A day before the likely launch of Apple’s new line-up of products — iPhone 14 models and new Apple Watch models — is not the best time to share my thoughts about a product launched at the previous Apple event. But then, I am not doing a paint-by-numbers review. Nor am I a reviewer in the classic reviewer mold.
It has been a few months since Apple released the 2022 edition of the 13-inch MacBook Air –arguably the most popular laptop in the Mac line-up. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of interest in the thin-and-skinny laptop. And the reviews came in thick and fast. I am sure you have read or watched many of the reviews. If not, I can certainly recommend a handful — John Gruber, Joanna Stern, Dave Lee, and The Verge. So, if you are wondering what else I can add to what has already been said, then you are right to assume that: not much.
Except, I wanted to see how good (or bad) the new M2-powered MacBook Air would be for me as an “on-the-go” photographer.
First, a little indulgence in nostalgia.
I have always had a sweet spot for the MacBook, from the day Steve Jobs showed it off for the first time on stage. It was back in 2008, and I was recovering from a tough medical condition. I remember telling one of my colleagues that I needed to get better because I wanted to buy and use that diminutive and thin device. She looked at me as if I was crazy.
Nevertheless, I did get better. I bought one. It was underpowered. It got hot as a barbeque grill. It had terrible battery life. The screen wasn’t anything to write home about. And even the way to connect the power bank and USB cable to it was less than ideal. It was classic Jony Ive, form over function design, made to please only one master — Steve. And boy, did I love it. Irrational? Absolutely.
In time, the Macbook Air evolved, and when the tapering trapezoid model came out — you could see that Apple’s design team had nailed it. It was a home run. It was thin, and it was light. And it had the right amount of ports, a good battery, and a decent screen. And the price was right. It has become one of Apple’s best-selling products. Like many other hit Apple products, it became a design icon, distinctive in its appearance. I liked the 13-inch version, but it was the 11-inch version that became my second computer — a perfect compliment to my iMac.
Since then, the iPad has replaced it as my secondary computer, and at home, I have a MacBook Pro 16-inch, which is attached to an XDR Display. I need the laptop mostly because I use PhotoMechanic for my photo management and Adobe Photoshop for my photo editing.
When Apple changed the design of the MacBook Air with the new launch, I was disappointed. It was losing its uniqueness. Instead of an icon, it looked like any other Apple (or Windows laptop.) Sure it was thin and light, but the design looked pretty ho-hum.
And now that I have had the opportunity to use the laptop for a few weeks, what do I think?
My opinion on the design of the laptop isn’t changed — it feels like a skinnier (and, in my opinion, better) version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
However, by losing the iconic shape, Apple has shorn the “Air” line-up of its instant recognizability. For me, Macbook Air signified — practical, smart, and sensible. The new MacBook Air is just another faceless slab of aluminum in an ocean of laptops. Unlike John Gruber and others, I just can’t get over the loss of an iconic design.
And that’s where my criticism of the new laptop ends.
I think losing the old iconic shape has come at a cost — roughly $200. But it does buy you a much better screen, better audio, better webcam, better chip, and a more powerful chip. Dollar for dollar, not only is the Macbook Air 2022 better than its predecessor, it is better by a country mile than its “professional” cousin, the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro. (Here is an in-depth comparison between the 13-inch Macbook Air and the 13-inch Macbook Pro.)
My biggest problem when on photo trips is the amount of weight in my backpack — I am typically walking out of the apartment with around 35 lbs on my back, and that doesn’t include the other stuff, which I normally carry in a “weekender” bag. It is a bit too much. I love my 16-inch MacBook Pro 16 as my primary computer — god, it is good — I hate carrying a 4.7 lbs machine on my back.
The Macbook Air shaves off just over a pound-and-a-half and takes up much less space in the camera bag. There is no denying that you give up a lot when you go with the Air. The screen size and quality aren’t the same, for starters. Speeds and performance aren’t the same either. Will these be deal breakers?
That is what I wanted to find out, and I asked Apple if they would loan me a laptop for a few weeks to try as an “on-the-go” photographer.
