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The Apple iPad

What it Means for Photographers

For All of Us

Apple has always been a trend setter. The Apple II wasn't the first home computer, but it defined what one was. With the Mac Apple didn't invent the GUI interface and the mouse, but it made them practical. Apple didn't develop Unix, but it made it an everyman operating system with OS-X. The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player, only the best. And with the iPhone Apple showed the world what a smartphone could and should be like. Of course with the iTunes Store Apple has reinvented music retailing.

Now we have the iPad. Day one isn't the time for conclusions – only speculation. But, I wouldn't be at all surprised if with the iPad Apple once again offers up an industry game-changer, in this case doing for the book, newspaper, and magazine industry what they did to music with the iPod and iTunes.

But there are lots of pundits out there commenting and prognosticating on this, and so I'll leave the broader topic of how the iPad is going to change the course of civilization to others. We'll be inundated with opinions and forecasts in the days and weeks ahead. Instead, I'd like to focus on what the implications of the iPad are for photographers, both amateurs and pros.

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As a Photographer's Tool

From the perspective of photographers what we have in the iPad is a 1.5 lb, 1/2 inch thick, 9.7 inch high-resolution screen with 10 hours of battery life and up to 64GB of storage. So the question becomes – what can we do with it? Of course it can be used as an in-the-field or studio image backup and review device. The questions are – how to we get images into it, and when we have, other than storing them, what can we do with them?

We don't have a lot of technical details at this point, but what is clear is that the in and out are wireless (WiFi and Bluetooth) , via the proprietary 30 pin docking connector, USB using a standard iPhone / iPod type connector, and an accessory SD card reader.

A device like the Eye-Fi SD card will allow wireless transfer of files directly in the field from ones camera to the iPad. There will undoubtedly be interface devices from third parties, maybe even camera makers themselves, that will allow direct connection of cameras to the iPad, via USB or the docking connector, as well as various devices using other transfer protocols. I would imagine that even direct tethering is possible given an appropriate interface adaptor, though USB is a bit slow for cameras that produce large files, as we've recently seen with the Leica S2.

The real issue is software. The iPad runs a variation of the iPhone's operating system. And, though it's based on OS-X, it isn't OS-X, and therefore standard image processing applications such as Aperture, Lightroom, Capture One and Photoshop won't run on it. This means that it will be up to companies like Apple, Adobe, Phase One and others to create image processing apps for the iPad. (Maybe Photoshop Mobile for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a harbinger of things to come from Adobe).

We know at this point that the iPad with its 1GHz processor is fast enough for animated games, and to support the programs in the new iPad version of IWorks, and with up to 64GB of storage it isn't hard to imagine the ability to do basic image import and processing with the iPad.

While the 9.7" iPad has a pretty good screen for image review, of course it can also be connected via its docking connector to a video projector for slide shows and presentations using Keynote in iWorks, or whatever other image display software becomes available.

The first impression is that as a tool for photographers the iPad has great potential, but it isn't necessarily a game changer. Where it may well be a transformative device is on the effect that it will have on the publishing industry, in particular newspapers, magazines, and books, and therefore on the photographers that create these images as part of their livelihood.

Actually, it'll also be a pretty cool device for showing ones portfolio to prospective clients and others.

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For Professionals

The most interesting aspect of the iPad for professional photographers is what the implications may be for the profession. If the pundits and prognosticators are right (not to mention major newspapers and magazine publishers), in a couple of years millions of us will be using the iPad and similar devices to read much of what today we read on paper.

This being the case, with screen-based magazines, in many cases rather than photographs in an article being stills, they will be stills that at the touch of a finger may become a motion sequence. A shot of the winning touchdown in a Sports Illustrated story on the Superbowl becomes a video clip of the action. A photograph of a child being rescued from the rubble in Haiti becomes a short vignette on efforts to save the rescued child's life, and comments by the medical staff on their travails.

We already see this trend on sites like ours, where traditional product reporting and tutorials are sometimes accompanied by video segments. These enhances the written word and stills, illustrating aspects which words alone sometimes can't capture. We see a variation on this theme on current newspaper web sites that features video segments along with reproductions of text stories that appear in the printed edition. It's called convergence.

