use both PCs and Macs so that I can deliver balanced stories and explain computer functions to our entire audience, not just one group or the other.

Like many of you, my first computer was an Apple. While I never went so far as to paste that little white apple-shaped decal on the back of my truck, I was a fairly fervent fan in the early years. Of course, there weren’t many other choices back then.

If it will make you PC advocates feel any better, this article—along with about 95% of everything else I write—is being started on a PC running Windows 8.1, a very reliable platform despite what its distracters say. But I own—and use—not one but three Macs, and I never travel without my MacBook Air.

So you might say that I’m whatever the computer equivalent of being bilingual is. I can be happy with my Macs and equally at home with PCs. And for some strange reason I never confuse the keyboard commands, so I can and do move seamlessly from one platform to the other. I delight in asking Mac users—and PC users—why their computer is best for Photoshop, editing video and so forth. I’ve gathered some pretty interesting answers, although many of the reasons are more emotional than rational.

So which is better for digital photography: Mac or PC? It all depends on the following considerations.

Impact On Your Budget (i.e. Price)

For all of us except the very rich, there is an upper limit to how much we can spend on photographic equipment. Professionals especially, because even business expenses cannot go unbridled. Pound for pound, inch for inch, Macs cost more than PCs for comparably equipped machines. The impact of this fact can be dismissed via rationalization, e.g., you get what you pay for; nonetheless, if you want to maximize your budget, Macs are probably not the way to go.

ADVANTAGE: PC

 

Software Availability

A Mac can be coaxed to run nearly every Windows application but a Win PC cannot run Mac software. End of story.

Well, not quite. While most Win-only photo-related software products run smoothly on a Mac under Parallels, Boot Camp or a similar utility (Corel PaintShop Pro X7 Ultimate comes to mind as an example), in some instances certain features are not fully implemented. But in the final analysis, Macs win this round, even with one mouse tied behind their back.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Software Performance

Running on identically equipped machines, does the Mac version of an application outperform the Windows version, or is it the other way around? Or are they essentially the same? To find out I asked someone who knows about these things. Daemion Nelson is the IT Director for a large consumer electronics manufacturer. He gives Macs the edge. “Software developers have better development tools available to them to build better performing apps on the Apple platform,” he said. “I’ve seen Macs with less resources outperform some really powerful PCs.”

Makes sense to me. To speculate, that could also be one reason why Macs seem more stable than PCs. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Stability

Macs crash about as often as the rules of chess change. We’re not talking about hard drive malfunctions—unfortunately, HDD problems are platform agnostic and essentially inevitable. When a computer freezes or otherwise stops working before we do, we lose time and sometimes data. Instability undermines efficient workflow and can even mean lost revenue for a photo pro.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Hassle

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard an Apple user ebulliently exclaim how easy it was to set up their Mac, connect to a network or transparently find a printer driver. Macs are notoriously easy to configure—without sacrificing options. They seem to be more resistant to malware, too, but don’t let their long run of good fortune in the Virus Wars lull you into a sense of false security. We can debate the argument about their immunity another time; for now, accept my warning that Macs can get viruses and take proper precautions.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Roll Your Own

Perhaps this is of little or no importance to most photographers, you can DIY a PC from readily available components and create an awesome photo editing machine. Save money and install only the best parts and accessories. Beef up the RAM to the OS limit and install ginormous hard drives. Rolling your own is fun and simpler than most realize. But you cannot build a Mac, or any sort of clone capable of running Mac software.

ADVANTAGE: PC

 

Compatibility with Mobile Devices

Conventional wisdom might give Macs the edge when it comes to mobile compatibility, but for photographers, PCs are just as competent. Either platform can access the Cloud to store or share images, contracts and other files. When it comes to controlling cameras with phones or tablets, that’s more of an Android vs. iOS battle, so we’ll call this campaign a draw.

DRAW

 

Connectivity—USB, Thunderbolt, HDMI and the Next Fast Thing

Apple has always been at the forefront of connectivity solutions. The Mac Pro Desktop, for example, relies almost entirely on external hard drives and does so without sacrificing anything. Thunderbolt 2, for instance, delivers throughput of up to 20Gb/s to each external device. You can find PC motherboards that are “Thunderbolt Ready” but all that usually means is that you can install a Thunderbolt card if you choose—at additional cost. Does this matter to photographers? Those of us who work with large batches of large image files say yes. Connection speed equals improved productivity.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Integrated Solutions

It’s hard to find an integrated (spelled all-in-one) computer better than an iMac. For many photographers, a modern, healthy iMac is all the image processing engine they’ll ever need. With the arrival of the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display and its 5120 x 2880 native resolution, Apple took the crown in this category and it’s unlikely that anyone will ever dethrone them.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

Video Editing

Identically equipped computer systems running the same software should perform with equal speed and facility. Needless to say, folks who use a Mac to edit photos are more likely to edit video on the same platform, and ditto PC users. I’ve heard Mac users swear up and down that it’s easier to edit video on a Mac, but none have ever proven it to my satisfaction—except for the very basic editing that beginners perform with the video editor that comes bundled on their MacBook. Heavy-duty users can find equal happiness with either system.

DRAW

 

Expandability

On one hand, it’s child’s play to open a PC box and install a drive, graphics card or I/O board. Macs resist being opened, for the most part, except to add RAM. PCs can be built into humongous tower cases that hold six hard drives—can’t say that about a Mac.  But you can daisy chain a nearly endless string of fast, easily swappable external drives to a Mac Pro Desktop. Unless you foresee the need and inclination to make frequent changes to your computer’s mechanics, this is probably a moot point for most photographers. If one system or the other has an advantage, be it ever so slight, it’s the PC.

ADVANTAGE: PC

 

Irrational Attraction (And Cool Factor)

Admit it. Macs are cooler. Apple has done an incredible job of painting the typical Mac user as being more hip, more creative and more of a rule-breaker. Maybe that’s all true. But PC users are not necessarily buttoned down, office cubicle types. In truth, neither platform will make you cool—or prevent you from being an untalented, insurmountable bore. Now, if you could only buy hot PCs at the Apple Store, then we’d have the best of all possible worlds.

ADVANTAGE: MAC

 

So Which Is Better, a PC or a Mac?

Usually both and sometimes neither. For sure I can say that Mac users tend to be happier with their systems overall compared to PC users. Or maybe it’s just that PC owners like to whine and complain more. When it’s time to replace your current machine, give the other flavor a thorough looking over. As for me, I have no choice, I must use both. But if I were stranded on a desert island and could take only one computer, it would definitely be my…

(If you read this article and don’t completely hate me by now, you might be interested in another piece I recently wrote: “5 Easy Ways to Upgrade Your Computer for Digital Photography”)

                                                                                           —Jon Sienkiewicz