Running Photoshop 2021 in Emulation Mode on a Mac M1

I don’t these days write much about computers, and I also like to say (when asked) that the only software I have written in the last decade is my LAB Action for Photoshop. That said, computers and software are a fundamental part of digital photography. One ignores them at one’s peril, just as ignoring chemistry in the wet darkroom didn’t work very well for most serious photographers in the film era.

But I break with my relative deprecation of the topic of computers and software in this story because finding a simple answer to a basic problem important to photographers was painful, and took far too long. Maybe I can spare someone else the grief.

If you are in the Apple computing world, as many photographers are, you’ll likely know that Apple recently changed its underlying chip-set from an Intel-based processor to the Apple-designed M1 (“Apple Silicon”). I don’t want to make your eyes glaze over too much, but the M1 is based on a RISC design—if you are interested, you can read more about RISC here.

From the viewpoint of the end user, what you need to know is that applications—such as Photoshop—need to be re-written to run on the new design. Older programs written for the Intel chips will still run on an M1 computer, but they need to run in emulation mode using a program that Apple calls Rosetta

Emulation means a kind of translation program, from commands meant for one set of chips to the comparable commands that the other set of chips uses, in this case from Intel to Apple M1. At least in theory, there should be some negative performance consequences to running in emulation mode (because instructions are passing through an additional processing layer).

So, what does this all have to do with me? (Or you?) I’m glad you asked.

Personally, I am a bit of a troglodyte when it comes to upgrading my computer gear. I subscribe to the “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” school of life. But my old Macbook was definitely approaching the twilight years, and with the amount of presentation and travel in my calendar, a new laptop became compelling, and I went for an Apple MacBook Air that uses the new M1 chips.

So far so good. I migrated most of my old software over, and installed Photoshop 2021 from my Creative Cloud subscription. Photoshop ran just fine on the new computer, as you’d expect of software from a major vendor such as Adobe. But—try as I might—I couldn’t get my favorite third-party plugins—the Nik Collection from DxO, Topaz Studio, and On1 Software—to appear on the Photoshop Filters menu, or to run from within Photoshop.

Technical support from Adobe and the third-party vendors didn’t yield any helpful information (frustratingly, one of the vendors advised re-downloading the DMG file, and trying to install again, which did nothing). This dearth of information on the Internet about the very simple fix is what is leading me to write this article, and maybe spare you my frustration.

Put simply, Adobe may have re-written Photoshop to run in native mode on the M1, but the third-party vendors have not got there yet (if they ever do). For now, if you want the third-party software I mentioned from within Photoshop, the solution is to run Photoshop in Intel-emulation mode (with whatever performance hit this implies).

To do this on an M1 Apple computer, open a Finder window, and locate the Photoshop 2021 application. Right-click on the app icon, and select Get Info from the drop-down menu. When the Get Info window opens, check the Open using Rosetta box. The next time you start Photoshop, it will run in emulation mode, and you will see the legacy third-party applications on the Filter menu (they work just fine). It is that simple.

The broader question of whether (and when) these third-party applications will be rewritten for the M1 Apple Silicon, and whether they will then fit into Adobe’s nascent ecosystem of Plugins (a whole separate menu item and palette in Photoshop 2021) I am not really equipped to address at this point.

If you are interested in the Papaver pod images below, you can learn more about them in Have you ever seen a poppy seed up really close and personal? and Poppy Dancer and All Along the Watchtowers. Also, please keep our Workshops & Events in mind.

Ancient Towers 1 © Harold Davis

Ancient Towers 2 © Harold Davis

This entry was posted in Hardware.

2 Comments

  1. Kelly Cannon July 4, 2021 at 11:00 am #

    Harold, thanks for this. How does PS perform on am M1 in emulation mode, compared to a pre-M1 Mac?

  2. Harold Davis July 4, 2021 at 11:43 am #

    Hi Kelly—Great question. Of course, I am running on new hardware, so everything is pretty zippy. Offhand, I think PS performance is fine in emulation mode once PS is open. It does seem to take a little longer loading. Note I have no real way to benchmark of course (or have not taken the time to bother with it as it is out of my current bailiwick!). Best wishes, Harold

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