Photography with a tablet
Above image was made with the Snapseed app which is free. iPad Mini.
With 35% of folks in the US owning tablets and 51% owning smart phones it’s no wonder that far more photos are taken with smart devices than regular cameras these days. Never in human history has it been so affordable to take and create art from photos. People already have the devices, if they want to use the camera it costs them nothing but their time. Processing with purchased apps is very in-expensive with most apps costing around .99 – $2.00 each with many being free. Also people aren’t as intimidated to use their phone cameras in public like they might with a larger camera and other people don’t seem to mind or pay attention like they would if we whipped out a big DSLR and zoom lens. The bottom line is more people are excited about photography then ever its just that the devices have changed. Absolute image quality was never a concern with most people, it’s the same today. Cell phone camera features and quality will continue to improve as a way to get sales. Current top end cell phones are plenty fast enough for just about anyone, it’s the photo video & software that will give practical improvements from this point on.
At some point in the future IQ will reach a high enough point that larger P&S type cameras will no longer be used by the majority anymore (some say we are there now, I don’t agree just yet). Just us more serious photographers and pros will lug around those 5lb bricks, but even full frame sensor cameras will get smaller in the form of mirror less versions like we have now except they are still too expensive for the average person. The major camera makers should have gotten their name on cell phones a long time ago to develop brand loyalty. Big names like Nikon are going to be left behind and end up focusing on the mid to pro / high-end of the market which is what they are good at already. Eventually they will make what the market demands even if other brands like Fuji, Olympus & Sony take a large chunk of that market away from them. Canikon will still be around but their offerings will be different from what we see today in the big box stores. Even screen technologies are about to change in the next 3-5yrs
Users are taking their creativity to places they never would have otherwise due to the time and skill it would take to use Photoshop to do the same effects, now in just a few minutes they can mix and match app effects and in some cases control where and how much effect is applied to the image. Once a user gets to know what can be done with various apps then it gets easier to visualize the end result while taking the photo. Creativity is never a bad thing. Say what you want about cell phone / tablet image quality at least folks are having fun and creating some very interesting art with them and that’s what it’s all about not making huge prints and getting paid to take photos. Some Pros look down their noses at this but it’s a growing trend with no let up in sight so we might as well get used to it, even embrace it. If someone likes the result what does it matter how it got there. Few young people make large prints very often and most don’t make prints at all, it’s all electronic display and web pages now and the small files tend to look much better then when viewed at 100% ( very few folks do that with mobile devices). Every one I know with a smart phone is taking and showing photos and that’s not going to end anytime soon. Fact is on those small screens most images look pretty good IMO. Mobile devices all have a long way to go, they need bigger sensors ( or better ones) Optical Image stabilization, and really excellent lenses. Various manufactures have done some very interesting things on the software side but no one has put it all together in a way that gets me excited about a phone’s camera yet. I have no doubt that will happen in the next few years. Just look at what some cell phones offer in their cameras for example, They have burst mode, sweep panorama, HDR (that really works without any ghosting), slow motion video, software image stabilization that mixes different parts of images to get a sharp one, Tap focus instead of the slooooow pan of the focus point on typical P&S cameras, and a ton of apps for specific purposes like motion blur / trails ( slow shutter modes), real-time film effects and filters for example. P&S camera makers don’t have a chance anymore to get sales back. That boat already sailed and it’s not coming back. A few folks are still buying P&S cameras but very few compared to a 5+ years back. Same is happening with PCs now that tablets are being used by over 35% of the US population and increasing by the day. Smart phones are at 51% and climbing. at some point sales will flatten out just like they always eventually do. Phablets (large phones) will eventually have much bigger screens with flexible folding displays. We have not seen the maturity of tablets and phones yet like we have with DSLRs and lenses. With TVs it’s hard to say due to the high cost with new tech in the first few years. 4K is here and will be priced about the same as current in a few years but screen technology may take a while longer to make any real market disruption.
