Ever since tablets became more mainstream, I've been aching for a device that could truly be a full-powered, mobile photography solution. After all, the idea of a tablet seems tailor-made for photographers. And finally, in the last few years, hardware and software have reached a point where the tablet truly is a viable solution. Find out how the 2017 iPro Pro fares in this review.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro represents Apple's no-compromise, powerhouse tablet that can tackle any task you throw at it while providing the user experience Apple users have come to appreciate and expect. I've spent the last few months with one, and what follows are my impressions after that time and how specifically it can fit into your workflow as a photographer.
Specs (12.9-inch Cellular Version)
- Chipset: A10X hexacore CPU (2.38 GHz) with 12-core GPU
- 4 GB RAM
- 64 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB flash storage
- Sensors: ambient light, accelerometer, barometer, fingerprint, gyroscope
- 12.9" IPS LCD with capacitive multitouch input, 2,732 x 2,048 (264 ppi), 600 nits brightness
- 4 integrated speakers, 2 microphones, 1 standard headphone jack
- Nano SIM card (cellular option only)
- Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.2
- 4G LTE (cellular option only)
- Front camera: 7 MP, f/2.2
- Rear camera: 12 MP, f/1.8, PDAF, optical image stabilization, True Tone flash
- 41 Wh battery (9-10 hours)
- 8.7 x 12 x 0.3 inches
- 1.53 pounds / 690 grams
When I first opened the iPad Pro box, I thought: "Wow, this is big, even as someone who opted for the iPhone 7 Plus and lugs around a 1D X Mark II for fear of missing a shot." What blew me away is how quickly I adapted and came to love that size. The device is deceptively light, and when that is coupled with its thin dimensions, it sits in your hand well; it feels solid and professional without straining you. Anyone who has used an iPad or iPhone in the past will feel right at home with the standard Home/Touch ID button in the bottom center, Lightning connector at the bottom, and power and volume buttons in the top corner. The iPad Pro also features a Smart Connector on the left side for the Smart Keyboard, four speakers, dual microphones, a 3.5-inch headphone jack, front-facing 7-megapixel f/2.2 camera, rear-facing 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera with Quad-LED True Tone flash and slow motion of 120 fps at 1080p, 240 fps at 720p, and 4K at 30 fps, and a nano SIM tray on the cellular version. What's really mind-blowing is that the original iPad with a 9.7-inch display actually weighed 38 grams more than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
The display features a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating which definitely reduces the appearance of smudges, while the brushed aluminum back and black bezel make for an elegant and modern look. The Smart Connector is magnetic, and when coupled with the Smart Keyboard that doubles as a protective cover, it's a very professional-looking device. Altogether, the design is what you expect from Apple: well thought out with an emphasis on creating a sleek, modern look that couples with the software side of things to emphasize user experience.
Holy cow. That display. It's hard to describe without seeing it in person, but it's amazing. At 2,732 x 2,048, it's a Retina display as you might expect. First, it's bright (600 nits) and it renders colors gorgeously: they're saturated and vivid without looking gaudy. The P3 display features a wider gamut than sRGB, nearly that of Adobe RGB, which is great news for photographers. It features True Tone display technology, which constantly measures ambient light to adjust the brightness and white point of the display to maintain color accuracy. In practice, it worked flawlessly; as I moved from garish yellow lights, to sunlight, to my very white Hue lights at home, the display never missed a beat.
The iPad Pro also features ProMotion technology. This allows the display to ramp the refresh rate up to 120 Hz for following action or making the Apple Pencil feel more like pen on paper. It worked very well: I never notice it running. It just makes everything smoother, and Apple was smart enough to program it to lower the refresh rate when it's not needed, which saves on battery life. The display also features an astounding 1.8 percent reflectance rating, making it about as close to glare-free as you can get. Viewing angles are excellent as well. Simply put, if you're looking to use the iPad Pro as a serious component of your photography workflow, the display is well suited to the task. It's the best display I've used in terms of content consumption and it keeps up with photo editing without nary a breath. In terms of input, the multi-touch interface worked without a hitch; it was accurate and responsive for single and multi-finger gestures.
Being a musician and movie lover, audio is very important to me, and it has been probably my biggest gripe when it comes to tablet (and laptop) usage, both in terms of volume and quality. The first thing to note is that volume is in abundance with the iPad Pro. The best part of that beautiful screen is taking advantage of Netflix offline to throw a season of "Friday Night Lights" on the device and take it to a friend's place with pizza. For the first time, I could set the tablet across the room and we could easily watch the show and hear it over the window air conditioner.
