The New Mac Studio M1 Max: One Photographer's View After 5 Days

The New Mac Studio M1 Max: One Photographer's View After 5 Days

First: Some History

I've had a lot of Macs over the years. I remember the old PowerPC Macs, which performed OK against Intel-based PCs, but did have some heat issues under heavy loads. I went along with the transition to Intel in the Mid 2000s, and had a Mac Pro Intel-based machine, which replaced my identical-looking PowerMac G5. That served me well for many years because it was so upgradeable, but eventually, that machine no longer supported the latest versions of macOS, so reluctantly I bought an iMac in 2019, sporting a 3.6GHZ 8-CORE INTEL CORE I9 chip, and 8GB of memory. Like many Apple computers of the last several years, it wasn't really modular except for memory expansion. It was OK for photography work, but not really zippy. 

The problem was Apple had a big hole in its lineup. The next significant jump up was to the Mac Pro, originally the awful (in my view) trashcan Mac Pro, and when Apple thankfully ditched it they  replaced it with another Intel-based Mac Pro (cheese grater) in 2019. That was too much money for me, so I sat on the iMac hoping for better days. 

Things got better with the release of laptops with the new Apple Silicon Mac Book pros. Last year I bought the 16" model with the M1 Max chip, and loved it. I kept wondering when a desktop M1 Mac would come along. I had expected a 27" iMac, but instead, we got something much better: The Mac Studio. It came in two versions, very fast, and very fast x 2. I opted for very fast, as reviewers seemed to be saying the M1 Max was more than enough for a landscape photographer. Another motivator was that I hated that my laptop was faster than my desktop, and I really wanted to work on a bigger screen.

What I Bought

It was still expensive. My choice was the Studio with 64 gigs of ram, I opted to spend the additional 200 bucks on a 10 core CPU system with a 32 core GPU, and a 16 core neural engine. I upped the hard drive to 2 TB to match the iMac I was getting rid of.

It totaled $4,798 plus tax, but that included the Studio Display (more about that later). 

Getting it Set Up

The 2 boxes from Apple arrived on the 18th, the release day. The boxes were innovative. As I hovered over the new arrivals with a box cutter, Apple had faked me out. there was a pull tab and each box opened easily with no tools. It was a very "Apple" experience. 

With typical Apple whimsy, the back of the boxes showed the back of the products. I didn't even notice that until I was moving the boxes to the garage.

I had already just sold my iMac, but had done 2 Time Machine backups of it before it departed. When I plugged in the Mac Studio and the Studio Display the new Mac Studio did its usual routine with the machine asking me if I had a backup. (Parenthetically, I should say I have never seen a Mac boot up so quickly. It was ready to go in a tad less than 5 seconds.) I wondered if the boot process would be longer when the Mac was fully loaded. It wasn't. The Studio was really fast on this important first trial. The Time Machine transfer took about 1 1/2 hours, which was quicker than I thought it should be.

After the usual, and multiple logins to iCloud, I was ready to edit some photos. My usual workflow is DXO PureRAW to Photoshop, a pass through Topaz Sharpen AI, and then onto other specialty editors like Luminar AI when needed,

DXO PureRAW is not M1 native, but they've done a few tricks to speed things up. It seems about 25% faster on the Mac Studio. Photoshop was a disappointment until I realized my Time Machine backup dutifully moved an Intel version of PS to the new Mac. I uninstalled and re-installed it, and the Apple Silicon version came to life. Was it fast? I'll say. From a just booted Mac Photoshop came up in around 2 seconds. Wow. Editing inside Photoshop was fast too. I had the impression effects were applied in almost real-time. I am used to waiting for a render. I use Lightroom mainly for assembling panoramas; that's really fast too. A 9 image panorama previewed in about 6 seconds (usually it took 20-30 seconds) and the actual assembly took around a minute. 

I do use, and like, Adobe Bridge, but it hasn't been upgraded to Apple Silicon yet. It's still running noticeably faster, and it can build a visual catalog on a networked volume faster than it used to. 

