Which is the best Mac for video editing? It’s a question many of our readers ask. Apple Macs are particularly capable at editing video, and many video editors choose to invest in the latest Mac hardware. Traditionally a Mac of some kind has been the only choice for video professionals.
But choosing the right Mac for video editing can be a challenge. Apple creates a wide range of Mac laptops (the 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro) and desktop computers (Mac mini, iMac, iMac Pro and Mac Pro). And although all Apple Macs are attractively designed and well made, some Macs are better suited to editing video than others.
With this in mind we’ve created this video editing buyers’ guide. We take a look at what a computer requires to be truly great for video, and the features you’ll pay more for. We then look closely at the range of Mac computers available, the custom Mac built-to-order options that are worth consideration, and the accessories, software and services available that make sense for keen movie-makers.
We’ve got plenty of related advice, too, from our guide to the best free & cheap Mac video editing software to our overall Mac buying guide. And there may be some overlap between this article and our guide to the best Mac for designers.
The basics you’ll need
Video editing is a challenge for any computer system and editing video professionally requires a high-end system. Of course, all Macs can edit video clips, but there’s a difference between editing a quick clip for YouTube and making a whole movie.
Macs are used to make whole movies, TV shows, commercials and professional online video clips. The Social Network, John Carter, 300 and No Country for Old Men are all big-name films cut on a Mac using Final Cut Pro. So it’s got some serious chops. (Although we should point out that most films are cut using Avid software, albeit often on Mac hardware.)
Digital video places huge demands on processor power, graphics power (for rendering) and – above all – storage space. Editing video, especially high-definition video, eats up hard drive space. And with 4K editing now part of life, this is only going to become more of an issue.
Overall best Mac for video editing
Our pick as best Mac for professional video editors is the 27in iMac with Retina 5K Display.
The 27in iMac with Retina 5K Display may not have “Pro” in its name, but one look at its feature set and you quickly see this is no amateur. The base model comes with a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel i5 and an AMD Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB video memory. It comes with 8GB of RAM as standard, upgradeable to 32GB. You get a 1TB hard drive on the base model; up to 2TB Fusion Drive on the high-end model.
Then we come to the build-to-order options. An extra few hundred (depending on the base model you select) takes you up to a 4.0GHz quad-core Intel I7; you can upgrade to an 3TB Fusion Drive (it’ll cost you at least £90/£100); and the top model gets a different graphics card – an AMD Radeon Pro 580 with 8GB video memory.
It’s not cheap for consumers, but video editing professionals will find the prices attractive. The entry model starts at £1,749/$1,799 with a 1TB Fusion Drive. The top-end model starts out at £2,249/$2,299 but if you’re super-serious about your video editing then you’ll need to budget for more RAM.
While it sounds a lot (and is), it’s still cheaper than the base iMac Pro, and its display is just as good. Let’s talk a bit more about that display.
It’s been said a lot, but the 5K Retina Display on the iMac is a thing of glorious beauty. In our review we tested the display and found the highest contrast ratio we’ve ever seen, and it displays 99 per cent of the DCI-P3 colour space. (DCI-P3 is the colour space for digital movie projection.)
Because the Retina Display is integrated into the iMac, it runs at 60MHz rather than the 30MHz found on most 4K monitors. The 5K size is, itself, perfect for video editing because it enables you to edit 4K video at full size and see the controls around it.
There’s no doubt about it: when it comes to speed and cost, you’re best off with an iMac. (Unless your budget can manage an iMac Pro, which we look at next.)
Best for processing speed
The best video-editing Mac for raw speed is the iMac Pro.
Apple’s high-class apology to its long-neglected pro customers comes with 8 cores as standard and can be specced up to a maximum of 18 if you’re feeling fruity. RAM starts at 32GB and tops out at an astonishing 128GB. Storage is anywhere from 1TB (SSD) to 4TB, and the graphics card options are state-of-the-art: the Radeon Pro Vega 56 with 8GB HBM2 memory by default, or the Vega 64 with 16GB if you’re prepared to pay an extra £540/$600.
