I am an Apple product devotee. I have been for more than 10 years now since my first purchase of the second generation of iPhone, 17” MacBook Pro (oh how I wish we could know still get something bigger than the 15” that is the top tier now), the very first generation of the iPad and the 27” iMac that first graced my desk in 2010. I have owned every generation of iPhone and iPad (except for any of the 2016 / 2017 models of iPad which I will explain my reasoning further in this article) and now rely on them for the majority of my daily tasks like email, social media, web browsing etc etc.
Back in 2015 when Apple first released the iPad Pro, I preordered one in the hope of using it for many of the “professional” tasks Apple promised it would be capable of. I laid down the $1300 Apple was asking (plus accessories like the Apple Pencil and keyboard case) without question, as the thought of incorporating it into my web development / online marketing / blogging and article creation / image editing workflow was quite exciting. Sadly though, as much as I tried to combat the limitations I was finding, the reality was that iOS and the apps that were available at the time simply didn’t provide the functionality that warranted the “Pro” moniker Apple gave it’s shiny new “laptop replacement”. The “cloud” as we think of it today was more of a disjointed connection between device and online storage rather than being a streamlined way of sharing files and content between different devices. And with no true file management solution on the iPad Pro, professional content creators were left wanting more.
Sure, for it’s time the processing power and beautiful 12.9” screen were class leading within the tablet market. But what good is a piece of powerful computing hardware without an operating system and software to take advantage of that power? Ultimately my 2015 12.9” iPad Pro became nothing more than a content consumption device. An oversized one at that. I didn’t see the point in travelling with it. I was constantly thinking about the limitations of it rather than the convenience of having a device Apple marketed as the ultimate mobile computing tool. So I sold it and moved on.
Fast forward to today, and after skipping the 2016 and 2017 lineup of iPads, here I am currently sitting here typing this article on the 2018 iPad Pro 11” with 4G connectivity. The current generation of iPad Pro hit the market in November 2018. Just like the iPhone, there is no longer a home button, allowing Apple to create a device with thinner bezels filled by a beautiful Liquid Retina display. Face ID replaces the fingerprint sensor. Basically the 2018 iPad Pro in both the 11” and 12.9” models are a big, beautiful piece of glass that does it best to remove distractions from its design and user interface to allow you to focus entirely on the content being displayed on the screen.
Now I need to make this very clear – the 2018 iPad Pro is not cheap. For the purchase price of the iPad, second generation Apple Pencil and a case, you could buy a 13” MacBook Pro. For some of the 12.9” models, you could buy a 15” MacBook instead. And for these prices I genuinely feel that they are marketed directly at those that make their income in a professional creative industry. There will always be comparisons made to laptops when talking about the capabilities of a tablet computer. And for the rest of this article I will be doing my best not to make that direct comparison, because in many ways I don’t think that is fair. Apple have designed the 2018 iPad Pro as a stand-alone device in it’s own class. The power of the A12X processor is insanely fast, and in benchmark comparisons run by multiple authoritative resources shows speed that far outpaces the majority of laptops available at the time of writing this article.
For those that don’t know me personally, I travel extensively hosting photography workshops, other photography related educational events, commercial shoots, and for personal photography trips. My traditional computing requirements in terms of photography involve extensive use of both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop on Macs. Within Adobe Lightroom I process RAW files and use it as my asset management and cataloguing platform. Within Photoshop I am doing any of the “heavy lifting” required to process and edit my files beyond RAW. Changes made within Photoshop and then saved back into Lightroom which is the cataloguing solution I use for all of my completed images, projects and commercial shoots.
Adobe recently announced the release of Adobe Photoshop CC for the iPad. This single piece of software is a huge part of the reason why I made the decision to purchase the 2018 iPad Pro. As of writing this, Photoshop CC has sadly still not been released. But in the now 4 years since the release of the original iPad Pro, both iOS and photography apps produced by independent developers have advanced extremely quickly. There are now apps on the market which in my opinion are powerful enough and offer enough features to suit many photographers. Sure, when compared to laptop or desktop solution some things within the overall workflow will need to be done a little differently. But the reality is we are now extremely close to being able to consider the 2018 iPad Pro as a “replacement” to a laptop in many situations.
