Traveling Light + iPad Pro

As an airline pilot traveling across the globe one of my highest priorities when packing for a trip is not bringing a metric ton of stuff with me. The art of minimalist yet effective packing can be challenging. Thankfully a recent change has helped me pack even lighter while keeping my photography workflow very capable.

For many years I carried evolving versions of laptops as my primary editing machine. Looking back, a couple of those were basically bricks with a screen. As newer laptops became slimmer and lighter it was less and less of a burden but nonetheless even newer 15” laptops are not exactly light. The modern airline pilot carries what we call an Electronic Flight Bag or EFB that replaces all the paper charts we used to lug around in those bulky leather flight cases. Thankfully long gone are those cases & charts but a lot of us still carried a personal laptop along with our company issued EFB. That wasn’t bad, but I wanted to go even lighter. I needed a single device that met my editing needs and the previous EFB (hint, it wasn’t a capable Apple product) just couldn’t do it. 

Thankfully my company switched to the iPad Pro for our EFBs and wouldn’t you know it this thing is small, light and capable of some serious on-the-road photo editing. Since the switch I’ve been able to leave the laptop at home and figured I’d share my editing process & thoughts on mobile workflow. Let’s see if a photographer can get away with just an iPad while traveling.

Editing on the road made easy with Affinity Photo and a good cup of coffee.

Editing on the road made easy with Affinity Photo and a good cup of coffee.

The Import Process 

There are various ways to bring your photos into your workflow. Depending on what camera you are using a bluetooth connection via app or using Apple’s SD card reader can easily be used. The majority of the time I use the SD reader as it is much quicker for importing photos than wireless methods. If I have only a handful of photos I really want, I’ll use Fuji’s app to grab a few photos directly from my X100T via a WiFi connection. Speaking of which, the updated Fuji app is much better than its predecessor and actually works like a charm now.

Whichever method you choose, your imported photos will go directly to your Photos app in one large folder of sorts (more on that below) where you can access your images from within editing & sharing apps.

My photography app collection. The majority of my on-the-road editing, managing & sharing needs are easily met.

My photography app collection. The majority of my on-the-road editing, managing & sharing needs are easily met.

The things you find wandering about in the hutongs of Beijing - X100T edited in Snapseed.

The things you find wandering about in the hutongs of Beijing - X100T edited in Snapseed.

Editing 

There are a myriad of editing options available from ‘filter’ based apps such as VSCO or Snapseed (which also have in depth editing) to advanced options such as Lightroom and Affinity Photo. My go to apps are usually Snapseed and Lightroom, but if I need a more advanced set of features I’ll import to Affinity for things such as merging panoramas or focus stacking. In fact, Affinity’s focus stack and pano features make packing light even easier with the ability to stack images from my fixed lens X100T to get the wide aspect that is usually reserved for much wider focal lengths.

I try not to over-edit images, instead keeping them what the human eye saw since even the best cameras have a hard time reproducing the tones, saturation and depth we can see. So for my editing needs the iPad is more than enough and with apps such as Affinity one can utilize layers & masks to your heart’s content to make your images pop how you like.

Of course what good are your editing efforts if your screen sucks? While calibrating an iPad screen for printing isn’t really a thing you can adjust your brightness manually and using a reference image to watch for highlights and shadows will keep you in check. Generally the screen does a good job of representing the colors/tones you’ll see but for reproducible color & printing profiles you are best to keep that at home on your calibrated monitor.

Managing Pictures & Storing

One of my biggest complaints about iOS is the lack of a true file management system, you are basically dumping your photos into one giant folder with limited ability to do advanced sorting as you can do on a Mac or Windows based machine. While the ‘Albums’ feature is semi-useful it isn’t a replacement for a robust system.

Thus far I’ve managed to keep the overall numbers of my pictures low on my iPad only editing as I need and not using it for a dumping ground. One thing I’m considering is utilizing Dropbox more since you can import directly from Affinity and of course utilizing the options of Adobe Cloud services though I have yet to embrace that either. The good news here is that if you are invested in a cloud service already you have options for managing your library via the iPad.

For me, I believe the keep it simple principle applies here, import, edit, share and I’ll backup relevant photos once I’m home on my primary drives. This also keeps my images safe in case I lose my iPad while at work or it somehow gets ran over by a hotel van.

Sunset at the Egg in Beijing, edited with the Snapseed.

Sunset at the Egg in Beijing, edited with the Snapseed.

