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.