Apple Vision Pro for Photographers: How Useful?

Apple Vision Pro for Photographers: How Useful?

The Apple Vision Pro is all over the news lately. It's an expensive $3,500 wear-on-your-head device that offers augmented reality, virtual reality, and what Apple calls "Spatial Computing." (That's just the base price. Adding memory and prescription lenses adds to your ticket.)

It's been all over YouTube, with people singing its praises and others damning it with some glee. It's filled with sensors, which immediately interested photographers, including two high-resolution main cameras, six tracking cameras, four eye-tracking cameras, a TrueDepth camera, a LiDAR scanner, a flicker sensor, and an ambient light sensor.

For display, it offers 23 million pixels, a 3D display system, Micro OLED screens with 7.5 micron pixel pitch, and it covers 92% of DCI-P3 for color fidelity. It supports playback multiples of 24 fps and 30 fps.

And it has 720p AirPlay for mirroring what you see to any AirPlay-enabled device. Video playback includes HEVC, MV-HEVC, H.264, HDR with Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG, with audio support for AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, FLAC, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos.

Also intriguing for photographers is the ability to mirror a Mac laptop or desktop screen, giving you a very large virtual monitor for editing.

Using the Apple Vision Pro

First, how about taking photos and video? Uniquely, the AVP can take spatial videos, basically 3D videos. They can be played back on the Vision Pro, and they look pretty good. You can also take spatial stills (3D photos) on the Vision Pro. The stereoscopic cameras operate at f/2 and are 18mm, so pretty wide. I found pictures taken in fairly low light rendered nicely, but if it gets too dark, noise takes over.

The cameras each produce a 6.5-megapixel image, not exactly high quality in terms of detail, but not terrible, especially in a 3D video or still because the 3D effect can sort of make up for the lower resolution.

This is a frame from a spatial video shot outdoors. It doesn't have the impact of the 3D capture, which of course I can't share. You can email or message any of your 3D videos, and anyone getting them will get the depth effect if they view them on a Vision Pro.

Happily, Apple lets you shoot spatial videos on its high-end iPhones, iPhone 15 Pro or Max only. You get the benefit of more megapixels (I used my iPhone 15 Pro Max, which has a mixture of 12-48 megapixels depending on which lens you use and how you set up the camera. I thought spatial videos looked better taken with the iPhone than on the AVP. After you take the video, it winds up in your Apple Photos app on all your devices, including the AVP. It will playback there in 3D. On other devices, it's flat with no depth.

Surprisingly, you can't produce spatial stills on the iPhone even though you can on the Vision Pro. It seems like a real oversight. However, a developer has come up with a $2.99 app called Spatialify that lets you take spatial still images. They also show up in the Photos app and look great on the AVP. If you own a Vision Pro, it's a must-buy in my view.

Of course, the reality is, most of the serious photographers I know have little interest in 3D videos or stills, but for consumers, getting these videos of the family is going to be of high interest.

Editing Photos on the AVP

This is where photographers will get more interested, I think. While Adobe and other providers of photo editing apps haven't produced native Vision Pro apps, Apple lets us treat our Mac laptops and desktops as a source computer, and the AVP gives us an incredibly large monitor to work on.

To get linked to your Mac, you just look at your laptop or desktop computer. The word "connect" will float above that device, and when you click on it, your computer screen goes blank, and it shows up on your Vision Pro. It's startling and looks very good, with excellent color and contrast.

I spent some time in Photoshop editing some photos and used my laptop's trackpad and keyboard. I found it a good experience. I tried this in my kitchen, but if you find the backgrounds distracting, you can use one of Apple's immersive environments and edit near a lake with Mount Hood in the background, or at Yosemite, or Joshua Tree National Park. If that's too distracting, you can have a nighttime view. I thought that was the best way to edit. Check my Lightroom edit above.

I didn't have any trouble editing in Photoshop, or Lightroom, or Luminar Neo, or On1 Photo Raw from my Mac using Vision Pro because none of the rules changed. I was using my familiar trackpad and keyboard.

Apple allows you to use most Bluetooth keyboards with the Vision Pro, and their Magic Trackpad. For some reason, you can't use a mouse, which is one of those baffling Apple decisions.

So What's the Use Case?

I could see photographers away from home wanting to edit on the big screen the AVP provides. You'll still need your laptop with you, but I can see the advantages of having an ultra-large monitor.

At home, the value proposition drops a bit, but I still found it stimulating to edit on a big screen. A laptop monitor can be confining, and even on my Mac Studio, my 27" monitor isn't as big as I sometimes wish it was.

You'll probably want to work plugged in, as the Vision Pro has at best about a 2.5-hour battery life. That involves the Vision Pro power brick. It's about the size of an iPhone but heavier.

I think the big changes will come when there are native apps from Adobe and others for the Vision Pro. Adobe has offered its Firefly AI image generator in a native Vision Pro version. Lightroom can run in its native iPad version, and it works well, but adjusting things with finger gestures seemed pretty sloppy. A trackpad will come to the rescue there.

Summing Up

The Apple Vision Pro is not a must-buy for photographers. As camera gear for video or stills, it's not first-class in dynamic range or resolution, although the 3D Spatial Videos and Photos are fun to play with.

Editing on the Vision Pro is nice. While some complain about the weight, I did not have any issues with weight or fit. Going a couple of hours in an edit session is no big deal, and I could have gone longer. Some purchasers, with different head dimensions, aren't happy. If you are interested, test it out at an Apple Store.

I think the Apple Vision Pro signals further evolution of AI, AR, and there are certainly advantages for photographers who travel. People are successfully editing on commercial flights, although passengers must wonder what is going on. It's expensive, yes, but so are big, high-quality monitors you would likely not want to take on the road.

If you think about the Vision Pro as basically a head-mounted iPad, you'll get a realistic picture of it as a computer. It's got Apple's M2 chip inside, and I found it quick and responsive. It can play games, let you get and respond to email and messages, browse the web, and its gesture-based control is intuitive, consistent, and easy to learn.

It's terrific for playing movies in 4K, and the 3D titles look better than they ever did in theaters. It supports multi-channel sound and Dolby Atmos. I rate the sound as very good.

So, the Apple Vision Pro is not a must-have for photographers; it's a nice-to-have for traveling editors, an interesting addition to your gear even for editing at home, and taking 3D pics and videos.

If nothing else, get a demo because, like all Apple products, it will evolve as more and more software appears, suggesting new and productive uses for it. I think it's important for content creators to see what's coming, and I think the Apple Vision Pro will be something that most of us will want as more and more features and capabilities appear.

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