For the rest of this article I am going to discuss and go into more depth about how I am currently using the iPad Pro within my photography workflow. I will point out that I am and will mostly be using it while travelling and am still primarily using my 27” 5K iMac and 15” MacBook Pro for commercial work, long term asset management and when I am at home. This is also not a specific in depth review for the apps I will mention.
The apps I am using for now for the actual image editing process are Adobe Lightroom CC and Affinity Photo. Unfortunately using apps from these different developers does not allow the seamless and streamlined multi app communication the Lightroom + Photoshop would (and will eventually) offer. But, lets from now on think of the iPad it’s own device. Let’s forget that laptops and desktop computers even exist and focus on what we can currently do with the beautiful, powerful and extremely impressive 2018 iPad Pro.
I am going to break down my workflow into the following 5 different steps – shoot (full frame digital SLR or mirrorless in RAW) , import, process, manage and share. I want to give an overview of what I am doing with the iPad Pro from the initial capturing process all the way through to the end result of either sharing images on social media or giving them to a client. I am looking at my requirements from a professional point of view. I still want to be able to do as many of the tasks, file management and editing techniques that I possibly can while I am travelling and incorporate that into my entire long term workflow.
Shooting photos for the iPad Pro
This is the part of the process where I personally don’t actually use the iPad Pro to create content. I don’t know about you, but the thought of using a 11″ or 12.9” iPad Pro as a camera just doesn’t work for me. But for those that are inclined to do so, the 12 megapixel back facing camera is essentially the same that Apple have used in the iPhone XR. For me personally I currently use the iPhone XS to produce imagery for behind the scenes story posts on my social media accounts and for my own personal memories. And transferring images between the iPhone and iPad Pro is very straightforwards using either Airdrop, iCloud sync or any of the major cloud storage platforms.
To capture RAW images with an iPhone I use either Halide, Camera+ or the camera option in Lightroom CC mobile. The Camera app that Apple pre-install on the iPhone does not capture RAW images, but instead produces HEIC or JPG images which are already heavily compressed. There are countless apps available to be able to capture RAW images though.
Nearly all of the imagery I share is captured with some form of DSLR or full frame mirrorless cameras such as the Canon 5Ds / 5DsR / 5D Mk IV / 5D Mk III / EOS-R or even the medium format Fuji GFX50-s at times. I always shoot in RAW. I never shoot with RAW + JPG either, so all of my images need to be processed in some way. RAW files vary in size from 40MB to 120MB depending on which of the above cameras I have used. And I shoot a lot of images when I am travelling or hosting any workshops or other events.
Importing photos into the iPad Pro
Getting images onto the iPad is reasonably straightforwards. Apple have designed iOS to use the Photos app as the central image storage and image management solution for the entire operating system. This means that external applications talk to the camera roll, so when capturing images from a camera, saving images from a cloud storage solution, or importing images from an external source such as an SD card they all end up within the camera roll accessible via the Photos app. You can add new “albums” to help with some sort of file management. I have an album named “RAW” which I import all of my images to when they have been captured on any of the above mentioned cameras.
If your images have been captured from another iPhone and you have iCloud sync turned on (and are using the same Apple ID across your devices and have enough storage capacity in your iCloud account), they will automatically appear on your iPad (as long as you have some form of internet connection). This will happen for any of the major image file types including RAW.
The 2018 iPad Pro uses USB-C as its connector type rather than Lightning which is Apples own proprietary connector. Now I know that every time Apple change their connectors this means a change all sorts of cables, additional dongles etc etc. But with the iPad Pro being marketed as a “professional” tool, the advantages of USB-C over Lightning are interoperability with a huge range of third party devices (without needing to be “Certified by Apple”). An example of this is the latest model Canon EOS-R which has a USB-C connector built into it. This means being able to plug the camera directly into the iPad Pro and import directly from the external device.
For cameras without a USB-C port, Apple and many third party manufacturers produce USB-C dongles for SD / Compact Flash and Micro SD cards. Just plug the card into the dongle connected to the iPad Pro and you can import to the camera roll from there. The faster your flash card and reader, the faster the import process will be.
