The iPad as a Photographer’s Tool

Professional photographers need an effective, portable way to display digital images. The current methods, web sites, flash drives stuffed with jpegs, CD- ROM’s burned full of hard work and on and on universally suck.

The Part Where I Miss the Good Old Days

As a 4×5 shooter I spent 20 years lugging around portfolios of my work as mounted transparencies. Submissions were FedEx boxes sent at considerable expense. We, photographers and editors, all used magnifying loops and light tables to view the images. There was stooping and lifting and racing to the nearest FedEx drop point but I knew that the editor that received the work would see exactly it exactly as I did. All the clerical work and shipping costs bought a level playing field.

Things are different with digital and different does not imply better. Displaying my digital imagery is mostly out of my control. I fuss with images on a color calibrated LCD display in a room painted neutral gray. My display, mostly because it plugs into the wall and cares not at all about battery life, is forgiving of my viewing angle. Clients view these carefully tuned images on anything and everything. The commercial clients that I visit have cramped, uncalibrated LCD displays or, worse still, laptops with heavily polarized displays. The web images are viewed in Internet Explorer X – so any color management is ignored so I don’t bother.

The Horror. Viewing Images on Portable Devices

Current laptop computers, no matter the size or the manufacturer, are pitifully bad at displaying photographs. A laptop screens restricted viewing angle makes proper viewing of images an exercise in precision head holding. Gadgets like the Acratech Viewing Angle Gauge are only a small help. Netbooks, which are built to a low price, aren’t yet even awful at displaying color images – the manufacturers of netbooks strive to reach the lofty peak that is awfulness. I wish them well.

Worse than any laptop is the LCD on the back of any camera. No matter how good, a 3″ LCD is, it is far to small. Contemporary camera LCDs, though better than laptops, also suffer from color shifts and falloff as you move off axis. The “too small to be useful” argument also applies to the way-to-expensive-for-what-they-do dedicated field storage and photo viewers. They are over priced and underwhelming.

The iPad – A Possible Solution

In Apple’s soon to be released iPad may finally be a portable device suitable for the proper display of digital images. I say this, of course, without actually having ever seen one.

The iPhone / iPod Touch are already capable, portable image viewers. High resolution, less fussy screens and multitouch together combine for the best portable viewing experience. They are too small, but the ability to easily selectively zoom helps. The photo display app is complete if simple.

The iPad evolves the iPhone / iPod Touch into a bigger and far more capable device. Specific to photography it uses an LED-Backlit IPS Display. The IPS tech is the key here. In both videos of the unveiling and still images posted by Apple and others, the iPad’s LCD screen appears to ignore viewing angle. This is not the case in other battery powered displays which, I’ll mention again, are unusable for critically viewing images.

Again, relying on demo footage, the iPad’s include Photo app seems first rate and built to take advantage of the devices multitouch control. And, not incidentally, it appears to be really fast.

As a web device, the iPad will run the Safari Browser and Safari honors color management. A properly configured web site can ID the device and send Color Managed content with some genuine confidence that client and photographer are looking at substantially the same thing.

The Inevitable iPad Postscript

The hype, generated not by Apple so much as the interwebs, surrounding the iPad / Apple Tablet may be unprecedented. Without actually using one, I refuse to participate in pronouncing it either the end of computing as we know it or, conversely, just a big iPod Touch with no discernible purpose. I will however provide you with opinions by people that have touched it, however briefly, and who are known to me as thoughtful writers about things tech. First would be John Gruber or Daring Fireball. Gruber has written extensively on the Apple Tablet that became the iPad. Also, beneath the roar and above it all is is a very nice consideration of the iPad by Frasier Speirs.

The Gura Gear Kiboko – Almost a Great Camera Pack

There will never be a perfect, do everything, carry everything camera pack. So it came as no surprise that the Guru Gear Kiboko fell short of the universal way to transport my gear. What was surprising is just how close it came to being good enough.

