I began my computer journey as a photographer on a PC and had to learn how to operate a Mac in college. The simplicity of Apple was difficult to adapt to at first, but I learned to appreciate the lack of keystrokes. Even more, it was nice to have a machine that wasn’t constantly at risk of a virus. Apple continues to be my preference, although I’m always curious to see how a PC competitor compares. My recent quest was with a HP ZBook Firefly 14″ G9 Workstation.
The HP ZBook Firefly 14″ G9 laptop we received for testing features a 12th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 processor, 64GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, Bang & Olufsen speakers, and a Dreamcolor display. It’s geared towards students and professionals who need high performance within a 2D space. The high-end version price starts at $2,599 and is customizable to fit specific needs. Will it fit the bill for photographers?
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
HP’s ZBook Firefly 14″ G9 laptop offers the premium features photographers want with a price tag akin to Apple. Seeing the Dreamcolor display is like seeing a Prophoto colorspace after a lifetime of sRGB. It’s beautiful, borders on too much, and can easily be calibrated without extra tools. The small size makes it an ideal travel companion for editing on the go. HP’s trackpad is accurate, and the keyboard is stiff yet responsive. It’s easy to set up, and the addition of facial recognition is a nice touch.
As great as some of these features are, there are some drawbacks. Battery life isn’t great, and the fan turns on often. Processing images is marginally slower, and file uploads are much more glacial. Unfortunately, the quality of the Bang & Olufsen speakers is reduced with their placement on the bottom. The overall performance is lacking and won’t be enough to sway existing M1 Mac users. However, it may be a perfect fit for PC users looking for an ideal-sized travel companion.
- It’s an excellent travel-sized computer.
- Plenty of colors on the Dreamcolor display
- It has a USB Type-A port.
- Accurate trackpad
- Stiff yet responsive keyboard
- Easy to set up
- Facial recognition is a nice touch.
- HP has a great green initiative.
- Battery life isn’t great.
- The fan comes on often, and it gets warm easily.
- File uploads are slower, as is processing.
- Bang & Olufsen speakers are on the bottom and sound tinny.
- I didn’t miss the constant security updates, although PC users will appreciate the added security.
We are giving the 14″ HP ZBook Firefly G9 Mobile Workstation four out of five stars. Want one? Premium tiered pricing starts at $2,599 and is customizable.
We received a loaner unit directly from HP. We tested with Hasselblad, Sony, and Canon files. The following apps were used:
- Capture One
- Adobe Lightroom Classic
- Adobe Photoshop CC
- Sony Imaging Edge Desktop
HP’s Firefly G9 workstation isn’t innovative or groundbreaking. It offers a few premium features, and photographers will appreciate the Dreamcolor monitor. It is easy to operate, and facial recognition is a nice touch.
The 14″ HP ZBook Firefly G9 weighs slightly more than three pounds and fits most messenger-style camera bags. It’s similar to a MacBook Air: thicker at the hinge, tapering to a slimmer size.
The left panel of the Firefly G9 features an HDMI port, USB Type-A port, two Thunderbolt USB-C ports, an LED indicator, and an optional Smartcard reader.
On the right, you will find a headphone jack, another USB Type-A port, a Nano security lock slot, and an optional Sim card slot.
Open up the ZBook Firefly G9 to reveal the colorful display. A 5MP webcam and internal microphones are located on the top bezel.
A large trackpad accompanies the backlit keyboard. On the right, you will find a touch fingerprint sensor.
Fan venting is on the bottom.
The HP ZBook Firefly G9 feels solid and sturdy. It ships with a cloth-covered charging cord to provide longevity.
The manufacturer is committed to its sustainability goals and features recyclable components in the device. Fifty percent of the keycaps are made from recycled CD’s. Even the shipping box is fully recyclable. HP has also gone the extra step to ensure that the Workstation can be sanitized often for today’s health-conscious society.
One of the main features of the Firefly G9 workstation is HP’s commitment to security. The addition of TamperLock allows users to quickly identify when someone has removed the bottom of the device. And the new Tile feature will enable users to locate their ZBook Firefly G9 even when it is turned off.
The best part of the HP Firefly G9 is the beautiful 14″ 500 NIT 2560 x 1600 Dreamcolor display. My first thought when calibrating the screen was that it felt similar to seeing a Prophoto profile for the first time. The colors are so plentiful and robust that I actually had to tone it down in order to properly edit my portraits.
Ease Of Use
Whether you’re accustomed to working with a PC or a Mac, you will find the HP ZBook Firefly G9 simple to set up and operate. Simply turn on the unit and follow the directions. You can set up facial recognition and the fingerprint touch sensor here.
From there, install your preferred applications and begin uploading files. It doesn’t feel quite as seamless as a Mac, but that’s entirely subjective. I like the simplicity of my MacBook Pro’s menus and toolbar. However, the HP ZBook Firefly G9 is just as straightforward once you begin working between photo editing applications. It’s easy to export an image from one program to another.
The size of the 14″ HP Firefly G9 will fit in nearly every camera messenger bag and mid-sized backpack. It’s perfect for editing on the go, but I do wish the battery life was better. The Firefly G9 may be rated for up to 17 hours for other programs but not for apps designated for photography.
Photographers will want to turn the screen’s brightness up most of the way, which drains the battery quickly. In theory, the Microsoft One Drive is an excellent idea for syncing to the cloud. I wound up disabling it because it was constantly refreshing in the background and depleting the battery life faster. I could work for about three hours on average without having to plug it back in.
The front facing web camera on the Firefly G9 is excellent. It is great for Zoom meetings while working remotely. This is a great feature for working professionals.