Someone at Apple knows me well and knows I am a “blues” man. Apple sent me a midnight blue version of the machine — it has 16 GB memory and 1 TB internal storage. The M2 chip inside has 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores. This set-up costs $1899 – the same as the 2022 Macbook Pro 13. No serious photographer should consider the entry-level 8GB/256GB version of the 2022 MacBook Air. It is just not powerful enough and doesn’t have a large enough storage capacity to even be useful on a short trip.
The midnight color looks amazing in a way — but that fascination lasts only a little bit. The new surface is a fingerprint magnet. Every time I set it down, I see smudges and take out the polishing cloth to clean it up. What a waste of time — or, in my case, a compulsion you can’t avoid.
It didn’t take me long to set up the laptop — Apart from Firefox and Brave browsers, I installed half-a-dozen non-photography apps in total. I use the Mail.app as my email client, Apple’s Calendar & Reminders. (I could download Outlook and do it all in a single app, but Outlook makes me feel like I am a corporate drone.) For everything else, I use cloud-based services.
I downloaded the Adobe Creative Cloud and proceeded to install three applications — Photoshop, Lightroom CC, and Lightroom CC. I also downloaded Capture One, SmugMug’s desktop uploader, and most importantly, Photo Mechanic, which is amazing photo management and organization tool.
I use PhotoMechanic to rename my photos, then cull them into a manageable lot. I don’t ever exceed more than 100 photos a day on my trips, so I end up with about 25 usable photos. I further narrow down my selections to about 10. Those selections go into an editing folder. Those photos are in my Lightroom Classic catalog. From PhotoMechanic selects, I open individual files in Photoshop.
Over three weeks, I pretended I was on a landscape photography trip to San Francisco. I went around the city and took photos as a visiting landscape photographer. I walked around with my camera, lenses, filters, tripod, and Macbook Air packed in my backpack. I could feel the weight difference. It is weird, but the Macbook Air feels much lighter compared to the 16-inch machine, even though the weight difference is 1.7 pounds.
Anyway, after a “photo” session, I would come back home and attach an SD card reader (which is missing in MacBook Air compared to my MBP) in one of the only two Thunderbolt 4/ USB-C ports. I would plug a 2 TB SanDisk drive into the other Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port. Then I would import the photos from my SD card into the drive using PhotoMechanic. And go through my photography workflow.
PhotoMechanic, the most important part of my workflow, especially when traveling, performed like a champ. I could barely notice any difference between its performance on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. I know there is a difference, but in the”field,” it didn’t matter as much. I could get the culling and curation done very quickly.
What about Lightroom(s)? Again it is the same — the naked eye couldn’t perceive the speed difference between the 13-inch Air and 16-inch Pro. I supposed that an 18 percent bump in the M2 chip performance and updates from Adobe have made Lightroom perform like a champ on the MacBook Air.
With one caveat — I don’t have a massive Lightroom Catalog — I tend to have small catalogs based on the year. I also don’t have tens of thousands of photos in my Lightroom library. My entire year’s worth of Lightroom library is less than 1,000 photos. So my use case is not as intense as my friends who live in Lightroom. So, for this test. I created a new catalog — with photos from the past five years. It is still not big enough – less than 10,000 photos.
Importing photos into the catalog for the first time was quite a drag — the whole process took about half an hour, and the previews took much longer. And boy, did it make the computer hot. But after that, everything became a breeze.
Imports after a “daily” session were a breeze. So fast that I barely noticed. I could do basic edits to photos as if I was sitting at home — though I did struggle with the smaller screen size. Still, when in the field, I normally look at my photos with my color or B&W preset to decide what final direction the photo should take, and I could do that without a thought. This is the most I do when I am out in the field. I leave all my final editing for later — when I am home, in front of a big screen.
What I usually do in the field is try and do HDR merge and Panorama stitching. And this is where you can tell that MacBook Air is a bit of a lightweight. Since the MacBook Air is a fanless design, the computer does get visibly warm when you try and do more than two Panorama stitches or HDR merges.
In comparison, the Macbook Pro 16-inch does the job without as much as even a momentary pause. More memory in your MacBook Air should help, but this is a resource-hogging process. As a landscape photographer, this is a negative. However, I could live with it, as I am not constantly doing Panos and HDR merges all the time.