Reporters and photographers that shoot for newspapers have for several years now been shooting with small cameras that are video capable so as to be able to feed the online version of the paper. Image quality is on the low side, so one of the most popular cameras among newspapers for this application, the rugged little Canon G series, has been adequate for the task. But when glossy magazines like Sports Illustrated and National Geographic move to the iPad environment, they will want high quality video along with their high quality stills.

This leads to closing the circle when it comes to Combocams. DSLRs that shoot high quality video have till now seemed a bit like an actor searching for his part. Cool, but – who needs it?

Sure, there are lots of Indy film makers who are all over Combocams like a cheap suit, but since shooting and especially editing video properly is a new and none-too-easy craft a lot of pros have ignored the video side of their DSLRs as almost redundant. Well, not anymore.

With the iPad magazines of all ilks will be crying for video segments, and photographers that don't understand this needs, and who can't meet it, will be made redundant. This is already happening in the advertising side of the industry where the more successful photographers have been offering to produce not just the print side but also the TV advertising component on the same shoot. Many that have are thriving. Those that haven't are having a tougher time in an already difficult economy than they otherwise might.

As sometimes happens in the world of technology, 'till now the tail seems to be wagging the dog. That's been the case with Combocams. But with the iPad and how it will likely change the world of magazine publishing, the dog will be taking full control of what gets wagged, and how.

Which brings us to the whole issue of the merging of stills and video in a single device. Thus far what we have seen from Canon and Nikon especially, are still cameras that can shoot video. Image quality is one thing though usability is another. Both companies have failed miserably in terms of providing appropriate user interfaces, and handling, and viewing. Nikon has the excuse that they have never made a video camera. Canon has no such excuse.

But those days are numbered, because if companies don't start thinking and building new cameras creatively, and quickly, others will eat their lunch. I'm thinking of Panasonic, and RED in particular.

Panasonic, with their GH1, has shown that they get it. Maybe not as much as they might, but by providing a dedicated motion button, a high quality electronic viewfinder, and silent autofocus lenses, they at least demonstrate that someone in the company has actually taken their products out for a spin in the real world. (One only needs to look at the cottage industry has has grown up around the Canon 5D MKII to appreciate how much help this camera needs to become usable in a professional shooting environment.)

RED is the sleeper. They have taken the commercial and professional video production world by storm over the past couple of years with the RED One. They have paid lip service, at least, to stills capability in the design of their upcoming Scarlet, and talked about a high level of stills / video integration coming in future products. But as yet we haven't seen proof of performance or even delivery. It could well be though that luck, along with design and production delays, means that the Scarlet and the iPad will come out within a month or two of each other. If RED has done their job right, it might well be that photographers looking to shoot for the new world of screen-based publications might well find the Scarlet to be just what the doctor ordered. Or – who knows – the major Japanese companies might just wake up, smell the coffee, and provide us with something that comes a bit closer to a usable convergence product than they have to date.

What a great time to be a photographer.

January, 2010

 


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Concepts: Apple Inc., Digital single-lens reflex camera, IPhone, ITunes, IPod, ITunes Store, IPod Touch, Camera

Entities: a trend setter, Canon, Nikon, Adobe, Panasonic, Phase One, iPod, iPhone, operating system, 1GHz processor, Bluetooth, Photoshop, iPod Touch, Scarlet, image processing, IWorks, TV advertising, National Geographic, Haiti, Unix

Tags: video, camera, image, high quality, magazine, stills, docking connector, video segments, ipad apple, new iPad version, high quality video, iPad magazines, iPad environment, operating system, professional, SD card, Sports Illustrated, iPod, Image quality, iPhone, image processing, industry, itunes store apple, pin docking connector, iPod type connector, high quality stills, inch high-resolution screen, rugged little canon, SD card reader, canon 5d mkii, image processing apps, Eye-Fi SD card, appropriate interface adaptor, studio image backup, image processing applications, professional video production, quality electronic viewfinder, iphone apple, silent autofocus lenses, Sports Illustrated story