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Apple iPad Pro 2018 Review for Photography Needs

One of the big updates of this year from Apple was the new iPad Pro 2018 models that come with an insanely fast A12X Bionic chip that is capable of outperforming even some of Apple’s own laptops in performance. With up to to 1 TB of storage, a USB Type-C port that allows plugging in most types of accessories and devices, and a very compact / lightweight footprint, Apple has been trying to push the new iPad Pro as a laptop replacement. I wanted to see how the new iPad Pro 2018 holds up for photography needs and see if it could really work for me when traveling light. Unfortunately, the type and total number of software packages one can use is rather limited on the iPad for professional needs, so I will be looking at Adobe Creative Cloud and Lightroom CC for doing all the work. In addition, we will take a look if the new iPad Pro could work for importing images directly from cameras like the Nikon Z7.

Apple iPad Pro 2018

iPad Pro is NOT a Laptop Replacement

First of all, let’s get one thing straight – the iPad Pro is not a laptop. It is designed to be a touch-friendly tablet, but it has never had mouse or touchpad support, and probably never will. In addition, it does not have a desktop-grade operating system and works on iOS, the same operating system that runs the Apple iPhone. It cannot directly connect and access external storage either (the biggest issue as of today, as explained below) and it has only a single Thunderbolt port that is used for charging, as well as connecting other devices. So no matter how much Apple wants its user base to perceive the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, it simply is not one.

However, despite all its negatives, some things it does really well, arguably better than most laptops. First of all, as I have already pointed out, its CPU is extremely fast, allowing the device to run pretty much any app designed for iOS at an instant (and as you see further down, the performance surely does not disappoint). Second, it is a very compact and lightweight tablet that is extremely portable, making it ideal for those who want to pack and travel light. And now that the iPad Pro has a USB Type-C port, you can easily get it charged with standard charging cables and power banks. Third, it has an excellent IPS touchscreen that is extremely responsive and very smooth to work with, particularly when it comes to using the Apple Pen. I have tried to use touchscreen laptops from other manufacturers and I have to admit, it is hard to come by a laptop or another tablet that can provide as good of an experience. Brush strokes are nearly instant and Apple just does a phenomenal job at detecting the palm and avoiding accidental drawing on the screen (commonly referred to as “palm rejection”). In fact, our talented designer who makes illustrations for our website was so impressed with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pen, that he now wants to switch from a PC with a Wacom device to the iPad Pro. This says a lot about what Apple has been able to achieve with the iPad Pro.

Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Cami
Edited in Lightroom CC on iPad Pro 2018
NIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @ 27mm, ISO 400, 1/6, f/5.6

At the same time, the iPad Pro is certainly a very expensive piece of technology. One could argue that it is possible to get a machine with beefier specs (more storage, more RAM) at similar, or even lower price points. For those who are willing to pay for a mobile platform though, could the iPad Pro 2018 replace a laptop for importing images and editing them on the go? Let’s take a look in more detail…

Limited Software Availability

When it comes to software options for photo editing, a full-blown operating system like Windows or MacOS has plenty of choices, from open source to professional-grade commercial editing software. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for software options on the iPad. Aside from Adobe, which has the Lightroom CC software that works on the iPad and perhaps Affinity Photo, most other “apps” are very limited in their functionality. Most are incapable of working with RAW images, usually providing very basic set of tools, focusing on various presets that are supposed to make images look better.

This means that for anyone who is looking into buying an iPad Pro, the only real option for processing RAW images is Adobe’s Lightroom CC. And although Adobe does provide a free copy of Lightroom CC for the iPad, to be able to take a full advantage of the software with the ability to easily synchronize images between the iPad and a laptop / desktop, one has to have the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. This by itself is a deterrent for some photographers who do not want to be locked into paying a monthly fee to Adobe for its cloud subscription services.

iPad Pro 2018 Running Adobe Photoshop

Adobe is planning to release a full version of its Photoshop software for the iPad soon, but it is unclear whether all the HDR and Photoshop merge options will be available, as those processes require plenty of RAM, which the iPad just does not have. The typical iPad Pro 2018 models only have 4 GB of RAM, whereas the 1 TB model has 6 GB of RAM, which is still not ideal when compared to modern laptops that can host 16 GB or more RAM in comparison.

