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Gear & Apps

Apple Unleashes iPad Pro & Pencil | A Photographer’s Best Friend?

By Kishore Sawh on September 10th 2015


I’m sitting in an airport in London writing this on a MacBook Pro, tethering Internet from my iPhone 6, with an iPad in my bag. I think most would presume me to be a what’s known as a ‘fanboy,’ (though there’s little boy-ish about me), and I use them because I have done for about 20 years now. I like them. Simple. I don’t get that excited over new Apple news unless the stock does particularly well (or poorly), and I don’t think most of what they release is all that exciting. Today, however, was the first time in a while that I can remember being very excited about an Apple release, because, for us photographers, it could be a change in the wind.



Apple news is breaking right now all over the globe, and I can hear the buzz about it from fellow passengers walking by in various languages broken only by ‘i’ this and ‘i’ that. There’s a new iOS operating system on its way, a new iPhone that does some wizardry with a camera and shoots 4K, but it’s the new iPad that has got me pulling out my wallet. With a 12.9 inch screen, the new iPad Pro is said to have the best screen offered on any iOS device and more advanced than any Apple product thus far. With a screen resolution of 2732 x 2048 (or about 5 and a half megapixels), it sounds gorgeous, and tremendously powerful.

In fact, it is so powerful that it can stream three 4K videos at once, even with a screen like it has. I mention that because when Apple released the first Retina iPad, it was quickly faulted for not having enough power to run very well with the screen requiring so much of its resources. This, it would seem, is not an issue anymore. The touch capability of the iPad has greatly been improved for precision and feedback, so the entire subsystem has been totally re-engineered, doubling the touch refresh rate and increasing sensitivity of the sensors.


New Input Means New Options

But the new technology has also allowed for new forms of input, and that’s led Apple to create Apple Pencil. For a not insignificant price of $99, the pencil will turn this new iPad into something of a Wacom Cintiq style tablet. The iPad and Pencil together detect and input measurements of position, tilt, and force, much like what you’d find on the Pro level Intuos line from Wacom. It’s also said to be so precise as to be able to detect a single pixel. Within mention of just how many pressure levels there are, it’s tough to compare to the Wacom tablets, but for photographers this would seem to be enough, making this a viable retouching platform.


I can sense a big hairy ‘but’ coming from your direction as you mention that, to-date, retouching options for iOS devices have been paltry, and I agree. Adobe’s mobile variants thus far have done little to sway users to adopt them, though there are plans for a new mobile Photoshop which would seem to be pointless without adding proper functionality such as layers and so forth.




However, even if it doesn’t, there are other apps to go with, and most notably Astropad. We’ve written about it before, but in a nutshell, it basically turns your iPad specifically into a tablet to control any App, and that includes Photoshop, so you can use a myriad of styli to retouch like you would on a Cintiq (sort of). And it’s only $20, so hard to go wrong. With the new iPad’s power jump and new sensitivity and ability to simultaneously differentiate between a hand and the Pencil, Astropad is looking more and more appealing.

[REWIND: Why You Need A Tablet & How It’ll Transform Your Lightroom Workflow]

A True Photographer’s Friend

An iPad – Pro or not – is an indipensible tool for many photographers, even when not used as a pen tablet. Sharing albums, portfolios, and ideas are probably the most comfortable and seamless on an iPad, and clients intuitively know how to work them and like holding them. Similarly, within a studio or even on location, you can use the iPad to help you and your creative team.


If you’re in studio and tethered to your computer through Capture One or Lightroom or something, you can send smaller JPEG versions of the images you’re shooting wirelessly to an iPad. This would allow a creative director, a model, hair and make-up or assistant to see what’s going on, and on a 12-inch screen they can all get a good of info from it.


It’s not cheap, but you didn’t think it would be; starting at $799 for 32Gb with Wi-Fi and jumping quickly to $949 for 128GB with Wi-Fi, to $1079 for 128GB with WiFi+cellular. The Pencil, as mentioned above, is $99 (hard to swallow considering you can get a brilliant Wacom Intros Pen & Touch Photo for the same price), and the optional keyboard/stand is a further $129 should you want that.

