I’m no stranger to the iPad. In fact, it once caused me not to get a job at an Apple store shortly after college. I was asked in an interview, “What do you think of the new iPad,” and I answered honestly (mistake number one in a job interview I would learn).
“I’m not sure how I feel about it, it doesn’t really do what I would want it to do.”
I didn’t get a call back for a second interview. Little did I know this would be the start of my rocky relationships with tablets.
In 2012, I bought refurbished a 32GB “New iPad.” With its retina screen, I told myself it would be the perfect portfolio alternative, and I could make myself look so cool by bringing a digital device to a client meeting, instead of a printed book.
“Who prints photos anymore? Clients will see me as cutting edge!”
That device currently is sitting on the floor next to my bed, unable to be updated past iOS 9, with a dead battery. I rarely use it anymore because of how slow it has become. And it certainly didn’t win me any clients. I think I may have used it professionally once or twice to have someone digitally sign a contract or a model release.
When the first iPad Pro was released I found myself holding it and thinking, “Well…it sure is big,” before using the newly launched apple pencil to crudely draw a penis on it and handing it back to my friend. I still didn’t see a good use for what was essentially a laptop without a keyboard.
Flash forward to 2017, where I found myself standing at the counter at my local Apple store looking at the three size options in front of me for “Pro” level iPads. I was sold (or so I told myself). I just needed to know what size fits me best. After a few hours of going back and forth with the demo models, I eventually decided to walk away. It just didn’t hold up to the experience I was getting from my laptop.
When the 2018 Apple announcement of the new iPad Pro came through, I once again found myself enamored with the idea of getting a laptop replacement. I studied the keynote, watched every review video, and made an appointment with myself to visit the apple store as soon as possible to play with one myself.
The idea that now this tablet was “more powerful than most PC laptops” and (would be) capable of running a “full” version of Photoshop really intrigued me.
The Tech Specs
To be fair, a lot of this section is pulled directly from Apple’s sales literature on the new iPad, and I will try my best to keep things brief here. This isn’t anything you can’t find for yourself with a quick Google search.
- Liquid Retina display
- 11 or 12.9-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi‑Touch display with IPS technology
- 2732-by-2048-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
- ProMotion technology
- Wide color display (P3)
- True Tone display
- A12X Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture
- Neural Engine
- Embedded M12 coprocessor
- 10 hour battery life
- New Apple Pencil with magnetic charging
After another agonizing hour going back and forth with price and specs, I decided to pull the trigger on the 12.9” model with 256GB of storage, with the new Apple Pencil. $1,380.24 retail after estimated Atlanta taxes.
To be fair, I had a friend hook me up with an Apple Friends and Family discount, which brought my price down to a little under $1200 after tax. Even with the discount, this is a pretty large chunk of change to throw down on something that I didn’t even know if it would fit into my workflow properly.
Once the device was delivered to me an hour later, I rushed home and completed the setup process and began playing with my new toy. I was determined to make it work for me.
Just about everything with the design of the device
The 12.9” screen is gorgeous and, combined with the True Tone Technology and night shift, I found it very easy to use in a variety of lighting conditions. Never did it blow out my eyes when used in the dark.
The new Apple Pencil is very responsive and feels great in hand. The new magnetic charging system makes it a great way to store and charge.
Battery life is pretty good. Apple rates it at 10 hours, and with moderate usage, I was able to only drop down to around 50% before it was time for bed.
The refresh rate still makes me very happy. It feels snappy when I swipe between pages on the home screen, or between pages in a book or magazine. I am impressed at how smooth everything is.
All of this packed into a device that is a great size that fits comfortably in my hands.
And I’ll be the first person to say I have tiny hands.
For the most part, I am very happy with the latest version of iOS. When used on the iPad Pro it does a great job at coming VERY close to a desktop-class OS. For the average user who is looking for a laptop replacement or substitute, it makes for a pretty good argument against competing products.
Apple choosing to move to a standardized charging/syncing solution is super smart. No more proprietary cables (for the most part), and if you are ok with dongles of varying sorts you can basically connect this device to just about anything (even if that connection can’t exactly do anything…more on this later). Even though I didn’t get a chance to try it, the ability to mirror to a 5K display was an impressive demo.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room straight away. This thing is not cheap. And for a similar price point, you are already into 13” Macbook territory. This makes the decision much harder when comparing side by side. Yes, technically you get more storage with the iPad, and that new processor supposedly is nothing to laugh at. But what you lose is RAM, and a FULL operating system (And at least for me, Capture One).
For all the great things that the iPad pro can do with its new port, there is one HUGE thing that it can’t do. At the time of this writing, the USB-C port cannot be used to interface directly with an external hard drive. This is a huge bummer because, in order to be competitive with a traditional laptop, I can’t really get around needing expandable storage.
