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Exclusive interview: Austin Mann on photography with the M1 iPad Pro

Austin Mann reviews the M1 iPad Pro

Renowned travel photographer Austin Mann joins AppleInsider to review the new M1 iPad Pro from a photography and mobile creator perspective.

Every year, Austin Mann takes the latest iPhone to exotic locations and performs a thorough review of its cameras. Mann typically reviews and edits his work on a 16-inch MacBook Pro with Pro Display XDR, but the iPad Pro has become an integral part of his process.

Now with a Liquid Retina XDR display and M1 CPU, the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro brings unique benefits to mobile photographers. Mann compares the new iPad Pro to his Pro Display XDR and describes the noticeable speed increase when previewing RAW photos.

With all the improvements in the latest iPad Pro, Mann describes several key steps of his workflow that are hindered by iPadOS. Importing images via SD card reader and backing up to external SSDs is cumbersome, and apps such as Lightroom still don't have feature parity with desktop versions.

You can read Austin Mann's full review of the M1 iPad Pro on his website, and view his latest work on Instagram.

If you have questions or comments on the show, tweet at @stephenrobles or email us here. Find us in your favorite podcast player by searching for "AppleInsider" and support the show by leaving a 5-Star rating and comment in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript

Stephen Robles: Welcome to the AppleInsider podcast. This is your host, Stephen Robles. And joining me today is a very special guest photographer, creator and all around incredible guy, Austin Mann, the photographer. Thanks so much for joining me.

Austin Mann:: Hey Stephen. I'm so, so excited to be here.

Stephen Robles: You know, it's so cool. Every year I look for your Photography review of the iPhone. You know, one of the big features that Apple always touts is the camera improvements and their iPhones. And you always go to some far off location and really run the camera through its paces. I looked on your website, it looks like you've been doing it since the iPhone 6. Does that sound about right?

Austin Mann:: Yeah actually even before that, believe it or not. The first big one that I did was the iPhone 6, but my very first iPhone review is 2012 and it was with the iPhone 5. They had come out with Panorama mode that year and I remember looking at the reviews and there was no photographers that were reviewing the device, like really looking at, "What can Panorama mode do?" It was more just seen as a technical capability of a smartphone and less as a creative camera. And so I went out and did my own review. I just stood in line and waited for the iPhone, like I always do.

I got it that day and got on a flight that night, went to Iceland with my good friend Jordan Bellamy and we created a little video together and that was the beginning. I ended up sending that video over to a friend, Darren Murph, over at Engadget and they posted it. That was the beginning of now almost a decade of iPhone camera reviews in the wild.

Stephen Robles: That's amazing. And it's always incredible to hear your perspective. I mean, you are a professional photographer, you're shooting with Hasselblad, is that how you pronounce it? I mean you're shooting with like real stuff.

Austin Mann:: Yeah. I shoot with the whole gamut from old film cameras to iPhone to the large huge megapixel medium format Hasselblads and Sony and everything in between. So I love to find kind of the strengths of each different tool and find ways to push each one to its max.

Stephen Robles: That's awesome. And you have the new M1 iPad Pro in hand, and you got to do an early review of that. And so I want to spend most of our time on that, but I did want to ask you, of course, as with every year, did the review of the iPhone 12 Pro Max— which had some significant camera improvements— are you still running with that as your daily driver and what has been your six months experience with that?

Austin Mann:: Yeah, that's a great, good question. I actually kind of teeter-totter between the 12 Pro and the 12 Pro Max. For me, and I've written about this, I really like the smaller, more nimble size of the iPhone 12 Pro in my hand and I've just never been a big fan of the larger iPhones. The camera is definitely better and I definitely can see a difference, especially in low light and some kind of extreme scenarios. I so often, 90% of the time I've found the 12 Pro is everything that I need.

And so the 12 Pro has been my kind of daily use and I love it. I continue to get out at night and experiment with shooting the stars and I'm going to be doing some stuff with that next week on a personal project out in the Grand Canyon. It's an amazing camera. And just what the software has done, especially night mode, those types of things.

