iPad Pro Is Now a True Photographer’s Tool

Has the iPad Pro finally become a true photographer’s tool? A year and a half ago, with the release of the first 12.9-inch iPad Pro, it was so close… but there were still some significant limitations.

Now, with the latest iPad Pro models, I think we’re finally there. Improved hardware is part of the story—USB 3 speeds at import, finally, for both sizes—and software is catching up. And the possibilities that will come with iOS 11 in the fall are still more intriguing.

At Macworld, I explain in more detail: The iPad Pro: Now a true photographer’s tool.

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iPad Pro Gets a Significant Update

ipad-pro-family-blackOne of the highlights of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote was the unveiling of two new iPad Pro models. The flashier update replaces the current 9.7 inch iPad Pro, which now has a 10.5-inch (diagonal) screen but is only a hair physically larger than the model it replaces: 9.8 inches tall and 6.8 inches wide, compared to 9.4 inches tall and 6.6 inches wide. The new one is also 0.05 inches thinner, and weighs the same 1.03 pounds.

(To watch the iPad Pro portion of the keynote, start at the 93:00 mark—yes, that’s 93 minutes; the whole event ran over two hours!)

The size of that display isn’t the only highlight: The 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch models are also brighter than predecessors, and both have True Tone displays (which adjust color balance based on ambient lighting) and P3 Wide Color gamut.

They also operate at up to 120 Hz, double the rate that today’s devices run, resulting in two implications. The higher refresh rate—Apple calls it ProMotion—means the screen updates more quickly, making it significantly more responsive, according to Apple. That extends from touch input to using Apple Pencil, which now operates at a reduced latency of 20ms. ProMotion is also good for battery life, because the iPad Pro adjusts the refresh rate based on what you’re doing onscreen: if you’re browsing the Web or viewing still photos, it switches to a lower refresh rate, and therefore consumes less battery power. Even movies can be scaled back to 60 Hz (without affecting video quality).

One of the things I’m happy to see, for photographers, is that the Lightning port on both models now operates at USB 3 speeds, making for much faster photo and video import. (Last year’s release of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was stuck with USB 2 speeds, a feature I curse every single time I import photos into mine.)

ipad_pro_usb3_speeds_2017_keynote

The new iPad Pro models ship with an Apple-designed A10X processor for greater speed. To demonstrate the processor power, Serif demonstrated their new Affinity Photo application for iPad, which was impressive as hell and just released today. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and see how it performs.

The base configurations now start at 64 GB and go up to 512 GB of storage. You can order them now via Apple, and they begin shipping next week.

Also interesting are the changes for iPad that are coming with iOS 11, also announced at the event. Apple is finally treating the iPad Pro like the powerful computer it is, with lots of multi-tasking and multi-select gestures and options. See more about iOS 11 here; it’s available now to developers, with a full free release to everyone in the fall.

Be sure to watch this short intro video Apple created:

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Getting (i)Cloudy at The Seattle Times

My barber said, “I have too many clouds,” and I immediately sympathized. iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive…I have files stashed in all of them. What surprised me when I set about to write this week’s column for the Seattle Times, is that I’ve so effortlessly moved so much of my work and personal data to cloud-based services.

iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, released last month, further entwine iCloud’s tendrils into everyday activities. In the column, I talk about how it enables me to control Philips Hue lights in my home from any remote location, unlock a Mac using my Apple Watch just by getting near it, and more.

Read the column here: Forecast: Increasing use of cloud services for just about everything.

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Photos Crash Course for iOS 10 and macOS Sierra

Tc photos v2Sometimes, it feels as if I’m a lone defender of Apple’s Photos app under macOS. Many people find it too different from iPhoto, or think it’s too basic (even though it’s actually quite sophisticated), or… I don’t know, they just don’t like change. Except for Aperture users who were abandoned by Apple—their discontent is understandable.

It’s not just because I wrote a book about Photos and Apple’s photo ecosystem. True, I use Lightroom as my primary photo library manager, but I also make extensive use of Photos and iCloud Photo Library.

And now macOS Sierra is out, with a new version of Photos that brings better searching, Memories, revamped people identification, and more!

Alas, when my publisher Peachpit Press all but vaporized early this year, the possibility to update my Photos book also went up in smoke. That’s too bad, because I really enjoyed writing it, and thought it turned out well.

However, I’m not the only Photos defender. My friend and colleague Jason Snell has just released the second edition of his highly regarded, and best-selling, Photos: A Take Control Crash Course. Jason has been immersed in Photos during the developer preview versions of macOS Sierra and knows it inside and out. The ebook is 74 pages of hard-won information, fully illustrated and written in Jason’s friendly, approachable style. And it’s only $10!

Photos is a key part of both macOS Sierra and iOS 10, so before you order Jason’s book using the link above, consider bundling it—at a discount—with Scholle McFarland’s Sierra: A Take Control Crash Course, Josh Centers’s iOS 10: A Take Control Crash Course, or both!

