Review: Macbook Air (2013) for photo editing and video

There's not going to be any numbers or benchmarking in this review. It's not that kind of technical review. But I will compared it to the Mac Mini (2012) that is my current workstation.

The review will be based on my experience using it for days during my recent Spain trip.


Mine's the standard configuration for the 13-inch model that Apple released in June 2013.

  • 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • 4GB memory
  • 128GB flash storage

Configurable on the Apple online store are the processor up to 1.7Ghz and 8GB RAM. The higher end model, you can configure for more storage up to 512GB.

These are all the different standard configurations:
11.6 inch with 128GB storage
11.6 inch with 256GB storage
13-inch with 128GB storage
13-inch with 256 storage

There are two USB 3 ports, a Thunderbolt port, and only the 13-inch models come with the SDXC card slot.

The 11.6-inch weighs 1.08kg and the 13 inch 1.35kg. Many users claim they can't feel the weight, but it's definitely there. But it's also definitely much lighter than the Macbook Pro.

My usage

I'm using it for blogging and photo editing.

The iPad just quite can't cut it for blogging just yet for the simple reason that it lacks a mouse. It's just way faster working with a mouse/trackpad.

For photo editing, I use Lightroom 5, handling just slightly over a hundred photos each time.

The Macbook Air is very responsive. It's quick to startup, launch applications, import and download files. Wake from sleep is instant. It's runs silently even when the fans are on. And it runs cool most of the time unless you really tax the processor. Battery life is 9hrs+ with non-stop movie running.

Photo editing and video

The screen resolution is 1440 by 900 for the 13-inch model, and 1366 by 768 for the 11.6 inch. The resolution is comfortable for working with multiple tabs and menu interfaces.

Those who edit photos are more critical about the screen. There are things to note.

First, viewing angle is not as good as typical IPS desktop panels that offer 178 degrees. Depending on the tilt of your screen, your colours will vary. And you can be sure you won't always tilt your screen to the precise angle, unless it's all the way back.

If you have to photo editing on a mobile computer, there's not much choice anyway, especially if you're using Mac OS.

Rendering photos takes a while, actually longer than I expect. The dual core 1.3GHz is not slow but it's not fast either. I don't think there's any point in upgrading the processor to 1.7GHz and there's no way to go quad-core on the Air. So time save from processor upgrade is not going to be significant. By comparison, my Mac Mini quad core renders in less than half the time.

Same goes to video rendering as well, which depends even more on processor speed. Personally, it will be extremely difficult to do in one day, to shoot footage, compile, render and upload. On a quad core Macbook Pro, that would be no problem, and will even allow for margins for error (e.g. typo correction on title screen). I'm mentioning this because sometimes I do all those things in a day.

Personally I'm fine with the glossy screen. Gloss affecting colour is not as critical as the panel's colour variance depending of viewing angle.

Lightroom by itself only uses about 1GB of RAM during editing.

Choosing between 11.6 inch and 13 inch

The 11.6 inch has no SD card slot.

You might think you'll not get use to the small screen, but you will, just like how you got use to the smaller screens of your phone and tablet. For graphics work, getting a bigger screen is more useful.


For the purpose of testing RAM usage, I loaded up Lightroom with 700+ photos and did some batch editing. The only other application running was Chrome browser. Total RAM usage, including OS plus applications, is around 3GB+.

If you're intend on using another heavy application such as Photoshop, I would recommend upgrading to 8GB. Photoshop can use up RAM very quickly.

If you're not using any graphics or video applications, 4GB RAM is more than sufficient. This applies for light usage such as office work, blogging, web surfing and light photo video editing all at the same time. If you use more applications than that, get the 8GB RAM.


You can only configure more storage for the models that come with standard 256GB storage, up to 512GB.

Mine's the 128GB model. I think it's sufficient for general use. 10GB storage can hold 550 18MP RAW photos.

If you need more storage, just get an external drive such as the WD My Passport 2TB USB 3 External Storage which is extremely value for money.

For even more portable storage, I go with the Transcend 64GB UHS1 SD card. This is backup and just-in-case storage I carry in my wallet. This applies only for the 13-inch model with the SDXC card slot.

Importing data with USB 3 or SDXC is blazing fast.

Photo editing machine?

The Macbook Air 2013 is good for light and occasional photo editing. If you work on photos regularly, I would recommend going for a quad-core Mac.

For general usage, the Air is excellent, and hence highly recommended for general users.

Again, below are all the different standard configurations as available on Amazon, who sells them cheaper than Apple online store themselves.
11.6 inch with 128GB storage
11.6 inch with 256GB storage
13-inch with 128GB storage
13-inch with 256 storage



Hello, I just recently

Hello, I just recently discovered your website, pretty amazing.

I have one question about the MBA 13
is it good enough for professional digital painting, considering that the files size range are at from 100 MB to 300 MB?

the specs are:
1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz
Intel HD Graphics 5000
4GB memory or 8GB memory
128GB flash storage

Thanks dude

Hi Teoh!

Hi Teoh!

Very nice review. I very interested in a MBA 13" im sure on the RAM upgrade but you really think an i5 would be enough in the long run? The i7 is not worth the extra 150$? According to the anandtech comparison the difference is really significant but how does that apply in real world usage?

Im a Publicity and graphic arts student and this wil be my first mac and im planning to use till i graduate. From 3 to 4 years.

The critical issue (aside

The critical issue (aside from the colours changing when your viewing angle changes, which is a biggie) is that the colour gamut for the MB Air screen is very small-65% of sRGB. Trying to profile the screen will yield no improvement because of the small colour gamut. What you see on screen will not bear any real resemblance to what you print or what others will see on wider gamut desktop screens with respect to colours (unless you only work inside the limited colour gamut the screen can display). It is about the worst screen colour-gamut wise-available on a contemporary laptop--even iPads and many Android tablets are better.

The question is not whether it can run the editing/graphics software. It does that just fine--only slower than a bigger machine, but fast enough for non-professional or casual use. But the screen cannot be used for professional or educational colour-critical work and I certainly wouldn't bet my educational career in graphic design on it.

That being said, hook up a suitable external monitor and you are in business. No issues then--but if you're tied to a desk, then a Mac mini is really a better choice. But if you need the portability (take it to class, etc.) the the MB Air plus a (suitable) desktop monitor for your photo/graphics editing gets all the bases covered.

And, as a general purpose laptop for non-colour critical applications, I don't think you could find a better choice unless you are desperate for more processing power and are willing to give up battery life.

But don't fool yourself that the MB Air is good enough for photo editing or graphics editing in any but the most primitive fashion.

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