Required Maintenance During Testing
After the initial setup, I was prompted to download the latest version of Windows. Thus, I had to do a few restarts to get it up to speed. Initially, I liked the idea of utilizing Microsoft One Drive. But, the app was constantly refreshing in the background and it killed the battery. I thought upgrading to a larger plan would help, but I ended up disabling it.
Everything else worked as it should. The ports immediately recognized my SD card reader and when a camera was plugged in.
Everything on the HP Firefly G9 was slower than on my m1 MacBook Pro. Exporting images from Capture One or Lightroom into Photoshop and processing was only relatively slower. I was expecting it to be a little quicker seeing as it has 64Gb of RAM. Uploading images was a different story.
I tested two different, unannounced cameras while I was using the HP ZBook Firefly G9. Since my time with a camera is often limited, part of my workflow includes dumping all raw images into a folder on the desktop so I can get back to photographing. I will later import the files to the specific manufacturer’s raw processor. From there, I convert images to a .TIF file so I can edit them in Capture One or Photoshop.
The 14″ HP ZBook Firefly G9 took over 34 minutes to complete transferring 73GB worth of images. My M1 16″ MacBook Pro accomplished the same task in under four minutes. So, photographers will want to complete this step prior to traveling or working remotely.
Other than that, the laptop performed remarkably well under normal usage. That usage included having at least fifteen different internet tabs open, iTunes playing, and the raw file processor, Capture One, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop CC open as well. Uploading images online was only marginally slower, and nothing to complain about.
The ZBook Firefly G9’s fan kicked on almost immediately. That’s one thing I haven’t experienced since I upgraded from my Intel-based i9 MacBook Pro, and I didn’t miss it. The machine got warm. However, it never got as hot as the Intel Macs. HP’s chassis offers plenty of breathing room to prevent overheating.
Who Should Buy The HP ZBook Firefly 14″ G9?
I don’t see this being a professional photographer’s primary machine. Instead, the HP ZBook Firefly 14″ G9 would be a decent second computer for professional photographers who want a mobile option with an excellent display. PC users like my mom, who enjoy dabbling in photography, would enjoy this as their primary machine. It would also be an excellent choice for photography students who prefer using a PC. And graphic designers would also enjoy this laptop.
The Dreamcolor display is gorgeous and easy to calibrate without additional tools. HP’s keyboard is firm yet responsive and comfortable to type on. Its trackpad is accurate and easy to use with photo editing applications. The ZBook Firefly G9’s smaller size will fit in most photography bags, making it an ideal travel companion. HP has gone above and beyond with the security here. And I also appreciate the manufacturer’s green initiative.
A few shortcomings would keep me from buying this machine if I were a PC user. The battery life isn’t great for photo editing. At this price point, its slower performance is underwhelming. The benefits of Bang & Olufsen speakers are wasted with their placement. I wish there were an SD card reader and would prefer an extra Thunderbolt USB-C port over a second USB Type-A port.
I could see more photographers opting for the Firefly G9 series if HP addressed these shortcomings and attempted to entice Mac users. Regardless, it would be a good addition to an existing PC ecosystem. The top-tier pricing for the Firefly G9 14″ Workstation starts at $2,599 and can be customized to suit your needs if you’re ready to add it to your workflow.
Tech specs are from the manufacturer’s press packet.
- New premium ultraslim design with precision-crafted all-metal chassis for a premium look and feel
- 12th Generation Intel® CoreTM i5, i7 U series and i5, i7 P series Processors up to fourteen-core
- Preinstalled with Windows 11 versions or FreeDOS
- New 16:10 ratio screen reduces the need to scroll by showing more vertical content than 16:9
- New 5MP camera2 with HP Auto Frame1 allows you around a little without losing viewers’ attention during video calls
- New DDR5 memory and PCI Gen4 SSDs provide fast access to your work.
- Choice of displays:
- 35.6 cm (14”) diagonal WUXGA IPS Anti-Glare LED-backlit, 250 nits, 45% NTSC
- 35.6cm (14″) diagonal WUXGA IPS Anti-Glare On-Cell LED-backlit touch, 250 nits, 45% NTSC
- 35.6 cm (14″) diagonal WUXGA IPS Anti-Glare LED-backlit non-touch 400 nits, 100% sRGB
- 35.6cm (14″) diagonal WUXGA IPS Anti-Glare LED-backlit non-touch, 1000 nits, 100% sRGB with HP Sure View Reflect
- Redesigned keyboard layout to include easy use of discrete PgUp/Dn, End, and Home keys
- Choose from 38Whr or 51Whr battery options
- HP Wolf Security for Business creates a hardware-enforced, always-on, resilient defense.5
- Larger Clickpad surface for easier, more intuitive input
- Connectivity with optional Intel® 5000 5G/WWAN available world-wide, and ThunderboltTM Docking (Dock sold separately)
- Passes 19 MIL-STD 810H tests6
- Supports fast charging (50% in 30 minutes) with no impact on battery recharge cycles3
- Designed to support all HP docking options including the HP Universal Dock G5
- 1Requires the myHP application and Windows OS.
- 2Optional feature that must be configured at the time of purchase.
- 3HP Presence requires myHP application and Windows OS.
- 4Requires Windows OS.
- 5HP Wolf Security for Business requires Windows 10 and higher, includes various HP security features and is available on HP Pro, Elite, Workstation, and RPOS products. See product details for included security features and OS requirements.
- 6MIL-STD 810GH is not intended to demonstrate fitness of U.S. Department of Defense contract requirements or for military use. Test results are not a guarantee of future performance under these test conditions. Accidental damage requires an optional HP Accidental Damage Protection Care Pack.
- 7SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps is not available with ThunderboltTM 4.
The Phoblographer may receive affiliate compensation for products purchased using links in this blog post.