In terms of audio quality, it's the best I've heard out of a laptop or tablet. That means it won't challenge a good set of speakers and I wouldn't use it to do any critical listening, but for enjoying some tunes while on a shoot or sharing a new song with someone? Sure.
Simply put, this thing flies. In normal, day-to-day usage, there is no lag whatsoever; tasks and apps perform instantly and smoothly. I like to watch movies when I work, so to push things a bit, I opened up Safari, loaded a 1080p YouTube video, set the iPad to split screen mode, and went to work. Performance remained strong, with neither the video lagging nor edits taking a long time. I have yet to find a way to push the device to a point that it even stutters. The even better part of this is that a lot of apps are freshly coded for the iPad as compared to their desktop counterparts. For example, Lightroom absolutely flies in comparison to the desktop app, and I've moved almost all my Lightroom work to the iPad, where the combination of performance, tactile input, and the awesome screen is addictive.
Apple rates the iPad Pro at 10 hours, which about matches what I got in regular usage, including browsing, editing photos, watching movies, and other random tasks. I've never had an issue getting through a day with the device and can normally go about three days before I need to charge it, which normally includes writing emails, watching Netflix, editing photos, typing articles, using Notability to edit music scores and conduct, etc.
Sporting the same hardware as the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPad Pro takes perfectly good photos and videos for a mobile device, but the whole 12.9-inch tablet held up to your face thing isn't really conducive for that. Nonetheless, here's a before and after of a raw photo so you can see both native quality and how well the camera holds up to some processing; it definitely performs admirably in suitable conditions.
Really, where the iPad Pro's camera is really handy is for tasks like scanning documents. Scan any document, annotate and/or sign it with the Apple Pencil, send it back. Easy.
Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard
What really completes the iPad Pro experience, particularly for photographers, are the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. The Smart Keyboard doubles as a cover and features the normal complement of full-sized keys with a magnetic connector that snaps to the side of the iPad. Unfolding it slots the device into an angled position much as one would use a laptop on a desk. Typing on the keyboard feels quite good: the keys have decent travel with good mechanical feedback, while the textured covering and firm but supple feel of the keys make them easy to press. I'm pretty sensitive to keyboards, and I simply could not turn a tablet into a laptop replacement without a good physical version, but the Smart Keyboard fills that role well.
The Apple Pencil is the accessory that should excite photographers, as it essentially turns the iPad Pro into a full-fledged graphics tablets with an absurdly good screen (more on that experience below). The pencil itself is quite handy. It sits nicely in the hand with good balance and grip, and it glides across the surface smoothly, but with enough frictional feedback to lend itself to precision strokes. Tilt and pressure sensitivity are accurate. The combination of fast hardware and the ProMotion screen kept latency imperceptible, significantly contributing to the realism of using the Pencil. While a full charge takes about 30 minutes, another neat feature is the quick charge, which will give you 30 minutes of battery life from plugging the Pencil into the Lightning port of the iPad Pro for only 15 seconds. Impressive stuff.
I also used the Lightning SD Card Reader and USB 3 Camera Adapter. Of course, the major advantage here is being able to instantly pull raw images off a memory card and onto the iPad to bring into Lightroom Mobile. From there, I can quickly edit and share on social media, and the beauty of the setup is that the desktop version automatically pulls in the synced raw files into the designated folder on my hard drive, so I never have to worry about reimporting any photos. I frequently go this route when I'm flying my drone, as it allows me to quickly cull in the field while I'm enjoying being outside, and when I get home, only the best images sync over to my hard drive. It's also a good method for those who need to dash images off quickly. When shooting a baseball game, for example, I could load a set of images from a specific play, select the best shot, give it a quick touchup, and send it on its way. While you can certainly do this on a laptop as well, the speed of the tactile interface and of Lightroom Mobile, plus the convenience of the cloud syncing and the fact that the iPad is light enough that it's always in my bag make this my preferred solution.
The reason I used to avoid working away from my desktop much beyond culling is that I never really had full editing capabilities, and I hate splitting up my editing workflow, as it's not only tedious, but it makes it difficult to sustain a single thought. The iPad Pro was the first time I really stepped up to a full workflow on a tablet, and I have to say it was a joy overall.