Unfortunately as of writing this, iOS 12 does not allow the iPad Pro to see data on any external drive I have tested from Seagate, Western Digital or Lacie that is plugged directly into the USB-C port. There are third party applications from most major hard drive manufacturers to be able to view contents of an external drive wirelessly or via some sort of cloud platform (such as WD MyCloud). There are options such as Gnarbox and DJI Co Pilot which flash cards like SD and Micro SD cards can be plugged directly into to import data from the cards, and then apps that will wirelessly talk to the iPad to perform file importing. For me personally these devices add an extra step into the workflow, but can be a great way to ensure you have multiple copies of your files for backup purposes.
Something to think about during this process is the storage capacity of your iPad Pro. It doesn’t take long to start filling up the internal storage when you are shooting large RAW files. Taking into account any caching or extra files being created by apps like Lightroom CC, or any large file exports that happen with Affinity Photo, I tend to be more selective about what I am importing. I don’t really need to import 20 images of the exact same scene. I back up my images directly onto external drives very regularly when I am traveling, and prefer not to treat the iPad as a backup device itself.
As mentioned above I typically import my RAW files into an album called “RAW”. If there is a specific purpose for an image, or if I want to be able to identify a file quicker I will perhaps add it another album to help make finding it easier. Something to be aware of is whether you have iCloud Photos Sync turned on in the settings of the iPad. If you are importing RAW files to the camera roll, and you have iCloud Photos sync turned on, they will upload into your iCloud storage, using lots of data along the way. It may be a good idea to only allow photos to sync to iCloud when you are connected to a wi-fi network.
Editing and Processing photos on the iPad Pro
The two apps I am using as of writing this article for processing any of my images including all RAW files are Adobe Lightroom CC or Affinity Pro which I will get into more below. But first the look and feel of the 2018 iPad Pro has been described as “industrial” with its flat metal edges and back being a change from the curved edges of some previous model iPads. The flat edge provides a magnetic charging and resting place for the newly designed Apple Pencil. I personally like the new design of the iPad Pro. It looks and feels as if it is made for working on. And as a “Pro” device, this to me is a good thing.
The screen is incredibly sharp and easy to look at for long periods of time, although some have complained about the LCD screen not being a pure black compared to what OLED screens like those of the iPhone XS can produce when watching video. For me personally the screen itself is very nice to edit photos on. The colour depth and high resolution make for a great photo editing screen.
Using the new Apple Pencil in either Lightroom CC or Affinity Photo seems like the more natural way to edit images than using your fingers, especially for those that use Wacom tablets or similar devices. The Apple Pencil in combination with pinch and zoom and other gestures like two or three finger taps for undo and redo take a bit to get used to, but felt very natural to me in no time at all.
Apart from that small learning curve of working out gestures and the obvious thing of learning the specific capabilities of either Lightroom CC or Affinity Photo, editing photos on the iPad Pro is extremely intuitive and the interface of the touch screen feels natural to use.
Lightroom CC for iPad Pro
With the recent release and updates made to the Adobe Creative Cloud collection has come an big push towards making their apps useful on mobile devices. Lightroom CC has a lot of the major RAW and image processing features that are offered on it’s corresponding desktop app (also please note that Adobe Lightroom CC and Adobe Lightroom Classic CC are different apps) and uses Creative Cloud storage to sync smart previews of files contained within your laptop / desktop based catalogues if you configure it to do so. Any device that is using the same Creative Cloud account will be able to see files that have been synced to the cloud. Create a catalogue on your desktop Mac for example and sync it, and you can see those images on your iPad or iPhone.
The editing features in Lightroom CC on the iPad Pro will be very familiar to anyone who has used Adobe Lightroom before. After importing a file from within the camera roll, you will be able to make adjustments to exposure, colour, cropping, sharpening, geometry, lens corrections. There are the basic spot healing and selective adjustments like radial and gradient filters. You can also rate files, add keywords, view metadata and create a file structure that suits your own organisational needs.
Something which I hope Adobe do improve on within Lightroom CC is the ability to “export originals” on images which have been synced from an external catalogue. At present Lightroom CC is only reading and creating smart previews in the cloud (unless the file was shot from within the Lightroom CC app camera option), so technically you cannot export a file as RAW, TIFF or PSD file which has been synced. The export becomes a JPG. Even when using the Creative Cloud app on the iPad Pro to do an export, it only creates JPG images. This was a bit frustrating to find out as my hope was to have images that are available for print on my website, current client work and some other images I require access to being synced and accessible to me anywhere. Lightroom is known for its asset management capabilities, and unfortunately Lightroom CC on mobile devices falls a bit short when being used within the entire professional workflow I have.