And ProRAW, I'm still learning some of the workflows for how to use night mode and ProRAW and how to make it all integrate well. But now that I've got it mostly dialed in, I'm really enjoying having that kind of flexibility and the power in post to be able to change my white balance and just have a lot more control over the image file as a ProRAW versus a compressed image file.

Stephen Robles: So going to your mobile setup, obviously you are a travel photographer, you go all over the world. And now that you have the M1 iPad Pro you have a Pro display XDR on your mobile device. So what was your system pre-M1 iPad Pro, did you actually travel with an iPad Pro or were you a MacBook Pro guy? Like what was your mobile workflow pre-M1 one iPad Pro?

Austin Mann:: At the core of my mobile creative workflow has always been the MacBook Pro. I've used a Mac since I bought my first one as a 13 year old in 1998, the very first iMac. As soon as it was time to go mobile, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't too many years after the iMac that I started moving around a lot more and switched over to the titanium PowerBooks and those were sweet and it's still great memories. I had the 12-inch PowerBook, which is still one of my favorites.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. That was my first one, the G4.

Austin Mann:: Such a good machine. Such a great form factor. So yeah, I've always had a laptop at the center, a MacBook Pro at the center of my workflow and you know. It still is at the center of my workflow, I've got the 16-inch MacBook Pro, it's got 8 terabytes of internal storage. And I mean, it's just fully specked on RAM and it's just crazy how powerful this thing is. I still rely on it for a lot of my kind of core digital workflow stuff. But the iPad, over the years, has really begun to become a lot more critical for me as a mobile creative professional and how I use it.

You know, the iPad has some super powers that nothing else does things like the pencil and, and just some of the other technologies, the pinch to zoom, and to inspect an image really quickly and different things like that. There's, it's got some unique technology packed into it's hardware and software, and I've found, especially over these last two or three years that I've begun to rely on it quite a bit more. It's just in general, you know, if you're out in the elements, it's just really well tailored to, you know, a little bit of moisture is going to be okay and the keyboard is more sealed, and the device in general is more sealed from dust and all that type of stuff.

And, you know, I may throw my bag in the back of a land cruiser that's bouncing down a dusty road in Africa. And I can't even count the number of times that I've had to open up my laptop and blow out the fans from all the dust that gathered inside of them while in a hut in the middle of nowhere, trying to get everything going because it's hot or whatever.

So all that to say there's some really unique powers that the iPad has from its weather sealant to a super bright screen that can be viewed outdoors. I really enjoy what the iPad Pro platform does for sharing images. I mentioned this in my writeup. I really love the process of capturing and kind of conquering a photograph. Coming up with a vision and then figuring out how to technically achieve it.

And for me, that's really satisfying. And to be honest I don't share my work maybe as much as I should. My wife has always given me a hard time about letting a lot of the work I'm most proud of just kind of stay idle on my hard drives or on people's walls that collect my work, but not getting it out online or even around me.

And the iPad is a tool that really fosters sharing it. It makes it really easy and natural to share an image and to have a conversation about it. So I like to pop it off out of its case and the keyboard and all that, and then just kind of go full screen and it's easy and intuitive for anybody to take it in their hand and start enjoying the work and zoom in on it and pass it along and talk about it.

And that's another thing I really appreciate the iPad for. So I always find myself using it for things like that. As I wrote in my most recent post it is actually the fastest setup I've ever used ever for sorting and culling through images. And it's just zero lag even with other, a software that has image preview, feature, you know smart previews and things like that.

This doesn't even take any time to render smart previews. It's just as soon as I import the images I was just flying through them. So yeah, it's a powerful tool and I'm editing more on it now than ever.

Stephen Robles: Yeah that's I was going to ask you about the speed because the M1 is the biggest difference and the display, which we'll talk about in a second, but on this newest version of the iPad Pro. There'll be a link to Austin's review of the iPad Pro in the show notes so listeners can view it there, but you said it was the fastest tool you've ever used for culling and sorting images. And so how did it feel compared to previous versions of iPad Pro you used and your 16-inch specked out MacBook Pro? Is that, that much different?

Austin Mann:: Speaking to any photographer, every photographer knows one of the key parts of your digital workflow is you ingest your images. You import them from your SD card or CF card or CFast or whatever mobile media, your camera writes to. And then you kind of make your selections and sometimes you're going through a thousand or more images that you're trying to choose your favorites and all that stuff. And that that process can be really time-consuming.