To get the files on my iPad, I did one of two things. First, I could import them normally in Lightroom and sync them with a mobile catalog. I have my mobile collections set to sync for offline editing on my iPad, so they're ready to go whenever and wherever.
The other option is to ingest them directly to the iPad using the Lightning SD Card Reader and USB 3 Camera Adapter. If you go this route, the iPad will upload your files to the cloud, and the desktop version of Lightroom will automatically download the full raw images and put them wherever you desire, ensuring that the final files all end up in one spot and you don't have fragmentation issues from working across multiple devices, as mentioned above.
Both methods worked perfectly well for me. I generally defaulted to the former just because my computer sits in my office and I could offload files while I unpacked my gear, cleaned, charged batteries, etc. However, if I was particularly excited about an image and wanted to share it or was simply on a time crunch, I would opt for the latter method. Both worked at about the same efficiency in terms of ingestion, though the one thing to be aware of is that if you go with that latter method, you'll probably have to wait more time for the final files to show up, as Lightroom generates mobile previews from the desktop, but it has to upload the entire raw file when you import it on the iPad.
As mentioned before, Lightroom Mobile is actually my preferred place to cull. It renders previews instantaneously, and the tactile flow is just so much quicker in my opinion. Plus, I like to curl up in a chair when I'm sorting photos, and the iPad Pro is perfectly suited to this. A lot of my shots are from events or the like and don't need work beyond adjustments in Lightroom. In this sense, I prefer this workflow to a desktop. It's tremendously quick, and I prefer the touch interface to a keyboard and mouse; I've found the muscle memory I gained from it enables quicker edits, plus the ability to draw directly on the photo and watch changes in realtime is an irreplaceable experience.
As mentioned before, the Apple Pencil in tandem with the iPad Pro is really an awesome experience; I always feel slightly disconnected editing in Photoshop on my desktop, because I never draw directly on the photo. There's something very intuitive about working directly on the tablet screen, and the iPad's hardware does a great job of making sure the experience is seamless, while the Apple Pencil's precise, smooth feel ensure professional-level edits.
Which One Is Right for You?
I personally love the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Having the extra screen real estate makes a noticeable difference when you're editing photos or working with side-by-side apps. It's also much more comfortable to type on its Smart Keyboard. It's also the perfect size to curl up with to cull photos as it fills your lap well. You may prefer the smaller 10.5-inch version, however. My best advice is to find a friend with one or stop by an Apple Store and get a feel for the two sizes. Nonetheless, if you're a photographer who has the sort of philosophy I do — that creation and work should never be subject to the physical size or heft or gear — trust me when I say the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is an immense joy to use.
In terms of how much storage space to get, my first advice is to forgo the 64 GB model. As a creative, you're going to quickly fill that space with apps and files, and it's much better to have a little extra than to constantly be shifting files around. Either the 256 GB or 512 GB model would likely fit best.
What I Liked
- Elegant design
- Fast, capable hardware
- Stunning display
- Handles well for size
- Good audio
- Good battery life
- Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard both work quite well
- Effective full workflow for photographers
What I Didn't
I really don't have much to say here. The iPad Pro is an excellent product with snappy hardware and capable, responsive software that integrates into the Apple ecosystem well for those who are invested with other products. The one thing to think about, however, is the difference between iOS and macOS. Because the iPad Pro runs on iOS, you're running a mobile operating system and you're married to those apps. Developers are creating more and more capable apps all the time, and in some cases, their power exceeds that of their desktop counterparts. It's not really a pro or con either way; the experience is just different, and it's important to make sure it's right for you. I do have to say, however, that I never ran into a task in my everyday work or my more advanced workflow that I couldn't do on the iPad Pro easily. The mobile OS experience feels much less like a mobile OS than it did a few years ago, and I'm more than pleased that the iPad Pro has become a full part of my workflow; I purchased my own after using the review unit.
Pricing on the 10.5-inch version ranges from $599 for the 64 GB WiFi-only version to $899 and $999 for the 512 GB version without and with cellular connectivity, respectively. You can purchase all 10.5-inch versions here.
Pricing on the 12.9-inch version ranges from $749 for the 64 GB WiFi-only version to $1,094 and $1,179 for the 512 GB version without and with cellular connectivity, respectively. You can purchase all 12.9-inch versions here.