The iPad for Photographers – Part 2

A number of highly respected experts have posted recently on how to use an iPad effectively as a tool for photographers. Different people have different requirements, and these are my thoughts on how the iPad is already a useful tool in my photography, and will probably get better as more applications become available, and existing ones are improved.

In part one of this series of articles I identified, based on the work I do, four main stages in workflow in which the iPad is potentially very useful, at least for me, and in this second article I shall look at the first of these stages, namely viewing the image which is captured at the time the photograph is taken, or at least within a few seconds.

Why?

I’ll start with what is logically the first question, namely whether there is any need to have a means of immediately viewing the image after pressing the shutter release. If you shoot action/events, street photography, candids and most types of general landscape, then the answer is no – near immediate viewing on a separate large screen is not only irrelevant, but would probably be a distraction even it were possible. There are other types of photography, especially in the studio, where being able to check the captured image on a large screen immediately after taking the picture is of considerable benefit, as it allows the image to be shot again if alterations are needed to composition, lighting exposure etc.

Of course in the days of film we had no idea whether there were problems with what we had shot until days afterwards – some larger format cameras had options of Polaroid backs, but even with these it would be a couple of minutes to see the result, the image quality from the Polaroid was not that great, and there was no good corresponding negative from which to create a final print. Nevertheless, Polaroid backs were useful, and I had one for a while for a Bronica ETRSi, though I found it of little value.

All digital users can review their images on the rear LCD after taking the shot – so why do we need anything more than the rear LCD? Well, camera LCD screens are very small, generally quite low resolution, and so only give an indication of what you have shot – though they are useful nevertheless. You certainly cannot think of judging overall exposure from the image on the LCD, but of course the histogram/’blinking-highlights are invaluable for this (even if derived from JEG processing, rather than the full RAW image, if you are shooting RAW). For anyone shooting in the field, especially sport/action/events/general landscape, there is no time and probably no value in having any more than this. But things like local shadows, reflections, evenness of lighting, the effects of depth of field, etc just can’t be assessed accurately on the camera’s LCD. These are all potentially important to many of those working in a studio, and sometimes in other conditions too. The objective is that if we can identify shortcomings immediately, then we can re-shoot the picture after making adjustments, and in most cases if we aren’t aware of the need to make adjustments, it will be impossible or impractical to re-shoot the subject later.

I would break down the potential advantages of using a larger display to confirm an image into two categories – aesthetic and technical.

Aesthetic

Portraiture, modelling, fashion and product photography often involve a customer, and being able to display an image to the client and/or subject at the time of shooting is invaluable – requiring people to move around to look at the camera display is more often than not impractical.  Some close-up and still-life work may also be difficult to judge on a small screen, though perhaps for reasons that also fall into the technical category.

Technical

It is very difficult to be sure of the effect of evenness of lighting, reflections, shadow, depth of field etc on a small camera LCD, and a 10 inch display makes this much more practical. These can be especially important in close-up, product and still-life photographs, though control of depth of field is an issue for many branches of photography, and can be a problem even for very experienced photographers.

How?

If you are still with me in terms of the relevance of viewing the image at the time it is captured, then the next question is how to do it. Until recently this normally meant using a computer connected to the camera, but the iPad gives us another option

Computer

Originally this meant literally tethering the camera to the computer with a cable. Even with a small laptop, this reduced mobility and was awkward, and the trailing cable represented a hazard both to people and to the equipment; also only a relatively small number of cameras provided this option, and software to run on the computer was often not free. It was almost as awkward to huddle round a computer as around the small screen on the back of the camera, though at least the image was larger, and of course if conditions permitted the image could be displayed on a large monitor connected to the computer as well. Wireless connection between the camera and computer became possible later, though the wireless kit for the camera was often bulky and expensive (typically around 500 pounds), and again only available for a relatively small number of cameras. The appearance more recently of the Shuttersnitch. This provides for the capture, viewing and local storage of images in the iPad. Since direct wireless connection was added to the Eye-Fi card, Eye-Fi have made available their own free application for the iPad for capturing the image. Although Shuttersnitch is not free, at only around 10 pounds it is well worth the money, and at least in their present forms I prefer it to the Eye-Fi software.

