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MacBook Air Review Part 6: iPhoto ’11 Performance



The MacBook Air is the best laptop I’ve ever used, but with mobility there are usually compromises. As a photographer, one thing that I’m not willing to compromise too much on is photo editing performance. I was a bit concerned about how iPhoto ’11 would perform on the MacBook Air since it has a lot of new bells and whistles.

You can read the other parts of my MacBook Air review at the links below:

MacBook Air Review Part 1: The Best Laptop I’ve Ever Used
MacBook Air Review Part 2: It’s Like Driving a Mercedes Benz
MacBook Air Review Part 3: Keyboard and Trackpad
MacBook Air Review Part 4: Blazing Fast Boot, Usable Browser in Less Than 15 Seconds
MacBook Air Review Part 5: What I Don’t Like

I typically shoot with a monster of a camera that produces giant files. My Nikon D700 shoots 12.1 megapixel photos and they actually measure about 12MB in size since I shoot in RAW. I shoot with 32GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash cards and often end up with hundreds of images per hour of shooting.

Unfortunately, the 13″ MacBook Air doesn’t have a FireWire 800 port (it’s just too thin), which means I have to either plug my camera in via USB or  use a USB card reader. Importing photos into iPhoto is dramatically slower on the MacBook Air than on my MacBook Pro, which does have a FireWire 800 port that I use to import photos. The USB 2.0 port on the MacBook Air is definitely a bottle neck for my digital photography workflow, but it wouldn’t be an issue if I were more sane and shot in JPG (much smaller files) and didn’t have the ability to shoot 8 frames per second.

Once my first batch of photos were imported into iPhoto I  was pleasantly surprised. I could scrub through hundreds of photos when viewing the Events tiles. I could also scroll through the photos smoothly. Gesturing to pinch and zoom was smooth, with pictures getting bigger or smaller instantly. The experience is indiscernible from that of my 15″ MacBook Pro, which is fully loaded with a 2.66GHz Core i7 processor. There is a very slight delay when opening a RAW file to edit as it transitions from preview mode to something that’s editable. The delay is a fraction of a second and I didn’t see it when editing JPGs.
(note that the slideshow and effects are 100% smooth, but they appear somewhat choppy in the above video since my Mac’s screen capture software doesn’t record at 30fps)

All of the effects, edits and adjustments instantly appeared on my photos. Everything’s as smooth as silk and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the MacBook Air 13″ for heavy iPhoto users. The biggest limitation with iPhoto on the MacBook Air is going to come to those who opted for the 64GB or 128GB of storage. If you shoot in RAW or just shoot a lot of JPGs you’re going to choke iPhoto.

When Steve Jobs and company introduced iLife ’11 they showed off a bunch of fancy iPhoto ’11 features, including a new and improved Slideshow feature. The transitions are a lot more complex than before and there are more options. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my MacBook Air is powerful enough to play slideshows instantly and there are zero playback hiccups.  With a couple of clicks I could completely change the appearance of the slideshow and watch it instantly.

Exporting slideshows however isn’t as joyful, with the highest quality output taking approximately 6.7x the length of the actual slideshow. That’s far from ideal, especially after you spend a bunch of time choosing the perfect photos, sorting them, adding the right song and making adjustments. You then have to wait and wait before being able to do anything with it, such as upload it to Facebook.

It took exactly 40 minutes to export the above slideshow, which has about 135 images, is 6 minutes and 48 seconds long and has a resolution of 1280×800 (largest available in Slideshow Export on the MacBook Air). I’d expect lower resolution exports to be much speedier. That’s just too long to make sharing my slideshow of my recent visit to the Martin Guitar factory very fun.

Want to see more of this multi-part review? Visit the below links:
MacBook Air Review Part 1: The Best Laptop I’ve Ever Used
MacBook Air Review Part 2: It’s Like Driving a Mercedes Benz
MacBook Air Review Part 3: Keyboard and Trackpad
MacBook Air Review Part 4: Blazing Fast Boot, Usable Browser in Less Than 15 Seconds
MacBook Air Review Part 5: What I Don’t Like



  1. tivoboy

    11/19/2010 at 1:09 am

    dude, you’re turning into a TOTAL fanboy!!


  2. tivoboy

    11/19/2010 at 5:08 pm

    Concur. I do love the MBA11 13″ I got. I hope they build some of this new tech into the next 15″ MBP

  3. David Howard

    11/20/2010 at 3:51 pm

    This has been a great series; I was considering the MBA 11″ fully loaded, but now you have me thinking the 13″ may be better for the battery life.

    • Xavier Lanier

      11/22/2010 at 2:55 am

      Thanks for the kind words. I think the 11″ is a great candidate if you’re truly looking for a netbook/secondary type MacBook. The 13″-incher is much more capable of being a primary machine for a lot of users. The battery life is surprising good on the 13″ MacBook Air. I don’t have any longterm experience with the 11″ MacBook Air, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t beat the 5hr max quoted time if you made a few adjustments. If you’re after seven or more hours or just want some breathing room I’d recommend the 13″ MacBook Air. Also, I think the 13″ MacBook Air (base) is an overall better value than the 11″ fully loaded.

  4. 418brian

    11/23/2010 at 4:48 am

    You mention a few times there are few adjustments to maximize the battery time, can you share with us what you did to have the 13″ MBA for 7 hours use time?

  5. Mail

    11/24/2010 at 6:58 pm


    have you used any other workflow tools on the MBA such as Lightroom, Aperture, Capture NX, Cs5, Etc.?

    Thanks, John

  6. Rick

    12/04/2011 at 12:01 pm

    Xavier – I am running iPhoto “11 version 9.2.1 on my 13” MacBook Air (2.13 / 4 GB) running OS X Lion 10.7.2.  When I edit JPEG images in iPhoto the preview image becomes blurry (still sharp in edit mode) and I cannot export them to iPhoto services such as printing or book making as the software indicates there is a resolution issue.  Ever seen this or heard of others having this issue?

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