Lastly, keep in mind that Adobe’s Lightroom CC is relatively knew. Although Adobe has been updating the software with more features with each update, it still lacks quite a few features compared to the full Lightroom Classic CC. For example, you cannot stitch Panoramas or merge HDR images, and some of the editing features within Lightroom Classic CC do not yet exist in Lightroom CC. For a more detailed comparison between the two, please check out our Lightroom CC vs Lightroom Classic CC comparison article.

Cappadocia Path at Sunset
Edited in Lightroom CC on iPad Pro 2018
NIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S @ 36mm, ISO 64, 2/5, f/8.0

All this means that if you are interested in the iPad for post-processing images and you take a lot of pictures, the iPad by itself simply cannot replace a full-blown computer. You will most likely still need to own either a desktop or a laptop to do the more serious work.

Adobe Creative Cloud and Lightroom CC

If you are already an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber (or you have intentions to become one) and you are OK with running Lightroom CC on the iPad with its limited feature set, then you will need to consider how you are planning to use the iPad Pro and what type of subscription you are going to get. Adobe’s standard price plan for Creative Cloud starts at $9.99, which is called “Photography plan”. It comes with 20 GB of Creative Cloud storage, which you can expand to 1 TB for another $10. With these fees, you will be able to run both Lightroom Classic CC (on a desktop or your laptop) and Lightroom CC for Mobile.

Now that we have all this behind, let’s start with the hardware within the new iPad Pro 2018 and see what it can do.

Hardware Performance

With the release of the iPad Pro 2018 models, Apple claimed that the hardware within the iPad Pro is so powerful, that it is able to potentially even outperform some laptops out there. I wanted to test this claim and see how the iPad Pro 2018 performs when compared to my maxed out MacBook Pro 2016 model with an Intel Core i7 CPU in terms of both CPU and graphics performance. I decided to use GeekBench 4 benchmark software, since it can provide benchmarks across different both MacOS as well as iOS. Let’s take a look at the results from the iPad Pro 2018 (512 GB model):

iPad Pro 2018 Geekbench 4 Score

That’s very impressive. With a single-core CPU score of 5042, the iPad Pro 2018 shows that it surely has a beast of a processor inside. What’s truly crazy though, is its multi-core performance – I did not expect to see such high performance with this processor. How do these numbers stack up with my MacBook Pro? Let’s take a look:

MacBook Pro 2016 Geekbench 4 Score

I have to admit, I really did not expect the A12X Bionic chip to outdo the Intel Core i7 CPU inside my MacBook Pro 2016. Not only does the iPad Pro 2018 show faster single core performance, but it also outperformed it in multi-core performance, something I did not expect to see!

What about GPU performance? Let’s take a look at how the iPad Pro 2018 did:

iPad Pro 2018 Geekbench 4 Compute Score

Impressive. But how does it stack to the dedicated AMD Radeon Pro 460 GPU on the MacBook Pro 2016? Let’s take a look:

MacBook Pro 2016 Geekbench 4 Compute Score

Well, I can breathe better that my MacBook Pro did better in comparison. But wait a second, that’s only a difference of about 16% in favor of my machine, which is not a lot!

Whatever hardware Apple put into these iPads, we can see that it truly is unbelievably fast – it is able to not just compete with Apple’s own laptops, but also beat them in a number of ways. My MacBook Pro cost me a lot more money than the iPad, and yet this little machine can outperform it in CPU benchmarks. Now I can see why Apple wants to put its own CPUs in future machines. If they can put such fast, low-heat / low power CPUs into such a small form factor, I can only imagine what they will be able to do on future MacBook Pro machines.

In summary, the iPad Pro 2018 is beefed up to the teeth when it comes to its CPU and GPU performance. Its storage options are pretty solid too, although the iPad maxes out at 1 TB, whereas one can buy a MacBook Pro in up to 4 TB configuration. However, let’s not forget its biggest limitation – only 4 GB of RAM (6 GB on the 1 TB model). I think this is where comes the big difference between an iPad and a laptop. My MacBook Pro 2016 has 16 GB of RAM and if you get the latest MacBook Pro 2018 model, you can get up to 32 GB of RAM. That’s a heck of a lot more memory for executing tasks on a laptop. Unfortunately, because of the limited RAM, you can forget about Apple ever offering a full-blown OS on the iPad Pro 2018, so there is no “future-proofing” of the iPad either.

