iPad, iFolio, iSuccumbed (well, almost)

Surprisingly, the Oaten household has been iPad-free up until only recently, when it rained iPads. One was bought for junior as a 16th birthday present, another arrived soon after on loan from Apple. A double epiphany, as it turns out.

The time for a review of Apple’s wunderkind pad/tablet has long passed but I figured I’d share my thoughts on it as a photographer’s aid. This is quite the challenge because every time I pick the iPad up I find myself drawn to playing Doodle Jump or Need for Speed Shift. As a gaming device, the iPad gets the thumbs up from me.

But I digress. I knew that would happen. Didn’t beat my Doodle Jump high score, either. Again.

What I did manage to confirm in my time with an iPad is that it can be a terrific tool for previewing images. I’ve got some runs on the board here, so let me share with you the devices against which I’m comparing the iPad.

My Canon M80 is a pretty good photo box. Epson makes something very similar called the P-7000. At 140x81x34mm, the M80 is a small device that wears well as a belt attachment. With an 80GB drive and slots for CD and SD cards, it’s hard to beat for portability. I’ve used it whenever I knew there’d be a long time between laptop drinks, such as when roaming a racing circuit.

Two problems with the M80. It’s slow, and the battery life is terrible. Best I’ve ever got from it is about three hours. The 3.7in TFT screen, however, is excellent. The M80, at $1100, also is expensive. Especially as it’s a one-trick pony. It stores pictures and videos. That’s it.

Another device I’ve wanted to like a lot is a digital photo album from Digital Foci. This is very much like a digital photo frame, with a leatherette cover and front-mounted controls. It has only a 4GB internal memory capacity, which is its biggest downfall but its screen, about the same size as an iPad but with a coarser resolution, is its saving grace. Photos go into it via CF, SD or USB and, as such, makes for a handy sales tool. However, it, too, is a bit slow.

I had long hoped for a device that combined the portability of the M80 with the visual appeal of the Foci’s large-enough screen. Hello, iPad.

The iPad doesn’t quite measure up to the M80 on the portability front. I don’t see myself attaching one to a belt while I go walkabout. The iPad does slip into my camera bag a lot easier than a MacBook, though of course the iPad has neither the versatility or the processing grunt to match. What it does have is a quicksilver response to user input, which is great.

Why? Because if you are going to use it to preview images for someone, as I did on the night before writing this, you want to be able to flick away the dud shots you don’t want to share. Either that, or be more selective in the first place about which images you choose to import. Sitting in front of someone while ticking or unticking import previews is not only tedious but kind of spoils the mood of the moment. A bit like when you’re talking to someone more interested in their text messages.

Few professional photographers would ever expose themselves to this kind of potential for embarrassment. I, too, see it as a risk. Indeed, there was a series of shots that I thought was working really well while firing them off but, in reality, not so much. It was a bit humiliating to reveal my misdirected creativity.

Even so, it’s high marks to the iPad as a preview tool, though I would always make clear to anyone previewing images with me in this way that they shouldn’t judge the image quality. This will come later, after the RAW versions have been processed.

The other use for the iPad is as a portfolio. I reckon on this score the iPad is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can’t be beaten for versatility. You could store a number of portfolios that show your different styles or strengths and easily combine a new set of images tailored to a specific interview. What’s more, with the visual grace that a Keynote presentation offers, you can make your portfolio really shine and help it stand out from the crowd. Until, that is, the rest of the crowd has an iPad, too.

The flip side is that while the iPad is a great portfolio tool when displaying to anyone who buys images for 72dpi applications (web pages and so on), the size of the iPad’s display can do little to demonstrate that the quality of your technique and equipment are up to the task of producing fine art quality prints. If you were thinking you could use an iPad exclusively as a portfolio tool, I wouldn’t advise you against it, but I would say you should still have a set of your finest prints, just in case some old-fashioned fuddy-duddy like me wanted to be reassured your print workflow was up to the same standard as your digital presentation.

So if you were to ask me if I would buy an iPad to help me with my photography, the answer would be “no, not for now”. And here’s why.

For a start, my daughter has one. So when the occasion calls for it, her iPad can be put to work.

However, the thing I most want to do with an iPad, which is to set up a workflow that allows for wireless transmission of images into the iPad’s photo album, is simply not feasible. I can’t do this because the iPad doesn’t allow for creating ad-hoc network set-ups. Sure, I can create an ad-hoc from a laptop and shunt images in a folder via a third-party app such as Air Sharing. And, to be fair, this works OK, except that the folder of images is locked inside the Air Sharing app. I want them in the Photos app, where they are fun to share.

Also useful would be the ability to import/export between apps. This would allow me to, for instance, shunt images wirelessly from a laptop to the iPad using Air Sharing, and then export an image into a Bento library from which a sales order could be generated, along with a model release if needed.

Better yet would be the ability to link the iPad to an SD Eye-Fi card. I’d shoot to CF card and SD simultaneously, allowing f or wireless transmission of JPEGs from SD card to iPad without interfering with accessing RAW files from the CF card.

Even better than that would be for Apple to recognise that users may want to use the iPad in ways that don’t fit within Apple’s definition of the way it should be used, and give developers the tools to create the support for a workflow of the type I just described. An import button in Photos that lets me grab images stored in other iPad apps would make a great start. Unless it can already be done with a third-party solution. The App Store is a forest of possibilities in which it can be difficult to spot the tree with the solution that fits.

If anyone knows of that magic faraway tree that does support the workflow I just described, please let me know about it in the forum. Please. I desperately need an ironclad excuse for buying an iPad.

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