Buy the Photos, Sierra, and iOS 10 Crash Courses for $28
Buy the Photos and Sierra Crash Courses for $17.50
Buy the Photos and iOS 10 Crash Courses for $17.50

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iPad Pro: Not a Question of If, Son, but Which One?

My esteemed colleague Julio Ojeda-Zapata knows that you should buy an iPad Pro if you’re in the market for a new tablet, but which model? The 12.9-inch model has a beautiful screen and faster performance, while the 9.7-inch model is a bit lighter and offers the True Tone display (and a wider color gamut).

In this TidBITS article, Julio breaks down the differences and spotlights the advantages of each: Comparing iPad Pro Technologies and Intangibles.

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Raw Support Coming to iOS 10

Well now, this is interesting. PetaPixel spotted a feature in one of the slides during yesterday’s WWDC keynote that reads: “RAW photo editing.” We don’t yet know the details, but if iOS finally supports raw images, that could be a giant leap for mobile photo workflows. Raw is typically where the iPad has thrown a wrench into the works (as I describe in my book and elsewhere).

iOS 10 is available now to developers, with a public beta coming in July. The update will be available for everyone in the fall when we’ll see new iPhone models. I would bet (and the PetaPixel article brings up) that we’ll see some sort of raw capture on the new iPhones and perhaps the iPad, too.

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ColorSync Support in iOS 9.3 (!)

Truetone cool warm

Shortly after Apple announced the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, I wrote a very quick take on the new True Tone display feature. True Tone automatically adjusts the color temperature of the iPad’s screen to complement the ambient light of your surroundings. For example, have you ever been in a room with warm light and checked email on an iPad, only to lose your eyeballs from the cool-bright burst of light? (Maybe I exaggerate…) True Tone is the answer to that.

However, my initial reaction as a photographer was wariness. If the color of the screen is changing depending on my environment, how can I do any sort of accurate editing? I confirmed that this will be a setting that can be turned off. And I continue to wait until I can get my hands on a device and test it out.

Well, True Tone turns out to be a lot more interesting. Developer Craig Hockenberry noted that the expanded color gamut of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is just the beginning:

In order to make the effect work, iOS needs color management. And with iOS 9.3, that capability is now here—and open for other developers to work with:

The Open Radar report Craig created notes that iOS 9.3 now supports ColorSync, the technology found in OS X for managing color profiles.

Additionally, starting with iOS 9.3 ColorSync support was added to UIKit.

I’ve noticed that it works correctly for both UIColor in a UILabel and with a UIImage in a UIImageView. Are there any other places where ICC profiles are used?

In a conversation with Apple engineers, I also learned that some older devices do not match color. That’s fine, but devices should be listed so our apps can adapt gracefully to this situation.

Why is color management important? Until now, every iOS device ships with just one color profile, sRGB, which is a good general color space for drawing color on screens. The problem is that not all screens are built the same: the photo you view on your laptop may look different on a desktop monitor, which may look different still on a mobile device. Color management is a way to adjust each of those screens so that the image you’re working on remains consistent.

Apple’s screens are generally very good, but for photographers and other visual artists and designers, the inability to adjust the color profile has meant that the iPad is excluded from any serious image-processing workflows.

Now, with true color management possible on the iPad Pro, the tablet may find a place in that chain, and perhaps photographers will be able to do final adjustment work on an iPad instead of bringing a laptop.

We’ll see when the 9.7-inch iPad Pro begins to ship. As Craig notes in his report, it’s not clear whether this capability extends to other hardware or if this iPad Pro is the only one. But with a ColorSync foundation in iOS, it puts more “Pro” into iPad Pro.

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The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the Missing USB 3 Speed

iPad Pro with SD Adapter side

I write this knowing that it sounds like I have a particularly odd spec fixation, but it’s something my brain keeps coming back to.

The newly-announced 9.7-inch iPad Pro (yes, that’s the official name) is in many ways just like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but with a different-sized screen. They’re both powered by A9X processors and M9 coprocessors; both support the Apple Pencil; both have four speakers that adapt to how the device is being held; and both claim up to 10 hours of battery life.

In some ways, the 9.7-inch model improves upon the larger one:

  • The True Tone display technology that adapts the color temperature of the screen based on the ambient lighting
  • A wider color gamut (the DCI-P3 color space, which is also used by the 5K iMac)
  • Better cameras—a 12 megapixel (MP) iSight camera with Focus Pixels on the back, and a 5 MP FaceTime camera on the front
  • A screen that Apple says is 40 percent less reflective than an iPad Air 2 (hooray!)

But in one crucial way—especially for photographers—the 9.7-inch iPad Pro lags behind the 12.9-inch model, and it’s almost enough to make me pause. Tucked at the bottom of the description for the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter is this caveat (emphasis mine):

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro transfers data at USB 3 speeds, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro uses USB 2.

