OPINON: is the M1 iMac suitable for professional photographers?
WHY DO I USE MACs?
It's not awkward for anyone whose job involves photography, video, or graphics to use the Apple Macs. I used Linux until 2009. However, the problem was that lack of diversity of applications and setup was too time consuming and complicated. Too many options are also a potential challenge. There are various kind versions of desktop operating system Linux and has its own strengths and weaknesses. To find out precisely suitable version for my own, I should test these at least more than 3. Reset the computer, repeat settings for work, which usually takes more than a week in each every time.
For those reasons - give up, give up, give up - I have been using Macs since 2009, again. People who oppose Apple's policy criticize the lack of options, but people like me, this system with few options is a time-saving factor.
I DO NOT CALIBRATE THE MONITOR
From a photographer's point of view, one of the reasons why I prefer a MacBook or iMac than other Macs is the monitoring environment. There are many people who argue for the importance of monitor calibration. However, it is not an exaggeration to say that I chose Mac because I want to avoid calibration. This was the biggest reason not to choose the Mac mini even after the change to the M1.
In the working environment, important issues are (1) monitoring reliability of current display device, (2) the performance of workstation, and (3) budget. If you have enough money, you can invest in performance and display device such as Apple Pro Display XDR or EIZO ColorEdge series. There are various kinds of expensive professional monitors on the market and there are a lot of related software, so calibration is not as difficult as you think. But when you think about the cost, the situation is completely different.
This is the reason for excluding the Mac mini in the first place and same as the brand new Mac Studio. It means that a significant investment must be made in the monitor to have a suitable monitoring environment, especially for photographers, video editors and designers. And most of these professional monitors cost the same as or even more expensive than the M1 iMac.
Considering these aspects, the best choice for me at the moment was the M1 iMac.
First of all, it is fair to say that the M1 iMac is not a workstation for professional workers. Apple once introduced a so-called iMac Pro, a so-called professional computer in their iMac line, but it has been discontinued, and moreover, the 27-inch iMac has recently disappeared. And here, the M1 MacBook Pros appeared, and more recently, the Mac Studio. In terms of price, performance and expandability, the M1 iMac is definitely entry level machine. But this is also up to you to think.
WHAT’s ON YOUR MIND?
I don't know what the terms octa-core GPU and 16-core neural engine actually mean, but this neural network engine is 15 times faster than Intel-based in benchmarks, that is what I’ve been told. But in what kind of environment? I don’t know. It might be half right and half wrong in a situation where you have to deal with a large photo database. It is difficult to feel the performance what Apple told you as expected because what determines the speed is not only the power of processors. It’s determined by multiple factors such as the hard disk speed, port transfer speed and etc. Moreover, there was a swapping issues as many people can remember. For these reasons, this computer, M1 iMAC is not suitable machine for using multiple applications at the same time.
CONCENTRATE ON YOUR BREATHING
I still can recall the multitrack recording environment on my computer in 1998(Wow, it’s almost a quarter of a century ago). Nowadays, it is common situation for users to browse the web while working on photos, videos, and music, and in some cases, listen to music or watch YouTube or Netflix videos. However, going back in time and thinking back to the days when 256 and 512 megabytes of RAM were quite high-performance, this kind of behavior was impossible. Be an ascetic. In hindsight, yes When it comes to heavy work, the computer is used only for work. In my case, that can solve most problems.
The software I use the most on my Macs is probably Capture One. Occasionally, in case of very few, there may be a situation where you need to back up your photo data right on the field. It has been a while since I worked by using a high-capacity storage medium and sorting it later, rather than taking the risk of losing these small cards as the capacity of the SD card or CF express grows. As a result, the SD card capacity is not often maxed out, but there are very rare situations where the SD card capacity may be insufficient depending on the shooting. In this case, if you open a photo editing program and import these photo files, it usually takes twice longer to move the file. So, in most cases, the method of just moving to the folder as it is and formatting the card is better than import function of photo editing softwares when you must to back up your photo files to your computer in the spot.
