It’s rare that we get announcements at the same time which will appease almost everyone interested in tech. This week, Microsoft announced the new Surface Studio and Apple announced the latest iteration of the MacBook Pro. These two powerful computers both offer features of particular note to photographers; but are they enough to warrant buying a new machine?

Surface Studio

The biggest feature about the newest addition to the Surface lineup is its size. It’s an all-in-one computer with a beautiful 28″ screen with touch sensitivity. 28″ is a healthy size for viewing and when you add the ability to use a stylus, it could be a powerful way to edit and finish photographs and artwork. It’s very high resolution, 4500×3000 pixels, and should provide a sharp view of your image with good color rendition. They don’t boast about it on the product page, but the screen works in the DCI P3 color space (as does the MacBoook Pro, more below).


Interestingly, the screen is a 3:2 ratio, which is the same shape as most DSLR pictures. Historically, 4:3 was a normal shape, but lately 16:9 and 16:10 have been more common. The 2:3 is a pleasant shape in between. Unfortunately, when you consider the toolbars and menu bars in apps, your 2:3 photo will rarely be filling the screen, so there’ll be empty space when you’re working.


One big reveal for the Surface Studio is the Surface Dial. It’s a puck-shaped device which can sit on the screen and twist and interact with apps in different ways. There are some interesting examples of it working with color swatches and replacing sliders, and it looks like it could be a fun tool and provide an intuitive experience interacting with apps. It’s reminiscent of the dials and sliders made by Pallete Gear, but with a more advanced and elegant implementation. The Dial will work with other Surface devices.


Here’s the video of the whole Launch event. It’s cued to play at the start of a Photoshop demonstration.

There’s also the Surface Pen for writing and drawing directly on the surface of the screen and it will also work with other Surface tablets. Strangely, the pen boasts just 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity which is exactly half as sensitive as even the cheapest stylus/tablet combinations from Wacom.


MacBook Pro 2016

The latest iteration of Apple’s flagship portable computer has several new features, too. It has a new screen that is brighter and more colorful. Like the Studio,  it’s a P3 screen which has 25% more color in the green and red spectrums so that your screen will be more capable of reproducing what you see in the real world. Ideally, this would help the screen look more like your prints, but if you’re sending out to a lab to print, most require sRGB color space which has fewer colors than the new P3 range. If you print yourself or communicate with your lab you may see a better relationship between your monitor and your prints. The increased brightness will certainly be nice when working in a brightly lit room. There are two 13″ models and a 15″.


Besides the screen, there’s also a new keyboard design which will provide a better tactile feel when typing, and a larger trackpad. The feature Apple are most proud of, however, is the Touch Bar which replaces the function keys strip on the keyboard. It’s a touch sensitive full-color OLED screen with Retina resolution and it can be programmed to perform various functions in various apps. This link will take you to the Apple video; skip to 59:00 minutes and you’ll see a Photoshop demo on a photograph.


The new MacBook is thinner and lighter than previous models. The battery life should be much better, too. Hilariously, it’s 68 million times faster than the first Apple laptop and can perform in five minutes computations that would have taken a full year using that original model.

First Impressions

Besides the cool features, the computer needs to perform, and both of these seem to be fast enough to get the job done for photographers. Compared to my four-year-old MacBook, the processors  in both of these don’t appear to be a lot faster based on the surface specs, but I’m told they are significantly better and more than adequate. The RAM is fast, and the video cards look like they are good, too. So I think both of these will perform well for photography work. The Surface Studio is set to release December 15th (though the rumors are that the quantities will be low to start), and the MacBook Pro should ship in three to four weeks. If I buy, I’ll consider Skip Cohen’s advice to exploring financing and leasing options (listen to the Mind Your Own Business podcast).


The MacBook will have four Thunderbolt 3 connections. These can power the computer and provide connections to drives and monitors. It’s cool to have the latest connections, but it means that none of my current devices connect to it. None of them. Not even my iPhone. It also lacks an SD card slot, which I use daily. I’d have to get dongles to convert the Thunderbolt 3 to my HDMI, Thunderbolt, USB-3, ethernet, and I’d have to bring a card reader. My desk would be cluttered with all these pieces. I’m all for moving forward with connections, but it’d be nice to have a little backward compatibility.


Conversely, the Surface Studio lacks any Thunderbolt 3 connections. It has four USB-3 jacks, a mini-display port, and a gigabit ethernet. It’s disappointing that the mini-display port doesn’t support Thunderbolt. While it does have an integrated SD card reader, it’s on the back of the base, so I hope it’s easy enough to reach.



Having seen both launch presentations, I’m more excited about the Surface Studio. The touch features, pen, dial, and overall implementation look really good and useful. On the MacBook, the Touch Bar looks kinda cool, but I’m really not excited about it. It seems to me that it should be nearer the trackpad. It also seems like using a Wacom tablet provides similar features in a better implementation. The strip just doesn’t appeal to me personally.


Both have great resolution and color rendition, and while the Studio’s touch screen is cool, but I’m not sure it’s essential for my photography workflow. I’m anxious to try it, but I suspect that touching the screen will leave too many smudges. If you’re like me, you’ve tried to clone out sky-spots only to realize they are actually on the surface of the screen, not in the photograph. I can only imagine that I’ll be constantly cleaning the screen as I do with my iPad.


MacBook Pro’s thinner and lighter design is appealing. The new keyboard that has a better feel is also intriguing and the larger trackpad could be useful. It also comes in a new Space Gray color which I chose for my iPad; I wonder if they’ll have gold and rose versions as they do with the iPhone.


The Surface Studio looks very good. Its screen is extremely thin, and the minimal articulating design is pretty cool. The screen moves down to a 20-degree angle, but I wonder if that’s flat enough to use as a writing surface. It’s got a handsome chrome stand, and the base houses the brains and fans, and they say it’s very quiet.


Overall, they both look appealing and intuitive.


It’s funny to watch both the Apple and Microsoft launch videos after one another. They are so similar it’s laughable. The speakers and demos and timing are all the same. Web sites for the Surface Studio and MacBook Pro are also alike in multiple design elements. Watching commercials for each, they use the same imagery (explosions of colored powders) and the same exploded diagrams of the computer and almost exactly the same exploded diagram of the layers in the screens. Do they have the same ad agency? Is this homogenous advertising effective? Should I start advertising exactly like other photographers in my market?


Surface Studio and MacBook Pro both have appealing new features and more power than what I’m currently using for my work (2012 MacBook Pro). However, I’m feeling a little disappointed in the connections offered by both. I feel like the MacBook will make me spend a small fortune on new cables and dongles, but the Studio doesn’t have any room for growth into faster connections that are becoming the mode. Also, while the performance is better, it’s not buy-me-right-now better. The new tools (Pen, Dial, Touch Bar) are neat, but they may not be essential to my workflow, and they aren’t enough to make me pre-order. Lastly, the Studio is most intriguing, but I’m nervous of dealing with a PC again and handling anti-virus tools and slowness over time. My MacBook, though four years old, still starts up in 13 seconds and works as fast as it did new.

So, I’m on the fence. How about you? Will you be upgrading to one of these two new tools?