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Blog // Technology
January 15, 2016

iPad Pro – How Pro Is It?

Can Apple’s new iPad Pro replace a laptop computer for travelling photographers.  Here’s some of the issues involved.

When Apple announced the iPad Pro I predicted it would be the beginning of the end for notebook computers. For most computer users, the current generation of iPads are already powerful enough. iPad Pro breaks the final frontier; screen size. For pro application users, photographers, designers, musicians and the like, iPad Pro is matching a lot of the requirements needed for serious work with a decent sized screen and an exciting new touch interface.

Of course, now iPad Pro is out in the wild, the questions are starting to get more focussed. Can this new device actually replace a notebook today, or are we still waiting for some missing features? For photographers, this will depend on three issues; backup strategy, workflow and what we really mean when we say “replacing the notebook.”

Backup Strategy

I travel with a MacBook Pro, two external hard drives and a stash of memory cards. It’s a fairly standard configuration for a lot of photographers. Everyday day (or a few times a day, on busy days), I take the cards out of the cameras, put them into the MacBook Pro and import the photos into Lightroom. At the same time, a copy of all the photos, goes onto one of the back drives. Then, once the photos have been imported and sorted through, I backup the Lightroom catalogue onto the second drive. When I move, I spread those drives across my luggage so if one bag is lost or stolen, I have copies in other bags. In places where the risk of theft is exceptionally high I keep another copy of my recent photos on a USB stick that stays with me at all times.

iPad Pro is a cloud based product, made for wireless file management, which for those of us who live in a fast internet Wi-Fi bubble, is the future. Connecting physical drives to iPads via dongles is cumbersome. The best solution is the new generation of Wi-Fi hard drives, like Seagate’s 1TB model, which you can pick up for around U$150. It comes with an internal battery, charges off a standard USB charger and although the WiFi is limited to only 150Mbps, it can form the basis of a wireless backup strategy.


When I import photos in Lightroom, I always apply a basic preset that gives me a more neutral image than Abobe’s standard import settings, along with writing location, shoot name, copyright, keyword and other metadata into every image file. Then I go through and pick/reject the best and worst images and apply some basic ratings. Only after that, do I start editing images. If I move the photos to another computer, all this work goes with the catalogue.

Abode is working to try and make the transition from iPad apps to Notebook/Desktop apps as seamless as possible. Work in Photoshop Mix ports into Photoshop CC. Same with photo edits from Lightroom Mobile, but there is only basic rating available. The deeper metadata management is not possible.

Photo editing in iOS is still focussed on image by image processing. But, serious photographers depend on bringing images into a catalogue in a reliable way. The limitation here isn’t just an iPad Pro issue though, it’s also a software limitation. So we have to wait on Adobe realising a more “catalogue-focussed” version of Lightroom for Mobile.

What Would The iPad Pro Replace Anyway?

Back when I said the iPad Pro could replace the notebook computer there was, of course, a big caveat. Like most photographers I know (and other creatives), the MacBook Pro isn’t the only computer I use. Rather, it’s the computer I use when I’m travelling (or when, like now, I’m sitting in a deckchair blogging, while enjoying some morning sunshine).

A MacMini, connected to a 27 inch monitor, is the tool I use for my deep photo editing work (I have a separate, MacPro-based rig for music production). This MacMini houses my whole Lightroom catalogue (every digital photo I’ve ever taken) and is hooked up some fast external drives, a Wacom Tablet and relies on some pretty decent internet connectivity (this morning’s speeds were 691.55Mbps for download and 643.84Mbps for upload) for external backup and file sharing.

An iPad Pro isn’t going to replace that.

What can be replaced, is the portable component of process, the role the MacBook Pro plays in storing, backing up, and processing photos when I travel (and a few of those deckchair moments as well).

But, I’m not buying an iPad Pro just yet. Partly, it’s because my current setup, bulky as it is, still works. It’s a testament to Apple’s build quality that my old 2010 MacBook Pro is still running strong (and running current software), despite bouncing around in places like the Himalayas, rural Mexico and outback Australia.

Also, the next generation solution isn’t quite there yet. After being stuck with a first generation iPad that was too soon obsolete, I’m a little shy of buying a first generation iPad Pro. The WiFi hard drives on the market now could do with faster connectivity speeds. And, most important of all, Adobe needs to step up and give us a more catalogue-focussed version of Lightroom for Mobile.

If I had to replace my MacBook Pro today it would be a hard choice. I might go with an iPad Pro. It’s the future. But, I’d feel a lot better if that decision didn’t come for another year or two.

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