It’s an outstandingly powerful piece of hardware, and when we tried out the 10-core model with 128GB of RAM it smashed every benchmarking test we tried (including around 37,000 in Geekbench 4’s multicore segment, compared to around 17,500 for a high-powered i7 edition of the 2017 iMac). This won’t let you down no matter how arduous the task, but you pay through the nose for the privilege.
Best for value for money
The best-value Mac for video editing is the Mac mini.
If the iMac and iMac Pro are too expensive you’re going to have to start to look at Apple’s consumer range. We’re going to come right out and rule out the MacBook Air and 12in MacBook: these are great computers and you can definitely edit video on them, but they don’t have enough storage space, screen size or processing power to be considered the best Mac for video editing.
The Mac mini isn’t a bad choice, though. Stay well clear of the entry-level £479/$499 model: its 1.4GHz processor will make video editing painfully slow. But the £679/$699 model has a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 1TB hard drive and 8GB RAM.
Aside from the Intel Iris graphics card it’s a great video-editing machine, and even with its slow graphics it’ll still edit videos with ease. It’s a good value choice for amateur or less demanding video editors looking for a capable but cheap machine. Add the Fusion Drive (+£180/$200) if you can.
Best for portability
The best video-editing Mac for portability is the MacBook Pro.
Announced in 2016 and updated in June 2017, the Pro offers powerful processor chipsets and a rather lovely Touch Bar interface just above the keyboard. It’s a solid choice. Mind you, following the (presumably) Brexit-related price rises, this is an alarmingly expensive option.
The best display on a Mac for video editing is a draw, since it belongs to both the iMac and the iMac Pro. But since it’s far cheaper we’ll give the tiebreak to the iMac.
The iMac’s marquee feature needs little introduction. The larger model packs a whopping 27in display, which is plenty of space for displaying the two video panels in Final Cut Pro (along with the Timeline and all the other controls).
The entry-level 27in iMac model also comes with a powerful 3.4GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and Radeon Pro 570 graphics card. At £1,749 that will do you nicely.
If you want to start throwing in a few upgrades, consider getting a 3TB Fusion Drive. We’d also suggest upgrading the RAM from 8GB to 16GB. The additional RAM will make video editing smoother. Some of these options aren’t available as upgrades to the base model, though, so you’ll be spending a fair amount.
Which Mac should you buy? That depends on whether you’re a professional video editor hitting deadlines or an extremely enthusiastic amateur.
If you’re being paid to render by the hour then go for the iMac Pro: its greater speed will soon pay for itself. If you’re just looking for a great Mac to render video then we’d go for the 27in iMac with Retina 5K Display. It offers the best combination of speed, storage, and value for money, not to mention a lovely large display to work on. The MacBook Pro with Retina display is a good video-editing machine, and the one to get if you need to edit video on the move.
The Mac Pro hasn’t been updated in four years and is not a product we would recommend at this time. However, Apple has promised to update this machine soon – we think it’s likely to happen in 2018, but that hasn’t been confirmed. If you can wait, this may be something to keep an eye on – it’ll be the most powerful Mac of all, and may be easier to upgrade than other options.
Mac accessories for video editing
Probably the most important thing to get with your Mac for video editing will be more storage space – a good external hard drive with a fast Thunderbolt connection will help you out.
See our hard drive reviews for more advice.
You’ll also be wanting some video-editing software. We expect Final Cut Pro will be high on your list. But there’s a wealth of other video software programs out there, including Avid Media Composer 6.5 and Adobe Premiere Pro (which is available as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud plan).
Don’t be blinded by Apple brand loyalty; Avid Media Composer is still the industry’s go-to program for video editing, and Premiere Pro has many advantages over Final Cut Pro for rendering formats. Adobe has also recently introduced Premiere Pro Clip enabling people to edit video on the move.