At another level some folks are using tablets etc. to process images taken on a regular camera. I do some of that because the apps can do things I can’t or don’t want to do on my desktop plus I can work on an image when not at home. The latest iPad for example has plenty of computing power to process a decent sized image. If you use a IOS device forget about using iTunes for image transfer because iTunes will downsize your images and Apple has not provided a way to turn that off (dumb), as a result we need another app to work around that. I use WiFi Photo Transfer, it’s super fast, wireless and easy to use and I end up with full rez images on my iPad. Be carefull that all your apps will save a full rez image as many don’t, or you might have to set them up in each apps settings section to make sure, even then larger files can cause crashes with some. With Android you have more freedom with drag and dropping files compared to Apple’s closed system. I’m not loyal to Apple, when Samsung better meets my needs I will go with Samsung it’s just a tool. All of Apples tablets have the same old iSight camera in them. Not bad but not the latest either plus no flash and no pano or burst mode (iPad Air 2 is an exception).
I find that my iPad Mini does not have as vibrant of colors as the larger iPads ( the new Mini 2 & 3 retinas are the same way) reds are much more muted than our other devices and I don’t recommend serious photo editing with a Mini. Certain hues of orange / red just don’t look as good as my PC or other iPads. Early indications are that the Mini Retina screen also has a smaller color gamut and that some displays have an image retention issue. Cnet says it has a 63% color gamut which is just plain poor by 2015 standards. If your used to using a wide gamut monitor or a phone with an Amoled screen you won’t like the iPad mini.
Click on the image below and look carefully at the color differences between the full sized iPad and the Mini, in particular notice the color strip that goes to the upper right corner, there is a major color shift as all the red appears to be gone from that color. I should also note that the Samsungs I have done side by sides with have also been off in various ways. The new Tab S is suppose to be the most accurate in the Basic Color mode but I have not had one at home. The units I had to compare with showed the following. Galaxy Tab Pro 10″ = overly contrasty. Tab 3 = over saturated. iPad 4 = slightly under saturated. The apples had better shadow detail with the Samsung Pro having the most black crushing / blocking. Overall I prefer the larger iPad (which has a 100% + RGB gamut). I was comparing images to my calibrated IPS PC monitor (not wide gamut).
I’m not ready to go Amoled just yet until I see its reliable and without artifacts. So I have upgraded to the iPad Mini 2 until the real upgrade comes out in the Mini 4. I recommend buying refurbished when every possible. I can work around the 63% gamut for a while as I don’t do any serious editing with it anyway. I have to admit the Tab S screen does look impressive at first glance.
Android is going to offer raw shooting in a future update as well. The new Samsung Pro models are a nice step in the right direction. FYI Amoleds have better blacks because Amoleds use individual LEDs to make a color pixel but then don’t last as long and the blue LEDs have about an 800 hr life span? (so I have read) which is not very good, (color shift after a while?) they also can suffer from burn in. A good calibrated IPS LCD can look more natural and last a lot longer in the long run. Phones don’t usually get kept for more than 2 yrs so Amoled is pretty safe there. Be careful buying a used Amoled screened device.
Update: 7/14. I have used the new Tab Pro 10.1 for some time as I set a few up for some friends. This is a nice improvement all around IMO and I could be happy with this version of the 10.1 with Android 4.4 except for the over saturation on the unit I had. One thing I don’t like much is the camera interface and the flash is almost worthless as it won’t fire a lot of the time unless I force it too. The results with flash are fair at best and it always is in red eye mode so its very slow to take a photo when flash is used. Like I said Almost worthless in some situations. Well at least Samsung included a flash (are you listening Apple?). The next iPad I expect the camera and flash from the iphones to be included along with its slow motion video and such and a display with better color in the Mini then I would upgrade again otherwise I will go with the Air2 or a Samsung ?. Putting aside the pros and cons of both brands I would say the Pro is over priced at retail due to the iPad Air”s superior build at the same price point. At $399 I would recommend the Pro over the Air for most people (I regularly see this price on the 10″). The fit and finish of the Pro 10.1 I have used is not very good, the silver strip around the bezel is lumpy in areas and the rest is plastic. I also note that all a 3 versions of the pro 10’s I have had seem to be slightly warped when set on a flat surface. The Apple feels like it’s precision made ( I am a machinist so I notice these things). In the end the new Pro Samsungs with a 16 -128 Gig micro SD card is a much better unit for those that like to view and share videos and music.