Click here to learn more about Astropad.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Hagos Rush

    I see this as a specific product for specific people. Those with bad sight and especially doctors, photographers and people who generally need a lot of information on one screen. This is not for the home user or the average mom who simply surfs the web and checks her email.

    Designers will find this hugely useful as well.

    This is very much akin to the 128GB iPad. Unless you have a ton of CAD files to carry around it doesn’t make much sense.

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  2. Paul Blacklock

    so many reviews from users who never even touched it in their hands yet :)

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  3. Mads Helmer Petersen

    I´m deffently considering the new Ipad pro – but might wait for the second edition as there are no 3D touch in the first edition as far as I understud.

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  4. Sedric Beasley

    I don’t need a big tablet. A mini iPad and a IMAC might be my combo.

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  5. Paddy McDougall

    Give it 6months for version 2 or S when they iron out all the drawbacks and call it air or S. Typed from an iPad

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  6. Jesse Maier

    I’ll take my Surface Pro 3 with full versions of Lr, Ps, Office, etc. over this any day. With the Surface Pro 4 right around the corner, why would one want a restrictive OS that only lets you use stripped down apps, rather than full software suites? I don’t get it. Eh… to each his/her own…

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    • Dustin Baugh

      When I’m in the field I don’t have the time to deal with a full scale editing. I barely have enough time to breathe between shots. A tablet with LR mobile get the “onsite/behind the scenes” shots is the limit of what I’m going to spend time on when onsite. If anything needs in depth editing it’s done at home on a real computer. The trick is to get it right in camera so you don’t need anything too complicated.

      That being said the iPad pro is too dang big.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Depends on how you’re using it. If I were doing “real computer things” on a tablet, I’d probably wind up throwing someone’s nice, shiny new Surface Pro through a wall. I need enough room to work… here, that’s two 27″ and one 24″ monitor. Even my laptop (15.6″ with a QFHD screen) is kind of cramped for anything serious. But sure, if you’re happy on a 15″ screen, as many people are (I know a few software guys who are exclusively laptop), then maybe a 13″ screen isn’t a big deal.

      Of course, then there’s the capacity of the thing. To get something much less useful than a laptop or a desktop, in terms of running and storing things for “real computing”, I’m going to spend around $1,800 on a Surface Pro. That’s pretty steep. And what I have there is a really light laptop… not really a tablet. Everyone thinks this was made to target the iPad, but it’s really aimed at the MacBook Air.

      The regular Surface 3, that’s more an iPad competitor. And sure, it has the advantage of running real Windows, but you’re not going to fit many real Windows applications and data in the 32GB you have left over after the OS, etc. I suspect there are lots of Windows Store apps installed on these things, maybe a few of the lighter weight Win32 applications.

      I use the tablet a different way. It’s a book, a datasheet, a magazine, a notepad, a web browser, a photo browser, etc. The primary value of it is that, pretty much no matter what I do, it runs all day and most of the night.

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  7. James O

    Best friend? No. I’ll stick to my desktop for editing or a Surface Pro for on the go.

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  8. Anthony Thurston

    I would take a MS Surface/Surface Pro over this anyday. Real Photoshop, Programs, Etc. A much better option if you ask me.

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    • John Cavan

      Replacing the base stylus though, it’s pressure levels are pretty weak at 256.

      However, despite largely being an Apple product user, I just don’t really get the value prop of this device right now. Like you, if I really wanted to edit on a tablet, I’d be looking at alternatives, but it’s pretty clear to me that this is aimed at the Surface and I don’t know that it’s well aimed…

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    • Ralph Hightower

      I haven’t reviewed iPad Pro versus Surface Pro. But the iPad Pro is powered by the A9X chip, which is licensed by ARM; ARM licensed processors power what I would say is the majority of smartphones, Apple and Android.
      If RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Chips) where faster than CISC (Complex Instruction Set Chips), then Apple would continue to use the PowerPC. Instead Apple switched to Intel chips to power their desktops and laptops.
      Surface Pro uses an Intel chip; iPad which powers desktops and laptops iPro uses a smartphone chip.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Apple’s “A” series SOCs do of course use an ARM Architecture License. All that really means is that they’re using (and proven compatible) with the ARM instruction set, in this case the ARMV8-A architecture. All ARM licensees get to use specific processor cores designed and tested by ARM; architecture licensees like Apple can develop their own processors for that instruction set. That’s largely what Apple’s been doing.

