After seeing Mac Studios were in-stock at my local Apple store, I went to pick up a machine. I went with the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra chip, knowing that I wanted a computer that would last quite a while.

After spending a week with it, this has to be the ultimate machine for creatives. Wait, no. A dream machine for creatives. Let me explain.

Throughout the week I’ve been using it, the Mac Studio has been the fastest machine I’ve ever used. No surprise there. But when you look at certain tasks — importing and editing photos into Lightroom Classic, processing photos in DxO PureRAW 2, sharpening photos in Topaz Sharpen AI … there is simply no machine that I’ve used (let alone heard of) that is both decently approachable in price and this fast.

Not to mention, I never heard the fan come on once. My Drobo 5D3 is louder than this machine, and that’s saying something, given that my old MacBook Pro constantly was running its fans.

Below I’ll give my impressions of the machine and put it to the test when it comes to specific photo software applications. I won’t get into disk drive speeds or anything like that — there are plenty of other reviews and information out there on that. This is a real world test, with my observations as I worked through each program.

Pros

  • This thing is fast — super fast!
  • Incredibly quiet
  • I/O ports are welcomed, especially the SD UHS-II card reader in the front

Cons

  • Speakers are terrible, similar to a Mac Mini
  • Tends to slide around smooth surfaces rather easily

Specs

I purchased the base model with M1 Ultra. Just so you know the ins and outs of my machine, here are some notable specs:

  • Processor: M1 Ultra
  • Memory: 64GB
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • CPU: Performance 16-Core / Efficiency Quad-Core
  • GPU: 48-Core
  • Back I/O ports: 4x Thunderbolt 4, 2x USB-A, 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x 3.5mm Headphone Output
  • Front I/O ports: 2x Thunderbolt 4, 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
  • Dimensions: 7.7 x 7.7 x 3.7″ / 19.6 x 19.6 x 9.4 cm
  • Weight: 7.9 lb / 3.6 kg

Mac Studio — First impressions and getting setup

One of the things I’ve been hearing most about the M1 Ultra is that it’s “doubled” from the base Mac Studio with M1 Max chip. And for all intents and purposes, it is. Double the processing power, double the memory (from the M1 Max base model), double the GPU … you get the idea.

When I first unboxed the Mac Studio — which is a delight in and of itself — I was a little surprised at how heavy it was. But weight didn’t matter to me. After all, this would be sitting on my desk. The all-aluminum exterior was absolutely gorgeous, and the port selection had me drooling. The fact that I could finally toss my heavy USB hub in a drawer was the first blessing.

The setup process was quick and easy. I always opt to start fresh, instead of moving things over from a Time Machine backup. It took me a few hours to migrate my files, download my applications, etc. I mainly used AirDrop to bring over any local documents, which was quick and easy.

I did a few tests in Lightroom Classic, and could tell that the M1-optimized version was certainly going to be way faster to use. It loaded previews almost instantly, and rendered edits immediately. I did a batch edit on about 20 files, and the time was cut significantly over what I was used to with my 2019 MacBook Pro.

Needless to say, this self-proclaimed Apple fanboy was impressed.

Mac Studio — Fast editing for photographers

I regularly use a handful of software applications in my editing. Below, I’ll discuss how each of these performed. Now, with any new computer, you’d expect a speed bump. But a lot of these were significant! Long story short, speed is the name of the game here.

Lightroom Classic

Spot Removal and Masking tools are much faster in Lightroom Classic.

Ever since Adobe started optimizing their Creative Cloud apps for M1 systems, I’ve been excited to see how Lightroom Classic would perform. I already mentioned above that loading previews and applying batch edits was way faster. Other speed bumps I saw came with the import process — which was about four times faster than what I was used to — and the export process, which was also cut significantly.

Masking is one area that struggled for me with my old 2019 MacBook Pro. It often froze when starting up the tool, and sometimes didn’t let me smoothly drag a mask. With the Mac Studio, these problems are a thing of the past. The tool worked instantaneously, and I didn’t experience any lag of performance issues. Even spot removal was significantly faster.

I was a big fan of the new Masking tool when it was announced last fall, but I never really used it a ton because of the speed issues I was having. Now, I can confidently say I’m going to use it more than ever with the Mac Studio.

One area I didn’t see a big improvement — where I hoped I had — in was with HDR merge. This is still a pretty slow tool in my eyes, and while I did see it generate the HDR a little faster, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. It’s still slow, and you’re still probably better off using something like Aurora or Photomatix.

Overall though, if you’re a Lightroom Classic user, you’re going to be impressed.

Capture One 22

HDR merging along with standard editing saw a speed bump in Capture One 22.

I also saw enhancements in Capture One 22, especially with their export times. While re-exporting a batch of 720 photos from a client, I had the application freeze up on me for about a minute or so. But once it got past that, it was smooth sailing. The total time took about 12 minutes to complete the export, which had original size images that were roughly 15-20 MB each.

