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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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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The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Color Gamut

Harbor sRGB

I was working late one night a few weeks ago and saw a tweet by Craig Hockenberry that immediately piqued my interest. The new iPad Pro 9.7-inch model had just been announced, with an intriguing new True Tone display feature that adjusts the screen’s color temperature based on the ambient light in the room. And Craig, one of the first iOS developers outside of Apple, recognized what was going on:

I wrote more in “ColorSync Support in iOS 9.3 (!)” about why color management on an iOS device is a new and exciting development, particularly for photographers.

Soon after, Craig asked if I had any wide-gamut photos he could use to test with, and I happily sent him a few images. Many of them are HDR (high dynamic range) photos, which I supplied saved in both ProPhoto RGB and AdobeRGB color spaces. Each space includes more color than the standard sRGB color space used by all other iOS devices (including the 12.9-inch iPad Pro). He put one of the ProPhoto images onto three different iPads to see the immediate difference:

The iPad mini 2 can’t handle the ProPhoto color space at all, which is why the shot is so bland. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro does better, and you can see a little improvement in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro at the bottom.

If you have a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, you can see the difference for yourself: Craig set up a simple Web page that lets you load the images and compare against sRGB. You should also be able to see it on a 5K iMac, which also uses the same expanded PCI-3 color space, but I haven’t had a chance to view it on one.

The difference is most noticeable in the Harbor photo: Look at the orange streaky reflections in the water at the center of the image and tap the Compare sRGB button. The other images aren’t as noticeable—I have trouble telling the sRGB differences, probably because the gamut is most pronounced at the red/orange end of the spectrum.

Craig writes more about it on his site, which I highly recommend: Looking at the Future.

Many thanks to Craig for featuring my photos in his explorations. As a reminder, I sell prints of my photos, so if any of those strike your fancy, contact me.

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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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How the iPad Pro Stacks Up as a Photographer’s Tool

IPad Pro with SD Adapter top

The iPad Pro has a lot going for it, so I took a look specifically in terms of how it can be used by photographers for a new article at Macworld: How the iPad Pro Stacks Up as a Photographer’s Tool.

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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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Quick Lightning to SD Card Adapter Speed Comparison

I’ve just received Apple’s newest Lightning to SD Card adapter, which provides USB 3 speeds when transferring photos to an iPad Pro (see more here).

I performed a quick import of 40 Raw+JPEG images totaling 1.5 GB of data using the new adapter and the old one on an iPad Pro. Watch here:

Results:

Loading thumbnail previews

Old/USB 2: 01:16

2015/USB 3: 00:23

Importing Images

Old/USB 2: 02:20

2015/USB 3: 00:30

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iPad Pro Lightning Port Is USB 3 Speed

Update, Nov. 12, 2015: I just confirmed with a source at Apple that there are forthcoming adapters that take advantage of the USB 3 speeds, but they aren’t yet confirming when they will ship. That’s bare-bones Apple-ese for “Yep, and you’ll find out more when we’re ready.”

As iPad Pro units are now shipping, people are discovering the USB 3 hardware and testing copy speeds between the iPad Pro and computers.

Original post, Sep. 11, 2015:

I learned a little tidbit from a source today: the Lightning port on the upcoming iPad Pro will transfer data at USB 3 speeds, faster than current iPads. 

That’s potentially good news for photographers and videographers who import images and video clips from SD cards or cameras directly to the iPad for editing and reviewing. I don’t know offhand if the existing Lightning camera adapters will also support that speed or if new adapters will be required. But it’s a welcome change for those of us who have spent many many minutes waiting for media to transfer before we can act on it.

I can’t wait to learn more details as we get closer to the November release date.

Related: I’m running a survey to see how photographers are using the iPad in their workflows. It takes just a couple of minutes, and you could win a bundle of three of my latest books. Click here to take the survey.

The iPad for Photographers survey results are here.

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