Recently, Capture One introduced the Capture 22 which is more friendly to the recent macOS and M1 chips. Unlike Adobe Lightroom, Capture One has more advantages in graphics acceleration. Compared to the MacBook Pro before the M1, the import speed of the M1 iMac has been improved by almost double. This gap widens as the photo file resolution increases. In my opinion, this problem is related to the Preview Generation.
In process of export, the gap is wider and wider. I've never used an M1 MacBook/Macbook Pro, so I don't know the latest situation, but when using a MacBook Pro(Intel), there are cases where the speed does not come out strangely with regard to huge amounts of files. Actually, I don't know the cause of the problem. Compared to the Intel-based MacBook Pro, the photo export speed of the M1 iMac is faster almost twice. Recently, Capture One has also added its own stitching function. In processing involving GPU, the M1 iMac shows superior performance to the Intel-based MacBook Pro. The story will be different in a few years from now, but for the time being, the conclusion is that the M1 iMac will be okay for a professional photographer like me.
MEMORY MANAGEMENT AND TBW ISSUE
If you've used many types of OS, you can tell somethings just get a sneak peak it. One of them is related to memory management functions such as the famous swap file issue. Because this is the part that you can feel quickly and directly - Behold the spinning color wheel!
However, the M1 iMac show me subtle delays when performing resource-intensive tasks, especially when switching applications or accessing very large media files.
Most OSs use the same as main memory(RAM) by creating a file in the storage device when securing insufficient main memory. Because of this, we experience that the computer will be faster with large size of RAM but actually it isn’t. Think about this - the cart is bigger but runner’s speed is same. For this reason, the size of the swap file can be set and fixed in many cases, in many operating systems. The purpose is to increase the work speed by allocating sufficient capacity from the beginning.
If you're a Mac user, one thing you'll see in many times during use is the Spinning Color Wheel. The Spinning Color Wheel stems from two problems, mainly. One is a malfunction of applications. The other is a problem related to memory, that is, RAM capacity. In the end, it is correct to see this as a problem related to resource allocation and swapping. The M1 Macs do this file swapping very well because of its SSD and architecture. In 2021, in relation to this swapping, the problem that M1 Macs could use SSD excessively was raised. The reason why this is a problem is that SSDs have a TBW (TeraByte Written) limitation, which is directly related to the lifespan of the storage medium. When using macOS Big Sur and certain programs, this became a problem, and within 2 months of purchase, a problem was raised that the storage medium consumed more than 10% of the lifespan. In fact, it is concluded that the MacBook cannot be used for more than two years.
However, this problem was settled last year, and in my opinion based on these standards, the life expectancy of the M1 iMac would be around 8 years. Based on experience, the battery of the MacBook Pro was practically difficult to use for more than 4 years. My Power Mac manufactured in 1998 is still available. Sometimes, I enjoy vintage games. Now the conclusion is that the SSD-based iMac would be difficult to use for more than 8 years if the SSD is not replaced in the middle.
Due to these problems, I do not use the M1 iMac internal SSD as a storage device. Except for applications, downloads, and iCloud-linked folders, all remaining data is stored on hard disks connected to the Thunderbolt dock. Even my Google Drive cache folder is also set to be saved to the connected external hard disk.
I am a definitely heavy user but I don’t work on high-definition videos and special effects. My job is dealing with photos, and sometimes I make large-capacity, high-resolution photos by stitching, or design documents through InDesign.
When using Adobe InDesign on the M1 iMac, I can experience a really smooth experience. In addition, in the case of Capture One 22, which is used the most, it is designed to make good use of the M1 processor, so it shows a very good feeling of use. The issue when dealing with photos is rather the speed of the connected hard disks not the processors.
Capture One is more GPU friendly than Adobe Lightroom(At least I believe in this). The Capture One in the M1 iMac runs much smoother than the my Intel-based MacBook Pro.
If you choose the M1 iMac for photo work, etc., I strongly recommend using a Thunderbolt dock. It is especially necessary if you are thinking about the lifespan of the built-in SSD. The speed will be a little slower, but the comfort of the large capacity and the lifespan of the storage device will be less of a concern.