And for me, I always like it when I'm the limitation, not my gear. So, um, if I'm trying to go through and I will want to look at a bunch of images real quickly. And my computer is kind of lagging and when I hit the arrow key, it takes a second to show me the next image for whatever reason that drives me nuts.

I just want my gear to be able to keep up with me as fast as I need to go. And so I'm always really happy when my gear outperforms what my brain can do. I think that sitting down and being able to fly through it exactly the pace that I want to, whether it's slowly or super fast is just super nice and quickly and kind of intuitively be able to zoom in and check focus just by pinching on the screen.

And then in Lightroom CC, just be able to quickly make some selective adjustments using the Apple Pencil is super nice and really precise. Honestly, it's a very different way of interacting with photographs and interacting with work. I don't think better or worse than any other platform, but definitely different.

What comes out of the photographs that I create when I'm editing with my iPad are definitely different than a final photograph I would edit on the Mac. I'm going to be a lot more likely to use the Pencil, which means I'm going to create. I'm just going to play around a little bit with that and maybe, you know, draw some, brighten some areas and darken some areas with the Pencil, or just do different things selectively with the Pencil that I might not even think of doing or, you know, gestures that I might not make with a mouse I might make with my Pencil.

I always feel like there's a different feel to the work that I edit on my iPad.

Stephen Robles: Interesting. So you actually have Apple's 6k Pro display XDR that you could pair with a Mac Pro and now some of the other M1 Max. And so compared to that big Pro display XDR, how does the new M1 iPad Pro's, liquid retina XDR screen compare with that big screen?

I think in your review, you said you've actually think it has more pop in both saturation and contrast. You've been looking at that Pro display XDR for a while. Now that you have that iPad in your hand, how does it feel different?

Austin Mann:: The Pro display, actually the AR is just stunning, it's 32 inches wide, it's got the nano etched, textured glass surface. I'm a huge fan of matte or anti-glare, I don't like editing on shiny, glossy screens. I just, as long as the PowerBooks allowed me to order a matte screen, I always did. I don't like seeing my face in my photos, you know? So the Pro display XDR is just absolutely astounding.

It's huge, it's non-glossy, anti-glare. That's the biggest, obvious difference. But then in terms of color rendering and brightness, they're both really, really bright. I did do some kind of comparison side by side. I didn't lug the giant 32-inch display out into the sun, but indoors, they look roughly about the same brightness.

Maybe the iPad is a little brighter. It's kind of hard to tell. And then it's got probably a little bit more general pop and punch in the contrast and saturation. For editing and as a professional photographer, that's printing and I really care about color accuracy, I would rather it be a little bit more neutral, but if I was watching a feature feature-length film or something like that, maybe having a little bit more pop would be nice.

And I think that my assumption would be that the iPad is a little bit more tailored, while still a fantastic display, it may be a little bit more tailored towards more all-around usages and consuming feature-length films and things like that. But I found the colors to be very similar on both of the displays, both very color accurate and just a joy.

One of the great joys of creating a photograph that you're proud of is being able to look at it on a display that makes it look great. That makes the whole creative process just more fun. It allows you to think differently about the work. Maybe think in more detail because of the resolution and appreciate some of the things that you accomplished and creating that photograph in a different way.

Stephen Robles: Yeah. So as you edit and use both macOS and iPad, one of the big questions that people are asking is because it has the M1 now— he same CPU that the iMac Mac mini Mac book Pro have— why does an apple just put macOS on iPad and there's been differing opinions on that, but you as a photographer and your workflow, is that something that you would want, would you want eventually for Apple to at least give you the option to have MacOS on an iPad Pro?

Austin Mann:: I think that apple is deeply thoughtful about the decisions that they make like that, and I've grown to trust those processes a little bit more than I used to, and I've never really had a deep desire to have macOS on iPad. And I'm sure that they have very intentional reasons why they don't. I think the hardware, the power is definitely there to run the macOS from the surface. It sure feels like it, and now that they're sharing a chip, it feels like it even more. I have a hard time if I really start thinking about the logistics of how that would even work and what the UI/UX would look like and some of the other things, I think that there's a place for, for both iPad, iOS and macOS in the world.

