|This thin yellow rectangle makes me very happy!|
2021 may have been another terrible year, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the photography and video gear released in the last twelve months. We saw a trio of flagship mirrorless cameras, a 12K cinema camera, a full frame camera built onto a gimbal, and an endless parade of wonderful lenses. However, like many creators, I spend a lot more time in front of a computer than out in the field shooting. And since the launch of the M1 iMac, that part of my job has become immeasurably more enjoyable.
A bit of backstory. I’ve been editing YouTube shows on a series of Apple MacBook Pros for over a decade now. I avoided investing in a desktop because I was frequently editing while traveling, so it made more sense to throw money at a more powerful laptop rather than have an underpowered laptop and rarely used desktop. That is the way things stayed through my whole YouTube career, and the way I assumed they would remain. Then 2020 happened and two major things changed.
The global pandemic meant travel went from being a major part of my life to a distant memory. Even going to edit video in a coffee shop seemed like an unnecessary risk. The size of my laptop was no longer an advantage, and after months of hunching over the tiny screen I started pricing out a nice external monitor to make editing at home more endurable.
The Apple M1 iMac is so light and thin I’ve even packed it up and taken it on the road a few times
The second change was a sudden wave of cameras using the highly compressed H.265 codec for their video recording modes. Footage from the Canon R5/R6 and Sony a7S III/a1 were all but uneditable on Intel based Mac computers, none of which were optimized for working with the new formats. The quality and efficiency of these new codecs was fantastic, but I found myself dreading the process of actually turning that footage into something useful when I started editing on my Intel Macbook Pro. An upgrade was definitely necessary.
The Apple M1 iMac solved both of those problems. First, the built-in screen is sharp and bright while taking up surprisingly little desk space. Sure, there’s not as much screen real estate as the 27” 5K iMacs and I wish it was bright and contrasty enough to be HDR certified, but it’s more than sufficient for editing the 4K SDR videos we usually publish. The computer is so light and thin I’ve even packed it up and taken it on the road a few times to get work done at the family cabin.
|This is what I look like most of the time.|
To talk about how the new iMac solved my second issue, we first have to talk about the M1 chip. The M1 represents Apple moving away from Intel processors to an in-house, custom-designed single integrated chip with RAM and GPU embedded. This is the same thing they’ve been doing in their phones and tablets for some time. The new computers were introduced in late 2020, but most consumers received the first M1 powered macs in early 2021. The first benchmarks looked fine, but not groundbreaking. What piqued my interest were the reports of seamlessly editing 10-bit H.265 footage with even the lowest specced machines.
The absence of fan noise seemed a small thing at first, but Chris’ gaming laptop now sounds like a jet engine to me
I didn’t need another laptop, and the M1 Mac Mini’s would still require springing for a new monitor so I held out for the inevitable M1 iMac. In late April, my patience was rewarded and I immediately placed an order for the “yellow” (actually mostly gold) 16GB model. Upon arrival I threw in some Sony a7S III 4K footage and the iMac didn’t break a sweat. 5.9K Panasonic S1H footage? Played like I was working with 1080P. Only the 8K 10-bit from Canon’s R5 caused some dropped frames when stacking multiple clips.
The interesting thing is that it’s the performance when working on a video or photo that makes the M1 computer stand apart. When exporting photos and videos, it’s not dramatically faster than my old 2018 MacBook Pro. The thing is, I don’t spend my days exporting, most of my time is spent in Final Cut Pro or Capture One actually editing, and there the iMac feels like a giant step forward. Instantly seeing the results when make an edit makes me much more productive, and more importantly, less frustrated. The absence of fan noise seemed a small thing at first, but Chris’ gaming laptop now sounds like a jet engine to me when he fires up Capture One.
The iMac was a big improvement for me, but I didn’t realize how big the jump forward was until I finally boarded a plane again for the launch of the Nikon Z9. That trip necessitated me bringing my old Intel MacBook Pro and working on it again was utterly aggravating. Previewing 8K footage was a slideshow, every adjustment required a visit from my old friend the spinning beachball, and I could feel my hunchback starting to slowly re-form. Upon returning from the trip, I almost sprinted to the iMac and was rewarded with seamless editing of the Z9 files.
I almost never feel like I’m pushing this iMac to its limits even when working with high resolution footage
This computer is not infallible: the M1 has a really tough time working with Canon CRaw and Red’s R3D raw video footage. However, I rarely work with those files, and both Apple’s ProRes Raw and Blackmagic’s BRaw formats work brilliantly, which are becoming the most popular raw video formats. If you regularly work with R3D and CRaw footage this might not be the machine for you.
Which bring me to the major announcement at the end of this year: the new M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pros. These are considerably more powerful than the M1 based machines, and would be a good choice for anyone working with raw video or doing 3D rendering. For a lot of people, those new laptops will be their Gear Of The Year, and I’ll probably end up purchasing one when travel becomes significantly less terrifying. The thing is, I almost never feel like I’m pushing this iMac to its limits even when working with high resolution footage from the latest mirrorless and cinema cameras. So, while I type this with proper posture looking at a lovely display, it was impossible for me to pick anything else for my Gear Of The Year.