      They claim the dual-core A9X processor will be comparable on CPU performance to a mid-range mobile Intel processor like some of the i5s. That’s more or less what they’re competing — you can buy an i7 in a Windows laptop or tablet, but you’ll pay around twice the price of the iPad Pro. My laptop, with a quad-core i7, ran over $2500… of course, that’s also for the 512GB SSD and 4K Quantum Dot screen.

      Far as RISC processors being faster than Intel… yeah, that’s been happening since RISC came out. But processor design is really, really expensive. With the dominance of the PC market, Intel’s been able to compete by constantly tweaking architecture and process… because they can sell a couple hundred million chips in a year. After Apple cancelled MacOS licensing, they basically killed the PowerPC as a desktop processor for anything by Apple products. Even with Apple paying part of the bill, Motorola and IBM couldn’t compete based maybe 8-10 million chips per year. For price is no object processors, the Power Architecture is still doing well… all of IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputers are based on RISC.

      ARM won the huge market they have (billions of CPU cores per year, way more than Intel) by stressing low power consumption in their design. That’s why it basically took over mobile: dumb phones, smart phones, most tablets, etc. Pretty much every home router. Lots of embedded devices in business and industry… I design ARM based computers for most of my income.

      In the way I use computer, desktop-class (PC desktop or laptop) has a different basic use than a tablet. Part of that’s because I’m really hard on my computers: I do CAD, I do video, I do some advanced photo stuff that won’t necessarily work on most laptops (mine’s only got 16GB of RAM, not enough for some of this stuff). I’m not trying to do PC stuff on a tablet, I’m not trying to do tablet stuff on a phone. You could — but at some point, it becomes a disappointment, if you get advanced enough.

      But the average consumer doesn’t necessarily push the limits of any PC or tablet. Today’s tablets and smartphones are more powerful than an average PC was 8-10 years ago… and there are plenty of folks using their 8-10 year old PCs without any desire to upgrade.

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  9. Dave Haynie

    I got my Samsung Galaxy Note 12.2 over a year-and-a-half ago, and I can definitely recommend this form factor to iPad fans, assuming Apple did their job. The Note’s Wacom digitizer is “only” 1024 pressure levels, which is the same as what I had in my Wacom at home… not exactly a Cintiq or the very latest Intuos, but still quite worthy an upgrade from the clumsy-finger input on most tablets. It’s absolutely fantastic for note taking (particularly if you’re a creative type and your notes contain drawings), for sketching, etc. I have not used it for much photo work, mainly because of the last of great photo editing apps for Android (or tablets in general, but iOS has usually been a little ahead of Android in getting more serious apps). But this too shall pass.

    The larger form factor isn’t just for drawing, though. If you read magazines on a tablet, this makes them much better. If you don’t, this may get you doing that — particularly for photo magazines, the large format hires screen (the Note is “only” 2560×1600 pixels) makes a difference, without being too heavy to function as a magazine/book replacement. It’s a nice big display for guitar music on a music stand, too.

    I know it’s not mainstream, but I totally embrace the larger tablet format AND the pen for the things I do. The Samsung actually comes with the pen (yeah, Samsung calls it a pen, so naturally Apple has to say “pencil”) stowed nicely in the unit, but there’s a larger and nicer feeling one available from Wacom for about $40.

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  10. Mark Henry Dela Torre

    Based on specs. This is the most expensive and impractical tablet yet. There are more tablets around the market that are better and deserves the Pro badge.

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