Stephen Robles: So some of the things that you had put in your wants section, as you review them on iPad, it has a Thunderbolt 3 port now and you can use USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 with the iPad, with various docks and such, but you said what many creators would love was an SD card reader. I think we would like it back on the Mac.

Austin Mann:: Yeah. Right.

Stephen Robles: And then also on the iPad Pro, although I'm hard pressed to imagine an iPad Pro with an SD card reader.

Austin Mann:: Yeah, me too.

Stephen Robles: Yeah, unfortunately. But how was your experience using like dongles or docks or how do you get your SD card stuff onto that M1 iPad Pro?

Austin Mann:: Yeah that's one thing that has really improved significantly in the last few years. The last iPad Pro review that I did, I think was, my gosh, was that three years ago, maybe 2018? I was in Iceland.

Stephen Robles: Probably 2018, yeah.

Austin Mann:: It was a lot more difficult to I don't even think I could plug in a USB-C hard drive at the time. I actually can't remember exactly.

Stephen Robles: You couldn't when it first came out and then the iPadOS that came out of WWDC right after that added the feature.

Austin Mann:: Okay. That sounds right.

So yeah that's a huge deal to be able to plug in external USBC storage, just any reader, and we've come a long way. The way that my workflow is on iPad Pro, when I'm using the iPad Pro at the center of my digital workflow, I will go out and shoot on whatever camera, whether it's a Sony or a Hasselblad or whatever, and then I have a USB-C reader. And in this case, I shot a lot on the Sony so I have a Pro grade dual SD card reader that is a USB-C and it's super fast. And so I'll plug that into my iPad, I'll dump the files using the files app on the iPad. And I do that because I want to easily back up all my data to a second drive.

For me on a daily basis I dump my cards and then I back them all up in a second spot. And then I keep that drive in my pocket or wherever I am separate from, from my Mac or from my iPad. And so, yeah, I'll dump them all in there and then I'll import into Lightroom from files. That's kind of how the process, ideally, like when I use my MacBook Pro I will plug in my card reader and an external drive at the same time or two external drives and then just, and I mirror those two external drives drive A and drive B and I'll just dump everything on the A and then get a redundant copy on B. And then I clear all my cards and that's my usual process.

And that's one of the things I wrote about is that there's definitely some hoops to jump through if you are as insane about your data as I am. I go through some extra special measures to make sure my images get home in good shape. And so that's what my process looks like.

Stephen Robles: Did you try a Thunderbolt 3 specifically dock to see if you could do an SD card and hard drive at the same time?

Austin Mann:: The problem with my Thunderbolt 3 dock is that it only has one USB slot on it. I actually had a really hard time, maybe you can help me with this, but I had a really hard time finding any device that's not powered that has more than one USB-C port on it.

Stephen Robles: That's the unfortunate part because I've been perusing Thunderbolt 3 docks as I get ready for the M1 iPad Pro I have coming soon and they have, you know, there's the OWC Thunderbolt dock.

There's the Caldigit, but they are all powered. There's no like bus powered Thunderbolt 3 hub or dock. Once you go to those non-powered versions, it's all just USB-C, not Thunderbolt. And then you're limited on the connectivity there. So yeah, the only way to do, I think that double duty is if you have a Thunderbolt 3 power dock, unfortunately.

Austin Mann:: One of the iPad's greatest strengths is its mobility and I'm all about playing to my gear's strengths. So I wouldn't even consider a power dock, you know, I'm just not gonna. But actually, while we're doing this, I'm really curious. I just plugged in my hyperdrive little dock and I put an SD card in it, and now I just plugged in my SSD, my 2 terabyte SSD and I'm just gonna, while we talk here, I'm just going to see if they both work. This is a live experiment. This is all I do on my reviews is just think, "Hey, maybe that would work."

Stephen Robles: Try it. Apple's not super forthright about what all can even work with that port. And you know, they say Thunderbolt 3, but there's such a variety of devices.

Me who do I do a lot of podcasting. You can connect an audio interface via USB-C, but your options for managing that is very different on an iPad than it would be on say a Mac. So while the IO connectivity is there, the use cases differ from macOS and iPadOS.

