Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are amazing laptops, bringing a great blend of features and portability to any content creation workflow, but which one is better for you? In this comparison, I’ll take a look at the key features of both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro for photography and videography use. Is it worth spending the extra money on the MacBook Pro? Find out in this guide!
Table of Contents
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro
|Screen Sizes Available
|13″ and 15″
|14″ and 16″
|M3 Pro and M3 Max
|CPU Core Count
|Up to 16
|GPU Core Count
|Up to 40
|Unified Memory (RAM) Base
|Unified Memory (RAM) Maximum
|Up to 24GB
|Up to 128GB
|2560×1664 or 2880×1864
|3024×1964 or 3456×2234
|XDR: Up to 1600 nits in HDR, 1000 nits sustained
SDR: 600 nits
|Up to 120Hz
|2.7 or 3.3 lbs. (1.2 or 1.5 kg)
|3.5 to 4.8 lbs. (1.6 to 2.2 kg)
|MagSafe, 3.5mm headphone jack, and two Thunderbolt/USB4 ports
|MagSafe, 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI, SDXC, and three Thunderbolt/USB4 ports
|MSRP, Base Model
|$1099 for 13″ or $1299 for 15″ (Current Prices)
|$1999 for 14″ (Current Price) or $2500 for 16″ (Current Price)
The MacBook Air has both a 13 and 15 inch model available. Both are incredibly thin and light, featuring high quality cases, trackpads, and almost identical features (besides screen size and resolution). Since they share so much in common, I’ll address the one difference first: the 15 inch model is further from the Air ethos of ultralight and ultraportable. It’s still small enough, but weighs nearly as much as the 14 inch Pro, and will take up a lot of space in a bag given the screen size.
The base model 13 inch Air is a very good value. While some might shake their head at the relatively meager base spec of 8GB of RAM and a 256GB drive, both of these are not fatal flaws and can of course be upgraded. Even with 8GB of RAM, the use of MacOS and Apple Silicon, especially in combination with a fast SSD, handles the lower memory ceiling far better than older computers would.
Since the 15″ still retains these compromises at the base level, despite being around 20% more expensive, I’m not a fan. For just a bit more cash, a slightly older 14″ M1 or M2 MacBook Pro would offer more ports, a better screen, and still-better performance, without weighing significantly more. I generally don’t recommend the 15″ Air for this reason.
The base 13″ Air, however, is a perfect option for traveling photographers who need an ultra-portable device that still sports a full desktop environment. Whether it’s editing on the plane, accessing Photoshop and Lightroom in the field (at quite reasonable performance thanks to the surprisingly powerful M2 chip), or enjoying the 13″ screen, I find it to be a far better option than a similarly priced iPad Pro.
The MacBook Pro offers a number of key advantages over the 13″ MacBook Air for photography. A bigger, higher-resolution screen gives you more real estate for toolbars. It has an expansive color gamut and shockingly bright output levels. High refresh rates (termed ProMotion by Apple) have been a great feature in the gaming world for years – smoother motion and native handling of a variety of frame rates without judder make this a great option for videographers as well.
Moving onto ports, the extra USB4 port is nice, as are native HDMI and SDXC ports. Both of these will be useful to many photographers, especially while traveling so that you can avoid carrying a separate adapter.
Base specs for the M3 Pro, just like on the Air, aren’t wonderful: 18GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage isn’t anything special. Upgrading these comes at a high cost, but fortunately, fast SSD and port speeds again come to the rescue. I’ve continued to use dual external SSDs for cheap, fast, and redundant storage – my current go-to is the X9 from Crucial. Also, note how these base specs are twice what you get even on the 15″ MacBook Air.
The Pro is a bit chunky, coming in at 3.5 pounds even in the lightest configuration. Upgrading from the M3 Pro to the M3 Max adds an extra 0.1 pounds, and jumping to a 16″ screen adds 1.2 pounds more. This can add up if you constantly travel with your laptop.
Which One Should You Get?
If you’re undecided between the MacBook Air and the Pro, I would consider whether you’re choosing a laptop for desktop replacement or for travel.
If you’ve already got a good desktop, I’d suggest looking towards the Air (specifically the 13″ version). It’s a great fit for travel uses, and while you it’s not meant for the most demanding editing, it is still very competent at typical Lightroom and Photoshop tasks.
However, if you want your laptop to be a workhorse that only occasionally leaves your studio – or if you just don’t mind the extra weight – the Pro really does sit beyond the Air in capabilities, features, and value. There is no real difference in features between the 14″ and 16″ Pro, so pick based on how much you value the laptop’s size and what your budget is.
By the way, for both models, keep an eye out for sales. I’ve seen frequent, albeit usually small discounts, on the whole range. Likewise, the older generation M1 models – or the M2 Pros – are very good laptops that can offer a great value for what you get. Laptops have been iterative rather than revolutionary for a while, so don’t be afraid to get one that’s slightly older if you’re on a budget.