Laptops are an essential tool for nature photographers. Having the means to upload, access, and process images while traveling and on the road goes a long way.
But, let’s be honest, working and processing on a laptop simply does not live up to working on a desktop with a 24”+ monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
So, when it comes to buying a laptop, finding something that gets us close to that ‘desktop feeling’ is the ultimate goal. And, it’s possible the Windows solution has arrived in the form of the Dell XPS 17. It’s not for everyone, it’s not the lightest option, and it’s definitely not the cheapest, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better laptop for photography. Let’s dive in.
The XPS 17 is undoubtedly one of the best looking and designed 17” laptops out there. Its sleek aluminum exterior paired with its minimalist design look great.
It measures 14.74 x 9.76 x 0.77 inches and weighs 4.65 to 5.53 pounds (depending on configuration). So, you will need more room in your bag for the XPS 17 versus smaller screened laptops. But, it is so well designed, that it feels much smaller than it actually is. It comes in just a hair larger than the new 16” MacBook Pro.
Although the XPS 13 and XPS 15 are excellent, the XPS 17 offers more real estate for photographers, which is no doubt a benefit. The most important consideration – size & weight or larger screen?
The ergonomics of the keyboard and trackpad are maybe the best in any laptop, it’s subjective, but I can say it seems like the XPS 17 keyboard is the best of any XPS laptop. And, the XPS series has been lauded for its keyboard design and usability.
All new XPS models, including this one, received an updated 4-sided display from Dell that makes for a nearly bezel-less screen. It’s amazing, I think the display is one of the high points for the XPS line and it’s no different with the XPS 17, except this time, we get MORE screen. I don’t think you can go wrong with the 4K or HD options. Some photographers prefer working on lower resolution displays and I’m one of those. With that said, the 4K is absolutely beautiful for everything, not just photo work. The contrast is spot on, with deep blacks that reverberate through media and text. At an average of 500 nits of brightness, it is one of the brightness laptop displays out there.
The XPS 17 has some of the best color accuracy you can find on a laptop, too. The 4K display has 100% coverage of the wide-gamut AdobeRGB while the HD display measure over 100% coverage for sRGB. Display and color benchmarks for the XPS 17 scored higher than the new MacBook Pro.
Although exact performance comes down to your configuration (more on that later), the XPS 17 is an absolute beast. A 10th Gen Intel Core i7-10875H processor version with 16GB of RAM and an NVMe SSD will fly through most editing tasks like a pro. The i7 Intel processors score excellent benchmarks with the Adobe suite. Pair that with plenty of RAM and some of the best SSD technology you can find, and you’ll be very happy with the XPS 17 performance. The SSD allows for fast application loading and file transfer, while 16GB of memory is efficient for almost any photo editing task.
The GPU options are great, both the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6 and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6 with Max-Q are fantastic. The 4GB option will be plenty for any photo work, but I’d opt for the 6GB card if you do any video editing. Although CPU and memory are more important for photo editing performance, GPU processing is very useful for a few select tasks that we photographers do all the time, such as zooming in and out on images.
The XPS 17 is a fantastic issue to Dell’s XPS line. In my opinion, the XPS line is the go-to option for photographers because of the excellent display and performance. But, how will the XPS 17 slot in for photographers? I have an XPS 15 right now and I love it. I sometimes wish I had a larger screen when I’m traveling for serious post-processing work, at the same time, I really don’t want to stretch the size and weight of my laptop any further…because it is a temporary solution and I do most of my editing on a desktop at home.
If a laptop is your primary means of computer work and photo work, I think an XPS 17 is a great idea. Yes, it’s a little bit larger, but that extra screen space goes a long way. And like we said, because of its build and design, it feels much smaller than its dimensions. If you don’t find the size and weight being an issue on your travels, then I would also seriously consider this larger-screened XPS model.
Specs & Build Options
The XPS 17 starts at $1,349, a great price for a 17” laptop, but the price can be as high as $3,000 with maxed out hardware. Below is a list of configuration options, and what I find to be most important through my experience working and building Windows systems. In general, you want to buy the best CPU and CPU you can afford, and ensure you have at least 16 GB of memory for any photo/video work.
Screen resolution is up to you. 4K is beautiful but can be difficult to discern sharpness and detail, with many photographers opting for 2K screens. With the XPS 17, you can choose 4K, or HD (1080p). My XPS 15 is a 4K model and I would recommend the 4K screen on the XPS 17. It is actually better than many of the 4K monitors I have worked on.
If you are interested in purchasing the XPS 17, see below for possible configuration options:
- 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i5 10300H (8MB Cache, up to 4.5 GHz, 4 cores)
- 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 10750H (12MB Cache, up to 5.0 GHz, 6 cores)
- 10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 10875H (16MB Cache, up to 5.1 GHz, 8 cores)
Upgrading the CPU is one of the costliest upgrades, but well worth it for any photo and video work. I’d recommend choosing the most expensive option you can afford, and I’d make sure to at least get an i7 option.
Memory Options (RAM)
- 8GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
- 16GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
- 32GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
- 64GB DDR4 Dual Channel SDRAM at 2933MHz
Go with 16GB here, 32GB if you work with video. 16GB has proven time and time again to be more than enough for photography uses. The speed increase from 16 to 32GB for programs like Lightroom and Photoshop is minimal.
- 256GB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
- 512GB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
- 1TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
- 2TB PCIe 3 x4 SSD
I recommend getting the smallest storage option. It will save you money. Best practice tip for maximum speed – use the internal SSD for applications and use external SSDs/HDDs for storing photos. SSDs slow down as they get close to maximum capacity so that’s something to watch. I’d go with the smallest option because these days 1-2 TB won’t get you very far with RAW photo file sizes, so opt for external storage.
Graphics Options (GPU)
- Intel UHD Graphics
- NVIDIA ® GeForce ® GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6
- NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2060 6GB GDDR6
The importance of a GPU is debated among photographers, but it does make a difference. Rendering previews, zooming into images, using certain features of PS, and more rely on GPU processing. A beefier GPU means those things go faster. Both 4GB and 6GB options work well for photography.
- 17” 3840×2400 InfinityEdge touch display; 100% Adobe RGB
- 17” 1920 x 1200 InfinityEdge display; 100% sRGB
Either option here is great. The Dell displays are class-leading, it comes down to do you want 4K or HD. The 4K screen obviously will add on more to the price. The 4K screen is beautiful and it has 100% AdobeRGB coverage, which is another great reason to opt for the higher resolution display.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Image Review: Landscape Edition
with Matt Meisenheimer & Kenton Krueger
Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)