What An iPad Does Best For Photographers (And Where It Fails Dismally)

As a MacBook (and previously PowerBook) user for around 17 years now, naturally I was very curious when Apple first released the iPad in 2010, and how it might complement and perhaps ultimately replace my laptop.

These days I don’t use my MacBook for as much as I used to. 

There’s no music composition (or indeed playing/storing music in iTunes, which became far too complicated and bloated years ago), video creation, website coding, FTP transfer, or photo processing.

My main uses are for online reading and writing, plus organising and editing photographs (as in sorting and deleting those which don’t make the grade, not post processing). 

Which means either my wife’s old HP laptop, resurrected as a Chromebook, or my daughter’s very fast and light Lenovo Chromebook, which cost just over 10% what my MacBook did, are 95% as easy and capable for my uses today.

I held off for years in getting an iPad, because they couldn’t do half the tasks I did with a laptop.

Then around 2017, I looked more seriously at the iPad again, and with my then near decade old MacBook starting to stutter, I took the plunge. 

Three years on, the MacBook is still running, after a couple of resets, and I still love the keyboard (the best I’ve ever used on any computer) and the 15″ screen.

And the iPad? 

Well, it gets used less than ever.

In fact really there are only two ways I use the iPad that, for me, makes it a usable and useful device at all.

1. Viewing (and sometimes editing) photographs.

The Flickr app for iPad is lovely, and means you can view photos full screen with nothing else visible, then just swipe left or right to see the next or previous photo in the stream.

It’s about as optimised and tactile an experience there is, for viewing photos on a screen. 

Sometimes I edit my photos, which are waiting online in Google Drive.

When I delete one via the iPad app, when I’m online again with my MacBook where the original photos are (uploaded from the camera’s memory card), it syncs and removes those deleted from Google Drive too.

But honestly, I prefer to go through my own photos full screen on my MacBook with the native Preview app, and delete directly on the HD any that don’t make the cut. 

47953630661_c96f672922_b

2. Reading. 

This does vary, depending on the site.

Most more modern blogs and websites are an absolute pleasure to read on the iPad, especially in portrait orientation.

Especially those who use a simple single column layout and clean design (or those who blog quietly, as I wrote about last year).

Even blogs with one side column can usually be double tapped to expand the main text column to the full width of the screen.

If I’m feeling especially lazy I’ll use Mantaray to scroll for me too, so I don’t even have to touch the screen.

Again something the iPad misses in comparison with a laptop/desktop computer is simple keyboard actions like tapping the space bar to scroll down a page at a time.

I hate constantly swiping, then swiping back a little because I’ve gone too far.

With older sites though, and those overloaded with too many columns, ads, social media feeds, and other unnecessary clutter, it can be awkward resizing the main text so it’s most readable. 

Simple actions like rotating the iPad 90 degrees to read in portrait orientation don’t result in the text automatically and elegantly resizing to fill the available space.

And given my penchant for 10+ year old digital cameras, often the sites that contain information about these are still back in that era too so aren’t too pretty on an iPad.

Plus certain platforms (ahem, Blogger) still look like they did about 12 years ago, and are ungainly even when viewed on a 15″ or larger screen, let alone a tablet or phone.

Why hasn’t Google addressed their platform’s fundamental design flaws to compete with WordPress? I digress.

So as a reading device for sites that are properly optimised for an iPad (by the way the owner has designed it, and by the software that underpins it) is a very enjoyable experience. 

But, as I said, it’s hit and miss, as not all sites are like this.

In the past I have also used my iPad for processing photographs. 

Apps like Hipstamatic or Snapseed both suit the iPad well with their relatively simple tactile interfaces.

But I haven’t used Hipstamatic for perhaps a couple of years now, and I use Snapseed far less than I did, as I’ve moved every closer to zero processing and using cameras that I can set up to output JPEGs without the need for any post processing.

When I do use Snapseed, my Sony Xperia phone is perfectly adequate for the simple presets I apply.

So post processing is a usage that’s disappeared with the iPad for me. 