Luminar Neo and Luminar AI from Skylum are built for Apple Silicon and they are both faster than they were on my iMac. They are not as fast as my Adobe products, but render time appears to be about 10-15% improved. That's probably a combination of their universal code, more ram in this Mac versus my old one, and the speed of the processor. I expect as the Luminar code gets tightened up it will be even faster.

The Topaz apps I use, Topaz Sharpen AI are screaming fast. I use Sharpen AI the most. Using my last Mac, getting a preview of the sharpen could take 30-45 seconds. Now it's about 5 seconds. Actually doing the rendering is only about 15 seconds. It used to take 1-2 minutes. 

The Apple Studio Display

I'm glad I bought the monitor. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of newer monitors, like HDR and local dimming, but it looks fine. It appears to be about the same display that was in my 27" iMac. The built-in speakers are OK, but not quite as good as the pair of Audio Engine A 2+ mini-monitors I have on my desk. Still, the Studio Display speakers sound good coming from such a thin display, certainly the best speakers built into a monitor I've heard. If you have good speakers in your workspace don't use these built-in Apple speakers as an excuse to buy this monitor. 

The webcam is dreadful, as has been widely reported. Watching my FaceTime calls for some reason doesn't match the quality on my iPhone or iPad. The video looks like an old VHS tape. Poor resolution, pasty faces. Apple has signaled that it will be improved in a firmware. I hope so.

Summing Up

Did the Mac Studio and Studio Display make me a better photographer? No, not at all. However, the increased speed of everything is inspiring, and encourages me to try new things and techniques. I can get my work done faster, and there are little things like the SD card slot upfront that are really appreciated, along with all the increased ports.

I'm happy I bought the Mac Studio. I think it's long overdue from Apple, but I welcome it just the same. The speed increases are obvious and as a busy photographer, it seems the perfect hardware match for my workflow. It might be a bit of overkill, and it's not noticeably faster than my M1 Max laptop, but the larger monitor and the Thunderbolt, USB A, and USB C collection of ports on the computer and more ports on the Studio Display are really a big deal. Also nice is a front-facing SD card reader. Photographers will cheer. 

If I was doing more video, I'd think about the Ultra, but I have no complaints at all about the Mac Studio that I've configured and I think most photographers would find it a solid upgrade and terrific speed enhancement to their workflow. After years and years, some of my Windows user friends are jealous and asking questions.

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33 Comments
Reginald Walton's picture

I just ordered the same configuration (minus the over-priced, no bells and whistles monitor). LOL

Stuart C's picture

I have an M1 MacBook Pro 13" and it blazes through masking and luma range adjustments in C1, its plain ridiculous at this point how fast it is.

This machine will be a complete beast.

Reginald Walton's picture

Agree, I actually sold my 14 inch Macbook Pro M1 Max that I just bought in November (loss $300, but oh well). I can't wait (oh wait, I do have to wait until mid to late June). LOL

dimitrios vazakas's picture

The only thing I do not understand is why would a photographer buy this monitor with the limited color space..when a BENQ monitor 4k would cost less and provide better workflow for a photographer?

Stuart C's picture

“Limited colour space”

Isn’t it just following a different colour space to AdobeRGB? Not limited, just a different format.

dimitrios vazakas's picture

I think you are wrong.....different format?...P3 is P3 and adobe is adobe!!!! with adobe being bigger..the one up is profoto!

Stuart C's picture

Both are classed as wide colour gamuts, covering a different range of colours, so your assertion that the display is limited is incorrect.

Greg Wieting's picture

It is limited if you print your images or plan to ever print your images. Adobe RGB is a wider gamut for printers than Display P3. This monitor covers 98% P3 but only 80-90% AdobeRGB. If you create content only for web or other displays than this monitor is just fine and the discussion is over. If you plan to print than it wont serve you well. For one thing, besides the gamut issue, it it does not support hardware calibration as Apple does not give you access to the display's LUT Table. Although you can use a calibration puck you are only doing a software calibration which is not as color accurate. For the same amount of money you can get a monitor that accurately hardware calibrates to AdobeRGB and can display accurate P3 no matter what white point you set.

Stuart C's picture

And isn’t Apple’s target market for these monitors film studios? Those who are more likely to make use of the P3 colour gamut? Isn’t that also the main place for apples higher end computers within the professional space?

