Lightroom on Apple’s Mac M1 Max: hell of a pimp, it’s fast

Apple’s 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

I didn’t really need to switch to one M1 Max-powered Macbook Pro. After spending hours using Adobe’s Lightroom photo editor and cataloging software, boy, I’m glad I did.

The speed of the new MacBook Pro blew me away. Equally impressive was the battery life. And it’s great to have an SD card reader to import photos and videos from my cameras.

The improvements, validated by testing some common Lightroom tasks that caused my old Intel-based Mac to explore, are due to Apple’s new chip and Adobe’s optimization to take advantage of it. Apple is halfway through a two-year process to replace Intel processors with its own M-series designs. Chips are more rugged cousins ​​to the A-series chips in Apple’s iPhones and iPads.

If you’re suspicious of the switch, go inside. The water is good.

Among the advantages offered by the M1 Max and its similar but less graphically powerful M1 Pro sibling: integrated circuits for artificial intelligence tasks, a unified memory architecture and a powerful integrated graphics processing unit. Chips balance power with battery life by combining high-speed and high-efficiency cores, resulting in more hours of use per charge. The chips are manufactured for Apple by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC).

My photographic work of love

For the record, my new MacBook Pro has 32GB of memory, a mid-range configuration for 16in models and double my two-year-old MacBook Pro using a six-core Intel Core i7 processor. The extra memory is a $ 400 add-on, but I found it worth taking over photo and video editing as well as my usual burden of a few dozen browser tabs. (Lightroom is happy to reclaim so much of this memory as he can.)

To be clear: I was trying to decide if my upgrade was worthwhile, not assessing how the latest Intel-based machines stack up. So speed tests are relevant to me and probably to anyone wondering whether to shell out $ 3,000 or more. But they are not meant to be final.

From the moment I set up the machine, the performance improvement was evident. Loading websites, scrolling, and unlocking with Touch ID were all noticeably faster. Everything was refreshing and lively.

And for a collection of Lightroom tests that I have run, synchronizing common stopwatch operations, the acceleration factor on a collection of tests that I have run is between 2x and 5x.

Lightroom speed tests

My new MacBook Pro with Apple’s M1 Max processor far surpassed the two-year-old Intel machine on a variety of common computing tasks in my Lightroom photo editing. Each result is the average of three tests I recorded with a stopwatch.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

The main reason I justified buying a $ 3,500 laptop, which was $ 2,150 with a $ 1,350 rebate for the trade-in for my previous Intel machine, was that Rave reviews indicated that the new MacBook Pro would be better for heavy-duty tasks like photo editing.

I take a lot of pictures. My Lightroom catalog has over 129,000 shots and my Flickr archive has over 30,000. I use photography as a creative outlet, a journal of my family’s life, and a tool that encourages me to learn everything, insects to architecture. I take a lot of photos for work: I’ve documented refugees, nudibranchs, and close-up details on processors.

It’s a labor of love, and I mean work. I usually take 30 megapixel photos in raw format with my Canon 5D Mark IV. I also take hundreds of raw photos with a Google Pixel and an Apple iPhone. I also try new photo products like the 45 Megapixel Canon R5 and the 151-megapixel Phase One IQ4. This means I have a lot of photos to deal with, many of them in CPU demanding sizes.

Processing photos is a lot of work for computers. Turning raw photo data into a shot that I can see on my screen is a constant computational bottleneck as the computer renders new photos or renders them with edit changes. I quickly maximize my memory with editing tasks such as exposure adjustments and key changes. I often sit there impatiently watching the progress bars crawl as I merge multiple photos into a single panoramic or high dynamic range (HDR) image or increase the photo size with it. Adobe’s super resolution feature.

Lightroom on the MacBook M1 Max

So how much faster is the new machine? Much faster. I ran five tests of routine but demanding Lightroom actions, running them three times on each machine and taking the average time. It might not be statistically rigorous for a scientific study, but it made it clear that I wasn’t imagining the acceleration.

Merging six 30-megapixel photos into a panorama was 4.8 times faster on the new MacBook Pro, taking an average of 14 seconds compared to 67 for the Intel machine. It was the biggest acceleration of my tests. The smaller one involved merging three 30-megapixel shots into one HDR photo, which took 22 seconds on the Intel machine and 12 seconds on the M1 Max, a 1.9x acceleration.

Lightroom still struggles to cope with Phase One’s massive 151-megapixel raw files, but the new Mac handles it much better than my old machine. A panoramic merge of two shots took an excruciating 109 seconds on the Intel Mac; it was 3.2 times faster on the MacBook Pro M1 Max at 34 seconds. Interpreting the raw files to generate full-resolution previews – the most common delay I encounter in Lightroom – was 2.5 times faster on the new machine.

Adobe’s Super Resolution, a machine learning tool that takes advantage of the M1 Max’s AI acceleration module, was 2.4 times faster on the Mac M1 Max, averaging 9 seconds compared to 22 on the Intel Mac.

Adobe updated Lightroom to take advantage of the unified memory architecture of the M1 chips, which offers a single memory pool that both central processing cores and graphics processing cores can take advantage of. This means that data doesn’t have to be laboriously copied back and forth to separate CPU and GPU memory regions, allowing programmers to use the fastest core for a particular job. Adobe is also leveraging the M1’s Neural Engine cores for AI acceleration, said Sharad Mangalick, Adobe’s photo product manager.

The editors Lightroom photos should also be noted “significant improvements” in terms of speed and responsiveness during the import and export of photos, scroll to the photo library, editing and merging of shots view HDR images and panoramic said Mangalick.

Indeed, I have found many tasks in Lightroom – launching, scrolling, zooming, importing, and exporting – are faster on the new machine. On a Thanksgiving excursion where I took a few hundred photos, the battery life was good enough that it wasn’t until the third day that I had to plug in the new MacBook Pro. .

I am a satisfied customer.

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