Mosque Interior Uzbekistan
Edited in Lightroom CC on iPad Pro 2018
X100F @ 23mm, ISO 3200, 1/60, f/5.6

iOS Limitations

At this point, we are basically stuck with the iOS on the iPad Pro and there is no workaround. You might be wondering what is so limiting about the iOS, so let’s explore this in some detail. Even if there is no mouse cursor to be able to use a mouse or a trackpad, iOS has some strange limitations when it comes to the way apps run. For example, Apple provides no way to navigate the built-in storage in order to manage files. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the first and foremost reason is the inability to perform basic file copy / move operations. You cannot take a whole folder of images and just make a copy of them in the local or other storage.

Speaking of other storage, the iOS does not allow any external storage to be mounted on the device. This means that you cannot just plug an external hard drive, SSD or even a thumb drive to the iPad and expect to be able to access files on it. While the iOS does recognize other storage, aside from importing photos, it does not allow any other type of storage access. So if I am traveling on the road and I want to make a full backup of my memory card, the only option I have is to back up the memory card into the built-in storage of the iPad using the Photos app. If there are any incompatible files that the iOS cannot read, I have zero options. If I want to make a second backup of my files to another storage, I have zero options. This is by far the worst limitation of the iOS and probably the main reason why most photographers will not choose the iPad Pro as their “go-to” travel option. Even if other options like MacBook Air / MacBook Pro / Microsoft Surface / Surface Pro / Surface Book might not have the same level of performance, battery life or form factor and weight, they all have real operating systems that impose no limitations on what storage devices can be mounted on them.

Cat in Chefchaouen
Edited in Lightroom CC on iPad Pro 2018
X-H1 + XF50mmF2 R WR @ 50mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/5.6

While it is financially understandable why Apple wants to keep external storage out of access inside iOS (as very few people would end up buying expensive iPad Pro models with more storage), it is a very big limitation that makes the otherwise amazing iPad look bad.

There are a number of other limitations, but they are mostly workable compared to the one above.

Apple Pencil 2

With the release of the new iPad Pro 2018, the Apple Pencil has also been updated. While it has not seen any major changes in terms of its overall performance or sensitivity levels (which are already pretty good to begin with), there are notable changes to the way the Apple Pencil works and charges. First of all, there is no need to plug the Apple Pencil into the iPad or an external charger to get it charged anymore – it can now do so wirelessly, utilizing the built-in battery of the iPad, which is pretty cool! Second, the Apple Pencil is now a single unit and there are no caps and other parts you can easily lose. Third, it now has a matte surface rather than gloss like the first version, which makes it easier to handle and use without any slipping issues. The tip is very similar to the older one and can be easily unscrewed and replaced, if it wears off.

Apple Pencil 2

In terms of its performance, I found it to work really well inside Lightroom CC. While it can be handy to use to move some of the sliders, the Apple Pencil comes particularly handy when dealing with adjustment layers in Lightroom CC. Adobe has already updated the Lightroom CC version for the iPad to be compatible with the newest iPad Pro, so the new double tapping action to switch from a brush to an eraser is already working correctly.

If you are wondering whether it is worth buying the Apple Pencil 2 or not, I would certainly recommend it. It is an expensive device, but for doing things like dodging and burning in photographs, being able to use the pencil and accessing smaller parts of the photo is so much easier compared to fingers.

Importing Images into Lightroom CC

When it comes to hardware, you can utilize a few different pieces of hardware to import images into the iPad. The first is to use a standard memory card reader, such as Apple’s USB-C to SD Card Reader. For those who shoot with CF, XQD or other memory card readers, another option is to use a USB hub that can connect other devices and read memory cards, such as the CharJenPro USB C Hub (an amazing little gadget by the way that I use for my MacBook Pro). I tested the iPad Pro with the CharJenPro and my XQD card reader and the iPad immediately recognized all the images. The third option is to connect to the camera directly.

iPad Pro 2018 Connected to Sony Camera

If you have a camera like the Sony A7R III or the Nikon Z7 that comes with a USB Type C interface, you don’t need to worry about any extra accessories. All you have to do is plug a USB Type C cord on each end, turn the camera on and the iPad Pro will immediately recognize it. I have tested the iPad Pro 2018 with the Nikon Z7 and I was able to see and import all the images that I captured with the camera:

Nikon Z7 RAW Images in iPad Pro 2018

Due to iOS limitations when it comes to directly accessing connected storage, the only way to import RAW and JPEG images from memory cards is by using the Photos app that pops up each time the iPad detects an external storage device with images on it. Apple’s photos app will show all the detected images in its “Import” tab, from which you can select the images you want to import. From there, you have to import the images into the iPad’s internal memory. Once all the images are imported, you can then fire up Lightroom CC and import those images into the software:

Lightroom CC Import Photos

It is definitely inconvenient to import images twice and I really don’t like the fact that Apple’s Photos app has to interfere. In addition, if Apple is unable to read some of the RAW images (such as compressed RAW images from Fuji), the images will just show up blank within the Photos app, which is not particularly helpful. Apple really needs to provide a way to access storage directly from within the apps, so that one could directly import into Lightroom CC without any hassles.

The good news is, most RAW images will work right off the bat. I was quite surprised to see the RAW images from my Nikon Z7 show up (the previews were extracted from the built-in JPEG images within RAW files). If any images are not recognized by the Photos app, it should still let you copy them into the internal storage – Lightroom will be able to read those files from there.

Editing Images in Lightroom CC

When it comes to editing, if you have not yet used the Lightroom CC version, you are going to discover that it differs quite a bit from the Lightroom Classic CC version. Here is the interface of Lightroom Classic CC that you are probably already used to:

Lightroom Classic CC Interface

And here is the interface of the desktop version of Lightroom CC (the iPad interface is very similar):

Lightroom CC Interface

As you can see, there is quite a bit of stuff missing. There is no history panel, no snapshot capability, no multi-photo editing and there are a few large features missing as well, such as HDR and Panorama stitching, as I have already pointed out earlier.

However, when it comes to features that are already present in both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC, they work very similarly between the two. This means that if you are making adjustments to photos on the iPad Pro using Lightroom CC, once the edits are properly synced between the mobile and the desktop version of the two, all the changes will flow over (more on this in the next section).

When it comes to the image culling and editing process, I found Lightroom CC to work extremely well on the iPad Pro. When culling through images after the import, you just click the star icon on the right, then you can easily swipe up to mark a photo as a “Pick” and swipe down to mark it as a “Reject”, as shown below:

Lightroom CC on iPad Pro Culling

You can similarly star images that you want to edit later.

When you need to edit an image, simply click the editing tab on the top right to bring up the menu and from there you can navigate through different sub-menus like Profile, Light, Color, Effects, Detail, Geometry and Optics. Tapping on these sub-menus will reveal all the additional options and sliders that you can use to edit images:

Lightroom CC on iPad Pro Image Editing

You can either use your fingers to make adjustments, or you can use the Apple Pencil, whichever you prefer. If you want to reset any of the sliders back to default, simply double tap on the round part of the slider and it will reset.

Importing and Synchronizing Images Between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic CC

Keep in mind that whatever images you import into Lightroom CC, as long as you have synchronization enabled within Lightroom Classic CC, those images should automatically be imported into your Lightroom Classic CC catalog once both devices are connected to the Internet and the synchronization process is complete.

If you have way too many images in your Lightroom CC catalog on the iPad Pro and you do not want to go through the whole cloud synchronization process (which would be the case for me, as I wouldn’t want to waste my time uploading and downloading images over the Internet when I get home after a trip), the alternative is to pause the syncing process and manually import images into your Lightroom CC catalog from the iPad Pro directly. However, this is where you run into the problem of losing the edits that you have performed in Lightroom CC if you are not careful, because you would be going around Lightroom CC and importing images from the iPad Pro’s internal storage. Unfortunately, there is no way to force Lightroom CC to generate XMP files that could be saved in iPad Pro’s internal memory, so all the changes you make in Lightroom CC are only saved within the app’s internal database only. This is obviously a big problem, but there is somewhat of a workaround, assuming that you only edit some images and those are the ones you want to be able to migrate over.