Austin Mann:: Yes, very much. So the interesting thing that I found is that I have a dual SD card reader that just has two SD card slots. It plugs in with one USB-C. The software, at least, you know, there was no problem. I was able to mount both of those SD cards at the same time. So it's possible to mount two separate devices, but I just couldn't make it happen with an SD and a drive.

My live experiment is not working so I can now answer your question that I have found that it does not work either.

Stephen Robles: It does not work. Okay.

Austin Mann:: Going back to what I said earlier, I think that having an SD card reader or like a CF express reader, or both would be super nice, but I also don't really see that in the cards.

It seems kind of unlikely. And again, it's like, those are intentional decisions that have been made. I think the number one thing that I reach for to plug into my iPad other than the charger is the SD card reader, which is why I mentioned it. I also do that on my Mac and it's not like it's lots of hoops to jump through, I just plug it in my SD card reader like I would a hard drive or anything else and it works pretty well. And it's blazing fast. I think it could just simplify it if it was a little bit more integrated.

Stephen Robles: For sure. Well, as a final question, a lot of people are saying that with this new M1 iPad Pro that surely there'll be some big announcement at WWDC about the software or new features or something coming to the iPad.

So you, as a photographer and mobile creator, what's something, maybe one thing, maybe a couple of things that you hope Apple brings in the next version of iPadOS to maybe make your workflow easier, or those features that you would like to see.

Austin Mann:: Well, you know, as I, as I wrote in my, in my review, I feel that for me, I would love to be able to plug in more than one device and be able to kind of handle my data redundancy workflow easily on iPad Pro. It's possible right now, but it's just a little bit difficult.

And so that's definitely one thing that it's top of my list. And then I also mentioned this in my review, I shoot a lot of panoramas. That's one thing I can't do easily inside of the Adobe suite, at least right now. I think maybe Affinity is able to do that on iPad and I think there's some other tools, but my core workflow revolves around Apple and Adobe.

I kind of stay inside of that zone. Part of reviewing in the field is to make sure that you got the shot and if you're shooting panoramas, you really need to stitch them to make sure it's all there and that they fit right, that it looks right and you don't need to make any technical adjustments and that type of stuff. It'd be really nice to be able to put some panels together.

And then I don't know what else. What about you? What do you wish for?

Stephen Robles: Oh, well, as an audio guy, I would love to see more granular controls. So if I connect an audio interface that I could choose a different output than an input, or be able to, you know, make a Skype call and record at the same time in multitasking view and just multi-tasking improvements overall, like you were saying, be able to background import photos to Lightroom and go do something else on the iPad because it's plenty powerful enough. And that's just totally a software thing.

Austin Mann:: Yeah.

Stephen Robles: Let me ask you this, were you an Aperture user back in the day?

Austin Mann:: I did. Actually, I was just talking to my mentor, Paul Bowen, a fantastic photographer and mentor. He actually still has a Mac that he runs aperture on because he likes how it makes books.

Stephen Robles: Yes, exactly.

Austin Mann:: There's specific features in there for its book making stuff that isn't in Photos and he can't find anywhere else. And so, yeah, I appreciate aperture for what it was.

Stephen Robles: Same here. Yeah. I used to make family photo books and that ended when Aperture died, right?

Austin Mann:: Like, yeah. It's kinda sad. Which you can do in Photos now, but it's just, I don't think quite the same.

Stephen Robles: It's not, and they definitely took away some tools and never brought them back for some reason. So maybe, maybe one day.

Austin Mann:: Maybe one day.

Stephen Robles: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people go? Obviously,, we'll put that website and show notes. Do you have any upcoming projects or anything that you'd like people to check out and see what you're doing?

Austin Mann:: Yeah, there's a few things that are cooking right now. You can usually stay up to date with that stuff on my website, (with two Ns) and then my Instagram is also just my name @austinmann.

I'll be out shooting at the Grand Canyon, the blood moon coming up on May 26th. Really looking forward to that. You can keep up with me on my Instagram.

Stephen Robles: Very cool. Well, thanks so much, Austin. I appreciate you coming on.

Austin Mann:: Thanks so much, Stephen.

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