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What fails pretty dismally with the iPad is any kind of writing.

Whilst I use Google keyboard which seems more intuitive and user friendly than the native iPad on screen keyboard (which is shocking, I bought into Apple originally because no-one came near them with user interface), I still find writing any more than a line of text in a search bar pretty painful and frustrating.

When it comes to copying and pasting, and navigating your cursor around a piece of text (both of which are needed extensively in editing blog posts of course), it’s too cumbersome and I don’t seem to have the dexterity or the patience.

I read a few months ago that a fellow blogger wrote an entire novel on an iPad. They need some kind of medal for endurance and patience!

So despite my photographic (and general) needs in a laptop being less than they have been in years, the iPad still doesn’t make much sense as a device for me, let alone as my sole device. 

If I was to make the decision to buy an iPad again – or I had a similar amount (around £300) to spend on a replacement device today – I would unquestioningly go with a Chromebook with as good a screen as possible instead.

How about you? Do you use an iPad (or another similar size tablet) for anything photography related? What do you find it’s good (and not so good) at? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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27 thoughts on “What An iPad Does Best For Photographers (And Where It Fails Dismally)”

  1. Firstly, I’d like to say that I really like the two photos in this post, particularly the first one. It has an otherworldly feel, if that makes sense.

    I agree about the iPad, I could not get on with the on-screen keyboard either. I thought about getting an external keyboard but of the few I tried – including Apple’s own – I really didn’t like any of them. Apple’s didn’t even have a trackpad for goodness sake!

    I use my Tab S6 mostly for studying and watching YouTube or Netflix in bed. Because I’m studying maths, I handwrite everything, and at least this way I am not using up tons of paper. I really like the writing experience on the Tab S6. I haven’t edited photos on it yet but I have downloaded VSCO to it in preparation.

    My Surface is used for the same as above, as well as the usual email, web browsing, social media, blogging, etc. It’s my main computer now. I have my HP laptop that I just use for playing Sims, because just opening Chrome makes it sound like it’s going to take off, so I decided to use the Surface more.

    However, my phone (Note 9) is really my main device, the one I pick up 100% of the time unless I am wanting to study, or specifically need a bigger screen or an actual keyboard for longer typing.

    Also to answer your question about Google and Blogger… I suspect it won’t be long before Blogger gets kicked to the curb. Google are so bad at committing to their products!

    1. Thanks Mel. Yes, it makes sense, plants up close can often look almost alien, and their incredible details and patterns come to the fore.

      I think you can get a standard Apple Bluetooth keyboard and track pad to use with the iPad, but then by the time you’ve bought those, plus a stand for the iPad, it’s become a more-expensive-and-still-not-as-good-as-a-proper-laptop device.

      I’m sure the iPad or indeed any tablet is pretty great for watching video/TV. I just don’t really do much at all, and when I do (which is nearly always for a film) we have a pretty big Sony TV to do so. That’s another thing with a tablet actually, I find it more comfortable sitting down with a laptop on my lap (or even better, on a table) then sitting in bed with the tablet propped up on bent legs. Again a laptop on your lap in bed is far more comfortable and you can angle the screen just how you want, without having to continually support it.

      This might sound a silly question, but how do you hold your Tab S6 whilst you’re writing on it? Or do you have it flat down on a table? This kind of goes back to what we were talking about on your blog about phone size. Once the size and weight of a device (and cameras are similar, to an extent) gets beyond a certain threshold, they become too heavy and unwieldy to use one handed, so you need to either hold with the other hand or both hands, or have some kind of stand.

      In practice, the easiest way I’ve found to use my iPad is sitting at the kitchen table with it leant against a jar or candle holder or something so its angled about 45° and I don’t have to support it myself.

      Yeh Google develop so much stuff, I guess if it’s not working well enough (ie profitable) it gets dropped, like Google+, which was actually, in my view, far better designed and pleasant to use than Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps Blogger’s days are numbered, they certainly don’t seem to be investing in it.

      Thanks Mel!

      1. I have a case for the Tab S6 that doubles as a stand, but I lie it flat when I’m writing. It works really well for me as I’ve never liked writing at an angle.

