2016 Macbook Pro 15″ Review: From a DIT/Photographer

New technology, the best and worst thing ever!

 

Apple FINALLY released a redesigned Macbook Pro! I’ve been waiting a very long time for this because I use my late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″ almost as much as I use my Mac Pro. The touch bar is pretty cool but probably not very necessary, I’m sure we’ll be seeing this on PC laptops in the near future.

I’m both excited and not excited for thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. Not excited because like any new hardware change comes more money out of my pocket and possible compatibility issues with older hardware. I’m excited because this specific hardware change means it’s twice as fast, more universal and more compatible with PC’s since they seem to have adapted faster than Apple and you can use any port to charge the laptop, how cool is that?!

I ordered mine with the following specs:

•      2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
•      16GB 2133MHz memory
•      Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory
•      512GB PCIe-based SSD

I didn’t opt for the 2.9GHZ with 3.8 Turbo boost because I couldn’t justify an extra $200 for .2GHZ.

You can upgrade the PCIe storage up to 2TB now which is pretty awesome but pretty expensive, $400 for 1TB and $1200 for the 2TB. Which I’d imagine are both a little faster than the 512GB.

One thing Apple should really do on the next refresh is upgrade the RAM to 32gb. In short: Their reasoning behind 16GB is “more battery life”, I’ll take performance over battery life any day because I’m very rarely running on battery.

The upgraded video card is much welcomed, the 2GB Nvidia GT750M I was running on my old machine was nice while it lasted but this will obviously be much better and faster. Support for two 5K monitor or four 4K monitors is a nice upgrade as well.

Anytime a job required transcoding or anything other than media managing I’d have to bring the Mac Pro with me. I’m really hoping this can maybe be a replacement on single camera jobs that require transcoding. I definitely noticed my late 2013 Macbook show it’s age when I was working with high res photos from the Canon 5DS/5DSR.

One cool thing Apple did was upgrade the display to P3, aka wide color gamut. The 5K iMac uses this and is 10 bit with billions of colors, so I’d assume it’s the same for the laptop. While the retina display on the late 2013 was nice it was time for an upgrade. 2880 x 1800 is great but I would of really like to have seen a pixel upgrade to 3.2K or even 4K.

On to some testing!

I was pretty surprised from the results on this new machine. My late 2013 Macbook Pro and Mac Pro were pretty far apart when it came to performance, the new Macbook closes that gap pretty hard. I ran some tests in Davinci Resolve since that’s what I use for DIT and post color.

Footage consisted of two 5K clips and one 4k clip on a 1080P timeline, completely cached timeline, total timeline length was 2 minutes 54 seconds. All three clips were shot on a RED epic. All footage was working off the desktop on each computer. Computer specs are below the results.

 

Time it took to cache the timeline, 1080p timeline, full debayer:

Mac Pro – 4:19

2016 Macbook Pro 15″ – 7:39

Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″ – 11:13

 

52 second 5K clip, full debayer, 1080p export to uncompressed 10 bit:

Mac Pro – 53 seconds

2016 Macbook Pro 15″ – 49 seconds

Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″ – 1:48

 

Full timeline export, 5k clip, 3840 x 2160 uncompressed 10 bit export:

Mac Pro – 2:17

2016 Macbook Pro 15″ – 3:13

Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″ – 6:09

 

 

Second Test: 4K timeline 3 minutes long, uncompressed 10 bit, fully cached, RED Epic camera, two 5K clips and one 4K clip, full debayer. All footage working off the desktop on both computers. (I formatted my old macbook before I did the test so it’s just the new macbook and mac pro)

 

4k Uncompressed 10 Bit Cached Time, Full Debayer, One 4K Clip Two 5K Clips:

Mac Pro – 5:02

2016 Macbook Pro 15” – 8:33

4k Uncompressed 10 Bit Export, Fully Cached, 3 Minute Timeline, One 4K clip Two 5K Clips:

Mac Pro – 4:00

2016 Macbook Pro 15” – 3:00

Single 4K To 4K Export, Uncompressed 10 Bit, 1 Minute Clip:

Mac Pro – 1:15

2016 Macbook Pro 15” – 1:07

Single 5K To 4K Export, Uncompressed 10 Bit, 48 second Clip:

Mac Pro – 0:59

2016 Macbook Pro 15” – 0:50

 

Mac Pro:

  • 3.5ghz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 Processor
  • 64GB 1866MHZ DDR3 RAM
  • AMD FirePro D700 6GB Video Card X2
  • 1TB PCIe Flash Storage

 

2016 Macbook Pro:

  • 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
  • 16GB 2133MHz memory
  • Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based SSD

 

Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″:

  • 2.3GHZ Quad-Core Intel i7 Processor
  • 16GB 1600MHz DDR3L
  • 512GB PCIe Flash Storage
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GDDR5

 

 

Not the most scientific test ever but it’s clearly faster than the late 2013 Macbook. I’m most impressed how it out performed the Mac Pro in some tests.

I’m pretty sure the Macbook beat the Mac Pro because the files were on the desktop and the Macbook is about 1GB faster in both read and write speed. If it was based off external storage I think the Mac Pro definitely has the upper hand.

I think on a single cam shoot the 2016 Macbook could be a winner for transcoding footage if I don’t feel like lugging around the Mac Pro and all the accessories that go along with it. Especially since dailies are never exported at full debayer (R3D footage) or over 1080p.

I also tested some Alexa Mini 2K Prores 4444 footage exporting to 1080p fully cached. It exported so fast I couldn’t actually see the FPS at which it exported. I can definitely confirm it was over 80fps though, possibly in the 90-100 range.

 

What I like about it:

Obviously it’s faster than it’s predecessor, that’s a big plus no matter what. I can confidently bring it on shoots where they can’t afford my full kit and I can still pull off the job in a timely manner. I can also edit photos and panoramas from my 50MP 5DS/5DSR cameras without my computer exploding. The read/write speed of the internal SSD was about 2000mb, which is a big jump from 500mb read/write on my old Macbook.

The new fan for when turbo boost kicks in is also a bit quieter. It also doesn’t get as hot like the old model, even while rendering RED 5k full debayer footage.

Thunderbolt 3 is twice as fast as thunderbolt 2! Any kind of speed increase to my kit means I can go home sooner at the end of set which is priceless to me. TB3 also means support for two 5K or four 4K monitors. 4K monitors already look awesome but 5K definitely couldn’t hurt, only my wallet  ;). It shares the same port as USB C gen 1 & 2 which is going to be really awesome when companies start adapting to this new standard. One port for everything! Apple is finally on the same page as PC with the thunderbolt thing since PC’s were the first adopters of USB C / TB3. Once again narrowing the gap between PC’s and Mac, if only they could use the same hard drive format…

A side note while were talking about TB3/USB-C: I’ve noticed a lot of peripherals are marketed as “USB-C”, which they clearly are, you just have to watch out for gen 1 and gen 2. Gen 1 is 5Gbps (USB-3 speed) while Gen 2 is 10Gbps (thunderbolt 1 speed). Buying a gen 1 USB-C peripherals kind of defeats the purpose of having a new updated port. Why bother upgrading when it’s the same speed of previous generation ports? Just my two cents and something to watch out for when shopping.

P3 10 bit display, same thing as the 5K iMac. This is big, especially for what I do. Having a color calibrated mobile workstation is literally a dream come true. Not much to say on this other than awesome! Now I can edit photo’s and even color films on my laptop in confidence it’s actually accurate. What I really would of like to of seen is a resolution increase on the display, at least 3.2K or even 4k, they totally could of done it.

The redesigned speakers are AMAZING!  Apple definitely didn’t skimp on the speakers with this one, they’re louder and way fuller sounding. I listen to music probably 8+ hours a day so this is super important to me, especially while I’m working. You really shouldn’t have them at max because it starts to distort from being so loud. Like for real though, how do laptop speakers sound this good?! Big thumbs up on this one, Apple!

