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Apple still hasn’t made a truly ‘Pro’ M1 Mac – so what’s the holdup?

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Apple still hasn’t made a truly ‘Pro’ M1 Mac – so what’s the holdup?
The in-house developed M1 architecture that powers Apple’s latest machines allows them to be sleek and power-efficient, but there are still some things it can’t offer professional users.
Photo by DL Cade

Ever since Apple unveiled the M1 System on a Chip (SOC)—the CPU/GPU/RAM combo pack that powers the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini, and the redesigned 24-inch iMac – the creative world has been buzzing. It’s fast, it’s power efficient, it barely needs to be cooled, and since it was designed by Apple for an Apple operating system, the M1 system is optimized to within an inch of its life.

The M1 is a preview of coming attractions

In so many ways, the M1 has done more, and done it better, than anyone dared hope when plans for Apple Silicon were first announced. So why are many users clamoring for a “pro-level” M1 that has yet to be released?

The problem is that the M1 was never meant to power professional-grade hardware. It’s a preview of coming attractions – an extraordinary appetizer designed to serve the enthusiast and amateur community, while tantalizing pros with a mere taste of what’s possible. Seven months on, the pros are getting impatient.

Professional-Grade Performance

Maxed-out M1 Macs top out at 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage, among other limitations.
Photo by DL Cade

From a pure performance perspective the M1 Macs are already professional grade, at least among laptops. Especially with apps that either can’t or won’t take full advantage of a discrete GPU, performance is within spitting distance of the most powerful PC laptops on the market.

In benchmark after benchmark, the M1 iMac we’re currently reviewing (stay tuned) either kept pace with or outperformed higher-specced machines like the Razer Blade 15 Advanced and ASUS G14 – computers that sport 8-core/16-thread CPUs, NVIDIA RTX 30-series GPUs and twice the RAM of any M1 computer.

24-inch iMac Razer Blade 15 Advanced ASUS Zephyrus G14
CPU M1 8-core Intel 10th Gen Core i7-10875H AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS
CPU Cores 4 Performance

4 Efficiency

8 Cores

16 Threads

8 Cores

16 Threads

GPU M1 8-core NVIDIA RTX 3080

16GB DDR6 VRAM

NVIDIA RTX 3060

6GB DDR6 VRAM

RAM 16GB Unified Memory 32GB DDR4-2933MHz 32GB DDR4-3200MHz
Storage 1TB NVMe SSD 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
Display 24-inch 4.5K LCD 15-inch 4K OLED 15-inch QHD LCD
Price $2,100 $3,300 $2,000

Take Adobe Lightroom Classic for example. We ran import and export benchmarks on all three of the machines shown above, building 1:1 previews on import and exporting 100% JPEGs that were heavily processed using an identical preset. Tests were run on 100 Canon EOS R6 raw files, 100 Nikon Z7 II raw files, 100 Sony a7R IV raw files, and 100 Fuji GFX 100 raw files.

In an effort to make the times as comparable as possible, we used the studio scene photo from each of these cameras and simply duplicated it 100 times.

You can see the results in both table and graph form below:

EOS R6 Import EOS R6 Export Z7 II Import Z7 II Export a7R IV Import a7R IV Export GFX100 Import GFX100 Export
M1 iMac 1:44 4:10 2:55 9:24 3:06 14:43 8:40 38:29
Blade 15 1:55 4:25 3:23 9:41 3:52 12:50 8:26 30:38
ASUS G14 1:38 3:58 2:59 8:55 3:30 11:41 7:35 23:40

The situation is similar in Premiere Pro, although the iMac’s lack of discrete GPU begins to take a toll. Using a 4K test video made up of 8K Sony a1 footage – complete with titles, Lumetri color grading, stabilization, etc. – we rendered previews in 4K ProRes 4:2:2 and exported in three different formats: the master file (using previews), an H.264 file, and an H.265 file. We also applied Warp Stabilize to a 15 second clip from this same project.

The M1 is slower than the Intel-based Blade 15 and AMD Ryzen-based ASUS G14 in all but Warp Stabilize, but the difference isn’t huge. It’s approximately 12% slower at render and 18% slower at encoding H.264 and H.265 files.

