An Olympic Sports Photographer Tries the New 16-Inch MacBook Pro

Last Wednesday, Apple announced the new MacBook Pro with a 16-inch Retina display. I have been testing this new laptop computer (locked behind closed doors) for the last couple of weeks and am excited to share my findings with all of you.

Before I go into the details of what I found, I want to just tell you why I am so excited about this new computer. I am now 8 months out from the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and as many of you know, my workflow is critical during that month. I am always looking for the equipment that can give me the best performance and increase my efficiency.

With that in mind, let me tell you about the new 16″ MacBook Pro.

When I first took the new MacBook Pro out of the box, it appeared to be the same size as the older 15″ version. It wasn’t until I put it side-by-side with the older model that I detected the slight increase in length and width.

I put the older 15″ MacBook Pro on top of the new 16″ MacBook Pro so that you can see the difference.

This close-up shot gives you a better idea of the slight size increase.

The good news is that the newer 16″ MacBook Pro fits into all of my camera bags (which were designed to hold a 15″ laptop) without any issues. Honestly, if I did not have the older 15″ model to compare it to, I would have thought that the 16″ MacBook Pro was the same size as the previous model.

The real excitement came when I opened the new 16″ model for the first time and saw the larger display. Apple was able to design this computer with a slimmer border around the display, therefore providing a larger display in a case that is not much bigger than the previous 15″ model. The new display is capable of showing more colors and boasts a 3792 x 1920 resolution. That translates to over 7 million pixels.

This new screen is going to make a big difference for me when I am at the Olympics or traveling abroad. But let’s get to that a little later.

Just to put this in perspective, I used to travel with a 17″ MacBook Pro back in the old days. and I really liked the bigger screen for culling and retouching. But I had to stop using that computer since it was just too big, heavy and bulky. Even though there is no comparison between the two in terms of raw power and capabilities, I dusted off that old 17″ laptop (circa 2010) to show you the size difference of the old beast and today’s new offering.

The older 17″ computer weighed a hefty 6.6 pounds, whereas this new model with a 16″ display weighs in at around 4 pounds.

Now I get the larger screen, an abundance of performance, all in a small and beautiful package.

I should also mention that the setup of the new MacBook Pro was seamless, mainly due to the iCloud synchronization. After entering my iCloud account information, the new laptop was immediately populated with my contacts, calendar events, Apple Pay information and more. I also installed Adobe Creative Cloud and Photo Mechanic to test my everyday workflow.

Let talk about the performance of this new 16″ MacBook Pro. Apple was able to redesign the cooling system inside case to provide 28% more effectiveness. This new cooling system, along with new memory, allows them to get more power out of the same processors used in the 2019 15″ MacBook Pro. I saw this performance increase in my everyday use.

They also upgraded the computer to a faster GPU, which provides up to 2 times the graphics performance.

Apple will say that this is the fastest MacBook Pro ever made (as they claim every time they announce a new computer, iPhone or iPad), and it is. But we all expect that in a new system.

Along with the speed improvements, Apple has now increased the memory capacities of the new 16″ MacBook Pro. The internal DRAM can be increased to 64GB and the internal SSD can be upgraded to a staggering 8TB. Both of these are helpful to us photographers, because they provide more performance while retouching large files, and more storage for holding all those images. It was common practice for me to remove folders of images off of my 15″ MacBook Pro because it only had a 1TB internal SSD.

I did a test to see if the new MacBook Pro was truly faster than my previous model, even though they share the same processor. I took 16 RAW images (taken with the Canon 5D Mark IV) and created a panorama stitch in Adobe Photoshop. Here are the results:

15″ MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM – 3 min and 20 seconds
16″ MacBook Pro with 64GB RAM – 2 min and 6 seconds

Image provided by Apple.

Apple has also increased the battery capacity of the MacBook Pro from 83.6 watts to 100 watts (the maximum allowed on airplanes), and this is another benefit to me.

Even though I have power outlets in most of my travel locations, there are times when I crave longer battery life. This is especially true on long flights. You know… the ones where the power outlets are not working, or not available. At the Olympics, there are many times when I am going from press bus to press bus without the ability to recharge the battery. The more battery the better!

Now, let me get to some of the less obvious enhancements, but ones that make me really happy!