Thinner and lighter design! This was one of the major selling points for me. It’s only half a pound lighter but it feels like it’s more. I travel a lot and over the course of many roadtrips and flights all over the place you start to notice the weight and bulk of items, my laptop was the biggest one. The thinner design keeps it from exploding out of the side of my backpack when it’s fully packed. My broken back thanks you Apple!

side-2

New thunderbolt charger! The magsafe charger on previous models was really awesome being magnetic and all. If someone walked by and tripped over your cable it would just rip out and your Macbook wouldn’t end up on the floor. That’s not the case now but there is a big plus here, if the cable or charging block goes bad you can just replace whichever you need. Before you would have to replace the whole thing which was costly. I’ve never had someone trip over my Macbook cable so the magsafe thing was just a cool bonus. Another cool thing is you can plug in any USB-C power source and it’ll charge, even from one computer to another through USB.

charger

New color! I was wondering when they were going to update the Macbook Pro with a new color. Space gray is my favorite color Apple makes so it’s a perfect match, I’m sure we’ll be seeing all the other colors they make on the next refresh. Just imagine, an all gold Macbook!

 

They remembered the headphone jack, I guess that’s a plus?

 

What I don’t like about it:

The keyboard is a total redesign for the Macbook Pro line with the super thin keys and such. As much of an Apple fanboy as I am, I really don’t like the new keyboard. Typing on a laptop keyboard isn’t fun to begin with, the last 3 generations were totally fine with their design and now there just too thin and clicky. This is totally personal preference but I prefer the old style. Of course to make the laptop as thin as it is this was one of the things they had to do, so it’s a trade off I guess. I’m going to predict Apple is eventually going to make a digital keyboard within a couple generations of the Macbook.

key

The trackpad is another gripe of mine. I think part of it has to do with how buggy OSX Sierra is. I can’t tell if it’s a software or hardware thing but I had to turn off right click for secondary click because it couldn’t differentiate left from right click and that got annoying really quick. The new trackpad is HUGE! I was totally content with the 2013 MPB trackpad size and I don’t think it was worth losing the F1-F12 keys over. The only practical use I can see with this is if you’re using Photoshop or something similar and aren’t using a mouse.

No SD card reader! Wtf Apple?! I know a lot of cameras have wireless now but that’s just not a pro thing…  yet. All pro photographers use physical media still, wireless transfer isn’t at that point yet where it’s on par with physical reader transfer speed. Being that I shoot with the 5DS/5DSR and they have an SD card slot and I loved not having to bring a card reader with me on shoots/trips. I guess that’s going to change now.

Ok so… the touchbar, it’s new and cool but I’m partial to this, I don’t love it (yet) but I don’t hate it. It’s really really cool to have another little screen that adapts to what your using, but I don’t think I’ll ever be at the point where I can’t not look at it while using it like I was with physical keys. If you want to use shortcuts you have to look at it and I feel like in most cases the shortcuts would of been faster if I had just clicked on them in the program or use a keyboard shortcut. So in one hand it’s really cool but also a little impractical. Apple is supposed to update this in the coming months to work with more programs so we’ll see where it goes. Ultimately I think it’s too early to judge it.

This isn’t really a dislike, more like an early adopter thing. Because of the nature of my job, DIT/colorist/photographer, external peripherals and hard drives are super important. Everything I had was thunderbolt 2 or USB 3, now I’m going to need a dongle for everything I do and one of the thunderbolt 3 ports is used for charging now where as on previous models you had two TB2 and two USB3 ports. There’s always the possible issue of needing a card reader and 3 hard drives, what if I can’t daisy chain the drives? I don’t always have the luxury of having a TB2 or 3 dock so this is something to keep in mind for early adopters in the same situation. In the coming months/years (until they make a new port) I’m going to predict more USB-C / thunderbolt 3 products are being released to narrow the use of dongles because eventually USB 3 and TB2 will be a thing in the past. It’s the evolution of technology, adapt or get left behind.

So overall would I recommend the new Macbook?

Definitely! While it’s not perfect it’s a step in the right direction. Much faster than it’s predecessors, lighter with an updated design and a 10 bit display you can’t go wrong.

8/10

If I could downgrade to OSX El Capitan, have the old keyboard back, 32gb RAM, 4K display and keep the SD card slot it would be a solid 10. Maybe we’ll see 32gb on the next model, who knows. Now what we really need is an updated Mac Pro because the laptops are starting to catch up. Maybe next year!

 

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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