Render All Export Master Export H.264 Export H.265 Warp Stabilize
M1 iMac 7:40 0:16 7:28 7:16 2:06
Blade 15 6:47 0:12 6:05 5:57 3:24
ASUS G14 6:40 0:15 6:06 5:59 2:33

Intel recently released its 11th Gen Tiger Lake H-series processors, which should make the next generation of Intel-based machines even faster, but my point stands: these PCs boast some of the most powerful CPUs and GPUs on the market, and the M1 holds its own against both of them despite some inherent limitations – an integrated GPU, only 16GB of RAM, and minimal cooling.

From a pure performance perspective, there’s not much more that we could ask for. So what exactly is the problem?

Amateur-Grade Hardware

Image: Apple

The issue with the M1 is not raw benchmark performance, it’s that it was only designed to run on enthusiast-level hardware. Except for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro – which is still limited by iPad OS – each of the four M1 Macs currently available would be considered “entry-level” in their particular product category. In effect, Apple has packed professional performance into four computers (and an iPad) that were never aimed at professionals.

Many of the design choices that Apple made come down to limitations of the M1 SOC itself. There are only so many lanes available on a chip this size, and that translates into some frustrating bottlenecks: the maximum amount of RAM is 16GB, the maximum amount of storage is 2TB, and the maximum number of true Thunderbolt 4 ports is only two.

The M1 iMac and Mac mini offer a little bit more connectivity. The Mac mini has an HDMI 2.0 port and two USB Type-A ports while the iMac can be configured with 2 additional USB Type-C ports that are not Thunderbolt. Both can be configured with Gigabit ethernet, and you can upgrade to 10 Gigabit ethernet on the Mac mini. But all five M1 Apple products suffer from the same 16GB RAM and 2TB internal storage limit.

For many professional users, these limitations make every M1 Mac unusable from the get-go. And so we wait…

The potential for what’s next

You can configure the latest M1 iMac to have a total of four USB-C ports, but only two are Thunderbolt 4 capable.
Photo by DL Cade

It’s almost like Apple didn’t realize just how capable the M1 would be. As the first generation of Apple Silicon inside the Mac, it was always supposed to be the “entry-level” chip that would power Apple’s smallest, lightest, and thinnest devices (and the relative affordability of these machines further reinforces this). But the M1 has done so well that there are very serious comparisons between the tiny Mac mini and Apple’s flagship Mac Pro tower. Comparisons that the Mac mini sometimes wins.

The entire creative industry is practically salivating, not because the M1 isn’t good enough, but because the M1 is already so good. If this is what Apple was able to achieve in a tiny package with only 8 CPU cores, 8 GPU cores, and 16GB of RAM, imagine what future Apple Silicon Macs will be able to do with proper cooling, 16 or 32 cores, and 32GB or 64GB of unified memory.

There’s potential for a beefier computer that prioritizes performance over thinness

Despite the M1’s professional-grade performance, there is currently no Apple Silicon Mac with enough ports, enough storage, enough RAM, or even the right design sensibility for professional workflows. The potential is there, we’re just waiting for Apple to realize that potential by creating a larger M1X or M2 and packing it inside of a bigger, beefier computer that prioritizes performance over thinness and professional applications over pretty colors.

Until they do, you’ll continue to hear grumbles from the professionals in the audience. We’ve seen what’s possible. We’re ready for the main event.

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On this day: Hasselblad launches first medium format mirrorless

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On this day: Hasselblad launches first medium format mirrorless


We’d never before seen so much silicon wrapped up in such a small package

Photo: Samuel Spencer

The Hasselblad X1D beat Fujifilm to the market by three months in 2016 to become the first mirrorless medium format camera. It wasn’t the first “affordable” (or, at least, sub-$10,000) medium format option: that credit goes to Pentax and its 645D and Z, but it was the first larger-than-full-frame digital camera to be designed as a self-contained ILC with no mirror.

It was built around the same 50MP CMOS sensor as the 645Z, which also underpinned the Fujifilm GFX 50 models, producing some excellent image quality. Hasselblad’s modern minimalist design was eye-catching, and the operability improved significantly through a series of firmware updates (though it never offered the mass-market slickness of the GFX models).