Sharing

Taking a photo is of course step 1, step 2 is editing and finally the most important is sharing your vision with the world. Which social app or venue you use is of course up to you, but working with the iPad makes sharing a snap. Most social apps are integrated into iOS not to mention the ability to Airdrop a photo right to your friend’s phone.

Other useful apps include a dedicated 500px app, Adobe Spark for making creative story driven pages and Bay ROES to send my images directly to my print lab. The iPad excels here at getting your images out to your adoring fans.

Twinkling Stars in Boston - Fujifilm X100T edited in Snapseed

Twinkling Stars in Boston - Fujifilm X100T edited in Snapseed

Exploring Amsterdam - Fujifilm X100T edited in Snapseed

Exploring Amsterdam - Fujifilm X100T edited in Snapseed

Additonal Needs

Aside from editing, what use is a device if you can’t easily write blog posts, plan locations shoots and spend too much time drooling over new camera gear? With handy accessories such as a bluetooth keyboard and the Apple Pencil writing blog posts and finer editing is a breeze.

I also utilize various map apps such as maps.me and the ever useful Google Maps for planning and exploring new places. Maps.me is a wonderful app allowing you download offline maps in case you won’t have data at your destination.

For editing my website I use Squarespace to manage all things you see here and thankfully they’ve just launched refreshed & robust app. Again an iOS specific app delivers and I’m able to manage my business and presentation to the world whilst on the road.

Final Thoughts

So can an iPad replace my computer on the road? Sure can! There are a few limitations but for most edits and everyday use I don’t miss lugging my laptop around at all. It’s proven to be more than capable and harnessing what it has to offer has a wonderful thing. Not to mention I can sleep better knowing my primary laptop is safely at home when I travel.

Beijing

A city over more than 21 million people full of mystery, intrigue, the ultra rich, the ultra poor and surprisingly fine coffee & beer. I’ve been fortunate to be flying here a lot lately with some long layovers to explore and begin to get to know the city. While my company puts us up in a very nice hotel in expat central a stones throw from Tiananmen Square, I’ve tried to venture from the worn path and get to know Beijing properly. Branching out on the subway lines one at a time has proved rewarding. It’s slow going but I’m learning to listen to the rhythm of the city and embrace its offerings.

Exploring the Forbidden City at sunrise | Fuji X100T

If I had any preconceived notions of the city they are long gone. The people are friendly, the beer is tasty, the coffee is proper and the place is downright photogenic. I’ve had to work at finding the local places, finding the small moments of peace & zen, coming out of my amateur street photographer shell and get used to the ‘big brother’ is watching you mentality but embracing it all is wonderful. Beijing offers everything a modern metropolis does and doesn’t. The smells (pleasant & not), the sights (same), the dynastic history and the people make for a photo rich environment.

Everyone is watching in Beijing | Fuji X100T

I’ve found my everyday walk around camera (Fuji X100T) to be a perfect fit for blending in on the streets and making friends with its minimal intrusiveness. Though even its minimalist form has attracted the ire of security personnel a time or two already, a friendly smile and shrug of ‘sorry’ seems to accommodate them well enough. Certainly a different environment than taking photos in western countries though not insurmountable by any means. Just be sure to ask before taking photos any military/police or for that matter any seemingly sensitive locations.

It’s a jungle out there | Fuji X100T

The Forbidden City theatre with a bit of smog from Jingshan Park | Fuji X100T

Land of the Selfie, not sure Mao would approve | Fuji X100T

Getting lost on the side & back streets offer a relaxed version of Beijing | Fuji X100T

Approaching people in Beijing has proved fun & challenging | Fuji X100T

Checking out the offerings on the busy ‘Ghost Street’ | Fuji X100T

I’ll keep exploring and finding what Bejing has to offer. Stay tuned for more stories & photos from here and around Asia as I dig in deeper & work on my street photographer mojo.

Lisbon + Zurich

Perhaps an odd couple for cities, but my first trip on my new plane fortunately took me to Portugal and Switzerland. Managed a couple of quick walkabouts to put the Fuji X100T through the paces since I've been busy with training the last six weeks. Nice to get out & shoot again!

The Vasco da Gama Bridge - long exposure X100T

Of course Photo Lego Dude needed his shot of the bridge - X100T

A little exploring of Old Town Lisbon was of course in order - X100T, edit in Snapseed

Street scenes in Lisbon - X100T

Then 24 hours in Zurich - X100T

Lake Zurich - X100T

Evening Falls - X100T

G'night Zurich - X100T

Ultimate Travel Camera - That Almost Was LUMIX LX10

This is the promised follow up about a camera that I purchased, sort of liked and then sold in short order. After much toiling I purchased the Panasonic LUMIX LX10 last year and initially really [sort of] liked it. It’s a small, sleek (errr...slick), functional and well appointed carry-everywhere-with-you camera. Yet, it wasn’t ultimately what I was hoping for. Let’s break it down and I’ll share a few images from my short journey with the LUMIX to see why it didn’t make the cut.

