Home Tech Apple Apple’s new iMac Pro: Not the best choice for photographers

Apple’s new iMac Pro: Not the best choice for photographers

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In common with most friends of gadgets, I was drawn in by news of the snazzy slate-grey iMac Pro that is now starting delivery to customers. It’s a gorgeous beast and no mistake. But is it a sensible choice and, perhaps more to the point, is it going to be essential for the prolific stills photographer?

  Blistering performance built in. But the expensive iMac Pro cannot be upgraded. You must decide on the specification the day you order. No second thoughts
Blistering performance built in. But the expensive iMac Pro cannot be upgraded. You must decide on the specification the day you order. No second thoughts

I’ve been sitting on my current set up — a late 2014 iMac 5K and early 2015 (the first generation) MacBook for too long. In computing terms, these are both antediluvian relics. Yet they are still plodding on reliably and effectively, so much so that I keep putting off upgrading, hoping that something will turn up (in the words of the ever-optimistic Wilkins Micawber).

The iMac Pro could well be that device, I thought. But after seeing the price list and asking myself whether I need all that computing power, I’ve grown somewhat lukewarm. Add to that the fact that the machine is totally lacking in upgrade capabilities, and the thick end of £7,000 begins to look extravagant, even for a power user. 

Computer for everyone?

I was therefore encouraged to read The Verge’s review of the iMac Pro in which they state firmly that this isn’t a computer for everyone. Even those of us who imagine we have a professional need for computing excellence probably don’t need quite so much excellence. Too much of a good thing…. The upshot is that unless you are doing really processor-intensive work such as extremes of video editing, the iMac Pro is overkill and could prove to be money unwisely spent.

My ditheriness continued as I read why photographers should not buy the iMac Pro on the Photblogger site. It’s overkill, pure and simple, and I am now persuaded to keep the credit card in my wallet for another few months (at least). 

  A top-specification iMac 27in computer will cost £1,200 less than the base iMac Pro. But could you be buying into old technology that will soon be overtaken? Probably.
A top-specification iMac 27in computer will cost £1,200 less than the base iMac Pro. But could you be buying into old technology that will soon be overtaken? Probably.

Pricing of the iMac Pro is interesting. The cheapest model, with a 3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, boosted to 4.2GHz, 32GB of RAM (probably too little, it has to be said), 1TB SSD and the Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics card is listed in the UK (including tax) at £4,899. This would probably be right for me, perhaps with boost to 64GB of RAM to bring the price to £5,619. The mid-spec model, with the 3GHz 10-core boosting to 4.5GHz, 64GB RAM, 1TB SSD and the Pro Vega 64 graphics card, tips the till at £6,879. 

The full house model, with the same 10-core processor but with 128GB memory, 2TB storage and the Pro Vega 64 costs no less than £9,039. It’s all a big dollop of cash, particularly if you don’t need such performance and you know you will never be able to upgrade. 

By comparison, buy a current 27in iMac model and spec it to the limit (42.GHz quad-core i7, turbo 4.5GHz, 64GB RAM, 2TB SSD) and you are looking at £3,689, over a thousand cheaper than the base iMac Pro.  It’s a different beast, however, and this is important if you are looking for maximum performance. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the iMac Pro is new and therefore state of the art. The current iMac is old hat and due to be replaced sooner, I suspect, rather than later.

My current iMac, as I said, is still performing reasonably well but it is beginning to show its age when it comes to processing speed. It’s only natural. Even a base iMac from today is sure to be faster than my top-specced model from 2014. That’s the way of the computing world. Unfortunately, though, I can’t justify buying more of the same when I don’t know what is going to happen next year. 

  it
it’s hard to resist the beautiful grey iMac Pro

Much as I love the form factor of the iMac, I have always had reservations about needing to change that gorgeous 27in high-resolution screen every time I need more processing power. For instance, in the days of separate computers and monitors I was very happy for five years with Apple’s 27in Cinema Display. I would probably be similarly content with one of the latest monitors from LG.

Box of tricks

I can’t help feeling that an upgradeable box of tricks under the desk and a fine high-definition monitor above would be just the ticket. And only this week I saw that LG is introducing a new and enticing range of Mac-ready Thunderbolt monitors, including an ultra-wide 21:9 version which gives the benefit of two screens in one. Just the job for me with my multitude of windows and reference panels open at one time. But finding a Mac processor to work with such a monitor is not so easy.

If you wish to go down the monitor/computer route as an alternative to the iMac, there isn’t much choice at the moment. The elderly Mac Mini isn’t up to the job and the old Mac Pro is still too expensive and hangs by a thread to life. We know that it isn’t long for this world and buying one now would be a mistake. 

  The Mac Pro cylinder offers ugradeability and you can start off with a basic model costing £3,900. You still need a monitor and you will undoubtedly soon be adding extra memory. The big downside of this computer is that it was introduced seven years ago in 2010. A replacement is strongly rumoured, so it probably isn
The Mac Pro cylinder offers ugradeability and you can start off with a basic model costing £3,900. You still need a monitor and you will undoubtedly soon be adding extra memory. The big downside of this computer is that it was introduced seven years ago in 2010. A replacement is strongly rumoured, so it probably isn’t such a good buy after all

The only real alternative, currently, is to buy a MacBook Pro. If I did that, I could replace both the iMac and MacBook with one versatile computer. This is something I’ve pondered before and written about here on Macfilos. There is a long list of pros and cons.