The problem lies in the fact that this solution only works for me with cameras with SD cards, ie I can’t do this with, for example, my Sony A900, which only uses CF cards (there are CF-SD adapters available, but the additional shielding means that the Eye-Fi card is unlikely to be able to transmit to the iPad). With a camera using CF cards, and not having access to camera-dedicated wireless equipment, I have to revert to connecting the camera to a laptop with a cable.

I’ve used the Eye-Fi cards with a Panasonic GH1 and GH2 and with a Sony A55, connecting to an iPad 1 running Shuttersnitch, and I’m delighted with the way everything works. The one thing I find distinctly awkward and annoying though is the software Eye-Fi supply for configuring the card – fortunately once the card is configured you don’t normally need to change any of the settings! It is also worth mentioning that the Eye-Fi card can be a bit temperamental about working with card readers (though not apparently cameras), and for this reason it is best to use the special reader supplied with the card when configuring it and when when copying images direct to the computer – not an issue for viewing images using the Wi-Fi connection of course. This reader is extremely large and plugs direct into the port in the computer, and can prevent any other USB devices being plugged in at the same time.

You can read more about this Eye-Fi card/Shuttersnitch solution in various places, notably Rob Galbraith’s web site and Terry White’s Tech Blog.

Alternatives

If you need to be able to view images quickly on a large screen, then an iPad is much more convenient than even a small laptop computer in terms of portability, ease of passing around and speed of set up, and the display itself is very clear. I’d regard it as preferable in most circumstances to a more conventional computer for quickly checking an image after it is shot. There are other tablets appearing on the market now, mainly using the Android operating system., and Eye-Fi have implemented their viewing software on Android, though as yet Shuttersnitch is not available for Android. I’m not an Android user, so I don’t know precisely what hardware and software is available for this platform, but I think that at present the iPad has the advantage over Android machines for this type of application.

Although an iPhone could be used instead of an iPad, the screen size would not be much larger than that of the LCD on the back of the camera, and really would be too small to be useful.

One feature lost compared to tethering direct to a computer is that usually those manufacturer’s who allow tethering of some of their cameras and provide software for the purpose will enable adjustment of aperture and shutter speed from the computer, rather than needing to do this on camera. However, in practice I find it easier to make the adjustment on the camera anyway.

Conclusions

By no means all cameras provide any means of directly tethering cameras to a computer and hence a large screen. The Eye-Fi card enabled any camera which uses SD cards to be connected wirelessly to a computer, and now it enables an iPad to be used instead of a computer. The iPad provides a very convenient way of viewing images as they are captured, and there are many situations where this is useful for showing clients the results, checking for reflections, shadows, depth of field issues etc. With a camera that uses SD cards, linking the iPad to the camera wirelessly is now quite simple and not too expensive using an Eye-Fi card. The image can be captured and viewed using either the free Eye-Fi software, or the very cheap Shuttersnitch application (Shuttersnitch is my preference at present). Due to the speed limitations imposed by Wi-Fi, for near immediate viewing of the image it is more practical to shoot RAW+JPEG and just send a JPEG file this way, and copy the RAW file from the card to the final destination computer later, but even a low quality JPEG file is ample for assessing the image working this way.

Unfortunately with a camera using CF cards, and not having access to camera-dedicated wireless equipment, I have to revert to connecting the camera to a laptop with a cable.

The future

While it would be great to have a CF card version of the Eye-Fi card, this does not seem likely at present. The relatively small number of cameras nowadays which only have CF cards is quoted as the reason, and although probably a much larger proportion of owners of such cameras would be likely to buy the card than of the total number of SD card users, increasingly those new cameras which are announced which use CF cards can also take an SD card.

Shuttersnitch is a great program, and already has had some major enhancements, some of which make it capable of doing a lot more than just capture an image wirelessly and display it (more on this in part 3 of this series), but I think/hope we can expect further enhancements to make it even more versatile.

In the next part of this series of articles I’ll look at using the iPad as a partial substitute for a laptop in situations where carrying a lot of equipment is a problem – for example on a holiday when you are travelling by train, bus, plane, ship, bicycle or on foot, and don’t have the luxury of a car boot in which to transport everything.

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About Mike Hessey

I'm a BOF (Boring Old Fellow) and MOS (Miserable Old Soul) whose main interests are photography, cycling, walking and computers. Regrettably recent problems with my legs, back and heart have reduced the cycling and walking.
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