      2. Yes, we write on paper flat on a table or desk most of the time, so this makes complete sense.

        At my dayjob I periodically attend meetings of higher managers, and many of them now have some kind of tablet at the meeting (probably Microsoft Surface, the corporate choice), instead of taking notes by hand. It’s very interesting to see the obvious different levels of (dis)comfort with these devices and how to use them!

      3. Well if one was being cynical, one might suggest that the only reason they have a Microsoft device is because their organisation, like most others, is so embedded in the Microsoft Windows ecosystem monopoly, the powers that be were too afraid to let them have anything else.

        With personal devices these days there’s a much wider choice with Windows, Chrome, Android, iOS, Linux etc.

        Very few people choose a Ford Focus as their own car, but I expect they’ve sold hundreds of thousands as corporate fleet cars…

  2. I had a Chromebook for a while but the sawn off nature of apps on it just grated with me – that and the knowledge that everything you do is revenue for someone, somewhere, but not you. Gradually, I’ve moved everything I need away from Google and the Chrome browser embrace.

    I’ve never been able to feel comfortable typing on the touch keyboards of tablets and phones – and the touch screen was never as good a solution as a proper graphics tablet without spending big on a pro one – so everything photo, and other work I do now, is done on a docked laptop, connected to the big screen and ‘proper’ computer full keyboard and mouse on my desk.
    I bought a used Windows 10 ThinkPad ultrabook then, SSD makes it silent, light and cool running, too small a screen to do serious Lightroom stuff on (but it will run it fine … yes I tried but it’s not ideal!) but excellent keyboard for sofa and armchair writing and there are no ‘oh, the app version of this program can’t do that….’ moments. Printing works without buying a new cloud printing compatible printer either.
    Tablet is now demoted to being a reader for the Pocket app, ebooks and the serviceable library app. and the occasional puzzle game. If your life depends on filling forms with drop down options and tick boxes and having information on hand to refer to, they’re great I imagine. If you create stuff, not so much, in my experience.

    1. Thanks Bear, I think you’ve summed it up well actually, for people who create stuff, a tablet seems (and perhaps always will be?) very limiting. I guess I’ve not tried anything like speech to text apps, which might be perfectly fine on a tablet, I’ve only really tried typing directly into it.

      I use little online these days, so the Chromebooks we have I do everything in the Chrome app. Aside from sometimes download pictures to it from one source online to upload to another, eg Google Drive to Flickr, where I use the file system on it briefly, then delete again after.

      I have yet to try the iPad for reading via our local library app, but they have been promoting more the last couple of months so I might try it out. Even so, as I said in reply to Mel above, I’ve struggled to find a comfortable way to hold the iPad for any longer period of time, without propping it up on something so it’s the same angle as a laptop screen would be.

      Having a laptop which you can then also dock and connect to a larger screen, keyboard (though my MacBook Pro keyboard is the best I’ve used on any computer), mouse etc, is an excellent combination of portable and home use – and not having to sync anything between more than one device.

      1. Yep, I’ve actually got the bigger laptop permanently docked as a desktop, the smaller Chromebook-like one is my on-my-lap-top laptop (and also more easily portable for taking out to meetings like I’m doing in half an hours time…) With OneDrive connectivity I can be confident of everything being synced as if it’s the same machine.

        Off to read Jim’s post now!

        I find reading on the tablet pretty easy really, the smaller ones of around a 7-8 inch screen are like a slim paperback, so anywhere you can read one of those, (yes, anywhere!) you can read on a tablet. Although I don’t have baths, reading from a tablet in the bath might not work…

      2. I do like reading on the iPad, but whereas with a book or magazine you can open a double page spread and read the whole lot in one, with an iPad you need to keep scrolling. The smaller the screen, the more scrolling required. It’s just a faff! Hence why I go back to an autoscroll app like Mantaray. On a laptop I don’t mind scrolling less often or just tapping space every 30 seconds or whatever to scroll a page at once.

