Available in standard, Pro, and Max configurations, we can assume that a new studio will be along shortly, and eventually a Mac Pro tower, running on these chips.
While the future is unpredictable, and we don’t know what will happen with AI and the limits of silicon engineering, Apple is on a roll of releasing great laptops that are consistently better than the year before while also making it easier to do your job.
NFS was lucky enough to spend some time with the new 16” MacBook Pro with M3 Max and walked away (unsurprisingly) impressed.
Here's what we found and what filmmakers and creators alike should know.
The Lead Up To The M3 Apple Silicon
Apple went through a weird period between 2013-2016. At that time, I had owned a post house, worked as a filmmaker, and personally owned at least 14 different Macs before 2013.
I made a living on Macs.
Then, around 2013, the Macbook Pro just stopped getting faster. I bought a 2016 MacBook Pro, and, in addition to the terrible keyboard, it was the same speed or slower than the 2013 version for most tasks in Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve (specifically in rendering).
The new Apple 16” MacBook Pro w/ M3 Max
Credit: Charles Haine
Same in 2018. It was weird. Intel processors just weren’t giving the juice that Apple needed it seems.
Some of this was also software development limitations, of course. While DaVinci Resolve did slightly better at wringing out more speed from the hardware than some other vendors, things just weren’t getting better. Creative folks weren't getting the speed they were hoping for.
Buying a new machine didn’t feel worth it in 2018, even versus a 2013 laptop.
Now new silicon is making these new MacBook Pros worth it.
Coming out of this molasses, Apple did something we didn't expect—the Cupertino company basically perfected the laptop. Say what you will about the Windows or Linux equivalent, the usability of MacBooks in 2023 is a premium experience.
Right now, it’s very, very hard to find anything to be frustrated with or ask for improvements on.
The secret sauce here is those years of slow refreshes during the Intel days. I suspect that Apple was just as frustrated with the slow improvements in Intel speeds as creatives were, and put even more of their laser focus on other areas, like battery life, audio quality, and displays.
MagSafe seems like it's here to stay.
Credit: Charles Haine
When Apple first improved the display, speakers, and microphones, I was skeptical. Why bother? All pros used external monitors, dedicated microphones, and external speakers to monitor audio. It didn’t seem worth the effort they were clearly putting into things.
In the end, though, it seems more like that Apple was correct in this approach. I increasingly don’t bother with external speakers anymore since the onboard speakers are just that good. I don’t record with the in-unit microphone, but I know I could in a pinch, and I know people who have done scratch VO with it and been happy through the edit.
Apple improved a bunch of tiny little things and made the overall experience better. During those Intel years, though, render times stayed flat.
Displays on the new MacBooks are excellent by default.
Which Bring Us Back To Speed
The M3 models (and all the Apple silicon, but especially M3), all received a million little micro improvements, along with its blazing speed.
All of the current marketing push for the M3 really seems focused on how much faster it is compared to the Intel machines, and it is. Way, way, way faster. If you are hanging on to Intel, time to let go.
With the M3, the "High Power" mode also comes to the 14" model as well. For the 16" Macbook Pros this mode (available in system settings) allows for the fans to get louder, and thus for the Mac to run faster. Most film people will live in "High Power" mode most of the time they are at work.
High Power Mode
Credit: Charles Haine
But as someone with an M2 system, it’s also much faster than my M2 chips. Not "dramatically" faster, but faster.
I fired up a sequence of 8K ProRes, 6.2K Blackmagic RAW, and 4K Apple Log files to test. The sequence took 2.33 seconds to render into UHD H.265 on my M2 Max studio, hitting 48 fps for the 8K, 120 fps on the 6K rawBRAW, and an insane 171 fps with the UHD Apple log footage.
With the M3 Max I was testing on, it hit 56 fps with the 8K and 178 fps on the iPhone footage (with a brief burst of 198 fps).
That's still a pretty nice bump on the ProRes footage, but the slower speed on BRAW brought the overall render time down to about two minutes 10 seconds, shaving about 10% of the overall render time off.
I suspect that part of the marketing around Intel is a push from Apple to finally get Intel users to let go. We’re about three years out from the last Intel-based machine. Knowing Apple and how they handled the transition from PowerPC to Intel, we’re around one to two years out from Apple no longer supporting those Intel machines with updates and security patches. Apple is trying to get ahead of that by marketing and promoting a transition now.