The bottom line is I recommend you get what your friends have if you’re not a computer person, so basically get what the people who will be helping you with your tablet are used to using otherwise you may run into quite a bit of frustration with either brand. I personally don’t like having to use iTunes or not having an SD card slot with Apple. On the other hand the Apples have much better build quality as well as app selections ( which are made for tablets).
One thing that is in short supply right now compared to any other well know art form is tutorials (Youtube for example) using multiple apps to create artistic photos. Even the flickr groups don’t really explain how they got the image. but there is one place I know of . Lots of tutorials here.
I’m way behind on the apps below
Lightroom Mobile. You need to have a CC subscription to use this app. I find it too slow to use on my iPad mini (same as iPad2) rendering takes way too long when you tap on an image to work with it. I don’t see myself using it even though I have a CC subscription. Very limited adjustments in this first version. I imagine later it will get better. With newer faster quad core tablets it probably works well.
HDR. Not much need now that IOS 7 has its own built-in HDR mode that works excellent. I deleted HDR Pro as a result. IOS is better with no ghosting. Also gives you cleaner files when high ISO is used. The reason is that all three shots appear to be taken instantly rather than 1 at a time like all other apps do.
PANORAMAS. Panorama 360 is great for in camera viewing and a lot of fun to use but don’t expect to get much from viewing the panos outside of the app they are small & soft looking images but look great inside the app itself. AutoStitch is what you want for high quality panos (18mp limit for Apple). Don’t forget to rotate you device on its axis (the lenses Nodal point) to reduce parallax error on closer objects. You can get a tripod mount for tablets as well. You will also want something like 645 Pro so you can lock your exposure, WB, Focus for better results. Note: Autostitch will not give the same quality results as a dedicated desktop software like Autopano Pro from Kolor. In some cases the desktop SW just blows the app away.
MEXTURES is a very unique app because of its Guest Formulas which along with your own formulas you can make contain layers that you can go back and change anytime. This one is worth looking into. This app is for phones only at this point but still works on an iPad.
GLAZE turns you photos into oil paintings. Great app for inspiration to making actual oil paintings.
DISTRESSED FX great app for getting that vintage textured look. The only issue I have with this app is that it is one of two apps I have that will reduce the file size when saving. This needs to be fixed.
TANGLED FX Unique effects to your images, nothing else like it. Lots of control over effects as well. Be sure to change back to the full rez from preview mode when saving.
SNAPSEED This google based app is probably the most used photo effects app out there and its free now. Used to be $4.99. Google is really doing well keeping their apps updated, same goes for their desktop collection with the introduction of Analog Efex Pro which is free for existing users of the Google collection. It’s the best vintage camera app I have seen yet (not for mobile devices yet).
DECIM8 This app basically decimates your photos. Be sure to watch the YouTube videos so you can get the most out of it. Works great in combo with other apps. Unique effects you can’t get anywhere else. Usage is limited though. This app is for phones only at this point but still works on an iPad. unfortunately this app is no longer getting updates. Has a lot of potential though. There is no back button so you have to start over if you don’t like the effect. Effects only work if they are highlighted, be sure to turn them off when selecting new ones.
iCOLORAMA This app uses layers. You must hit apply after each adjustment for the brushes to work on the next effect. Lots of effects and color adjustments here.