But, you say, “The cloud! Can’t you use the cloud?” And my response to this is a decided “Yes and No.”
I downloaded the WD MyCloud app onto the iPad. It’s the same app that I use to manage my personal cloud from the go on my phone. And while I was able to eventually download a file into the iPad for editing, it was far from an elegant experience.
While iOS 12 can support plenty of different RAW files, it can only read them while in the Photos app, unless specifically coded into each individual app. Even in the Files app, you can’t see any thumbnails by default.
Now, once you download the file to your device, you can see a thumbnail just fine.
Now I suppose this could be solved by a product like a Gnarbox or the Lacie DJI Co-Pilot since they have a computer of sorts built in for processing (RAW previews), and generally can interface with other apps nicely. But by that point, you are spending ANOTHER $299-$499 on top of the storage you already spent which further makes the argument for a traditional laptop.
The one thing I didn’t try was Tethering.
But unless I’m using the Lightroom app I don’t think this will work for me as intended as well. From what I have seen, connecting a camera basically just opens up the photos app and downloads files from the SD card on the camera. Not a direct tethered shooting solution that I am used to from Capture One.
I suppose you could also use the USB-C SD card reader, but then you are once again having to load every file directly onto the internal storage of the iPad itself. And then moving them back off for long-term archiving brings up a whole other conversation.
I think that the lack of USB-C mass storage support is something that Apple could (and hopefully will) fix in an upcoming version of iOS. This two-way data movement and storage would change a LOT of my feelings about the iPad Pro as it stands today.
Lack of “Desktop Strength” photo editing solutions
This is one “con” where I think things are ALMOST there. A “full” version of Adobe Photoshop will be coming next year, but Lightroom CC already has a large user-base and supposedly does a pretty good job. I’m still not sold, I don’t like Adobe’s charge per month model. It’s just not for me. And all of it adds to the overall cost ($120 a year). There are some cheaper (and single purchase) options available, however.
Affinity Photo has long been the Photoshop analog that many photographers have fallen in love with. At the time of this writing, however, Affinity Photo hasn’t been updated in over a month, and likely hasn’t been optimized for these new processors yet. I fully believe that the next version of Affinity will work just fine and will be a very speedy piece of software.
But for me, I found it to be a touch clunky and certainly when I was doing some basic retouching there were several times I had to wait 15 seconds or so while the app crunched the data.
Affinity isn’t a bad option at all, and I think that part of my problems with it was just in learning a new piece of software. And once I got rolling I feel that things went rather smoothly. With the exception that it took me over an hour to retouch the above file, and even then I’m not 100% happy with the results. But I’ll let you guys judge for yourselves.
Backup and Archiving Workflow
My final gripe comes after you export the files out. By default, most of the apps I have played with wanted to export everything back into the camera roll of the iPad itself. Which then, of course, leads to duplicate files and space being eaten up by final deliverables.
I found a way to move things manually back to my WD Cloud, but it wasn’t elegant and took some experimenting with to move everything over. Then I was still left with having to delete the file manually to free up space on the device itself.
I like the 2018 iPad Pro, I really do. But I’m not IN LOVE with it.
Ok, I’m lying. I do love it. I think it’s designed well, I think the screen and pencil are both great, I think the audio on it is some of the best I have heard across any device. I like the idea of having iOS on a larger screen, that is still light enough to carry around one-handed. I like all of the potential that comes from multitasking.
From an Apple fanboy perspective, I really do love this device.
But from a photographer standpoint, it falls short. For me. My workflow just can’t accommodate the iPad Pro as it currently stands. But it’s so close!
With a few simple changes (USB-C Mass Storage, RAW Support in the Files app, and more Pro “Desktop Level” Apps from the likes of Adobe, Capture One, etc) all of which could potentially come at a software level without the need of additional hardware.
For day to day web surfing, email, notes, and other media consumption I love what has come from this latest generation of iPad. This makes me excited for what is to come with lower-spec devices that I would likely use more frequently.
I was at a meeting today and loved using the iPad to take notes on, and I loved being able to quickly surf the Web and find info I needed. I really want to have this device in my life, but unfortunately…I’m probably going to return it.
I’m going to give it through the weekend to grow on me a little more, maybe do some more playing around to see if I can better fit things into my life. But at this moment right now, I just can’t justify paying $1,200 for something that I can already do (arguably better) on my already-paid-for MacBook Pro. Thankfully Apple has a 14-day return period, because I would hate to have to try and re-sell this on the open market.
Maybe I’ll just wait a while and snatch up one of these once they hit the Refurbished section of the Apple store, or maybe grab one of last year’s models at a killer deal.
Or there is always next year’s model…
About the author: Blake Griffin is a photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Griffin runs UNEXPhotography and has his Bachelors of Arts with a concentration in film and photography, from Montana State University – Bozeman. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.