Greg Wieting's picture

I'm not criticising Apple for making monitors for that market, the argument is if you are a photographer who primarily makes prints is the Apple Display worth your money? The answer is no, there are other monitors for that same chunk of change that will serve you better. If you are only producing content for social media or the web exclusively then this monitor is for you.

Stuart C's picture

The OP should have positioned his comment better, the colour space isn’t limited, it’s just not Adobe RGB. He should have said why would a photographer buy this monitor that uses P3 gamut.

By the way, I’ve been using Macs for 12 years, and I’ve printed my photos and they look fantastic, I’ve even had one printed double page in practical photography magazine and it looked great too, all edited directly on a 13” laptop screen.

There is far too much emphasis put on all this colour gamut nonsense and how people can’t do this and can’t do that, I’m fairly certain there are people using iMacs the world over to produce printed media and having zero issues.

Greg Wieting's picture

I've been a professional Photographer for 33 years working with color critical images. If you want something to print accurately you need a hardware calibrated monitor that displays 100% AdobeRGB. That is not fairly certain advice, it's based upon actual work. Your image printed in a magazine was attended to by a professional retoucher who adjusted it's color and contrast on a high end monitor after first being proofed. It didnt go to print directly from your laptop. Again the monitor is perfectly fine for Photographers whose workflow is primarily digital to digital and are not critical about their prints.

Stuart C's picture

And yet here you are, 3 comments, invisible, attempting to lecture people…. Go and bother someone else Greg, I’m not interested in the words of a nobody on the internet. Everyone’s a ‘pro’ on the internet, yet never have evidence to show, bullshit-ometer through the roof.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

You don't seem excited about the display, but, you bought it anyway?

Mutley Dastardly's picture

I'll not switch to a mac - because i cannot maintain the machine the way i want to maintain it. It's mine or when it's not - it won't become my machine. No way to upgrade the ram, GPU, or SSD?
Those are all big disadvantages of buying into the Apple system (and it's sad to see other brands adapt the same kind of policy).
I'm not writing that it's bad hardware or badly designed - because Apple takes care about those things - but it's the apple way or it's not. And that's something that i don't accept.
Being a hobby photographer i do have that choise - i can understand some of you don't have that luxury.

chris bryant's picture

I could say, as a Mac user, similar things about the Windows system. I work with Windows every day as an IT Tech and Network manager. It's a goddam awful pile of rubbish - that's my succinct professional opinion.

But it's not the tired old Mac vs PC argument.

It is whatever you (and everybody else) prefer to use. End of. I respect people's choice, PC, Mac or Linux.

Whatever works for you.

Whatever makes you happy.

Stuart C's picture

Same, I use Windows machines for 8hrs a day at work, then Mac at home... Windows used to have Skype for business that was genuinely one of the best programs ever created, they then replaced it with Teams, which im sure was coded by the Devil himself.

I can see uses for all 3 OS, but personally ill never switch away from Mac at home now, I also configure Android Warehouse devices so work with that OS a lot, its very good at what it does, but I still wouldn't want one as a phone.

Teofil Rewers's picture

Interesting... I use a PC Windows machine (custom desktop + XPS laptop) (I run Adobe apps and Photo Mechanic + other image editing software from Skylum, DxO, etc. + some gaming after work) and an Android smartphone (I use it as an FTP server and image sync apps) for professional photography for 10 years now (mostly events and headshots) and never encountered any problems with them. They just work.

Stuart C's picture

Good for you, I’m glad you’re happy with them.

I don’t find the GUI on either platform anywhere near as smooth as what the Apple ecosystem provides. I fully understand that people enjoy customisation and flexibility but to me that comes with a massive price in efficiency.

I’ve got a Windows 8.1 desktop and 2 Windows 10 laptops, one running our companies secure Webtop OS and the other standard 10, I don’t find any of them particularly fascinating… coupled with the fact Onedrive and Teams are quite possibly the worst 2 pieces of software in existence I’m happy I can go home and forget they exist for a few hours.

