One update turns your iPad into a photo editing powerhouse
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Seemingly out of nowhere, yesterday Adobe changed the way that photographers everywhere can work. If you're an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber and an iOS device owner, you can now import and edit RAW files in Lightroom Mobile. This development greatly improves the outlook for Apple devices like the iPad Pro, which has been hampered by the lack of many pro-grade features since its launch last year.
Even though you could import RAW files previously, if you wanted to edit these images on an iPad, you could only actually tweak the imbedded JPEG. The workaround was through Adobe's Creative Cloud—upload photos to the cloud with your desktop computer, then edit on a mobile device. But, the extra step really made this feature more of a gimmick and kinda useless as an alternative to a photographer's usual workflow.
Unfortunately, Adobe hasn't released an update to enable RAW editing on Android devices, so this feature is only going to be available on iOS for the foreseeable future. I tested RAW editing on both an iPhone 6s and an iPad Air 2 and found that it was rather impressively implemented.
The touch interface for RAW developing is very similar to the overlay you can use on the Windows version. What was pretty unbelievable to me was that the performance, even on this two-year-old iPad, felt nearly as quick as devices like the Surface Book I reviewed recently. It probably wouldn't be great for batch exports, and presets aren't yet enabled and I did detect a little delay when comparing versions of the image using the three-finger-tap before/after function.
Even though feature parity between the mobile and desktop applications is a ways off, this is a huge step forward for pros hoping to use iOS more regularly. The great thing about the way Adobe is rolling the feature out is that they aren't beholden to Apple or their built-in photo tools to start working with RAW in iOS 9. Lightroom Mobile instead uses the same Adobe Camera RAW compatibility stack as Lightroom and Photoshop, which means that all three programs will get updates to camera compatibility at the same time.
If there's any issue I have with Lightroom Mobile and iOS is that you still have to shuttle your files onto the device with the built-in image importer. This barebones previewing utility doesn't let you view full-size previews or let you know what photos are RAW files. It'd be ideal for me to skip the middleman and go directly into Lightroom, but given the locked-down nature of iOS, this isn't possible yet.
But, there are two catches here: the free version of the app doesn't get RAW editing, and you need either Apple's SD card reader or a Lightning to USB adapter to load the photos onto your iPad. We recommend subscribing to the $10/month photography plan to get Lightroom and Photoshop on two devices, with unlimited mobile devices. FYI, the only iOS device that supports faster USB 3.0 speeds is the 12-inch iPad Pro, so be sure to buy the right adapter for your device. Otherwise, the standard SD card reader works on any iPad or iPhone model with a Lightning port.
All of a sudden, spending MacBook Pro money on a decked-out iPad Pro doesn't seem quite so ridiculous. In fact, the iPad might look like a better deal in the comparison. A Retina MacBook Pro 13-inch with an older 5th generation processor costs around $1,600 for the 256 GB capacity. The 12-inch iPad Pro is the fastest iPad Apple has ever made, and combined with a Smart Keyboard Cover, you're looking at a little over $1,300 for a similar capacity. iPad bashers have one less argument to lean on when dissing the iPad as a productivity device. Now, could we just have mouse support for the iPad, Apple? Pretty please?
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