Words and images by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk.
Many photographers are perhaps considering the iPad 2 as an addition to the travel kitbag, whether home or abroad; but come on, it's just a glorified iPhone right? Wrong, very wrong indeed. If you want to change the way you work and give yourself true convenience, information on the move and much, much more, then read on, as this could be the ultimate photographic tool for the travelling photographer.
Before we go any further, this isn't a review of how the iPad 2 can be used photographically, for editing pictures or even a close look at its camera. This is about the iPad's usefulness as a photographer's aid.
The iPad 1 is now cheaper so wouldn't it be better to buy that?
I would suggest getting the iPad 2 not the iPad 1 as it's much slimmer, lighter and more powerful. Forget the reduced price deals you find online, most are not that much cheaper anyway. Retailers know when the iPad 2 goes out of stock, customers will buy any version in desperation. Remember, the iPad 1 is heavier and has a slower processor and reduced battery life (but it's still great).
Where do I buy one? They all seem out of stock.
A fair question. Tip - Apple stores are naturally full price, others seem cheaper, but you run a risk especially online. Before buying an iPad that is apparently 'in stock', make a phone call first. Ask the retailer if it's actually is in stock to start with, record the conversation with your phone (I did this for training purposes). Why? I was once sold a laptop, over the phone, that was never in stock at all. It took over a month to get my £750 back. ALWAYS buy with a credit card for extra protection and release the hounds on them as soon as you are in trouble.
Also, ask if it has a UK power adapter and the expected delivery time. Then you will know if it is coming from the USA or not. With imported versions there are known SIM incompatibility problems with the 3G versions. This can leave your new iPad 2 unable to accept UK SIM cards. Ask all these questions first; if it's an online company with no phone support, you take a huge risk, the result of which can become extremely irritating.
Which model would I need?
This entirely depends on how you would use the device. The 64Gb could be overkill if you use an iPhone or another MP3 player for in-car music for instance. Perhaps 32Gb is a fair mid ground, which will cost less. I have hardly any apps and data on my iPad at the moment and have used very little of the 64Gb, but that's not to say I won't... (read on).
iPad 2 with or without 3G?
Definitely with 3G, you'd be mad not to as a modern digital photographer. It makes the iPad the most usable 'photography support machine' you will ever own. Have a coffee in a café after a morning shoot and do your admin, answer emails, browse the net for weather info, without all the nonsense of looking for WIFI. If you own an iPhone, you will look at it wondering how you ever managed after using the iPad for just a few hours. It seems positively toy-like when you send a text message or email.
My iPhone is now somewhat redundant, just a music machine and a phone, nothing more, all because I bought the 3G version. Also, 3G is super quick these days, readily available and this makes the iPad 2 total bliss to use (even in Devon) and highly practical for the photographer on the move. I think I used my laptop twice on my latest trip to Morocco, that's twice, just for backing up work. The iPad has been used for hours and hours. (More on 3G abroad with the iPad below).
What SIM card is inside?
It is a micro SIM, which means it's smaller than conventional SIM cards. It is possible to buy adapters to convert micro SIM to standard SIM, so the card can be used in other devices. (Again, more on this below).
What's it like for running your photo business?
I have had the iPad 2 for about two weeks and I am totally convinced. It becomes super easy to email / browse / Twitter etc. from it, in fact, it is a total joy. The on-screen keyboard is far form cumbersome, well arranged, being both simple and easy to type with. The same predictive text issues still occur, but it's nothing too difficult to overcome. I have used it for all correspondence on my latest trip to Morocco, emailing from the passenger seat of cars, airport lounges and restaurants. No need for BTOpenzone and other paying airport hotspot equivalents.
The best part about having an iPad 2 with 3G is that I am free at last. No more concerns about interrupting the flow of the day, trudging off to drink awful coffee just to get WIFI in McDonalds etc. Whenever you are lost, bored or just interested to see what's happening elsewhere, it's the first device you will grab. It's far from 'a massive iphone', that's total nonsense, it's a media, entertainment and business machine bar none, light as a feather and very powerful. No boot up times, open the case and it is switched on and ready to go.
What about sending images and documents? Surely it can't do that?
It can, but it's more complicated. It can't support an external hard drive of images being connected and it won't even take a USB keyboard unless it's bluetooth (with the Apple connector kits it is possible to use a USB keyboard if you add a powered hub). For the digital photographer, a laptop will never be redundant, or let's say 'not redundant yet'.
A laptop will always be essential for me when travelling, as it provides image backup solutions to external drives that an iPad cannot as well as chances to process imagery on the move. Consider facilities like Dropbox, a universal multiplatform app that make file transfer a complete joy. Then there is secure cloud based solutions, hosting backups of your work...hmm. Why send anything at all? It may well be simply a case of sending clients encrypted links to hosted imagery rather than uploading to Dropbox or similar. Why bother with disk storage at all? This is the future after all and it's something I am thinking about carefully.
What about writing on the move, is it tedious?