Teofil Rewers's picture

Yup, I am not finding my machines fascinating either. I just expect them to work, make no trouble, and help me make money and they do. I have one general rule - I just keep everything as simple as possible. I do not install any unnecessary software, plugins, extensions, etc. I keep systems clean and tidy. On a small scale - like me - just one person, just image editing - this strategy works well.

Jon Kellett's picture

Funny you hate OneDrive and Teams so much... Teams I admit is far from perfect, but in my opinion no similar app is perfect.

As for OneDrive, what's not to like? You log in once and forget about it. All your desktop icons and documents are available everywhere and on all operating systems (expect Linux, probably), nothing for you to do. I don't use it personally but I do use it professionally and love it.

Stuart C's picture

I don’t know if it’s my specific system but I can’t save something to my desktop, it goes to some ‘virtual’ desktop… I like to save spreadsheets or anything else direct to my actual desktop then right click to send it via email, which also now has extra steps in the process on Office 365. I’m also still using a machine on 8.1, it just plain doesn’t work between the two OS…. As far as I’m aware, iCloud doesn’t care what OS any of your devices are on, it just syncs.

As for teams, where do I start, people add you to a group via a call, then even if you reject the call it still keeps a chat window open and you get notified each time someone comments, all on a call/group you declined to be part of. Also when you’re offline people can still message you, wtf is that all about, if you’re offline it should block any kind of contact like Skype used to. I can go on leave for a week and come back to see someone has been pinging crap at me 5 days previously because there is nothing to tell them I’m OOO, whereas forcing them to email me would give my auto response to tell them I’m not at work.

Speaking of messaging offline, I work in system support, we have a process for reporting issues that people continually circumnavigate by directly contacting you on teams, again even if you’re offline they are allowed to batter your teams chat with questions.

It’s essentially made the rudest way of contacting/bothering someone in a working environment even ruder.

For some context, I work in a team of 2, we look after nearly 100 warehouses nationwide and support system issues and queries, probably around 1000 users…. You can imagine why it’s important for us to have robust processes in place for people to contact us, Teams destroys all of that when you have ignorant people who think they should jump to number one in the queue.

Stuart C's picture

Just to add too, both of them absolutely rinse hell out of your computers processing power and RAM, Teams uses more resources than Final Cut rendering 8K video ffs… had it freeze up my work PC countless times because it’s so bloated, then they allow people to embed excel documents into group chats, that’s horrific.

Jon Kellett's picture

Must be something at your end. My 3 yr old work laptop is at 0% for both. When busy Teams is usually single digits, even in meetings.

Agree wholeheartedly about embedding spreadsheets being a pig of an idea.

Black Rock's picture

The business version of Skype was quite good before, I just can not believe how bad the Teams has become.

Robert Teague's picture

I use both, side by side. I have no issues with either, although I do prefer Windows 11. But, there is also a lot to like about my M1 Mac Mini ... it's comfortable to use, although a bit frustrating at times (Time Machine just doesn't work correctly since the last Mac update).

D R's picture

Windows was always bad and I think Windows 11 is the worst yet. I've used them all since Windows 95/98 and NT (Ok W11 is better than Windows 95 but nowhere near as good as OSX)

Robert Teague's picture

I never found that to be true, and I've been using Windows since 2.0. I'm a professional software developer. I quite like Windows 11, and I like macOS Monterey. I can use them side by side, because I don't expect them to be the same, I account for the differences.

Bobby Z's picture

Just curious, how did you get it delivered so fast? I see wait times of 3 months.

Arthur Argote's picture

The Ads cropping into frame every 30 seconds makes this article unreadable.

Z Milo's picture

This isn’t a comment on the article that was fine, it’s a complaint about your mobile site if this is the way your mobile site is going to work with a blue border poping in and out obstructing my view while I’m trying to read the article I will never read another, I had to copy and paste the review into my note pad so I could finish it.

D R's picture

The article is a bit confusing because the writer would make comparisons in speed comapred to his "last mac" but never clarified which was his last mac, his desktop iMac or his new M1 Max laptop.

J T's picture

Interesting and informative article. Do you think just using the MacBook Pro laptop and connecting to the screen would be feasible. It would save having both which I need as I travel and the performance bump doesn’t seem that noticeable so I’m deliberating if I just get the laptop instead if both. . Thanks.