My iPad workflow – some conclusions

Over the last couple of months I have been looking hard at the whole idea of an iPad and iPhone based workflow for the kind of photography that I do. I have tried to find a workflow that is repeatable and adaptable that could replace my tried and tested (and damned good) workflow on a laptop or desktop computer.

I’ve failed.

After trying different iPads and iPhones as well as dozens of apps and an endless combination of those apps I have come to the conclusion that there is no way that an iOS device can replace a computer for the vast bulk of my work. There are several reasons for this but the main one is that iOS was never designed for this kind of heavy lifting and the way that you move files around between apps is still pretty painful and that it is even worse with RAW files. Don’t get me wrong, using a fully-loaded top of the range iPad Pro with decent internet connectivity and a keyboard you get really close to a good workflow but by then you have a device costing at least £1,000.00 (and a lot more if you go for the 12″) which weighs and costs almost as much as an Apple MacBook without the access to rock solid made-for-the-job applications.

Now all of that doesn’t mean that there’s no place in my working life for an iPad workflow. If I’ve got to offload a few Jpeg files quickly on the spot then the small, cheap and very lightweight iPad Mini with a few carefully selected apps can do a great job. My cameras are wifi enabled and the iPad fits into even my smallest Domke J3 camera bag which means that half a dozen images can be sorted an uploaded/emailed pretty quickly. Anything much more than that and it pays to get my ageing MacBook Air out and use that.

So far I’ve been through four stages of my quest on this blog:

  • The introduction to my quest asked questions and promised an answer. Eventually.
  • Part Two of my iPad workflow was an investigation of the various ways to get images from the camera onto the tablet. By the end of it I was still unsure which method(s) provided the best results.
  • Part Three of the series included a video showing how I processed files on the iPad Mini. I still use that same workflow and so that video is still worth watching.
  • Part Four concentrated on distributing the captioned, toned and cropped files to the clients. This will always be changing because new clients have their own requirements and old ones seem to keep changing theirs too.

In this final (for now) section I’m going to quickly go through my preferred Jpeg workflow stage by stage. I’m sure that this will only work for a few of you as it is but I hope that it provides you with a few ideas to incorporate into your own workflow and/or some ideas to reject because they don’t work for you.

  1. Use the wireless functionality built into my cameras to send the files to the FSN Pro app on the iOS device using the FTP option.
  2. Select those files, add IPTC captions from templates (the main description is often pre-written in Apple Notes and copied and pasted).
  3. Export them to specific folders in Files.
  4. Use Adobe Lightroom CC to crop and tone the pictures.
  5. Share pictures to a different folder in Files.
  6. From files I share them using the Transmit app for FTP, the Mail app for email or either Photoshelter, Dropbox or WeTransfer apps for jobs where those are preferable.

It’s a simple process with Jpegs but trying to do this with RAW files is a lot harder and has extra stages that make it unsuitable for what I need it to do. You may have noticed that I have avoided any mention of the Apple Photos app. That’s because it annoys the heck out of me. It keeps renaming files and tries to bring images into the Photos system at every stage. I just don’t want to send files to clients with file names starting img. I go to a lot of trouble to use custom filenames in my cameras and I want to be able to go back and find the matching RAW file without having to compare images. I may have shot a couple of thousand images on a job and only picked out six to send for urgent (social media usually) use and by avoiding the Photos app I save myself a lot of headaches later when I come to do a proper edit away from iOS.

An interesting journey which has increased my understanding of the way that Apple’s iOS works as well as giving me a useful, usable and adaptable workflow for when a few quick Jpeg files are the client’s priority. I mentioned near the beginning of this post that I’d failed and that’s true but in failing to replace my desktop workflow I have added yet another string to the bow and that makes the time and money that I’ve invested in this project well spent.

There’s a good chance that I’ll revisit this if and when some better apps come onto the market or if Apple finally decide to stop their Photos app renaming every file. Until then, enjoy working out whether your own work would benefit from a tablet or phone workflow.

iPad workflow part two

Apple’s Lightning to SD Card and USB3 to Camera adapters

A few weeks ago I promised to keep working on my iPad workflow and keep readers of this blog up-to-date with my thoughts. Lot of other things have got in the way lately but here is the second instalment. I’ve decided to break the whole process down into four parts:

  • Getting the images onto the iPad
  • Toning and captioning them
  • Getting the pictures to where they are needed
  • My conclusions and (hopefully) a settled workflow

The accessories that I’ve used to import images from memory cards onto an iPad for photo editing.Because I’m vaguely logical, I’m going to tackle them in order and so I’m going to outline the ways that I have looked at getting my pictures onto the iPad. Because this is an examination of the possibilities I’m going to consider all of my options and because I’m a Canon user I will tend to lean towards the options for EOS cameras although much of what I’m talking about is not make specific. I have experimented with several ways to get the pictures onto the iPad and I’ve tried all of them as JPEGs and RAW files too:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII)
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters

Some of the accessories discussed in this post.

