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MacBook Pro with Retina Display; the ApertureExpert Review (part 2 of 3)

PhotoJoseph's picture
November 18, 2012 - 1:00am

Part 2 of 3 [part 1] [part 3]
A joint first-hand, hands-on review of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
by photographers and ApertureExperts Thomas Boyd & Joseph Linaschke

UPDATED 11/17/2012 12:35pm PST: USB 3 vs FW800 speed correction

Other advantages

[JLI want to talk about some non-photo, non-Aperture related things on this beauty, too. Obviously, it’s thinner and lighter than it’s predecessor, which is always a Good Thing™. When it comes to the laptop that you carry in addition to the camera bodies and lenses however, I’ve always taken the thinner/lighter thing with a grain of salt, because shaving a pound or two off of 50 lbs of other gear really isn’t going to do much for me. But regardless of any weight savings, this MacBook Pro does feel amazing in your hands. It’s as solid as can be, and looks sexy as hell. And of course if that’s all you’re carrying, then that weight loss does make a difference. The SSD drive makes everything snappy and bootup is very fast; wake from sleep is virtually instantaneous (same experience as with my MacBook Air). The iSight camera for video chat is excellent, and made video chats back home even from a low-light hotel room better than what I’m used to on the Air. The Power Nap feature (where the computer pseudo-wakes up to get email, download software updates, etc. even when the lid is closed) is ridiculously cool. The first time I opened the lid after a night of sleeping and my mail was already waiting for me was a very pleasant surprise indeed. The built-in HDMI port is perfect for presentations. I was able to plug into an LCD TV screen for an Aperture demo with no adapters (so that’s one less adapter to carry, probably offset by others though; discussed later in this article) which was fantastic. Working the Photokina trade show where I was presenting at four different theaters, being able to just plug HDMI in and get a perfect 1080p mirror on the projector or flatscreen was a true joy. I’ve been plugging laptops into projectors since the mid 90s (nearly 20 years, goodness) and it’s never been this simple and clean. Plus, on a side-side note, when you plug into a projector, the Mountain Lion Notifications automatically get disabled — talk about attention to detail!

The downsides

[TB] I’ll be honest. When the Retina MBP showed up on my doorstep, I didn’t know much about it. I’m not one to study every new product Apple releases. It just doesn’t interest me, unless I’m looking to buy. Right now, I have a very good MBP and iMac that serves my needs quite well. I’m just not in the market for a MBP.

So, when I went and shot my first game and pulled out my trusty FW800 Lexar compact flash card reader and looked for a place to plug it in, I realized Apple abandoned the FW800 port. Luckily, I had two USB CF readers handy. Then, the same thing happened when I showed up in Phoenix in a photographer’s workroom that had only ethernet cords for internet. I realized I needed a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter for $29. This posed another problem when I needed to copy my images over to my archive system that’s run primarily off the FW800 port on my iMac. I had to dig up a USB cord and shut down a hard drive and mount it back using the USB port.

[JL] Port changes are part of progress of course and ultimately unavoidable (see: iPhone 5), but that doesn’t make it any less painful when you have to shell out hard-earned cash for gear you already own that works perfectly well. For the CF card readers, while FW800 may be gone from the MacBook Pro, USB 3 is there and Lexar makes a USB 3 reader [amazon link]. USB 3 has far superior bandwidth than FW800 at max speed of 5 Gigabits/second (596 Megabytes/sec) vs. FW800’s 800 Megabits/sec (95 Megabytes/sec). (Thanks to reader Michael Spurlock for pointing out my earlier error and providing these accurate numbers). No that doesn’t mean that your 16GB CF card will download in 27 seconds, but the potential is certainly there. 

Unfortunately, USB 3 readers don’t have the awesome daisy-chain-ability of the FW800 ones, but Lexar doesn’t even make those anymore — too many problems with ‘em, from what I understand. And I don’t think we’ll see chain-able Thunderbolt readers any time soon, as they would be too expensive. However as Tom suggested you can connect multiple USB 3 readers; this MacBook Pro does have two USB 3 ports on it.

I ran into the same problem with my FW800 Promise RAID. It has FW800, USB 2 and eSATA, but not USB 3 or Thunderbolt. I got a FW800 to Thunderbolt adapter and that worked perfectly fine — in fact, in a little speed test I saw marginally better performance hitting the Promise RAID when going through the Thunderbolt adapter than I did going straight FW800 to my iMac! There could have been other things at play there, but certainly the performance didn’t suffer. Of course, for $179 you can get a LaCie Thunderbolt to eSATA converter [amazon link] which really should improve performance — so in that regards, you should really get a benefit. I didn’t have the MacBook Pro with Retina long enough to justify buying the LaCie adapter though, so that’s all just speculation on my part.

[TBEach one of these problems was solvable and didn’t cost me much time or inconvenience. However, it made me think very seriously about delaying a MBP Retina purchase until the rest of my system gets caught up with Thunderbolt. That could be awhile.

If my budget was unlimited, I would make the switch immediately and upgrade all my peripherals. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

[JL] I think that’s a chicken/egg problem, to some degree. As Tom pointed out, a few adapters (while somewhat costly) solves pretty much all those problems. I’d rather have a few extra adapters laying around than give up the option to go Retina, just because my hard drive isn’t Thunderbolt (for example). And in my case, I’d actually get a big speed improvement with the addition of the Thunderbolt to eSATA adapter, which is way cheaper than replacing my RAID with a model sporting a Thunderbolt port. There’s no question that my next MacBook purchase will be Retina, but I also am not in the market for a new laptop yet. I still get by fine on my Air, and don’t need to do heavy lifting on photos in the field.

Here’s another point that I’m sure doesn’t apply to most people, but I have gotten quite used to the 16:9 aspect ratio of both my 27-inch iMac and my 11-inch MacBook Air, and missed that going to the 15-inch with 16:10 aspect ratio. Because I do a lot of training and presenting, having my screen at native 16:9 means I can record and present in full-screen, without black bars. If I want to record at 1080p or 720p, a 16:9 screen will match that exactly. Plugging into a 1080p 60-inch LCD display syncs perfectly. Or if I want to scale in post, I can record at full resolution on my 27-inch (2560 × 1440) and scale down to 1920 × 1080 or 1280 × 720 perfectly, which is great for a lot of what I do. Going back to the 16:10 aspect ratio felt very backwards for me.

Continue to the conclusion [part 3], including “Aperture plug-ins and other non-Retina apps” and “The bottom line”. If you skipped [part 1], go back and read that first!

Apple Aperture

Please fix you comment about “Technically, USB 3 is only a tad slower than FW800”. It is completely incorrect. FW800 runs at a maximum of 800 Megabits/sec (hence the name), while USB 3 is 5 Gigabits/second. To extrapolate that into more understandable numbers for those not tech savvy, FW800 =@ 95 Megabytes/sec and USB3 =@ 596 Megabytes/sec max speed.

Crap! Thanks for that Michael. When I looked up the specs, I saw 625 MB/sec for USB 3 compared to 800 Mb/sec for FW800, and stupidly missed the B vs b. Article is now corrected, and thanks for pointing it out!


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Also remember that the MacBook Pro Retina has a built-in SD slot. I shoot a D800 using SD cards. That built-in slot is blazingly fast for importing images.


True — but don’t all MacBooks other than the 11ʺ MacBook Air have one?

Good to know it’s blazing fast though. Did you have an older MacBook pro before that you’re comparing it to?

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Yes, I have a 2010 17-inch MBP. No SD slot.
My 2010 24-inch iMac has SD, but not the MBP.

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