Apple's new iMac Pro: Not the best choice for photographers
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?
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).
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.
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 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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