Can You Use the Cheapest 2020 13″ MacBook Pro for Video Editing?

What would it be like using the base model $1,299 13″ 1.4Ghz Quad-Core i5 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD to cut multiple streams of 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 from a Panasonic GH5? Is the system fast enough, powerful enough to not only play and edit the material but also to render and deliver the final video in a timely manner? Are the specs enough for the daunting task of professional editing, or would this system crash and burn?

To answer this question, The Everyday Dad puts this fun-sized MacBook Pro to the test, and gives us his take on what it would be like to use the cheapest of Apple’s Pro line laptop as your only editing system for cutting your videos.

Determining what editing system will meet your needs as a content creator can be a tricky business. Do you need all of the bells and whistles of a fully-loaded Mac Pro desktop, or will something small and portable suffice? Does the system need to cost you an arm and a leg, or can you get by with the base model?

Long ago, I edited a 2-hour long documentary on an Avid System that was built to be dropped from a helicopter into a war zone. It was one of the most uncomfortable editing systems I’ve ever used. It was portable but it was dead slow and had a price tag of around $30K – which didn’t include the hard drives.

Computers have come a long way in a very short period of time, and honestly most cell-phones are faster than what professional editors were cutting Hollywood features on 15-20 years ago. Whether or not an iPhone 11 or the bare minimum MacBook Pro could be enough to edit on is largely based around what you’re creating and your final delivery schedule.

If you work in a high-resolution, high volume, fast turn around industry obviously the base model 2020 MacBook Pro isn’t going to be for you, but for 99% of video productions it’s probably good enough to get by.

Base Model 2020 MacBook Pro Features:

  • 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
  • Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
  • 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • 256GB SSD storageĀ¹
  • 13-inch Retina display with True Tone
  • Magic Keyboard
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Price: 1,299.00

If you prefer more desktop real-estate, you’ll also need a USB-C display port adapter for an external monitor. Since all current MacBook Pros only have Thunderbolt 3 ports, you’ll need additional adapters for SD cards and other media.

In this example, The Everyday Dad will attempt to cut his regular video blog post with footage from the Panasonic GH5 in 4K 4:2:2 10-Bit. His posts feature about three video streams and have a total editing length of about 5-8 minutes.

This editor prefers to cut in FCPx, which is a great choice for professional editing. FCPx is an Apple product that is designed to work on Apple Computers, however, most editing software will perform similarly to the example presented here.

It is important to look at editing performance and rendering performance separately. Some machines might appear zippy when you’re cutting the content but when you’re up against the clock outputting your final render, they slow to a crawl.

Editing

At first, everything is smooth sailing with cutting the content of the video. Barely a frame is skipped during playback and the system is handling the footage really well. When he starts to add in additional layers of 4K video and color grading, there is a noticeable drop in the performance and the systems fan is running, which means the processor is struggling to keep up.

Four streams of 4K video is a little more than the base MacBook Pro 13″ can handle for a smooth playback, but as he points out you can edit from proxy media which will speed up your performance dramatically.

In fact, I always recommend ingesting and transcoding all of your footage to ProRes Proxies prior to cutting anything, regardless of your NLE or machine power. ProRes Proxy is a very light, system-friendly codec that will drastically improve your editing experience. There is nothing worse than editing footage that doesn’t play correctly and it can be a massive waste of your time.

On top of that, unless you are compositing or blending multiple streams of video together its best practices to collapse all of your edits down to one video track. Having multiple streams of video stacked on top of one another will decrease your CPU, GPU, and drive speed – you’re moving around a lot of data without any real purpose.

Rendering

The final edited length of the video is 4 1/2 minutes, and the system performs very well, taking only 7 minutes and 19 seconds to output. That is roughly double the length of the project, and entirely reasonable if you’re on the go or your business isn’t deadline-based. Quality and codecs will effect render time, and that isn’t mentioned in the video.

Conclusion

Almost any computer can work as an editing system as long as you have a solid workflow for ingesting. As he points out, the iPad Pro actually has faster render times (if you don’t mind editing on a tablet). I’m a Mac user to the end, and it’s great to know that the baseline system can still be used to edit 4K video.

I believe the system would have performed even better had he not been connected to an external monitor and also sending an HDMI signal out to the recorder.

You could increase the performance of this MBP by adding an eGPU which will increase render times for graphics, color, and output but that will only work when you’re not on the go. However, you’ll need a little more speed if your work is mission-critical. Adding a little more RAM or stepping up to the base model 16″ MBP with the additional graphics card will be a noticeable improvement.

[source: The Everyday Dad]

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Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Magic Keyboard)Ā 

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