Render speeds at 176.5fps
Credit: Charles Haine
Speed really is just impressive here. With the M2 last year, I had already gotten very used to just opening up my laptop with 4K footage in front of students and just pushing it around every which way without a worry.
Even 6K raw footage. If we shot something and I wanted to teach a concept or bring up a detail to show how a sensor responds to light, my machine already just did it by the time I finished talking about the concept.
With the M3, that’s even faster. Even easier. Even more flexible. It just clips along. 10% might not feel like a lot but spread over the course of a year, it's likely to save you enough time in regular use to be worth it.
And it was definitely better than 10% faster when not working with BRA. More time and testing is needed to figure out why BRAW took a slight bump down in speed, but perhaps a software update can fix it. It was still 96 fps render time, though, so, you know, workable.
For a lot of years, up until around 2014 or so, a lot of pro users bought a new machine every year. It would save 10-15% of your render time (which is worth it), and you could sell last year's Mac for around 70% of your purchase price, so you were paying 30% of a new Mac’s price/per year to have the newest equipment.
Assuming a $3,400/machine, that was $1,200/year, or $100/month. For a working professional, it is easily justifiable. If it saved you a working hour over a week in time you were getting things done and not waiting on render bars, it made financial sense.
And we finally have all the I/O we need for out creatives projects.
What About the Future?
In 2024 (most likely 2025, let’s not get overconfident), there will likely be an M4. While it won’t be marketed against Intel (since they’ll stop talking about Intel), the new chips will have enough of a bump over M3 that it’s worth it for new users.
10% every year is absolutely worthwhile if Apple can keep to that target. Be it with hardware or software (or both).
The most considerable excitement here isn’t just at the pro end. For me, it’s also as a teacher. For a long time, I saw students get laptops that just weren’t up to video editing. Now, with even the most affordable Apple laptop, all of my students will be able to cut whatever we throw at them (short of 18K Big Sky Footage).
The 14" MacBook Pro will see benefits in High Power Mode, and that's great since many students opt for the smaller unit. M3 will also eventually come to Macbook Air (hopefully in time for the summer purchase cycle). I used to feel bad when students would roll up to editing class with an Air, knowing they would have a tough time working at home.
But we're well past that now.
Some Things To Consider
Every review needs one caveat, so I’ll say this: I wish it was easier to get iPhone footage onto my Macbook Pro.
95% of the time, I shoot straight to a USB-C drive. I was recently on a documentary, and I was walking to the restroom without my main camera and saw my subjects having a joyful work session that I wanted to capture, so I pulled out my phone and shot it.
It’s the perfect argument for iPhone; the footage will 100% cut in with the rest of our footage (from 4D, Fuji X-H2s, and Blackmagic 12k), and the moment I caught on video wouldn’t have been captured otherwise.
However, getting it off the phone to my MacBook involved Airdrop, and plugging the phone in via USB-C didn’t make it as easy as I hoped it would.
The only reason I bring this up here is that the iPhone 15 Pro and Macbook Pro ecosystem really does argue yet again for the elegance of their integration. Not only did they shoot the keynote on the iPhone (which sparked a lot of great conversation), but by the time Apple rolled out Log for iPhone, the software vendors (FCP-X and Resolve) already supported it on day one. It was a tight rollout.
If you are used to getting a camera and waiting a few months for your post software to have it integrated, this felt great. 99% of the time, you’ll shoot to external USB-C (and vendors should be making USB-C holders for iPhone, looking at you SmallHD and Peak Design), but when you shoot to internal media cause the moment calls for it, it would be nice if it was easier to get off.
But that’s it, really. The new MacBook runs games. It has Magsafe power if you’re clumsy, and the keyboard is a delight.
Should you update every year?
Only if you are a working pro where it will save you enough time/money to be worth it, but it will be great if you save up a few years and buy a new machine and it’s faster than your old machine from three or four years earlier.
In 2017, you weren’t guaranteed the power that for a lot of tasks filmmakers use. Now, if you buy a M3, it’ll be faster than whatever you are upgrading from. It’s nice to be back to an improvement cycle. The M3 is indeed blazing fast.
- Are Creatives Ready for the Apple M3? ›
- How the Apple M3 Event was Shot on an iPhone 15 Pro With the Blackmagic Camera App ›
- Apple's New Trio of M3 Chips Boosts Your At-Home Workflow ›