Now for Adobe Photoshop, my single most used photo editing tool. I typically open photos right from PhotoMechanic into Adobe Photoshop, starting my editing process with Adobe Camera Raw. Again, I apply my presets — color or black & white. These two presets are the baseline from which I start to build my photos.
I have three cameras: the classic SL, SL2, and the Leica M11. Their resolutions are 24, 47, and 61 megapixels, respectively. The final file sizes are different as a result. SL files are 45 megabytes, while SL2 files are 85 megapixels, and the M11 files come in around 100 megabytes. I normally carry an SL2 body with an additional body. I give you this background to give you a better idea of how I use the software.
I make a lot of local contrast adjustments and use dodge and burn to give photos some dimensionality. A typical edit turns into about 10-12 layers. Add a few more layers for color (desaturation) and remove distractions such as dust spots — my basic edit turns into about 15 layers. And that means each file balloons in size.
On the new MacBook Air, the SL2 and SL were a breeze to manipulate, though I could tell they were slower than my Macbook Pro. The machine got a little hot and testy with the M11 files — over a gigabyte, I felt that the machine lost a step. Another thing I realized was that Photoshop sucks up a lot of battery — and you are better off plugging the computer into a power source.
While I missed the larger screen, the screen quality didn’t bother me as much. I knew I was going to finalize my photos when I got home. I appreciate the XDR display for how much it allows me to help tweak the grays and reduce the colors to the bare minimum.
What about some of the other apps I use? Capture One, for example. It is slower compared to how it runs on the MacBook Pro 16. It just might be that their software isn’t optimized for the upgraded M2 chips. I also use Darkroom — and it worked flawlessly. I use SmugMug uploader — it is not much of a resource hog, so it worked as expected.
Now comes the bad news: I use additional applications such as Topaz GigaPixel, Topaz Sharpen, and Topaz DeNoise. They are resource-intensive applications. So much so that the fans on my MacBook Pro come on quite quickly. They were slow on the MacBook Air, and I had to wait to let them do their thing. And no, I wasn’t using them simultaneously — instead, they were being used as standalone applications. It was quite disappointing because I felt things would have improved since the launch of M1.
The last point is the battery life — if using the machine for photo-related tasks, emails, and some blogging and web surfing without plugging it into a power source, I was able to extract between 6 to 8 hours a day. Adobe apps — especially when using the GPU resourced — seem to use a lot of resources, and so does the email application. In comparison, the MacBook Pro 16 gives me about 4-to-5 hours a day, despite a big battery. I suppose that is because of the bigger, higher-resolution screen and more GPU consumption by various Adobe applications.
What’s my conclusion?
TL:DR: I don’t need to carry extra weight to do what I do when on location. In a perfect world, I would like to sell my Macbook Pro 16 and replace it with a “Studio” desktop and this MacBook Air.
The 2022 MacBook Air is a very capable computer that does all the routine tasks a photographer is likely to undertake in the field. It doesn’t bat an eyelid regarding curation, editing in Lightroom, and using Photoshop. You can get six to eight hours a day from the battery. The lack of an SD card reader is a negative but not a deal breaker. If you use applications like the Topaz suite, you need to be prepared to get less than blazing fast performance.
Sadly, yes, sadly…I will stay with the MacBook Pro 16 — because it would take about five weeks for Apple to ship me a beefed-up Studio and a Macbook Air. I got photos to edit!
- At this point, all Apple Silicon is good enough to deliver excellent performance and perform better than similarly priced rivals. The real difference is how much software developers optimize their software to take advantage of Apple’s hardware.
- Read my late 2020 M1 MacBook Pro review.
- My 2022 MacBook Air configuration would be 24 GB of memory and 2 TB of storage. That would allow for a much smoother experience.
2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the 2022 MacBook Air”
awesome review – crazy we still aren’t getting enough RAM in laptops by default – does it really take up that much space/$? I can’t get over your use of Brave — isn’t it awesome? I wish Firefox wasn’t so much of a memory/cpu hog – I’m using it less and less these days… 🙁
I think you will like Arc. It is a new browser and I am surprised how much I like it. It still doesn’t work on mobile, so that is why I end up using Safari on mobile and Brave if I have to use stupid websites that work only on chrome.
As far as less RAM, Apple is now a nickel and dime company. That’s how you become a 2.5 Trillion behemoth!
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