Well, I wrote this article using the iPad 'Notes' app, which is in essence a straightforward word processor. I haven't tried using 'Pages' or similar word processing programs on the iPad yet, but I am certainly considering it as an option. As a 'first cut' approach, the iPad is certainly a useful writing tool indeed, especially with a small bluetooth keyboard.
So it does have a GPS, yes?
Sure does and its very accurate and power efficient. It works brilliantly with Google Maps and a whole host of other programs.
The Photographers Ephemeris needs no introduction or indeed explanation as to why this is a brilliant device on the move. Not surprisingly, it is far more usable on the iPad than the iPhone. Sleak graphics and user interface make this a must have app for the iPad.
I am still unsure, why should I get the 64gb version?
My main photographic reason was to use it for digital mapping, which can take up a lot of storage. Knowing how quickly I filled my 16gb iPhone, (mainly with music I have to say) I considered the 32gb as a minimum, but the differences between the cost of 32-64gb were negligible, so I bought the largest version as a fail safe. Programs like MemoryMap and other mapping software have considerably large maps, so I got the 64gb version with this in mind. Remember the iPad doesn't need a phone signal to run these, just a GPS signal, which again makes it super versatile out in the field, or when hiking into remote canyons.
You travel a lot, how do you use it abroad? Surely it's expensive.
Not in the slightest. Forget the hassle of WIFI, buy a 3G SIM from a foreign provider like I did here in Morocco, it's that simple. I bought a SIM for £10 (thanks Younes), an unlimited bandwidth unlocked 3G SIM; a tenner for one month! It has made the iPad an utter essential. Naturally there are no data charges, so no nervous anticipation of post holiday call charges. It was a total joy for maps on the move, info on the move, weather data, emails, all free from extortionate costs of data roaming abroad from UK service providers.
Got a problem on the roadside or perhaps you cannot work out where you are on the map? Need Google maps to tell you how far away a remote canyon is? Easy. Never bother about finding WIFI again, just flow with the camera and concentrate on your trip, not, using rest periods to grab the iPad and keep yourself up to date. New country? Just get a new SIM. Keep the SIM and just top it up if you return, or buy a new one. Communication is getting cheaper than ever.
Use it for Skype and Viber
It can be used as a phone too. I have both Skype and Viber loaded onto the iPad, so should I need to make a call back to the UK, or indeed anywhere in the world, I can use Skype credit to ring any landline for 1p/min. This only works well over WIFI and 3G, but text typing to Skype friends works perfectly well anywhere.
Viber is becoming all the rage right now. Once installed on your mobile device, it allows you to make calls to anyone else who has the app installed. It works wonderfully over wireless, but it also works well over 3G. Imagine, you can make a call iPad to mobile, or mobile to mobile, anywhere in the world. If you partner has 3G at home and you have a 3G signal, you can speak for an unlimited time for FREE.
It's perfect. Not too big or small. Easy to type on too. If you want to, you can tether a bluetooth keyboard to it.
Which case did you get?
Buy a case immediately or watch it get scratched to bits as it slides out of the side of your bag. It is super slippery, like a large and very expensive cigar case.
Ok, what about the downsides?
I can find only one. The Wifi receiver built in is less powerful than the laptop. Still it's not a problem.
Some thoughts about UK SIM deals:
The best deal I have found is from 3 Mobile. PAYG is not going to work if you travel a lot, as the cost is extreme and the allowances are meagre. Be prepared to pay £7.50 for 1gb from most service providers, or even worse.
Here is what I did - I bought a Sim Only Deal from 3 Mobile for £15. This gives 10GB of data a month on a rolling contract. As it's a one month contract, I can cancel it when I like. Personally I think 10gb is excessive, but when you realise that £10 a month from O2 gives a monumental 2gb right now, it's the best deal you are going to get by far.
I also bought a 3G USB broadband dongle at the time of purchase. All I have to do is take out the SIM from the iPad, put the iPad's micro SIM into a SIM adapter, insert into the dongle and I can use my MBP online anywhere. This means full computer support for clients, unrivalled connectivity, all for £15 a month. Some people may still think this is excessive, especially on top of a mobile contract costs as well, so here's the good bit...If I am not going away for a while, I can stop the contract and then restart it again when I wish. Many comms companies try to get you you to buy the iPad through them, giving massive data deals which you will more than likely never use. You are locked into a 24month contract or even longer, so consider how fast technology moves before signing on the dotted line. The cost of purchase of iPad, SIM deal, works out the roughly same, whichever route you take. It just depends on whether you want to be locked into a contract. I personally do not.
It's outrageous. It's last for hours and hours of heavy comms usage. Apple claim a maximum of 10 hours battery life, but after reading tests, expect to watch video for about 8hours at max screen brightness. If you just use it casually, you will probably charge it twice a week. I have been playing RealRacing2HD this morning, emailing, using Twitter etc. for the last four hours plus and it's gone down about 35%. It's a revelation as far as I am concerned.
Words and images by David Clapp