I’ve only had a tablet once in my life. It was the Nexus 7 and I got it for my commute on the DC Metro and when in my apartment (didn’t have a laptop at the time). I was hoping it would be more of a computer and do a bit more than my phone. Although it was cool and I enjoyed having a bigger screen, Android wasn’t great at that time and it fell short in a lot of areas. When Google announced their Pixel Slate I pre-ordered right away. However, more and more I read I didn’t feel it was ready for the real world and there were too many shortcomings. So I went into Apple just to see what all the hype was about with their new iPad Pro. Well, I walked home with one and felt this could be the device to replace my laptop.
A quick note before you read on. This isn’t a tech spec post or comparing to other tablets. There’s enough of that out there and Apple has all the specs/pricing on their site.
To answer our title, it has replaced my laptop in a ton of ways but in many it isn’t there yet. I am righting this post right now as my plane takes off – something I couldn’t start with a laptop until the plane is at cruising altitude. I don’t even travel with my laptop anymore unless I need to edit. Editing isn’t something I usually do on the road so that’s not a problem. If I had to backup media on this job then of course the iPad wouldn’t work for that either. I hope one day that may change since this does have a USB C port. Other than production, I have had some issues in WordPress adding images to posts (don’t think I’ve been able to do that without error yet) nor can I add podcast files to it. I want to look into a USB C Microphone so I can record thoughts or even a full episode without needing my laptop.
So maybe the iPad isn’t ready to replace my laptop but other than the above, there is a lot to love about this piece of technology. Lets start with what made me want to buy this on the spot.
The display on this thing is amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen anything so crisp and clean. There’s a little bit of a gloss which I love and images seem to pop out of the screen. I have the 10” version and prefer to watch Netflix on this over my 15” MacBook Pro. It is a perfect size to hold and when paired with the keyboard, it’s great to have on your lap and enjoy your favorite show. Speaking of the keyboard, this was a pretty well thought out design. I wouldn’t say I love it, but the keys are great and it is a super slim profile. They aren’t silent, but very quiet. Great for when on conference calls or in a meeting. There’s no need to connect it as it uses the magnets built in to connect. Best part, no need to charge! I love how I don’t have to worry about another device to charge and keep track of. I don’t like how it doesn’t clip in securely. I’ve dropped it once from this and almost another time. It is only connected via magnets so I’m afraid I’ll be dealing with this until I find a better option. My final thought on this is the tilt options. Great for typing or sitting on a table (such as an airplane tray that I’m using right now). However, there’s not a great way to tilt for handwriting or when at a desk and don’t want to use the keyboard.
The Apple Pencil has come a long way since version 1. You had to plug it in your iPad to charge which caused it to stick out which is odd. The new Pencil has magnets similar to the keyboard and attaches on the same side as the volume buttons. I’ve only had it fall off in my sling bag but still wish there was a more secure holder on the keyboard (I guess after reading this I realize I don’t like that keyboard!). Best part is, that is how it charges! No need to plug it in and the battery lasts a long time. I don’t think I’ve seen it drop below 70% yet. Connected via bluetooth and haven’t had any connection issues yet.
The Pencil opens doors to set this apart from other tablets and laptops in general. My favorite use of this tool is creating lighting diagrams. As a DP it is my job to communicate to the entire team what the director is looking for and how I want to execute it. On a commercial for California Almonds, my gaffer and I drew out each setup during our initial scout. It was great to have set photos combined with my birds eye view diagram. I am pretty bad at drawing but it got the job done. To take it a step further, I was able to export all of these into PDFs then combine into one PDF and email to the director and gaffer. They were able to share with who needed it and we were all on the same page. This saved our shoot day. There were times when I had to shoot inserts or add a certain component and my gaffer took his team to begin setting up our next location. Since he had the lighting diagrams he knew exactly what we were doing next and how I wanted it to be lit. I was able to walk in and work with him to tweak the final pieces then go right into shooting. No idea how we didn’t go into overtime that day but those diagrams had a lot to do with it. This was all done using Notes and Adobe Acrobat (both free).
Looking at pre production, there are two powerful tools with the iPad Pro that I use. Opening a script, shot list, story board or any other PDF allows me to write on it as I would with a printed page. I love this. I can write in margins, cross things out, highlight and anything else you could do with paper. Then, simply email that back. No need to print, then take notes, then scan, then email back. Best part is, these are done with free apps. The other tool is Adobe Lightroom. I can take location photos bring them into Lightroom and quickly grade the look. This can be sent to the director and we can discuss if this fits their vision. Lightroom for iPad is pretty powerful and has a ton of features. Not only for pre production, but it is a great app that can color all the photos you want to post on social media. And, it’s fun! I have to remind myself that there is more to this than just a tool for work.
Along with the apps mentioned above, there are a ton of games available that do nothing but help you get away and enjoy yourself a bit. I’m not a huge gamer by any means but I’ve been enjoying playing racing games, golfing games and a few others. The screen makes it so emmersive and the audio is pretty good for a tablet (although I usually have headphones in).
So, did this replace my laptop? No. Not yet. But it has added a ton of value to my workflow and works alongside my laptop. I am excited to see what will come with future software updates along with app updates.
If you use a tablet or phone for production, what are your favorite apps? Let me know and we can create a list of the top used apps among Cinematographer’s Insight.