The process is a bit convoluted and can be a bit confusing, but if you are careful (and you have full backups of your photos and possibly even your iPad), you should be able to get things done without major hassles. The main benefit of the below process is that you can avoid the whole upload and download process for every photo that you imported into the iPad Pro. This will simply save you a lot of time and bandwidth. So let’s go through the process:

  1. Make sure that you have a copy of all your images (ideally, keep the original memory cards intact and don’t write over them). If you do not have a copy of all your images outside your iPad, perform a full backup of the iPad using iTunes.
  2. After you import your images into the iPad, turn off cloud sync within Lightroom CC.
  3. Star all the images you are going to edit on the iPad.
  4. After you edit all the starred images, the goal is to simply copy over all other images and only copy over the settings from the edited images.
  5. Connect your iPad to your desktop or laptop that contains Lightroom Classic CC.
  6. Fire up Lightroom Classic CC and import all the images from the iPad directly. You will notice that only RAW files are copied and none of the edits are preserved. This is normal, because you are not importing from Lightroom CC, but rather from the iPad’s internal memory that does not contain any of the edits.
  7. After all the images are successfully imported, click the “Filter” icon in Lightroom CC, then touch the icon in front of the stars until it becomes “smaller or equal to”. Without any stars selected, this will show all the images that you have not starred before. These are the images we will be deleting, so make sure that these images are indeed unedited. Mass select all these photos and click “Delete” to delete them from Lightroom CC’s storage.
  8. Now go ahead and resume the Cloud sync. At this point, only the images that you edited on the iPad will be uploaded to the cloud. When Lightroom Classic CC syncs and downloads the images, it will see that they are already present, so instead of re-downloading the files, it will simply create a virtual copy with the all the changes you’ve made in Lightroom CC.
  9. Once everything syncs up between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC, if you want to free up all the space on your iPad Pro, go ahead and delete all the RAW files using the Photos app on your iPad.

The above process is far from ideal. You will end up with virtual copies and the changes won’t be simply copied over to the existing RAW files. If this annoys you, there is really not much you can do aside from copying settings from virtual copies, pasting them into RAW files, then deleting the virtual copies…one by one. Also, there is nothing you can do about uploading images to the cloud – the ones you actually care about preserving, you will need to let sync. I wish Adobe provided a way to save and export changes from Lightroom CC, so that you can just sync the settings, but unfortunately, there is no way to do that as of today.

Still, the above workaround does work and it can save you hours of frustration and lots of bandwidth while Lightroom CC from the iPad attempts to sync to the cloud, then back to your Lightroom Classic CC. This can be especially useful if you are working with hundreds, perhaps even thousands of RAW images.

Summary

Without a doubt, Apple’s new iPad Pro is a very impressive tablet. It has an unbelievably fast A12X Bionic processor that can surpass even a high-end laptop. It sports a very impressive GPU that can challenge a dedicated video card of a MacBook Pro. It has a sleek, compact and lightweight design with a beautiful display that provides smooth touch and Apple Pencil 2 performance. The USB Type-C port is capable of connecting many different types of devices and accessories, including USB hubs. The iOS works without any hiccups and Adobe’s Lightroom CC shows excellent performance, no matter what tools or how many adjustment layers are added to photographs. And with the upcoming full version of Adobe Photoshop, the iPad is going to become one of the top tools for graphic artists and potentially even photographers.

Moeraki Boulders New Zealand
Edited in Lightroom CC on iPad Pro 2018
X-T20 + XC16-50mmF3.5-5.6 OIS II @ 16.7mm, ISO 200, 1/6, f/8.0

However, despite all of its strengths, the iPad Pro continues to be well…an iPad. It is by no means a laptop replacement, no matter how you spin it, requiring a lot of effort and workarounds to have a truly productive tool for photography needs. While it is great to be able to import images into the iPad Pro, edit and share them immediately on the web, working with a lot of RAW files requires plenty of storage on the device, as well as serious Internet bandwidth in order to quickly and properly sync all the files between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. Even those who fully switch to Lightroom CC will potentially need to wait for hours until their images upload to Adobe’s cloud servers and then download to other devices. There is no way to access any kind of external storage using the iPad Pro – a serious limitation of the iOS that makes the iPad unusable for performing a basic backup of images and videos from memory cards to external drives. This by itself could be a deal breaker for many photographers out there.

I really want to love the iPad Pro and recommend it to our readers, but I really can’t. Unless you don’t shoot much, edit only a handful of images at a time and you have already switched to Lightroom CC, you should look at purchasing a real laptop that can provide all the tools you need for proper work on the go. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there, including those from Apple. If Apple ever opens up the ability to access external storage and allows to perform basic file operations for backing up media, I might revisit the iPad Pro again. Until then, it looks like a laptop is the way to go…

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