One of the factors that allowed the Hasselblad to be so small was the decision to build leaf shutters into all the XCD lenses, rather than having a physical shutter in the camera body. This resulted in a camera that could sync with flashes all the way up to each lens’s maximum shutter speed. Though this came at the cost both of higher lens prices and of polygonal bokeh, as the shutter/aperture mechanisms had relatively few blades. This second issue was somewhat resolved by an update that allowed the aperture to be opened a fraction beyond the widest listed value, so that the blades don’t intrude on the image.

Click here to see the nearly 200 photos we’ve published from the X1D

Alongside the X1D came the first series of medium format lenses designed specifically for 44x33mm digital, giving some excellent results (to the point that moiré is a significant risk even when stopped-down to F5.6, given the lack of low-pass filter on the X1D’s sensor). It also led to the only instance we’ve seen of a manufacturer referring to equivalent f-numbers. It’s probably no surprise that it would be one of the only companies to solely produce larger than full-frame systems.

We were in the fortunate position to borrow a Hasselblad, Pentax 645Z and Fujifilm GFX 50S at the same time and use them alongside one another, and looked at their comparative strengths and weaknesses. We hope to do something similar with the more refined 100MP cameras from Hasselblad and Fujifilm in the coming months.



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On this day: Hasselblad launches first medium format mirrorless

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On this day: Hasselblad launches first medium format mirrorless


We’d never before seen so much silicon wrapped up in such a small package

Photo: Samuel Spencer

The Hasselblad X1D beat Fujifilm to the market by three months in 2016 to become the first mirrorless medium format camera. It wasn’t the first “affordable” (or, at least, sub-$10,000) medium format option: that credit goes to Pentax and its 645D and Z, but it was the first larger-than-full-frame digital camera to be designed as a self-contained ILC with no mirror.

It was built around the same 50MP CMOS sensor as the 645Z, which also underpinned the Fujifilm GFX 50 models, producing some excellent image quality. Hasselblad’s modern minimalist design was eye-catching, and the operability improved significantly through a series of firmware updates (though it never offered the mass-market slickness of the GFX models).

One of the factors that allowed the Hasselblad to be so small was the decision to build leaf shutters into all the XCD lenses, rather than having a physical shutter in the camera body. This resulted in a camera that could sync with flashes all the way up to each lens’s maximum shutter speed. Though this came at the cost both of higher lens prices and of polygonal bokeh, as the shutter/aperture mechanisms had relatively few blades. This second issue was somewhat resolved by an update that allowed the aperture to be opened a fraction beyond the widest listed value, so that the blades don’t intrude on the image.

Click here to see the nearly 200 photos we’ve published from the X1D

Alongside the X1D came the first series of medium format lenses designed specifically for 44x33mm digital, giving some excellent results (to the point that moiré is a significant risk even when stopped-down to F5.6, given the lack of low-pass filter on the X1D’s sensor). It also led to the only instance we’ve seen of a manufacturer referring to equivalent f-numbers. It’s probably no surprise that it would be one of the only companies to solely produce larger than full-frame systems.

We were in the fortunate position to borrow a Hasselblad, Pentax 645Z and Fujifilm GFX 50S at the same time and use them alongside one another, and looked at their comparative strengths and weaknesses. We hope to do something similar with the more refined 100MP cameras from Hasselblad and Fujifilm in the coming months.



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Our favorite ‘natural worlds’ pictures: DPReview Editors’ Challenge results

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Our favorite ‘natural worlds’ pictures: DPReview Editors’ Challenge results


June includes multiple days devoted to celebrating nature, including World Environment Day (June 5), World Oceans Day (June 8) and World Rainforest Day (June 22). In that spirit, we chose ‘Natural Worlds’ as the theme for our most recent Editors’ Choice photo challenge, with over 100 readers submitting entries.

We love seeing your work! Thanks to everyone who submitted. We couldn’t call out every image we liked, so we restrained ourselves to a baker’s dozen (in no particular order).

If you don’t see your work here today, don’t despair. We’ll soon announce a new Editors’ Choice challenge.

Also, a quick reminder to keep comments constructive and civil. These are images submitted by your fellow readers who took the time to share their work. Rule #1: Be nice. That’s it, there is no rule #2.



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