It wasn’t long ago that being a travel photographer meant taking reels and reels of photos and eagerly developing them in a darkroom once you returned from your travels. While the skill and romance of darkroom developing and SLR film is undeniable, for professional travel photographers, the digital camera has made work a lot simpler, and more instantaneous. And for the modern professional travel photographer, their darkroom has been replaced by a much more convenient (and portable) solution: the laptop computer.
Given the multitude of laptops on the market, it can be difficult to decipher which is the best laptop for professional travel photographers. But don’t worry – I’ve taken the guesswork out of choosing, giving you the criteria you need to consider for purchasing the laptop that’s right for you, and my top 3 best small laptop for professional travel photographers reviews and all! (we’ll get to why they are small shortly).
Best Travel Photographer Laptop Comparison Chart
|Model||Microsoft Surface Book 2||MacBook Pro with Touchbar||Dell XPS 13|
|Processor||4.2 GHz Intel Core i7||2.7GHz Intel Core i7||4 GHz Intel Core i7|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
|Max Screen Resolution||3000 x 2000||2560 x 1600||3840 x 2160|
|HDD||1TB PCIe SSD||2 TB PCIe SSD||1TB PCIe SSD|
|Ram||16 GB DDR3||16 GB DDR3||16GB DDR3|
|Weight||3.62 lbs (1.64 kg)||3.02 lbs (1.37 kg)||2.67 lbs (1.21kg)|
|Average Battery Life||17 Hrs||10 Hrs||12 Hrs|
|Ports||2 x USB 3.1 |
1 x USB 3.1 Type-C
2 x Surface Connect
SD card reader
3.5mm audio jack
|4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) |
3.5mm headphone jack
|2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) |
1 x USB-C 3.1
Micro SD card reader
Photography Criteria You Need to Consider
Photoshop and other Photo Editing Software
Photoshop is a demanding program to run, and given that the majority of photo editing these days is done on this popular software, a powerful machine is necessary to allow you to work smoothly. It’s a similar story with most other programs that rival Photoshop, like Paint Shop Pro.
For photo editing and effects, a dedicated graphics card is well worth investing in, as this can do the ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to editing high-res files and really getting the most out of your photo editing suite. You want to make sure there is enough ‘horsepower’ to enable you to edit smoothly, without experiencing lag or bottlenecks.
To Mac, or not to Mac?
MacBooks are arguably the photographer’s laptop of choice, but are they the best small laptop for professional travel photographers? Not necessarily! If you are an apple aficionado, nothing I say will convince you otherwise, but if you’re on the fence, it’s well worth looking at what the PC world has to offer. There are a couple of reasons why a PC might suit a travel photopgrapher, and first is simply a matter of compatibility – as a professional travel photographer you never know where you’ll be one week after next, and this can mean difficulty finding parts, getting upgrades, services etc. because not every country has a Genius Bar on every other corner, if any at all!
Conversely if you’ve used PCs before, but are tempted to try out a MacBook for your next laptop, they hype is real, they’re incredible laptops for professional photographers. But as a professional travel photographer, do consider whether you want to be learning a new OS as you travel.
A great screen quality is a must for any laptop being used by professional photographers. It’s even more important when looking for the best laptop for professional travel photographers because you won’t always have studio lighting to work in – you might be at a local cafe in Rome, or under the romantic lighting of a refurbished eighteenth century chalet you found on AirBnB (now that does sound nice!). Choosing a laptop that has excellent screen quality is paramount, as this is half the work to knowing if that perfect shot really is, the perfect shot.
Thankfully IPS display technology has fixed the terrible contrast and viewing angles that plagued older models, so most laptops put out this year have really good screen options. Just remember that if you’re gunning for a 4K display, you have to have the power to back it up, otherwise you’ll be viewing beautifully crisp lag time!
The primary drive of any new laptop is an SSD, or Solid-State Drive. Older models use the conventional hard disk drive, which really wreaks havoc with performance. I could write a whole article on the mechanics of SSD vs. hard-disk, but the crux of it is, with no moving parts (as opposed to the mechanical read/write movement of the hard-disk), the SSD is markedly faster and more efficient, less prone to ‘bottlenecks’ and running errors and just a much better option. Bottom line, don’t purchase a second hand or refurbished model, go for new models with SSD functionality.
Travel Criteria You Should Think About
Weight and Size
Unless you’re a dedicated luxury travel writer with five star service from door to door (in which case, more luck to you!) you most likely will be lugging a lot of equipment around with you. You’ve got your cameras and lenses and you can’t compromise there, but where you can skim on the pounds and inches is with your laptop. Smaller size doesn’t mean you won’t have the functionality you need, which is why below I’m focusing on the top 3 best small laptop for professional travel photographer reviews.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going super small – a 10-inch might be fine for a travel writer, but you will have to compromise on processor and screen quality, which is shooting yourself in the foot as a professional travel photographer. I would say around the 13-inch mark is an ideal balance between size, weight and functionality for working while on the go.
A decent battery is an important consideration when looking for the best laptop for professional travel photographers, not least because you’ll want something to watch while en-route to your next destination, after all, there’s not always a scenic view to snap when you’re on the road. Having a decent battery life also means you can do some editing on a shoot and not have to wait to go back to the hotel or find somewhere with a plug, being ‘untethered’ is a real plus for travel photography. Also, photo editing software can be pretty heavy on the power usage, so the more you have the better.
Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review
This is a great device for travel photographers in the PC universe. Great design, good features, and one of the best 2-in-1 devices around.
CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620; Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (2GB GDDR5 VRAM)
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 (1866Mhz)
Screen: 13.5-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) PixelSense display (3:2 aspect ratio; 1600:1 contrast ratio)
Storage: 1TB PCIe 3.0 SSD
Ports: 2 x USB 3.1, 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 2 x Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm audio jack
Weight: 3.62 pounds (1.6kg) with keyboard base
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 offers amazing battery life and power. I’ve not seen anything to rival it in same-class models. Reviews have tested anywhere between 15 to 17 hours continuous playback for the Microsoft Surface Book 2, which is a huge plus for travel photographs using demanding software unplugged. Given that there are two batteries on board, I was expecting high scores, but this eclipsed my expectations.
The Microsoft Surface Book 2 is branded as the most powerful in its class, and it has the specs to back this up. The combination of great horsepower under the lid and excellent battery life is a rarity in a convertible laptop.
The screen, being one of the most important aspects to consider when browsing for the best laptop for professional travel photographers, will not disappoint. For a screen resolution below 4K (we can’t have it all) the display is pretty much un-matched, and it’s actually a step above the MacBook – OK, maybe the P3 color gamut from Apple is pretty unbeatable to a trained eye, but for color reproduction this machine holds its own. The PixelSense display is also world class, with virtually no lag between drawing on the screen.
The Bottom Line
Can we really expect a whole lot of features in a cheap machine? Well, one likes to dream. The Surface is really quite expensive, making it a true investment in your art. Of course you can always recoup some come tax time, but with most retailers setting prices just under the $2500 mark, it’s an upscale device.
No Surface Pen
You might think that with such an expensive machine it would have all it needs to hit the ground running, but unfortunately it doesn’t. To use the drawing functionality of this 2-in1 device you need a Surface Pen, which is not included. You can add another $100 to your bill for this essential item.
MacBook Pro with Touchbar Review
Arguably the best MacBook ever made, the 2018 MacBook Pro with Touchbar, for want of a better phrase, has really raised the bar.
CPU: 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-8559U
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
RAM: 16GB (2,133MHz LPDDR3)
Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Retina display (backlit LED, IPS, 500 nits brightness, wide color P3 gamut)
Storage: 2TB SSD
Ports: 4x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 3.5mm headphone jack
Weight: 3.02 pounds (1.37kg)
Stunning SSD Speed
While writers or general users might not need (or appreciate) the speed offered by this MacBook, for photographers it’s a real plus being able to download or upload terabytes worth of data in minimal time, without encountering sluggishness or bottlenecking. It really is a very positive point for consideration when looking for the best laptop for travel photographers.
This is a powerful machine, and can easily handle all your creative tasks. The ultra-fast Thunderbolt 3 ports don’t go astray either! It’s not for no reason that the MacBook is one of the most popular options for photographers and other creative vocations, it really does handle well under demanding software environments.
After being wowed by the Microsoft Surface Book 2, the MacBook Pro with Touchbar rather disappoints, with an average 10.5 hours continuous playback before clocking out. While not too bad, it’s also not too great, particularly if you’re stuck on a 12 hour train ride with not much else to do but watch movies or edit your latest shoot.
Dell XPS 13 Review
The Dell XPS 13 is one of the best laptops for travel photographers around. Powerful enough to comfortably use photo editing software, it’s really been designed with traveling in mind, light, sleek and all-round portable.
CPU: 4.0GHz Intel Core i7-8550U
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 16GB DDR3 (2,133MHz)
Screen: 13.3-inch, Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) UltraSharp InfinityEdge touch display
Storage: 1TB PCIe SSD
Ports: 2 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 1 x USB-C 3.1, micro SD card reader, headset jack
Weight: 2.67 pounds (1.21kg)
The XPS 13 uses Gore thermal insulation (no worries for overheating) and a quad core processor, which means this is a machine with a great performance record. Some would say even better than MacBook Pro and the Surface Book 2. While the Surface Book 2 might do better on visuals, Dell has really focused on clever power management so that the you can easily run all the photo editing software you want without ever feeling the machine heat up, even under really strenuous loads. 16GB of memory also helps make this a powerful and fast device.
The Dell XPS 13 sports a really nice display, with the 2018 model greatly improved in this department from previous models. Add to this an optional 4K Ultra HD resolution and we’re onto a winner here! The screen is an IGZO touchscreen, sharper than most competing laptops in its class.
The screen is coated in anti-reflective coating, offsetting screen glare, and with a 100% sRGB color profile, it’s a brilliant display for visual creatives, giving vibrant color results and a really sharp display.
We can’t have it all, right? While the thinner design is fantastic for travelling with, the battery life is a little wanting. While considering the display and power configurations, it’s still pretty impressive battery life, but can’t compete with the MacBook or come anywhere near the Surface Book 2 (well, the Surface Book 2 does have 2 batteries, so we can’t really compare there). That being said, if you’re travelling interstate, or across the country the Dell XPS will last the trip – but don’t expect it to take you across the Atlantic without (several) recharges.
Phew! There we have my top 3 picks – there are some honorable mentions too, such as the Razer Blade Stealth and Lenovo’s ThinkPad, but I think if you’re really serious about finding the best laptop for professional travel photographers, you can’t go wrong with one of the three options above.