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Reader Question: 2019 Mac Pro vs iMac Pro vs 2019 iMac 5K

Consult with Lloyd to determine the ideal setup for your particular workflow including CPU cores, GPU, memory, SSD, internal and external storage, backup and fault tolerance, color management, whether for video or still photography, including what is best for Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, focus stacking, panoramas, etc.

Shameer M writes:

I am curious to know what your thoughts are on the future of the iMac Pro.

It seems to me, that most (if not all) pros who need workstation-class power will naturally gravitate to the 2019 Mac Pro since there’s much more room for future expansion and those that don’t will gravitate to the iMac 5K. That puts the iMac Pro between a rock and a hard place.

DIGLLOYD: please follow my coverage of the 2019 Mac Pro, which is in progress mostly over at MacPerformanceGuide.com.

For video, the 2019 Mac Pro is a no-brainer, at least for 6K/8K and a far better choice than than the iMac Pro, due to the expansion slots, video cards and Afterburner card for ProRes convenience. Ditto for other high end needs.

For still photographers, even demanding ones like me, the need for a Mac Pro is minimal and the costs are so hideously high that it makes little sense unless money is of no concern. You can get a maxed-out 2019 iMac 5K with 128GB memory and its built-in display for under $5K. The Mac Pro starts at $6K without display and only 32GB. The iMac Pro is suitable at times, but it is due for a revision soon.

My well-founded expectation is a net inferior performance of the 2019 Mac Pro to my 2019 iMac 5K for most tasks most photographers do. You have to be doing something very challenging a good part of the time for the Mac Pro to make sense, because the rest of the time the top-end 2019 iMac 5K with 128GB memory will be faster, and that includes most interactive use.

Obviously if you batch process 500 images every day on a time deadline, or you scale images with Gigapixel AI frequently and so on, then you’ll benefit greatly from 12/16/24 CPU cores, so there are exceptions. But how many of even my high-end readers have such requirements?

See also The Good Stuff for Your 2019 Mac Pro.

For me, the Mac Pro also carries with it a software cost penalty approaching $1000, and a hassle penalty too, the result of macOS Catalina eliminating support for 32-bit apps and locking down the boot drive to read-only. Of course by next year all new Macs will force Catalina. Which means that now is the time to buy a 2019 iMac 5K, or discounted iMac Pro should you wish to stay on macOS Mojave.

While I'd love two internal 6G/sec 8TB SSDs and 192GB or 240GB memory and an Apple Pro Display XDR ($7K with stand and nano glass!), those things won't make me more productive.

And for me in particular, the Mac Pro is useless for travel in my van, which means I’d have to have both my 2019 iMac 5K for travel (most people would use a laptop) along with a Mac Pro left at home while traveling. Which means at least $20K in total spend along with ongoing syncing and update hassles. That's 4X the cost of my 2019 iMac 5K for more hassle and inferior performance for 95% of the time I spend on the computer.

Bottom line is that barring some specific studio situations and quite rare cases, I can't see a legitimate role for a Mac Pro for most still photographers, there being exceptions for high-end studios and similar, where reliability is key, or for jobs larger than I do (and few photographers need more performance than I do).

The iMac Pro at present offers little or no compelling value over the iMac 5K other than its extra TB3 bus and theoretically better reliability (but my iMac 5K has been banged around and bulletproof so I do not necessarily accept the reliability premise).

Bottom line is that I went with the 2019 iMac 5K for my own work which is far more demanding than for most, and it is serving me better than any Mac ever made.


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