Review: The Apple iPad Pro

Apple has a lame horse in their stable. For years now sales of iPad’s have been an underperforming weak spot in a portfolio of otherwise indescribably popular products. As extremely portable laptops continued to get cheaper and more ubiquitous, sales of tablets began to dwindle as consumers no longer felt the need to have a device purely dedicated to consumption. Why have an iPad to catch up on the news in bed when your laptop weighs less than three pounds and can also do all that other neat stuff? Why lug around a big screen when your phone has its own big screen as well? And for years, that’s exactly what the iPad was. A fancy device to consume content, an object of desire indeed, but certainly not a must have.

With the introduction of the massive and expensive iPad Pro (Apple iPad Pro (128GB, Wi-Fi, Space Gray) – 12.9″ Display), Apple is attempting to breathe new life into the stagnant tablet arena by offering up the first tablet aggressively aimed at content creators. With early supporters like Adobe on board, Apple seems poised to reposition the tablet as a useful tool instead of just a luxury device.

But do we need this? I’ve left the technical break down of this device to people much smarter than me. What I wanted to know is simple. As a professional photographer, can an iPad Pro in any way speed up or enhance my workflow? Is this truly a product that can enhance or add to productivity? So I have in my possession a space grey 128gig wifi model to find out.

For clarifications sake, I am only going to briefly and sporadically touch upon the technical specifications of the iPad Pro (Apple iPad Pro (128GB, Wi-Fi, Space Gray) – 12.9″ Display). Better and more tech oriented reviewers/sites have covered this at length. I also will not be reviewing the actual camera of the iPad Pro in any meaningful capacity whatsoever. I am approaching this from the angle of a professional image maker (in my case, photographer) and my only goal is to figure out whether or not the iPad Pro is a useful addition to a photographers arsenal.

First Impression

Without a doubt, this is a technically impressive device (whether or not you are better off with a Surface Pro or something similar is a debate for another day). The latest a9x processor scales back form 3 cores to 2, however we see a clock speed increase of approximately 50% and moving through apps and common tasks on the device is effortless, speedy, and true to apple form, logical and sorted. Additionally, the experience is very familiar. If you are reading this, it is likely that at some point in time you’ve owned an iOS device and therefore the learning curve on the iPad Pro (Apple iPad Pro (128GB, Wi-Fi, Space Gray) – 12.9″ Display) is straight forward.

Although I did not have one on hand for this review, I can’t imagine owning this unit over the long term without a case as it is impossibly thin (in an impressive way) and therefore, and partially due to its size, kind of slippery. I would like to see a future unit come with a backside with a bit more feel but given Apple’s own design language that is unlikely, and just as easily solved by the right case or sleeve.

The screen is what you would expect from Apple, bright, colour accurate(ish) out of the box, high resolution and stunning to behold. I can only promise you that if you leave this thing on full brightness and suddenly turn it up in the middle of the night, your eyes are in for a surprise.

Unfortunately, there were no Apple Pencils available to pair with my review unit, a disappointment indeed but I’m going to fairly concluded that much of the editing experiences I had with this unit would have only been improved greatly with the Pencil, however I did not mind using my fingers to fix blemishes etc. I apologize for not having the unit long enough to wait out the arrival of the Pencil, and i would love to acquire another test unit to do so, but for now that is not in the cards.

I’m going to stop my initial impression here. The iPad Pro has been poured over by many other sites and I’m more interested in reporting to you what its like to actually use in the very specific case of attempting to work it into the work flow of a photographer. I used it in three distinct (I believe ways) and I will report them as such. I was fascinated by the potential of this device and I will share my final thoughts after these three test cases. Is the iPad Pro worth its considerable asking price? According to Apple, the price is justified by the enhanced capability of their newest and most powerful tablet ever. And this is where the review truly begins as I set out to put it through its image handling paces to test its merit.

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Test One: This test was completely unplanned and the first time I actually got to put the iPad Pro through a real world usage scenario. I was sitting in a coffee shop and working on this article (on a Macbook Pro, not the iPad), when a client I’d recently shot a book cover for sent me a text asking if I could do a quick edit on one of the images from the shoot that she could use on her blog. I realized that I actually still had all the shoot images on my camera, which was with me, and so I got to work in seeing if I could bypass my laptop entirely and provide a high enough quality edit using only the camera (Sony A7R II) and the iPad Pro.