On the one hand, having just one computer is great when everything is going well. On the other hand, having a backup device has been a lifesaver on at least two occasions when the main computer gave problems. And I am always worried at the thought of losing the portable while on some journey or other — then returning home to an empty desk instead of the mostly faithful old iMac. It also means travelling with a heavier computer (the MacBook Pro) than a real lightweight (the MacBook).

Above all, using a portable and a monitor as a main desktop device is a compromise with the risk of too many cables and a degree of awkwardness — even if you treat the portable as a computing box and consign it to a nearby shelf. But that, I think, is always a pity because you are wasting that screen.

Two in one

These days, however, keeping two computers in sync is easy enough. Especially since Apple introduced the shared desktop and with the proliferation of backup services such as iCloud and Dropbox, there is no excuse for being out of sync. These very same cloud facilities also mean that in the event of the loss of a computer you can be up and running pretty quickly, just as soon as you’ve dropped by the Apple Store and crossed their palms with silver from the insurance company.

The upshot of all this agonising is that I am no further forward in my quest for the ideal computing solution. I’d probably be disappointed and downright worried if I were to reply on just one MacBook pro, yet at the same time I see no compelling reason to upgrade at the moment. There’s always the worry that you upgrade and then something special crawls out of Apple’s design department within a few months. 

As they used to say in my native Lancashire: “If in doubt, do nowt”.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. With the introduction of the iMac Pro I hoped for the return of Apple pro software for photographers (Aperture or a serious replacement). I never thought I would see Adobe Creative Cloud in a list of Mac accessories, but there, it is.

    • I too was a happy Aperture user until Apple pulled the rug. But I have to say I now prefer Lightroom, as much for its file organisational capabilities as anything. Apple has consistently dumbed down its software in the interests of universal appeal. I suppose they have their reasons and it probably makes good business sense. Meanwhile, we have to seek new applications. I would no long trust Apple to maintain support for any application other than the basics of Pages, Numbers and the general PIM facilities. Sad.

  2. Surely the slowest part of any computer system is the operator, and we don’t upgrade that every couple of years, we are stuck with it.

    I am happily using a 2013 Mac Pro, with my old 2006 Mac Pro keeping my backups, and the MacBook 12" which is currently with my daughter in Viet Nam, but is usually for when I wander off to foreign climes like Scunthorpe, or Skelmersdale, I have never been to either, but you never know my luck.

    The key is to find softwares that do what you want it to without loads of Windoze style bloat, which I am afraid Tim Cook has been specialising in… The late Mr. Jobs would be spinning, if he was looking up at any time.

    There is nothing quite so bloated as rent an overkill Adobe Suite.

    As I have mentioned before, I rather like Iridient Developer, but the owner wants an upgrade fee, for no advantage, so I am currently looking at (the British) Affinity Photo, which is one of Apple’s top recommendations.

    I have also bought something called "Fast Raw Viewer" which until I find something awfully wrong with it, seems to be a really good find. This application loads the contents of one’s inserted SDHC card into its window and allows for very fast discards, before wasting space and time loading them into Lightbloat or something.

      • Ha-ha thanks William, though I am probably one of the most wasteful people that I know.

        My point is that there is no need to upgrade for the sake of it, since we humans are much slower than the machines that we are using, unless we are discussing fuzzy logic, which is where computers behave like buffoons and we reign supreme.

        For a long time when computer output was printed, we had to wait around for hours to get a meaningful result, but interactive displays have gradually done away with that. Then we had to wait for disk drives and in similar way the Thunderbolt/USB3 SSD has removed that issue.

        I would conjecture that for the most part, the CPU and standard Apple memory provision (I have 16gb) is more than I will ever need. I have dual discrete graphics cards which makes slow display issues a non-problem, I don’t want to mine for crypto currencies either.

        I reckon that unless my machine keels over, I will not need to upgrade for a long time.

        I have already fallen out of love with Affinity, it seems to be tarred with the Adobe bloat disease, it is far too complicated, and of course Iridient is still excellent. I prefer to develop lightly, since one cannot make a silk purse from a sows ear.

        I am still looking for a light touch dust/spot repairer, needed for digital sensor dirt and negative dust which can be an issue with scans, if you know of one, I would be interested in any recommendations. It seems that every photo editor in the world wants to give more than its competitor. Where is the Leica "less is more" application?

        I have just been reading about "flat-field correction", but superficially it looks a bit above my bonce.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat-field_correction

        The "Fast Raw Viewer" is clever though, and worth a look, if you haven’t seen it already.

        Anyway, my chief concern seems to be unrelated to any of this, and it is my problem with rambling, as my wife regularly points out. 🙂

        Happy new year, maybe it will be the year for the move to Ireland.

        Stephen

        • I thought that you would like the fact that in France they now have an organisation which is going going to take on the planned obsolescence strategy of the international conglomerates such as Apple and Adobe. Much as I would sympathise with their mission, I believe they may have their work cut out trying to establish any criminal intent, but on the civil side of things there may be issues with longer term contracts such as subscriptions. When I dealt with such issues about 20 years ago most consumer protection organisations took the view that if the terms of a contract changed substantially (such as a major change in the nature and functionality of software) then the consumer should be given the opportunity to walk away from the contract. The developments in the past few days, where Apple has had to offer reduced prices for new batteries for iPhones in the light of revelations that it has used software to slow down phones in order to preserve battery life, may be a beginning to the majors realising that customers and their needs cannot be ignored. Such companies have such a strong grip on how we conduct our lives nowadays, that the need for some re-balancing of the equation seems obvious.

          Let me know if you are tempted to move here. Demand for Irish passports seems to be at an all-time high.

          William

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