December 27, 2016 at 3:13AM, Edited December 27, 3:15AM

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Help Needed: iMac for video editing

Hi,

I apologize ahead of time for anything I might say that will make you laugh. I'm new to video. A virgin. I don't want to do it, but I have to (I'm a photographer who needs to learn video in order to stay relevant.)

I'll have a number of questions here, but one of the first ones is about the machine I need to buy. It'll be an iMac, but I need to know what exactly I need to look for in any video machine.

I looked at a 27" retina 5K iMac and a configuration with the following components hit $4K before tax:

4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz
32GB 1867MHz DDR3 SDRAM - four 8GB
1TB Flash Storage
AMD Radeon R9 M395X with 4GB video memory

That's pricey, so I wonder if the following configuration (at $3100) would be (more than) sufficient:

3.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
16GB 1867MHz DDR3 SDRAM - two 8GB
1TB Flash Storage
AMD Radeon R9 M395 with 2GB video memory

I understand that how powerful your machine needs to be depends on what kind of video editing you do and what kind of footage you have. A colleague I'll work with shoots with the C100 Mark II, then transcodes the .mts files into .mov. This coming year we will be buying a camera that shoots 4K, so that's something I need to consider before buying the computer as well.

Thanks a lot!

8 Comments

5K iMac seems fine. Just safe yourself some money and order it at minimum RAM. It's much cheaper to buy and install some RAM by yourself (about 2/3 less $).
Also the flash drive is very expensive. Think about what you really store on your computer's drive itself. Your footage should be stored in a external harddrive (highly suggest the WD MyCloud PR4100). 512 GB or even 256 GB flash drive should do the job of handling some programms and plug-ins very well.

December 28, 2016 at 5:10AM

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Eric Halbherr
Director, DP, Editor, Creative Storyteller
2160

Thank you Eric!

December 28, 2016 at 9:13PM

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If you can, wait until they release the new iMac's. Supposedly in the next few months. That's what I'm waiting for, I'm looking at basically the same system you spec'd out above.

December 28, 2016 at 11:54PM

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I'm aware a new model is coming out and I'm definitely waiting. For now I just wanted to know what to look for in a video-editing machine.

December 29, 2016 at 2:29AM

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The thing is, video editing is a very computationally costly affair (particularly once you throw color grading and effects into the mix), so the software can always make use of a faster CPU, GPU and more RAM. You will always wait for renders, you just have to decide for how long.

That said, any new iMac should be able to handle a simple 4K timeline smoothly, particularly if you use Final Cut Pro X, which is optimised for a Mac (just avoid editing H.264 or H.265 directly). I recommend going for at least 32 gigs of RAM (off brand) – Adobe software loves RAM.

One bottleneck a beginner might overlook, is the speed of your hard drive. If you do anything more than dabble with video, you will NOT be storing your media on the onboard SSD – it's simply not big enough for even a single, moderately sized project.

This means buying external drives, and a single 7200rpm USB3 drive will probably be too slow for 4K editing – resulting in choppy playback and lots of spinning beachballs. So you need to get a RAID enclosure of some sort (thunderbolt, USB3 or 3.1) AND buy backup drives (those can be slow). Or get external SSDs, but this is much pricier per gigabyte.

December 29, 2016 at 11:11PM

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Buy the 2015 iMac maxed out and you will be happy, the iMac 2015 is fast enough for 4k editing. What do you expect from a new iMac? It will be a little bit faster than the 2015 iMac, but only in the limits new mac's get faster with every update, like 10-20%.

December 30, 2016 at 7:48AM

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Lutz Leonhardt
Filmproducer
260

Does it have to be an iMac? I purchased a brand new iMac in 2014 with very similar specs to the one you priced at $4k. It was great but even with a 2GB graphics card and 32GB ram it still crashed, lagged in speed and would freeze when editing. It was a great computer but After Effects, Premiere and even Photoshop would constantly run slow (one program open at a time). This was with 1080p footage and with 4K from a GH4/JVC or 2K from a BMPCC - it would lag even more. Skip across the timeline? Forget it. Clip on a clip to preview it in Premiere? Hope you just saved your project.

I sold it in 2015 and picked up an Asus laptop with literally almost the same specs. Works great and was $1k. Just something to think about from a video guy who works on a Mac Pro at work and has been editing for 10 years.

January 9, 2017 at 9:22AM, Edited January 9, 9:24AM

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ben solo
Director
168

Appreciate your opinion Ben, but there are two of us and we're 100% Mac both at home and the office. Too much has been invested in time and money for us to switch to Windows. Plus I have years of experience on Windows machines, which is why I switched to Mac 10 years ago.

January 9, 2017 at 5:55PM

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