One of the bright spots of the LX10 was the macro capability. Here we see  Photo Lego Dude  committing for the shot in Hawaii.

One of the bright spots of the LX10 was the macro capability. Here we see Photo Lego Dude committing for the shot in Hawaii.

Form Factor & Reliability

One of the major factors in deciding on an everyday carry is the size & how it fits in your hand. The LX10 nailed both of those well enough, but it was almost too small without the addition of some sort of grip as it was a very slick camera to hold onto. Thankfully I never dropped it but came close a few times (love that wrist strap). The much lauded Sony RX100 series suffers from the same design flaw as well. A bit of grippiness could have gone a long way in keeping this thing around. The on/off switch was also unfortunately very easy to activate and I’d sometimes reach into my bag only to find the battery was drained. Clearly not a good thing if time is of the essence for a particular scene.

After a short time of use the lens closure (automatic cover) developed an annoying issue. It wouldn’t fully close or open when turning the camera on/off. This of course didn’t affect the way it captured photos per se, but was a pain as I needed to pay attention so as to not miss a photo opportunity with the closure stuck half open (assuming the battery wasn’t dead). I ultimately sent it back for warranty twice for this issue and it worked great after the second fix. Nonetheless, I wasn’t overly impressed and lost weeks of time without the camera while it was being repaired.

Mt. Rainier looking formidable above the clouds. I believe big zooms on compact cameras are in the gimmicky range but occasionally they are useful.

What I Liked

For a small body and 1” sensor the LX10 actually captured pretty decent photos.  The Leica f/1.4-f/2.8 lens is an excellent addition that I felt without the camera would have been pure ‘meh’. It is decently sharp with a useful 24-72mm optical zoom range and a slightly useful digital zoom for a touch more reach.

The articulating screen while fairly standard on cameras these days is a welcome & useful addition for low angle shooting. I’ve really adapted and gotten used to having an articulating screen and fully believe they belong on modern cameras.

The macro capability was actually quite good for such a small sensor and the focusing range nearly down to an inch it makes for easy floral shots or of course Lego Photograhers.

Gimmicks

Though technically most cameras come with what are better known as ‘features’ I like to call them ‘gimmicks’ depending on their usefulness. Things such as the aforementioned articulating screen and 4K focus stacking are arguably useless if they are not well executed. The 4K focus unfortunately stacking falls in the gimmicky range. I was looking forward to this feature for shots of Photo Lego Dude’s adventures, but in the end the results always left something to be desired. Better to manually stack images in Photoshop for truly sharp results.

How about that touch screen you say? Actually yes, it was useful and I enjoyed being able to select focal points with it and navigating the less than stellar menu system with relative ease. Seems everything is touch screen these days and that isn’t always a bad thing. So not quite gimmicky.

Low light/indoor shooting was mildly effective with the LX10, if you bumped up the ISO image quality was quickly lost. At the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Low light/indoor shooting was mildly effective with the LX10, if you bumped up the ISO image quality was quickly lost. At the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Chicago at night. One of the few favorite images that I captured with the LX10, for those that like natural star bursts f/8 worked perfect in this case.

Chicago at night. One of the few favorite images that I captured with the LX10, for those that like natural star bursts f/8 worked perfect in this case.

What else does one do in Tokyo but visit a cat cafe? LX10 had the occasional great natural tones with good enough light.

What else does one do in Tokyo but visit a cat cafe? LX10 had the occasional great natural tones with good enough light.

The LX10’s portability was one of it’s best features, small & lightweight makes it great for coming along on the ride or in the backcountry.

The LX10’s portability was one of it’s best features, small & lightweight makes it great for coming along on the ride or in the backcountry.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately I found the LX10 uninspring and at times frustrating to shoot with but also occasionally useful and fun. I’ll probably miss it at times, but it wasn’t a camera that I felt I could get repeatable results with or print with confidence if I did capture a good moment. Would I recommend it as a general point & shoot for vacation memories or backpacking camera? Certainly. But for the discerning pro or enthusiast who needs a little more from their everyday carry looks elsewhere. Something like say...oh a Fuji X100 series.