The first step was to set my camera to its wireless ‘send’ mode, which in this case was set to ‘send to smart phone’. This initiated the camera’s ability to set itself up as a hotspot, and I then connected to said hotspot via the iPad’s wireless networking settings. Once connected, I loaded the Sony Play Memories application on the iPad, which upon loading immediately took me to a thoughtfully organized layout of my photos sorted by date into separate folders. Smart. Upon selected the desired folder, the app on the iPad began drawing thumbnails so that I could make my selection. It was as simple as marking the image I wanted, and clicking ‘copy’ to send it to my iPad. All told, it was a relatively efficient process, but honestly it could be much easier.

Wireless Transfer Woes: I think it is time that the major camera manufacturers got together and developed a standardized wireless image transfer protocol. I should be able to set my camera into wireless transfer mode, then connect to it from right within a compatible app, and access my images on the camera itself. There could be a setting within the camera(s) themselves that automatically create very low res thumbnail sized images to speed up the efficiency of this process. I’m just thinking out loud, but with each camera manufacturer having its own cumbersome process to transfer and browse images, we are still so far away from this being an efficient part of a mobile workflow. I believe that this is something that should be placed on the shoulders of Adobe. It is them who will lead the charge into mobile image process and editing, and with their new suite of apps for these devices, they are truly standing alone. Apple isn’t going to give us memory card slots on their devices anytime soon, so wireless it is. Adobe, are you listening? I want to access my camera from Lightroom mobile directly. Make this happen.
Shot on the Sony A7R II, edited on the iPad Pro

Shot on the Sony A7R II, edited on the iPad Pro.

Now that I’d moved the image to the iPad itself, it was time to get to work. I loaded it in the mobile Adobe Lightroom application and began initial adjustments. The image was pretty close to where we wanted it as shot in camera, but I still had minor adjustments I wished to make. Lightroom allowed me to easily crop, adjust white balance, drag down clarity a bit, adjust individual colour channels… there were a lot of options and I can’t recall wanting for anything. Once the basic adjustments had been made, I noticed an aberration on the model’s elbow, as well as dark circles under her eyes. I was able to seamlessly transfer the open project to another Adobe app, Photoshop Fix which allowed me to use tools I was familiar with (clone stamp and healing brush) to correct my image to desired effect. Is it good enough for a final edit? No it isn’t, one of the main reason being that my camera will not transfer all of its 42 megapixel glory over to the iPad and its limited in size. However the size it allowed for was big enough for this purpose, and the editing I performed was more than passable.

Finally, I transferred the image to a third Adobe app called Photoshop Mix, which allows me to create multi-layered files and more, and I quickly used this to apply my image watermark (which I keep in my dropbox as transparent PNG’s) to the image, and then sent it via MMS to my client, right from the iPad itself using the messenger app. Neat.

The question I immediately raised was this: Why would I do this on my iPad when its likely just as efficient to repeat the same process on the Macbook Pro I almost always have with me? The Macbook Pro is faster. It’s screen is calibrated to match the output of my printer. I can use the SD card slot to import the camera’s original RAW file (at full resolution, the communication between the Sony Camera and Play Memories app on iOS devices does not seem to allow for full resolution wireless transfers) and perform much more extensive edits in the professional environment I’m used to. Basically, the iPad adds nothing to this process, and in no way enhanced the efficiency of the task itself. I could save two pounds of travel weight by leaving my laptop at home, but when you’re lugging around photography gear, assuming you have a comfortable travel case/backback, that extra two pounds is not really a big deal. The client has no clue that I made the edit on an iPad under the above listed conditions, but what happens now if they choose that image for the book cover or a poster and they need more resolution? Then I’m starting from scratch. Is this a big deal? Not really, but why do something twice?

So in the first usage case scenario, the iPad Pro is indeed a solid device for making edits. I’m just not sure it makes sense to do so in this case. Let’s move on.

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[nextpage title=”iPad Pro Review: Test Two”]

Test Two: Much like the first time I put the iPad Pro through it’s paces, the second time was also unplanned. I got an emergency message from a city councillor asking me to join him in heading down to the waterfront and documenting a pollution protest. I was actually already out of the house and in my studio working away, but luckily I had a bag of gear with me, including both the iPad Pro and my Macbook Pro. Once it was established that things were ‘a go’ I grabbed my backpack and headed to the waterfront.

Upon arrival I hopped in our local news teams truck with the councillor and we received a police escort to the location. Upon arriving we were greeted by a peaceful protest demanding answers to questions about pollution in our bay, our most precious waters. I began shooting the ongoing discussion. Then I was invited to tag along as the lead protestor and the councillor promising to take action went for a walk to observe something else, and discuss the situation at length away from the prying eyes of other media, and casual onlookers.