With so many shared components, why does the smaller model get stuck with slow file transfers?

If we were talking about laptops or desktops, this would be a bigger deal, because there are more occasions when you transfer data over USB. Looking at broader iPad usage, really not a lot of data passes through the Lightning connector other than if you sync to a computer using iTunes. Most people don’t need it.

But for photographers who want to transfer photos for review or editing from a camera to the iPad, this is almost crippling.

When I reviewed the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I made a short comparison video showing import speeds using the old SD card adapter and the new USB 3-capable one. Transferring 1.5 GB of image files took 30 seconds via USB 3 and 2 minutes 20 seconds via USB 2. That’s the actual data transfer; just moving image thumbnails so I could preview the photos before importing took 23 seconds via USB 3 and 1 minute 16 seconds via USB 2.

That effectively means that when you want to transfer photos to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, you need to also come up with something else to do while that’s happening, because it’s not going to be quick. (And the 9.7-inch model also doesn’t benefit from the fast charging feature in the 12.9-inch model using an Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter and a USB-C to Lightning cable.)

Other methods of getting photos onto an iPad are available, such as transferring them via Wi-Fi to a camera or adapter that creates its own network or bouncing images to a cloud service like iCloud Photo Library or Lightroom mobile, but those aren’t as fast or reliable as a direct cable connection.

I don’t know Apple’s reasoning for demoting this promising new iPad in this way. Perhaps it’s a component space issue, having less room to fill compared to the 12.9-inch model. I hope it’s not a case of Apple wanting to eke out an extra 97-cents of profit by using cheaper parts. Is it an incentive to convince customers to spend more by buying a 12.9-inch iPad Pro? I hope to find out.

Putting a USB 2-speed Lightning port in the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro doesn’t doom it. My main reason for upgrading to one from my original iPad Air is for overall performance and the ability to use the Apple Pencil. But it does disappoint me that Apple could make a really fantastic tool for photographers by nudging it in a few directions—OS-level raw file support as in OS X, color profiles to bring the iPad into color management workflows, USB 3 speeds. [Update: And, ugh, it has just 2 GB of RAM, not 4 GB like the 12.9-inch model.]

I also recognize that those items really affect a small number of iPad owners. But as Apple says in their 9.7-inch iPad Pro video, “It’s where we believe personal computing is going.”

I just wish that could be a destination, and not just a direction.

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iPad Pro 9.7-inch and the Curious True Tone Display

iPadPro_97

Apple today introduced a 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro, and I think it’s the next iPad for me. Although I really liked the larger iPad Pro (see my review in the Seattle Times), I found myself drawn more to the traditional size of my trusty iPad Air. It was better for reading and certainly better for carrying around (considering that the iPad is not my main computer; your mileage may vary).

The new iPad has just about everything the larger iPad Pro does: faster A9X processor, four great speakers, Apple Pencil support, a Retina display (at 2048 by 1536 pixels), better cameras, and—surprisingly important to me—a Touch ID sensor; my little iPad Air is the first generation, which does not have Touch ID.

But there are also two details that I’m looking forward to learning more about and experiencing in person. The iPad Pro page reads:

A color standard big enough for Hollywood.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro display uses the same color space as the digital cinema industry. This wider color gamut gives iPad Pro up to 25 percent greater color saturation than previous iPad models. So colors are more vivid, true to life, and engaging.

This sounds very gee-whizzy, and the optimist in me wonders if this could actually be a step toward having color profiles. The realist in me is pretty sure it means the display technology is just improved, and there’s just the one default (as has always been the case with the iPad models).

The other new feature, though, is even more interesting:

See things in the best possible light. Whatever the lighting.

People love using iPad everywhere. That’s why the new 9.7‑inch iPad Pro has a True Tone display. It uses advanced four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the color and intensity of the display to match the light in your environment. Which means reading is more natural and comfortable — almost like looking at a sheet of paper.

In theory, this sounds great! How often have we turned on the iPad and been blinded by brightness or the stark white of a minimalist app? Making the viewing experience more comfortable in a variety of lighting conditions is quite cool.

For photographers, though, this sounds like a giant hassle. If the color temperature of the screen is changing based on surroundings, that means colors are going to shift. Viewing and editing photos becomes more of a crap-shoot. I hope there’s an option to disable this feature (or maybe there will be an API call that would enable developers of photo-editing software to turn it off while the app is running). [Update: I confirmed with Apple that you can turn off the feature in Settings.]

We’ll see. I’m looking forward to some hands-on time with the device to check these out in person.

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PhotosApp.Expert on iPad Mobile Workflow

The iPad Pro is prompting us to revisit mobile photo workflows using an iPad, and PhotosApp.Expert has just published a great overview of options: The Quest for a Viable iOS RAW Workflow. Definitely check it out.

I have an article coming soon for Macworld about how the iPad Pro stacks up for iPhoto photo workflows; I’ll post a link when it’s published.

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