    1. Great post Jim, and the title just sums it up, excellent!

      I think each device (or type of device) has to find its place.

      Like cameras – phones are fantastic these days and can make pictures with an image quality and ease we couldn’t have envisaged 15 years ago. But I’d still rather use a “proper” camera, any day of the week, even a tiny digital one.

      The tablet vs laptop vs desktop debate isn’t one where one device will conquer and replace all others, they each have their strengths and purpose.

      By the way, I’m glad I’m not the only who’s felt like hurling an iPad across a room after a few lines of (attempted)! typing!

    1. *never got around to it. You mention all the reasons why an iPad fails Dan and thank you for proving the point. I would rather save a little more and get a reconditioned Macbook because I just love the laptop with a proper screen and keyboard.

      1. Yuri, is there someone you know with a tablet you could try writing a blog post on? I think you’d decide pretty quickly whether it was something you wanted to do day in day out.

        I don’t know what you feel about Chromebooks (and as I said I used to be a diehard Apple lover) but I converted my wife’s 10+ year old HP laptop to a Chromebook, and it just cost the price of a USB stick to download the software on and reboot the HP from. Might be an option if you have an old laptop, and I’ve even considered doing this to my MacBook when it’s no longer able to update OS X. As long as the keyboard and screen are still good!

        https://www.neverware.com/freedownload

      2. I tried writing on a an iPad before and I hated it… I need a proper keyboard.
        Thanks for your advice about conversion, will take a look but I feel it might be too late for my ancient Macbook as its’ battery can’t take a lot. I’ve changed it already but I think there’s not much more I can do, it heats up quicker and impossible for videos but as I said still works fine for photo editing and writing 🙂

      3. My MacBook battery is similar, lasts about 15 minutes. I’m not sure another new one is worht the money as I only use it at home. Even with having it plugged in most of the time, it’s still much more convenient than having a desktop computer in a fixed place.

  3. Like you, I tried a tablet computer (Samsung) because it seem to have so much potential. It so utterly and abysmally failed at that potential that I can’t imagine how the industry continues to fool people into buying them. The touchscreen was the usual dysfunctional mess, the programs promise to do the things you want but habitually don’t deliver, it constantly updates any time it’s on whether you want it to or not, the Blue Tooth wireless keyboard doesn’t stay connected long enough to type a sentence, it lacks processing power and storage capacity, and the screen is too small. All it does now is hold some music which I can send to my speaker system – when I go through the rigamarole of connecting it up and putting up with the stops and dropouts as the player doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.
    So … antique Gateway 15″ laptop running Linux with ad blockers and tracker badger to keep the computing under my control, not everyone else’s.
    BTW a Chromebook would not be good for me because they rely heavily on web access and that would mean more traffic across my limited capacity connection.

    1. I thought the Samsung gear was quite good? It’s expensive enough! I’ve not used one though. Actually I had a Samsung phone before and it wasn’t brilliant. The Sony Xperia I have now is a different class, and the same OS, Android.

      The iPad, quality wise, is really good. And the touchscreen on the whole works very well for stuff when you just need to swipe the screen to see the next image et, or tap on a big button. But for anything precise, like selecting text, or even moving your cursor to a different place in a body of text, is just too fiddly for me, even if the device is quite accurate. Actually, again my Xperia phone seems more accurate in this sense than the iPad, I’d rather do basic typing and navigation with the phone than the iPad.

      Fortunately, we have a fairly decent internet connection, though I do get concerned about how reliant we are all becoming on it. It’s like the third essentially utility, after water and electricity… A local authority up north was hacked a couple of weeks ago and it’s completely shut down their whole system, public facing and the staff side. Two weeks in, apparently they’re only just getting going again. Kind of scary.

      1. I have not been impressed by Samsung tablets or phones. Nor any touch-screen device I’ve ever seen. The Lumix is fair in that department, but subject to errors all too often.