About the Kiboko

The Kiboko carries cameras, lenses and accessories and does so in a package that can be carried into the cabin of most airlines (by size, you can certainly exceed the in cabin weight limits of airlines with a fully loaded pack.) It carries well by hand and, when you arrive, it has an above average back pack style harness system suitable for a day long carry. Unlike a traditional panel loading pack, the Kiboko has to smaller panels attached lengthwise at the center of the pack. As a result, the top opens onto it’s self, one half at a time. The “butterfly” openings run the length of the pack so long lenses easily fit.

Construction is solid with a clear emphasis on building a light weight pack that still adequately protects the contents. Nice touches include large, glove friendly, zipper pulls, integrated rain cover, a side luggage handle and a pile of extra padded dividers.

(An Aside) A Very Short History of Backpacks

While it can sometimes be hard to see past the blizzard of fasteners, straps and zippers, a contemporary backpack’s advantage over packs of yore lies in their suspension. While there are variations on the theme, any pack designed to carry 20 – 25 pounds (9 – 11.3 kg) or more distributes the load primarily on the hips and secondarily on the shoulders. The pack is drawn into the body by the tension of the shoulder straps, the tension of the sternum strap (which runs between the front shoulder straps at chest level) and in some sophisticated harness systems, by tension straps connecting the top of the pack to the top of the shoulder straps. Ideally, as the top straps leave the pack and travel over your shoulders they stay, more or less, flat. On the other end, the padded waste belt of a properly sized pack sits on a part of the bony pelvis called the Ilium. To locate the ilium just run your hand down either side beginning above the waist. The substantial bone, just beneath the skin at waist level, is the ilium.

Because people come in vastly different sizes and therefore have vastly different torso lengths, backpacks come in two or most often three lengths. Additionally backpacks often have vertically adjustable waist belts to fine tune fit. Because boys are shaped differently than girls, many manufactures make pack lines tuned to fit (mainly in the engineering of the waste belt) the different sexes.

Carrying Cameras and Lenses on Your Back

The suspension on Kiboko pack has the torso length fixed. It is too long a pack for some and, at as I stand 6’2″, too short for me. With the waste belt properly placed, the shoulder straps plunge 4 to 5 inches (10 – 12.7 cm) off my shoulders and down my back to the pack. This misfit results in a pack that is difficult (impossible?) to fit tightly to the back without transferring excess weight to the shoulders. Secondarily, even though it adjusts over a wide range, the sternum strap is higher than I prefer as I wore the pack.

Shorter photographers will have a different but equally problematic fit with the Kiboko. A shorter torso will result in shoulder straps that leave the shoulder and angle up to the pack. This results in almost no weight being transferred to the shoulders and a pack that will be difficult to control if packed with some weight.

With my travel kit loaded, the Kiboko weighed in at 26 pounds (11.8 kg.) Add some extra clothing, a snack or two, a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod and a Acratech Ultimate ball head and the weight of the full loaded, ready to hit-the-trail and get-that-view-at-sunset pack weighs in at about 32 pounds (14.5 kg.) I certainly could leave some stuff behind. But leaving equipment behind in a US National Park or other popular area for photographers makes me queasy – especially if I’ve been shooting for a few days in one location. I’d rather haul the bulk of my gear with me than worry about baddies breaking into my vehicle.

If your in the sweet spot, fit wise, for the Kiboko I’d guess that 30 pounds (13.6 kg) would be about the comfort limit for the pack. You can likely stuff more pro level gear in the Kiboko but you’ll be straining the limits of the suspension.

Missed It By That Much – Maybe a Bit More

Other than the fit, which is a deal killer and the pack has been sent back, there is little to complain about with the Kiboko. Since the dual butterfly wing opening is fixed to the center of the pack, it squanders some room. The divided vertically down the center layout also limits the width of contents. I found it hard to fit my lenses with hoods mounted in the pack without staggering them. Rather than run a wide velcro strip down the center of each compartment, the pack has a single patch at the center of each side. This requires that any dividers that need to be anchored on three sides be at the center of the pack – an arbitrary limitation.

At $399 US, the Kiboko is fairly priced. A airline sized pack that carries well on the ground is a grand idea. Andy Biggs came close to making my travel life a little easier but he missed it “by this much.”