Shot with the Sony A7R II, edited on the iPad Pro.

Shot on the Sony A7R II, edited on the iPad Pro.

And this is where I found the iPad to be a very valuable tool indeed for the first time. I grabbed what I felt was the perfect photo of the political solution developing after we had walked nearly a kilometre down the path. Understand that this protest/demonstration involved two women committed to the idea of starvation to draw attention to the matter. I recognized the timely nature of this incredible moment. While we were walking back to the protest site, I transferred the image to the iPad Pro via wifi. Loaded it into Lightroom Mobile. Edited the photo. Moved it to Photoshop Mix. Added my watermark. Saved it, then immediately uploaded it to social media to begin the process of spreading the message of these bold and brave women. I can’t stress enough how interesting it was to accomplish all this while I was still on the move, never slowing down for a second. It was also VERY bright outside but that was no match for the iPad’s incredibly bright, high resolution screen.

Although my own shooting style rarely calls for edits this immediately, the iPad did something I simply could not have done easily with my laptop. Try editing on your Macbook pro while your walking quickly and report back to me with your results. You’ll either fail, or worse, drop it. Thanks to the iPad Pro, I was able to put this image out there for the public to consume without missing a step. Literally.

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Test Three: I wanted to use the iPad in a studio setting to test its potential as a preview device. I make specific mention of this use case, as I can’t think of another scenario in which it could prove itself useful. This test however left me nothing but frustrated. As noted above, there are wireless communications barriers between our cameras and the devices we use to view images on. Sadly, there is just no simple and straight forward process by which one can wirelessly tether a Sony A7R II and an iPad Pro. I tried searching google, but so few people seem to have managed to make a setup like this work.

Could I tether my camera to a computer (wired), populate a folder in Lightroom, and then wait for the images to come up in the cloud and browse them on the iPad? Probably, but I didn’t bother. Why would I do this? For the convenience of having someone be able to immediately view these images… wirelessly? For half the price of this device I can buy a high quality 43″ 4K TV that I can’t help but think would be a much more impressive in studio viewing experience for clients and guests alike.

Shot on the Sony A7R II, but edited on a Macbook Pro because I couldn't produce this quality of edit on a tablet. Yet.

ILCE-7RM2 (200mm, f/9, 1/125 sec, ISO160)
Shot on the Sony A7R II, but edited on a Macbook Pro because I couldn’t produce this quality of edit on a tablet. Yet.

And I’m certainly not going to be using the limited editing functionality of this device in studio, as I ALWAYS have my Macbook Pro with me there. I can certainly suggest using the iPad Pro as a digital device to show someone your portfolio, as its impressive screen real estate lends itself to this task favourably. But you know what is a more impressive way to show off your work? Prints. Have a print portfolio. Framed images. Let people truly hold your work. Call me old school, but I just don’t need a device this expensive to show people my port. If I wanted that, I’d spend half as much money on a regular iPad Air.

So there you have it, test three was in fact no test at all. I just can’t conceive of a method by which to utilize this device in studio that makes sense and enhances my work in any meaningful way whatsoever. I’d be interested to see if anyone out there could make a solid case for the iPad Pro in this scenario.

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Conclusion

To put it simply, I can’t wait until the iPad Pro 2. And let me be clear, while the device will inevitably get a nice little hardware upgrade next fall, the silicone it ships with now is more then sufficient for the workload Apple is trying to position it to handle. The problem right now is (in my opinion) a software integration problem. Apple needs to work very quickly with Adobe (mainly) and other developers to more tightly wrap up the experience of moving files in and out of this system. It’s pretty good as it is now, but we are still a little ways away from this becoming an indispensable or must-have piece of kit. For a first generation unit (quite frankly, its more than just a larger iPad) it is really really good. And I wish I still had mine. The problem is, it cost more or less the same as the Macbook Pro I am finishing typing this review on, and until the usability of the unit is improved to something I can’t live without, I for one can’t justify the expense. If you bought this thing expecting the best iPad ever, you won’t be disappointed. Except by the price. I truly wish it was still in my possession, it was an astounding thing to hold on to, consume information with, and arguably for the first time in the history of iPad’s, create content with. For me, the software and workflow integration must still be slightly improved before it becomes a device I can’t live without. In the hands of a photographer as of today? It, in my opinion is an expensive toy. An illustrator on the other hand may be able to put this device to greater use. As previously stated, I look forward to an improved software work flow, and a tighter integration amongst apps.

Conclusion – 8/10