Skip to content

Seeking clarity in Retina iMac desktop images

I'll admit it: I'm a desktop image (nee wallpaper) addict. I love to use a wide variety of images, and change them often throughout the day, just to keep my work environment fresh. On my two external displays, I use iPhoto images—general photos on one, kid pictures on the other. But for the main iMac screen, I prefer to use photos taken by others—typically stunning landscapes and cityscapes from all over the world.

With the arrival of my 5K iMac, however, my existing collection was no longer sufficient. Yes, they were all 2560x1440 images, which matches the "apparent" resolution of the Retina iMac. But in order to make that image fill the Retina iMac's screen, it's first scaled up to 5120x2880, then displayed by OS X at 2560x1440. As a result, my desktop images aren't nearly as sharp looking as they were on my old 27" iMac's display.

As an example, here's a segment of two versions (2560x1440 and 5120x2880) of the Sydney Skyline, as screen-captured when set as my Retina iMac's desktop picture. As you move the divider bar right, you're revealing more of the 2560px version; move it left, and the 5120px version takes over.

After scrolling back and forth a bit, you might be thinking these pictures are identical, and I'm just seeing things. While I may be seeing things, the pictures are not identical. (Compare some closely-spaced lights and the crispness of vertical lines in each image to spot the differences.)

Read on for a closer look at the image, which really shows what you're losing by using a 2560x1440px desktop image on a Retina Mac…as well as a list of places I've found that have 5120x2880px images available.

Here's a zoomed-in look at the Opera House; the differences are now plainly obvious. Again, drag right to see more of the 2560px version; drag left for the 5120px version.

Keep in mind that this is just a tiny snippet of a massive image; that bit of fuzziness on every item in the entire scene gives the image a "soft" feel that I don't like at all. So as much as I liked my current collection of desktop images, it was time to go searching for more pixels.

5K desktop image sources

After some digging around, I found a few sources for 5K desktop images. Interfacelift doesn't have a huge collection (134 images), but what they do have is quite spectacular—especially if you're fond of landscapes and cityscapes.

Here are some other places where I found 5K images for download:

  • Wallpapers Castle claims to have 1,430 images available; I haven't even begun to dig through them yet. If you use the site's search engine, you'll get an image preview that you won't see using my Google link…but you only get 10 pages of results. (Many of these images are 5120x3200px, so you may want to crop them down yourself before using.)
  • 27 images at
  • 97 images at Wallpaper Abyss.
  • And, of course, you can always just try a specific image search on Bing or Google. If you use Google, you can narrow down the results by clicking on Search Tools, then Size, then Exactly, and entering the dimensions you want to see—5120 wide and 2880 tall in this case.

I'm sure not everyone shares my fascination with stunning desktop imagery…but if you do, these resources should provide many new images for your collection.