In terms of editing, sliders were more responsive and effects were quicker to be previewed. One thing I didn’t see though is a speedup when it came to management tasks. Things like filtering large number of photos and loading previews from collection to collection still takes some time. It’s by no means slow, but this is where Capture One could work to speed it up some.

With Capture One’s new HDR merge, I was happy to see a speed boost here as well. From start to finish, a five bracket batch took about 11 seconds to merge together. This is faster than what Lightroom Classic offers in terms of speed of it’s HDR merging tool, however, Capture One is still a bit more bare bones in terms of options on this front.

LuminarAI and Luminar Neo

While LuminarAI is blazing fast on my Mac Studio, Luminar Neo is still pretty slow — especially when using AI-centric tools like RelightAI.

LuminarAI, as a whole, feels much more snappy. Sliders are quicker to respond and effects are much, much faster to take place. The one area I think could be improved is with applying Templates. There’s still a second or two delay here once you click on a Template, for it to take effect on your image. All in all, Skylum did a great job with porting LuminarAI to M1 systems.

The same can’t be said for Luminar Neo. I worked with a few photos recently with the new RelightAI tool, as well as FaceAI, and it was very slow and cumbersome to use — much slower than LuminarAI. There’s still a lot of work to be done by Skylum in terms of making Luminar Neo fast — not only for M1 systems, but for Intel Macs, too.

Photoshop

Photoshop was the first of Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps to be ported over to M1 systems, and it really works well. While I’m not exactly an expert Photoshop user, I experienced no slow-downs performing tasks in Photoshop.

Masking was very smooth, even with rules turned on, which had previously been a major source of slowdowns for me. So was using the Lasso tool.

I was interested to see how Neural Filters would perform. I did see some speed improvements here, but there’s still a wait time after moving sliders. This is likely due to the feature’s reliance on the cloud, where only some effects can occur directly on the device. Those that did occur on the device were noticeably faster than those that relied on the cloud.

Topaz Sharpen AI

Topaz Sharpen AI has seen a huge speed improvement — not only with previewing the Sharpen Model, but also with exporting. Photos now take seconds to export, instead of upward of one minute.

Now, if you ever want to run a speed test between computers, Topaz software seems to be a great way to do it. Usually with Topaz Sharpen AI on my 2019 MacBook Pro, each image took between 60 and 90 seconds to process. Previewing took forever, and masking wasn’t exactly a well-performing task.

On the Mac Studio, however, processing takes mere seconds. Times I saw were between 10 and 20 seconds, a significant savings.

I also experienced speed bumps when previewing the sharpening model (once it was downloaded, which still takes forever) as well as with masking. These aren’t as groundbreaking or as much of an improvement as the processing, but they’re still notable to mention.

DxO PureRAW 2

This was another test I was excited for. I had to put a few photoshoots through PureRAW 2 after I imported them. With a photoshoot of 105 images, the initial estimate was for three hours.

I sighed. I may have audibly said a few 4-letter words. After all, those were the same times I was getting with my MacBook Pro.

But after about a minute, the estimation started to go down considerably, to one hour. Then to 30 minutes. Then to 18 minutes. The total process took 20 minutes. And during that time, I started writing this article and watched a YouTube video without any slowdowns to my machine at all. Needless to say, PureRAW 2 is super-duper fast on this Mac Studio.

AfterShoot

AfterShoot’s culling tools are faster than ever, thanks to the M1 Ultra chip.

My favorite culling tool, AfterShoot, is also speedier, specifically with the culling process. I culled a photoshoot with 376 images in it, and that took only 3 minutes, 19 seconds to complete. That’s super impressive seeing the amount of work done behind-the-scenes in analyzing your images.

Is the Mac Studio worth your hard-earned money?

For me, going with the M1 Ultra version of the Mac Studio was a no-brainer for what I wanted and needed. That said, with the M1 Max base model, you should still see significant performance bumps. For just $1999, you get a great computer that will keep you going for a while. And your photo editing will be faster than ever.

The performance boosts across the board make this computer entirely worthwhile. But not only that — the I/O ports that Apple has included really makes this perfect for photographers and videographers. I really can’t think of anything I’d change about this machine, other than maybe including better speakers and putting a keyboard and mouse in the box.

Going into 2022, I was ready to pony up for an iMac Pro. But now I’m finding myself overly satisfied with the Mac Studio, especially because I’m able to choose my display of choice (which, I still haven’t decided on yet). If you want speed and are a Mac user … there’s simply no computer that can beat the Mac Studio.

Apple Mac Studio with M1 Ultra

Creative professionals can power through workflows on an unprecedented scale, including playing back up to 18 streams of 8K ProRes video, 8K rendering, encoding and decoding H.264, HEVC and ProRes, running complex particle simulations, working with massive 3D environments, and more using the Apple Mac Studio. This entirely new Mac desktop transforms any space into a studio, ensuring that creatives of all types will benefit from supercharged performance, extensive connectivity, and new capabilities in an extremely compact form factor.