For the majority of people, Adobe Lightroom CC will do a great job at processing RAW and other files, and does so extremely quickly even with the bigger files of a Fuji GFX-50s. The Apple Pencil makes for a great input device and makes adjusting sliders and making other selective adjustments very simple. All of the editing features and tools you would expect from Lightroom work the way they should on the iPad Pro. And the syncing that currently happens, while somewhat limited by the export options while using synced albums means you have a standardised preview of the current edit settings available on all devices.
Exporting from Lightroom CC can be done to either the iPad camera roll, or shared via any compatible app such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook or your favourite email application. During the export process you are asked whether you want to export as a “Small – 2048px” wide image, or “Maximum Available”. Either way the image will be a JPG, no matter where you export to. Which limits the options to be able to send a higher resolution TIF file for example to a printing company. If this is a requirement for an image file you produce on the iPad, Affinity Photo will be a much better option as there is far more flexibility in your output file types.
Affinity Photo for iPad Pro
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article Adobe have announced that a fully functional Photoshop CC will be available for the iPad Pro sometime in 2019. It has been 6 months since that announcement, and I am sure that just like me, many others would have considered purchasing the new iPad Pro because of this one app. Since it’s not available yet though, there is a very good alternative and quite possibly even more advanced option (at least to begin with when Photoshop does get released) in Affinity Photo. I will admit that I was definitely surprised by the functionality, performance, user interface of what really is an incredibly powerful app for the iPad Pro. It received Apple’s coveted “App of the Year” crown for 2018.
Affinity Photo can process RAW files, handles unlimited layers, refined selection tools, layer blend modes and opacity adjustments, masking, all of the familiar adjustment layers such as curves, levels, HSL, exposure, brightness, black and white and many more. You can make refined selections via channels which allows for luminosity masking and other advanced editing techniques, or you can select objects with via selection brushes, freehand selection, rectangular marques and more. The features set offered within Affinity Photo will be enough for a lot of photographers needs. You can create panoramas, HDR merges and focus merging. The options for layering provide endless opportunity for refined adjustments or even for more creative tasks like image compositing.
Affinity Photo does not have a true file management interface as such, and instead relies on the camera roll or Apple Files app. And this is something I really like about Affinity – you are able to open and edit PSD, TIFF, PNG, JPG and any other major file type you can think of. RAW files from every camera I listed earlier and many more will open up quickly, and the performance of Affinity Photo is incredible thanks to the speed and power of the iPad Pro hardware.
Not only can you open files of all types, but you can also export your images as PSD (so far every file I have created in Affinity or within Photoshop on desktop or laptop will open up across either platform), TIFF, EPS, SVG and more. There are options for multiple colourspaces like Adobe RGB, sRGB, Display P3 and others. The number of features available within Affinity Photo is ridiculous. It truly is a fully featured imaging tool that is unmatched on an iPad. If you have ever used Photoshop, the tools will feel very familiar. As apps go Affinity Pro is extremely well priced for the features it could offer a professional photographer who wants to incorporate the iPad Pro into the workflow.
File Management on the iPad Pro
For me, getting this part of the photography workflow using an iPad Pro to work in a streamlined way is an ongoing and evolving process. I don’t use the iPad Pro as a “backup device” as such, and prefer to rely on my desktop Lightroom catalogues, NAS and a combination of cloud platforms for long term asset management. When I do edit images on the iPad Pro I require the layer information to remain intact from Affinity Photo to be able to potentially re-process that in Photoshop on a desktop or laptop at a later date. Or I would like the exact same file that I have shared to social media after processing it on the iPad to be available on other devices if I require that later. Basically I do not want what I am doing on the iPad to be isolated to the iPad only. I want access to my work from other devices.
Apple have a file management application named Files (appropriate, I know..) which can connect with all of the major cloud storage systems such as their own iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. You can view and manage files that are saved directly onto the iPad from within Affinity Photo. You can sort and create any type of file structure that suits your own requirements just as you would on any current major cloud storage platform. Third party applications from Western Digital and other storage device manufacturers can plug into the Files app, making files stored on a personal cloud system available to you anywhere you may be.
Apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Box have their own standalone apps. If you need to have access to images or other files across as many devices as possible then I highly recommend Dropbox. I have used most of the major cloud storage platforms at one stage or another and always go back to Dropbox as my main solution. Backing up or accessing and sharing images is a very straightforward process these days. You will just be reliant on having access to an internet connection.
The Files app does not look at your camera roll though. Any image management within the Photos app is going to be ongoing based on the number of photos you capture, import or export from Lightroom or Affinity. I regularly delete images from my camera roll including the large RAW files I do choose to import. This not only helps with saving storage space on the iPad Pro, but it also helps keep the crazy number of images I personally produce organised and streamlined, as well as ensures I am not pushing too much data back up into the cloud via iCloud sync unnecessarily.
iOS 12 does not allow the iPad Pro to talk to external mass storage devices (other than flash cards) via USB-C. This is a shortcoming that is rumoured to be fixed in iOS 13 and is one I think still holds the iPad Pro back from its “professional” level capabilities. Being able to plug a hard drive directly into the USB-C port to read, import and export files is something that should be implemented. Very quickly. I have read many complaints about this single feature. And I completely understand why it upsets people…
Sharing images from the iPad Pro
Sharing images is more than just being able to post something onto social media for many photographers. Sending images to clients, creating imagery for article content, sending images off to be printed, backing up projects to cloud storage, and of course sharing to social media are all things that I would personally need to be doing in a photography workflow. As long as you have a good internet connection, moving files around between the iPad Pro and various cloud storage solutions is very easy. The camera roll of an iPad Pro will sync via iCloud to make images accessible across multiple Apple devices. Airdrop is one of the best things Apple have ever implemented into their devices and is something I use nearly every day. How awesome is it to be able to instantly send a photo from one device to another with Airdrop? Moving your images and files onto an external storage device connected to the USB-C port though, not so easy unfortunately.. Not yet anyway.
This article has been written and produced entirely on the iPad Pro. With the integration of the Apple Files app, creating, renaming and uploading images into this blog post from WordPress is just as easy as doing it from a Mac or PC. The images were captured or edited directly from the iPad.
Sharing images to Facebook or Instagram (who don’t have a native iPad app) is just like doing so from an iPhone. If I need to make files available to a printing company while I am on the road, having access to my library of completed edits within Dropbox gives me a convenient and accessible place to do so and to share them from. I do wish that I could have my completed edits synced and available to me as original files via Lightroom CC, and I am sure that will happen. And that makes using Lightroom CC on the iPad Pro still feel a bit disconnected from the rest of my workflow and image cataloguing when using a desktop or laptop.
Other than wanting to be able to plug a hard drive into the USB-C port to take advantage of file transfer speeds and have the convenience of local file backups and access to a bigger number of files, I have not found any real world image sharing task that I have had to perform that I cannot do directly from the iPad Pro so far. That’s not to say that there won’t be people out there who will have specific requirements or needs to suit their own workflow. But for me, the iPad Pro works and I have been able to perform every task that has been required while I have been travelling and using it for photography.
What I like about the 2018 iPad Pro for photography
– Beautiful design of the iPad itself. Comfortable to hold and use for long periods of time.
– The Liquid Retina screen is great to look at and is very responsive to touch both with fingers and the Apple Pencil. The thin bezels around the edge of the screen allow for an almost edge to edge screen display.
– The second generation Apple Pencil is a great input device with high levels of touch and pressure sensitivity.
– The performance and processing power is incredible. Hopefully app developers like Adobe can take full advantage of the capabilities.
– File management is reasonably straightforward. Things are done slightly differently to MacOS but the cloud based structure is familiar enough to use.
– Affinity Photo is an incredibly powerful image editing app. It will take a lot for Adobe to match the features Affinity already offers with the first version of Photoshop CC for iPad Pro.
What I don’t like about the 2018 iPad Pro for photography
– As of writing this article external mass storage devices cannot be connected directly to USB-C. This will hopefully change with iOS 13.
– Lightroom CC does not allow the exporting of anything other than JPG images unless the file was captured with the camera function inside of the app. I want to be able to control how I export my files from synced catalogues.
– The purchase price of the 2018 iPad Pro is very expensive. Add accessories like the Apple Pencil and a case of keyboard and we are talking MacBook Pro prices.
5 images edited using the 2018 iPad Pro and Affinity Photo