PERFECTLY CLEAR Simple but effective app that seems to make almost every photo you run thru it look better. This used to cost $200 as desk top plug-in. A bargain at $2
NOIR I really like this app but it only outputs low rez images so I won’t be using it much anymore. Needs updating after which I would highly recommend it. This is more than just a vignetting app. I would really like to see Snapseed get something like this as one of its features. My favorite vignetting control ever. It’s a shame to see this app go without anymore support. As it is Snapseed does have a vignette control under center focus but it is very basic without any shape control of the circle. You can though use the selective adjustment points under Selective Adjust or Tune Image in the desktop version to get something close.
HANDY PHOTO This has some nice features and filters which you can stack. It’s GUI is also different from any other app I have used.
ALIEN SKY This is a cool app for adds flare, planets, moons etc. to your photos. One feature this app needs is the ability to erase part of the effect so we can put them next to other objects in our images. Otherwise you have to save the image and fix it in layers. Several updates make this an even better app.
LORY STRIPES Very unique app for adding design with ribbons. Ability to mask and resize/rotate and much more.
PERCOLATOR Neat effects that revolve around coffee nomenclature.
Here’s a couple of flickr groups.
Combo apps Mobile Extreme Editing. In the discussion section there are new apps that get reviewed. http://www.flickr.com/groups/comboapps
Decim8 group. http://www.flickr.com/groups/decim8
Mobile app group. http://www.flickr.com/groups/mobilephonephotography
Tangled FX app group. http://www.flickr.com/groups/tangledfx
Want flash on your tablet? see this. I want to try one of these.
Last but not least here are some reason to steer clear of those bargain priced off brand tablets.
- Custom Android OS’s that may not work the same with your apps or an app someone else is using. Some new tablets are still using the old Android 4.0 which is really outdated and can’t be updated without hacking the system and even then you may be able to. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the oldest I recommend and what most folks I know are using. 4.4. Kit Kat is the latest and my favorite so far and is available as an update to Tab 3s so far.
- Slower processors means laggy response compared to the latest tablets. Are you patient? it’s the same with your desktop or any other device.
- Poor batter life / quality, some only give you about 90-120 minutes of real world use, or don’t last too long. Once you get used to getting 10+ hrs. there is no going back. Using max brightness outdoors will drain your battery even faster. Off brands may advertise 3- 5hrs or even 8 in a few but don’t count on it. It’s a real pain to not make it thru the day before running out of battery power. You will soon be spending money for a better tablet mark my words. Buy once not twice.
- Poor reliability and short warranties. your on your own once the warranty expires and no one would spend the money to fix it. Samsung gives you 90 days but has excellent reliability, Apple gives 1 yr. again with excellent reliability. This is a good reason not to go cheap. If you looking at $50 – $75 maybe but not $100 – 150+ for a tablet. Plenty of refurbs from Samsung to choose from now that are very affordable.
- Touch screens that are not too responsive to finger touch but work find with a stylist. Very frustrating.
- Most come with only 8 gigs of memory, make sure there is a slot for an Micro SD card so you can add memory. Apple does not provide these unfortunately.
- LCD screen that have low resolution and typical narrow viewing angles before color shifts and brightness changes occur. Not good for sharing what’s on the screen with others standing at an angle to the screen or outdoors when you need max brightness.
- Some screens may have low max brightness levels which is very bad for outdoor use.
- Wi-Fi reception may not have very good range. That’s very important too and you can’t tell that from the specs, only from professional reviews or from the public if it’s even mentioned.
- When reading text in ePub or PDF format you may find scrolling and text rendering to have noticeable lag (slow to catch up with you).
- Poor camera and video performance.
- Poor resale value, but than again hopefully you didn’t pay more than $75 to start with. Just pass it on to a friend or relative.
- These units often get far more 1 star ratings then 5 star. Some folks may get a good one and are relatively happy for the time being. Be sure you buy from a place that you can easily return the unit with no hassles.