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Can Photographers Replace their Laptops with Tablets?

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Over the last two weeks, I have completed a social experiment to see if a tablet computer, in my case the iPad 2, could replace the humble laptop for my everyday photography chores. Read along and find out if it's an viable option for your needs.


About a month ago, I purchased an iPad 2 mainly for internet use, music and glorified solitaire. However, as I was lugging my Macbook around I suddenly thought to myself, "why do I need this?" It's heavy and when out on a shoot I only need to dump files, surely my iPad should be a perfect replacement.

I had a two-week trip to Italy booked and therefore decided to leave the laptop at home and only take the iPad, effectively helping saving weight and therefore not having to pay fees for a heavier bag. My camera gear takes almost all the allowed weight.

However, before I left their were a couple of problems I had to overcome.

The First Problem: Data Transfer

Apple has not included anyway of inserting a USB device or SD card on the actual device. So in order to upload any pictures you have  to purchase the camera connection kit at the price of £25, which I felt was slightly steep for an adaptor.

If like myself your camera uses a compact flash card then you will need to use the USB to iPad connection. This also means you have to carry around the AV output to USB cable, which is slightly annoying when you are forced to purchase the SD reader in the same pack. I don't understand why they cannot sell them separately.

Other tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy or Asus Eee Slate don't have this problem as they include a USB slot or micro SD card reader. However compact flash users are still going to have to carry around that annoying cable.

The Second Problem: Storage

My canon 7D loves eating hard drive space, using around 6MB per jpeg and 50MB per RAW file. Video files are even worst using around 1GB for 3 minutes worth of footage. The top range iPad only goes up to 64Gb, this is only 59.1GB once you include the default operating system and realistically half of that space is going to be used up with applications, music and videos, so it effectively left me with just 26.0GB of space.

I didn't think this would last me, so I decided to try and plug in my external hard drive. However the iPad refused to read it. After a Google search I found that only a jailbroken iPad is able to accept hard drives and even this requires a small hack.

The last option is that you can use cloud storage that companies such as Dropbox and Amazon. However, sending a large amount of data to the cloud is going to require a good internet connection and a fair amount of bandwidth. If traveling abroad like myself wireless connections are difficult to get hold of and the 3G prices are not even worth thinking about.

My only solution for my trip was to shoot JPEG only and then RAW on the last couple of days. It was slighting annoying and I did use all 20GB of storage.

The iPad Camera

The iPad 2 has a 1MB camera (yes, you read that correct) and it is very poor and almost useless other than for applications such as skype or facetime. The quality when shooting outside was a lot better than inside, but any cheap compact or mobile phone is going to be better.

And who really wants to carry around a tablet in order to take pictures? It looks very weird in public and is not as simple as just grabbing your mobile out of your pocket.

Below is a picture shot on the iPad. Note the high amount of noise.

Importing your Photos

When you connect your camera up to the iPad, it allows you to pick the images you wish to import. The touch interface makes this selection easy and more enjoyable than on a computer. I personally found it to be much be a lot more minimal and tidy that than Canon's own import software. Naturally the iPad also includes the option to import all the photos in one go, which is the setting I most commonly used.

When finished importing, the iPad automatically asks if you wish to delete the photos off the card. A handy feature however I personally prefer to format my memory card on the actual camera. Also sometimes you only want to import a single photo and don't wish to wipe the memory card.

Much like on your computer the iPad stores the photos in folders named after the date the images were shot. These can be found in the standard photos application.


The speed of transfer between the iPad and my camera was surprisingly very quick. It didn't appear to be any slower than upload to my laptop or desktop. Overall I was very impressed with it and had no complaints.

However getting approximately 5000 photos (20Gb) from my iPad to my computer took a little over 4 hours using iPhoto. I felt this was very poor and I am going to attempt to search for a better alternative in the weeks ahead.

Editing with PS Express

When away I always like to look over my pictures and edit a few before I come back. My personal choice on a laptop is Adobe Photoshop. Adobe have been keen to join in on the tablet craze and have made an iPhone/iPad application named PS express.The software is free to download (which is unusual for Adobe) however does have extra add-ons with more advanced features for a small fee.

Adobe Photoshop for iPad allows you to crop, straighten, rotate and flip your photos. In terms of adjustment, you can change the exposure, contrast, saturation, tint, and convert to B&W.

There are a couple of fancy filters effects, which effectively stick horrid looking filters on top and try to pretend they are a masterpiece. Adobe appears to have added them to give non-photographers the chance to feel they are more creative. Professionally you probably wouldn't go near them.

One feature I personally liked that the desktop version doesn't include at the current time was the ability to share straight away on social media sites such as Facebook. It's a great feature for sharing photos quickly without having to go through Facebook's, quite frankly, awful image uploader.

The only real weakness of the application was the time it took to save a photo after you finished editing. I just did some basic edits and although the effects were real time, the save time was over a minute. However lower resolution images were considerable faster. With the iPad's camera, photos saving in around 2-3 seconds.

Overall PS express is a decent photography application, but compared to the desktop application, you simply miss huge number amount of tools. I personally miss not being able to use masks to control the effects over set objects.

Other Applications

Flickr - Entered the app store very recently. Share your photos. Watch the world. However, reviews suggest Flickrstack is actually a better application.

Camera Bag - Allows you to add filters on top of your photos. Again, it's very limiting when actually editing.

Tilt Shift Generator for iPad - Create a fake looking tilt shift photo in minutes. Handy but very specific.

Keynote - Create slide show style presentations. It's great for presenting photos, but has no editing features.

Other Features

The iPad can connect to WiFi printers in order to print off your photos without having to transfer them to your computer. Unfortunately at the current time, I don't own a WiFi printer so was unable to test this feature.

Another feature I liked was being able to email photos. I used it a couple of times to show people where I was in Italy and I found it to be straight forward and easy to use.

Overall thoughts


  • Saves lugging a heavy laptop around
  • Easy to use interface for viewing photos
  • Importing photos is relatively fast and easy once you have the equipment
  • Stores both JPEG and RAW files


  • Lack of storage on longer trips
  • Currently has no serious editing application
  • No support for editing RAW files


My overall conclusion is that the iPad at the current time is not quite ready to be a replacement for a laptop, however I can appreciate it is a great tool when out and about. It kept me entertained on train journeys, flights and in hotel rooms while being much lighter than my laptop.

At the current time, it is obviously not the perfect tool for photography due to the lack of storage and RAW support, but I can see things in the future changing when hard drives get cheaper and some clever spark develops an application to edit RAW files. Maybe one day, we will also be able to sync the camera and tablet wirelessly.

Overall, I was impressed and will not bother taking my laptop in the future when on shorter weekend trips away or when out visiting a client.

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