      2. Oh you mean the Lumix has a touchscreen? Buttons too, or is it all touchscreen?

        The closest I’ve come to a touchscreen on a camera is, perhaps ironically, the Samsung NV10.

        https://35hunter.blog/2019/07/30/unexpected-envy-photography-with-the-samsung-nv10/

        It’s not touchscreen, but the buttons are very touch sensitive rather than needing to be physically pushed in, and their function changes depending on which mode/screen you’re on. Actually works very well and it’s a great little camera.

        But proper touchscreen just seems wrong to me on a camera! I need buttons and dials!

      3. Dan, yes the ZS60 has a touch screen LCD but it is not dependent on it. Fortunately all the controls you really need to adjust are on buttons and dials. I totally agree that’s how it should be, especially for the basics. The Fuji EXR has an ‘F’ button which brings up only ISO, image size, and film simulation from the menu so you can ‘change film’ without going through the rest of the menu settings. That was thoughtful. I think Fuji has considered film photography well in their offerings, although I can’t afford an X series to say for sure.

      4. Oh is that the new (old!) Fuji you mentioned a week or two ago, the EXR? Which model? How are you finding it?

        I have had a couple of FujiFilm cameras (and still have the S7000, which seems to punch well above its weight for an old 6MP bridge camera from 2003 – the photos in this post were made with it) and they’ve both had a similar Finepix “F” button, to change ISO, film (standard, chrome or b/w) and image quality/size, which sounds exactly the same as your EXR.

        I agree it’s convenient in a way, I just wish it was more customisable, as generally I rarely change image quality, but often use, say, exposure compensation, so it would be useful to have your favourite settings just under one F button.

        Which is what happens with the Ricohs and the ADJ button, you can have up to five settings I think, from perhaps a dozen, and in whatever order you choose. Love it.

        Many cameras have a separate ISO button too, which I kind of prefer to how the Fujis have it. It’s just not obvious that you press a button with an F on it to change these things.

        So I wouldn’t say from my limited experience that the buttons and menus were particularly well designed on FujiFilm cameras.

        Canon’s are way simpler and consistent across loads of models, if rather bland, the Lumix are about as logical and straightforward as you can ask for, and the Ricohs have amazing customisation, especially that ADJ button, which is a feature on much more humble cameras than the GRDs, like the CX and R series compacts.

      5. Yes this is the Fuji F80 EXR I’m talking about. It’s pretty terrific for a cheap little point-n-shoot! I agree that straightforward controls are best, my Canon is excellent in that respect, but I dislike programmable buttons because I forget what they’re for; there’s no cross-brand standardization and come to that even between my two Nikons it isn’t the same. Easy to get confused. The EXR has a separate control for EV compensation, part of the ‘4-way’ with focus, flash, and timer (with the menu in the middle). My Lumix has a confusing array of buttons and the interminable touch screen, so it took a while to get around to finding the bits I want to and need to adjust often. That I think is where the makers keep failing; not understanding what is likely to be changed often by the photographer.
        I’ve just started testing a camera I bought for $6 at the thrift store, in keeping with what we were talking about before. I can’t lose on it, can I?

      6. I think probably Panasonic (like most brands) crossed a threshold perhaps around 2010/2011 where cameras started having more controls, buttons and menus than they needed. Virtually everything on my LX3 and GF1 have a place and purpose in the menus. The LX3 is 2008, the GF1 2009.

        Beyond this point it sounds like they started getting too gimmicky at the expense of the user experience.

        What’s the $6 camera? I bought one for 99p plus postage the other day, but not sure quite how to use it yet, maybe for a future one month one camera post…

      7. Talking of gimmicky, I was looking at one of the original press releases for the Fuji F80EXR earlier, and one of the headline features was “the world’s first Pet Detection”. Now if that’s not one of the lamest and silliest headlines to try and sell a new camera I don’t know what is!

        Aside from that, the spec looks appealing and as I’ve said, those FujiFilm Super CCD sensors are capable of no uncertain magic in the right conditions.

        Just off to read about your A70, I had a similar version for a while (A80 I think) which ticked plenty of boxes and handled like a dinky DSLR (ie very well), with AA batteries in the hand grip, but I never really got around to using it enough… Familiar story!

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