This is a photo taken of my 2018 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar. You will notice that the “Esc” key was part of the Touch Bar. Since it was a digital button, it took almost no pressure from my finger to hit “Esc”.

This may not have bothered other people, but my finger would consistently hit this button inadvertently and close my preview window in Photo Mechanic, costing me a lot of time in my culling (going through my images to determine which I would keep, discard, or rank) process. I reached out to Apple more than a year ago and asked for a way to fix this issue.

When meeting with Apple to discuss this new 16″ MacBook Pro, they told me that they moved the “Esc” key back to a physical button. I was so excited! I can tell you that in some pretty extensive testing, I have yet to inadvertently hit that button. This is a small change with a big outcome.

For the last 4 years, I have had a huge issue with the keyboard design of the MacBook Pro. Not only was it uncomfortable to use, but there were two other issues which gave me heartache.

The first is that the way the keyboard was designed, I would consistently hit the wrong keys and have to fix typos. This never happened on my other Mac computers, but was a constant issue with the laptop keyboard. The second issue was the “click clack” noise that emanated around the room whenever I typed. This was highly distracting to people around me.

Apple listened to myself and countless other customers and changed the keyboard on the 16″ MacBook Pro to the Magic Keyboard. This new keyboard is not only easier to type on, but so much quieter!

When Apple got me the new MacBook Pro to test, they told me about the new 6 speaker sound system (with 4 woofers) and much improved sound quality. You might be thinking: how the heck does that benefit a photographer? The truth is, I listen to music on my laptop quite often when I am editing or when I am in hotel rooms around the world.

I did a side-by-side comparison using Spotify on the old MacBook Pro and the new 16″ MacBook Pro (switching output devices back and forth) and the sounds difference was beyond noticeable. I expected a small improvement in sound quality, but was treated to a much more dynamic playback. They tell me that the internal microphone has been significantly improved, but I have not tested that yet.

Now… let’s talk about how I plan on using the new 16″ MacBook Pro at the Olympics in 2020, and why I am so excited about the future.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the upcoming Canon 1D X Mark III, and the new CFExpress memory cards that it will use. I know I will be using this the new camera at the Olympics, and therefore storing my images on the new ProGrade Digital memory cards. And in the previous blog post I stated that I could transfer 54GB of images in only 37 seconds. Well… that was the older 15″ MacBook Pro.

I connected a prototype CFExpress card reader from ProGrade Digital to the new 16″ MacBook Pro and did some more testing.

In a side-by-side comparison, the new 16″ MacBook Pro was able to transfer files 15% faster than the previous model.

As I mentioned earlier, the screen of this new Mac is critical to my workflow, and I envision the new display of the 16″ MacBook Pro saving me more time at the next Olympics. Having a 15 minute deadline at the Olympics, and being a one-man show, I need every advantage I can get to deliver the highest quality images in the shortest amount of time.

How would a larger display help me save time? With higher resolution and a larger display, I find it much easier to determine which images have super sharp focus and which ones are a little soft. This was always a challenging task with the 15″ display, and now made easier with the larger viewing size.

I used the 16″ MacBook Pro to cull through a recent wedding shoot, and found the quality of the display to be fantastic. Having that extra 10 percent of screen real estate and increased resolution really does help.

Staying on the topic of displays, one area in which I have always been satisfied with the Apple laptops, is their ability to be calibrated and hold the calibration for a long period of time. I have many photo tour guests who travel with PC laptops and their calibration is way off, wither from lack of calibration or the screen drifting off calibration over time.

After spending a good amount of time with the new MacBook Pro, I was curious how Apple would price this over the 15″ model. Or, would they even keep the 15″ model in the product lineup. Just one day before the announcement, I asked Apple for some details. They told me that the new 16″ MacBook Pro would replace the 15″ model and be offered at the same price. The standard models would come with either a 512GB or 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM. But these can be configurable to 2TB, 4TB or 8TB SSDs and up to 64GB of RAM.

I have been using the 15″ MacBook Pro for many years now, and am VERY excited to make the change to the new 16″ model. I am looking at the near future when I am shooting with the Canon 1D X Mark III, using super fast CFExpress cards, a Thunderbolt 3 card reader, this super fast laptop, and editing on this screen. The future looks really bright!

About the author: Jeff Cable is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find more of his work on his website, blog, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

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