The iPad Pro could be the perfect companion in a mobile photography workflow. Unfortunately the software is holding the powerful hardware hostage, especially when editing RAW files straight out of camera.
I got myself an iPad Pro 11″ when it first came out circa a year ago. My hope was to utilize it in several use cases for photography, the two most important ones: when on vacation and in a family setting with little kids.
Being away from home is always a major spike in photography time as an amateur photographer. I imagined using the iPad as a backup device, so I don’t have to carry multiple SD cards, as well as sorting through photos and editing them while still away from home so the workload after the vacation would be minimized. And not end up doing all this half a year after the vacation ended.
When I am at home spending time with my little kids is very important. I don’t want to be at my computer editing in Lightroom while they play. The iPad could be that device where I can squeeze in some time sorting or editing while still being on the couch and closer to my family.
For now these use cases did not change, because of iOS 12. Im really hoping that iOS 13 will change some of that.
Here I am hoping that iPad OS, changes to file handling and iCloud Drive will also improve RAW/DNG editing. Because this is really keeping the iPad Pro as a great mobile photography device at bay. #WWDC #WWDC2019— Hannes Fritz (@hannesfritz) June 4, 2019
My preferred workflow
I would like to import my RAW files directly from the camera onto the iPad (wirelessly, cable, adapter doesn’t matter), then sort them out, edit a few and transfer all RAW files – including edits I made – to my Mac and ultimately into Lightroom.
In a perfect setting I would not need the Adobe Cloud. Because as a hobby photographer the costs of an abo are disporportionate to the use.
RAW handling in iOS
The problem is not that iOS can’t handle RAW files, because it can. For me it is a problem when I try to transfer the RAW files back to the Mac and Lightroom where all my cataloguing and further work (e.g. photo books) is done. All the edits I made on the iPad must remain in the RAW/DNG so I don’t have to reedit them again. If you only want to edit and directly share the image (for friends, social media, Instagram, …) as a JPG then you are fine.
RAW files and the editing instructions are handled in separate files – that’s to keep it non-destructive. Currently iPad apps use their own sidecar file. Viewing a RAW photo in the native Photos.app only show you the Jpg. An export also flattens the file and exports a jpg. If you want you can read more about it in this extensive article by Nik Bhatt about non-destructive editing.
Some workarounds are possible via iCloud photo sync or the Adobe Cloud. But syncing large files to a server and back to my local machine feels cumbersome and is too dependent on a good network connection, additional to the before mentioned costs.
So here I am still waiting and hoping for iOS 13 to bring much needed professional features to the iPad Pro, especially for photography.
Apps for RAW editing on the iPad
- Photos.app (integrated)
- Snapseed (free)
- VSCO (freemium)
- RAW Power (9,99€)
- Pixelmator Photo (5,49€)
- Darkroom (freemium)
- Lightroom Mobile (freemium)
- Affinity Photo (more composition, 21,99€)
Update (2020): I wrote about my mobile workflow with the iPad and iOS 13.