Six options which, in different situations, all have their advantages and disadvantages and from the photo above you can see that it all adds up to quite a bit of extra kit should you decide to have everything that you need for every eventuality (and the photo isn’t even complete as it is missing the various SD cards, wifi adapters and the USB camera cable).

What I’d like to do is to go through each option and what you need to make it work and then discuss the pros and cons of each option – so here we go:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port: For this you need the Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter and a USB cable suitable for your camera. From there it is simple; you connect everything up and the iPad should automatically recognise that there’s a camera connected and show you thumbnails of the photographs with the option to import all of just the selected images. The advantage is the simplicity but that is balanced by the fact that you have to wait for every single thumbnail to load (which is slow with RAW files) before you can do anything. You also have no control over the size of the thumbnails that I can see and you have no way of viewing the images larger to select which ones you want to import. All imports have to go through the Apple Photos app on the iOS device which is sometimes inconvenient.
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader: This is similar to the first option in that you have one single and very simple adapter, into which you can slot an SD card. It also uses the Apple Photos app which again means quite a slow build if you have dozens of images and no option to view them larger in order to select which pictures you need. The other disadvantage is that you have to shoot the pictures to an SD card – which isn’t a great option if you have a camera without the right slot or if you have set your cameras up to record the images needed onto a different card format.
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply: This uses the same Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter that the first option uses but has the advantage of allowing you to then plug in any type of USB3 card reader. Back on the downside you also have to plug in some sort of power supply and you have to be careful which power supply you choose. I have four different charging blocks and/or power packs with USB output here and only one of them worked reliably with this method – and even then only on one of the two different USB power outputs. The power bank that worked was an EasyAcc PB10000C and it was the 1.5amp port. I am going to try a newer model to see if that’s OK too. The main advantages and disadvantages of this method in use are the same as the first two given that you have to use the Apple Photos app but you have to add the extra weight of the power bank and extra cables and card readers too.
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII): This method requires the Canon Camera Connect app and of course the basic wifi connectivity that comes with some cameras but which requires Wireless Adapters for others. Once set up and providing there’s not too much wifi pollution this option works really well with one camera at a time. Because you go through the Canon app it recognises star ratings applied to images in the camera which can be used to drastically speed up the workflow when the app is set to show the rated images first. Importing JPEG files this way is really fast and very easy. RAW files take three or four times as long but the process still works well.
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII: Both Shuttersnitch and FSN Pro (and probably other apps) have the option to set your iOS device running those apps as an FTP receiving device. This requires more sophisticated wifi connectivity (currently only the EOS5D MkIV has this built-in) and can cost hundreds of pounds per camera to get this working. Once you have the equipment and have set the cameras up you can choose to send selected images or everything on a given memory card to the iPad where the apps can start to do some work in the background for you. I won’t lie and tell you that setting these apps up is anywhere near as easy as plugging a cable in but the advantages are many. You avoid the Apple Photos App, can connect with multiple suitably equipped cameras without swapping cards, cables or settings and the background processing that Shuttersnitch in particular can do is a potential time-saver.
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters: Three or four years ago I was very keen on the Eye-Fi SD cards and used them every day in Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras. The original cards were effectively emasculated by the manufacturers and replaced with their Mobi range. These still have their uses if you want to offload images to an iOS device via their Keenai app. They can suffer from being overpowered by nearby and much stronger wifi signals but where they work they are extremely simple and very effective. Setting them up is easy and they will transfer either JPEG (all versions) and RAW (the pro version) as you shoot them. I currently use my Eye-Fi Mobi card with a Fujifilm X100S and it makes for a good pairing. I shoot just RAW on the camera and then do an in-camera JPEG conversion on a small selection which the Mobi then transfers to the waiting Keenai app. Toshiba and one or two other manufacturers sell SD based wifi image transmitters too although my experience with them is limited I can say that they also work pretty well where there are no super-strong signals operating on the same band. There is also an option to customise them and, whilst I have not gone down this route yet, I am told that it can be very effective.

That’s quite a lot of information to take in and, having played with all of the options, I am strongly leaning towards option 4 for most of the work and option 5 when I have very tight deadlines to work to. Bits of cable and adapters are fine for occasional use but wireless connectivity when you are running around shooting is less of a hassle. I have spent a lot of time using option 4 over the last twelve months and I am pretty good at getting it working as well as fault-finding if it doesn’t.

The complexity of getting the images from the camera into the right apps on the iPad is one of the reasons why I still think about using an iPad for editing as a second option and one only to be used for a few rapid image offloads. For those who ask why I am avoiding the Apple Photos app as much as I can the answer is that you don’t get to see the images as anything other than a small thumbnail to choose which images you want and because the app doesn’t recognise the star ratings that you can apply in-camera to distinguish between the pictures you want and the rest. Canon’s Camera Connect gives you that option and it is small details like this that make the difference between an app being good to work with and not being so good. I am told that Nikon’s equivalent app is Ok too but I have yet to use it.