Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Top 5 iPad Pro Lessons

Five things that iPad Pro users should know

Tablet and a DSLR, a photographer's dream or nightmare?

  With all of the hype surrounding the announcement of the Apple iPad Pro today, I thought I should just share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last year of using a “Super-tablet” as part of my everyday photography workflow.  My intent is not to disparage the iPad Pro, which I think will be an excellent product, but rather to help those who are coveting one decide on whether or not it will actually help improve their workflow without significant changes to accommodate the “Super-tablet”.

   1.  The Screen is mightier than the Pen(cil)

     The great combo of the Apple Pencil and the super high resolution Retina display gives you the ability to have an incredible amount of control over the graphical effect that your hand-drawn strokes display.  The only bad part is that we artists often forget that the pencil tip is larger than a pixel (unlike what is show in the videos), and if you are sloppy with your pen placement, your drawing, selection, or masking will all be sloppy.  Why do I bring this up?  Feathering will still be your friend, even as accurate as the Apple Pencil will be. Think of it as smoothing for the hyper accurate Apple Pencil. (if you want to think positively!)
     To add insult to injury, if you are used to using a Wacom tablet and are accustomed to the feel of the pen across the surface, prepare to NOT have that same feedback on the iPad Pro screen.  Unless they bundle it with some custom screen protector, it will take a while to get used to the plastic-on-plastic slips and slides that you get with modern high-res displays, but refer to my point above.  Feathering is your friend.

   2.  Storage Rubs you RAW

     The good news is the A9X has an “upgraded storage controller” that will make it faster and more efficient in accessing the on-board storage.  But has anyone heard of plans to allow hard-wired storage?  I bring this up due to the large number of RAW files that photographers need to move from their camera into their image reviewing and editing programs then onto whatever temporary storage they have before the final transit home and into archival storage.  If you’ve ever tried to export or import an entire photoshoot’s worth of images via WiFi, you know just how frustrating it can be. 
     I think the A9X will help immensely in moving and arranging files ON the iPad Pro, which will be important with ever-increasing size of RAW files.  But on the other hand if you have to move files onto and off of your iPad Pro, expect it to NOT be blazingly fast.  (are we all tired of the MIMO WiFi promises of 800+ Mbps, yet?)  

   3.  Does your workflow include mealtime?

     While the A9X processor is billed as “more powerful than 80-90 percent of the laptops on the market”, as photographers we’re unhappy with about 95% of the laptops on the market. (numbers by total sales, not brands or models)    If you are having a hard time grasping this, you must be a creative professional who only uses the best tool for the job.  Now ask the rest of us in the corporate sector or Federal government, who use laptops that are slightly less powerful than a Garmin GPS.  A three year old Garmin GPS.  Don’t believe me?  Ask federal employees about the laptops they are issued that just might boot up before they return from the business trip they took it out on.
              What are some of the areas where this will be most apparent?
    • Opening RAW images
    • Building image previews
    • Exporting images to JPEG, TIFF, PNG formats
                    (and lots of other actions, filters, etc...)

     Does this sound familiar?  Are these areas that you’re already frustrated with your current
Mac or Windows laptop?  Don’t bet that the A9X is going to outperform your current machine.  It
will certainly run circles around previous iPad iterations of RAW management apps, image editing
apps or archiving apps, but don't expect it to be outperforming ZenBooks or RazerBlade ultrabooks.

   4.  Size does matter

     Stepping up to a 128GB tablet might feel pretty fulfilling at first.  Pretty soon, you'll find out that you will be emptying your full-filled machine.  In other words more moving of large numbers of files as discussed in issue #2.  I am consistently amazed by the creep in apps on mobile devices.  At least Apple has done a good job of keeping the default apps down to about 150MB, but come on, we all know you want to load your latest tower defense or "upset avian" games to kill the time between image editing.  While these won't eat up all your space, your portfolio soon will. You will have to be disciplined with uploading items to cloud storage and then removing them from your iPad Pro.  How do I know this?  The largest consumer of my current MS OneDrive space is my portfolio of edited images that I want to be accessible across all of my devices! Long story short, I work on a 512 GB device and I find back-to-back trips filling my SSD until I can offload the files to an external HDD while traveling or Network Attached Storage when at home.  (See point #2 above)

   5.  Optional accessories are NOT optional

     Maybe the reason that the keyboard and pencil aren't included in the iPad Pro is so that they can offer a variety of options and new upgrades without forcing you to buy a specific one in the iPad box.  Just don’t think these are optional accessories.  Whether it is the use of hotkeys to execute shortcuts in more powerful software, or in filling in the metadata on your photos that you have just imported, don’t discount how essential a keyboard will be during this part of your workflow.  Oh, and your Apple Pencil isn’t included, either.

     So, the $99 pencil and the $169 keyboard add $258 to the total price for a properly kitted iPad Pro.  Is this a "show stopper"?  No, but let's at least be honest that the two accessories that are critical to making the iPad Pro more than a 4K movie screen are not included with the baseline model.

    Excellent, you've read this far!

     Well, since you humored me enough to read this far, I must thank you for your endurance.  If you are wondering what tablets I've used over the past year, I've incorporated both a Samsung Note 10.1 and a Surface Pro 3 (512GB Core i7) into my daily workflow.  I can't say enough good things about the pen-capable, tablet form factor of the Surface Pro 3.  I also can't say enough bad things about the compromises in stepping down from a touch-screen ultrabook.  But I guess that is why I wrote this quick article... Hopefully you've learned from my mistakes and now you can apply the knowledge to your decision on whether or not to buy the iPad Pro.  Trust me, I'd love to try one, but it will be too hard to justify since I already possess no less than 5 tablet devices in  my house!
      Good luck and let me know how the iPad Pros work out once they arrive in your photographer's hands!

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