Design and handling

What’s notable about this model is that Apple has removed the chin at the bottom of the screen and shrunk the overall sizes, which is great news if you intend to carry the iPad in a backpack or camera bag.

The previous 12.9-inch model measured 12 inches tall and 8.68 inches wide, but the current model includes the same screen in a frame that’s 11.04 inches tall and 8.46 inches wide. The smaller model increases the screen size from 10.5 inches to 11 inches, but shaves the height from 9.8 inches to 9.74 inches; it’s slightly wider at 7.02 inches, compared to 6.8 inches for the earlier generation. Both sizes are also a bit thinner at 0.23 inches.

The smaller sizes come at the expense of the Home button, but that leads to two other advantages. Instead of using Touch ID for security, the iPad Pro models use Face ID, which I’ve found to be reliable and quick. (In cold situations, Face ID allows you to easily unlock the iPad Pro when you’re wearing gloves.) It also doesn’t take long at all to get used to the gestures introduced with the iPhone X, such as swiping up from the bottom of the screen to unlock the device and dragging at the bottom of the screen to quickly switch apps.

The lack of a Home button and associated bezel also means there’s no up or down — the screen rotates correctly no matter how you’re holding it. Sometimes my hand obscures the Face ID cameras, in which case an arrow pointing at the camera appears onscreen to alert me.

For viewing and editing photos, of course, a high-quality display is essential. And here we’re back to the specs: The screens on the iPad Pro models are Liquid Retina LCD displays with a pixel density of 264 ppi, with P3 wide color gamut. (In contrast, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max use OLED screens; the iPhone XR's screen is also LCD.) The 12.9-inch model’s resolution is 2732 by 2048 pixels, while the 11-inch model’s resolution is 2388 by 1688 pixels. It’s capable of 600 nits of brightness, and features True Tone technology to adjust white balance based on the ambient light.

Translation: the display is big, beautiful, and bright. In fact, I usually turn the brightness down for everyday use, but the brightness helps when viewing in sunlight. The wide color gamut displays more colors than other displays, particularly HDR images or Smart HDR photos captured by the iPhone X, XS, or XR cameras. True Tone does lead to more pleasing color in general, but I’ll admit I’m not comfortable having it on while I’m editing photos; I prefer consistent color over a moving target. That’s why I also need to remember to turn off the Night Shift feature, which removes cool tones, when I’m editing images at night.

The lack of a Home button and associated bezel also means there’s no up or down — the screen rotates correctly no matter how you’re holding it.

Apple claims that the Liquid Retina displays are the most color-accurate in the industry. That said, there’s no way to calibrate the display after it’s left the factory, as you can do with most computer monitors, so the iPad Pro isn’t yet ready to be slotted into a color-managed workflow. I suspect that someone who needs that kind of color accuracy will probably finish editing on a fully color-managed system. The iPad will get you nearly there, and is perfectly capable for viewing and editing in 99 percent of editing situations.

When talking about the various hardware features, I feel obligated to mention that the iPad Pro includes a single rear-facing 12 megapixel, f/1.8 camera and a single front-facing 7 megapixel, f/2.2 camera. The rear camera captures video at 4K resolution at 30 fps or 60 fps, with slow-motion at 240 fps in 1080p resolution.

They’re fully capable cameras that will generate fine images, but I don’t see serious photographers using them much; I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but I suspect most photographers will capture moments using either a dedicated camera or the (likely better) cameras in their mobile phones.

One interesting technical aspect of the iPad Pro cameras is that only the front-facing one is capable of Apple’s Portrait mode, which simulates background blur, because it uses the other sensors that Face ID relies upon to generate a depth mask. The iPhone XR, which also has just a single rear-facing camera, manages to include Portrait mode in software for both cameras.

USB-C

Oh look, Apple changed the connectors on its devices again! (Never mind that the last big mobile transition, from the 30-pin connector to Lightning, was 7 years and hundreds of millions of sold devices ago.) The iPad Pro models now include a single USB-C port, a move that has several serious positive implications.

In the forthcoming iPadOS 13, you’ll be able to connect an external USB drive to a USB-C hub

If you’ve ever grown old waiting for images to copy to the Photos app using older Lightning adapters, faster photo and video transfers are now possible. Importing photos from a card rated at UHS II bus speed, and using a compatible UHS II reader, was dramatically faster than importing from the same card via a more typical UHS I reader. For instance, transferring 500 MB of raw images took 3.3 seconds using the UHS II reader and 12.4 seconds using the UHS I reader.

Another advantage to USB-C is compatibility with other devices. If you already own a recent MacBook Pro with USB-C ports, you likely already have adapters or a hub. For photographers, that includes SD card readers or, on some camera models, USB-C ports that allow you to connect the camera directly using a USB-C cable. If you're using cards rated as UHS II for the speed advantage, make sure you buy a card reader that also supports it; not all USB-C readers do.

USB-C connects modern cameras without requiring an adapter.

In the forthcoming iPadOS 13, you’ll be able to connect an external USB drive to a USB-C hub and access its files, as well as write to the drive. So, for example, you could insert an SD card and import your photos, and also make copies of those images from the card to a portable SSD or inexpensive USB drive that’s also connected to the hub.

Those options are great, but the feature I’m most looking forward to in iPadOS 13 is the ability to bypass the Photos app during import. Currently, every image or video file must first be imported to Photos (sometimes referred to as the Camera Roll), and from there it can be copied to other apps. That leads to duplicate files taking up storage space.

The feature I’m most looking forward to in iPadOS 13 is the ability to bypass the Photos app during import.

There’s a shortcut (using the Shortcuts app) that works around this limitation for Lightroom: after you import the images into Photos, the shortcut imports the last imported set into Lightroom, then deletes them from Photos. Great! Except Photos doesn’t actually delete them—they get moved to the Recently Deleted album, and they’re still uploaded to iCloud. So you still have to manually delete them to free up storage and prevent them from uploading to iCloud.

USB-C also supports connecting an external display, which by default mirrors the iPad Pro’s screen. This isn’t a new feature, since you could buy Lightning adapters for HDMI and DisplayPort connections, but it is the first time you can connect displays that use USB-C connectors. However, the compatibility depends on the display; some 4K displays work fine, while 5K displays require high-speed USB-C cables to transfer the data, but ones that use Thunderbolt 3 do not work. It’s not currently possible to drive more than one connected display at a time, and so far nothing in iPadOS 13 indicates that’s an upcoming feature.

Some apps support an external display beyond just mirroring the image on the iPad Pro’s screen. The Photos app, for instance, displays a photo you’re viewing on a black background; iMovie gives you the option to use the secondary display to view just the work in progress. It would be nice to see more photo apps incorporate this option.

Some apps, such as Apple's iMovie, do more than just mirror the iPad Pro's screen to an external display.

Since USB-C transfers power as well as data, the iPad Pro can also charge an iPhone or camera batteries through the camera’s USB port (provided your camera supports the feature and you have the appropriate cables).

One more notable item on the connection front: there’s no headphone jack, nor is there an included adapter to plug wired headphones into the USB-C port. You’ll need to go wireless, buy Apple’s USB-C to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter, or find a third-party adapter.

Apple Pencil 2

Although it’s a separate purchase from the iPad Pro, the second-generation Apple Pencil is cleverly designed and useful to photographers. When using brush tools in editing apps to apply selective adjustments to areas, the Pencil is much better and feels more precise than a finger. I don’t own a modern Wacom tablet, so I’ll sometimes work on an image on the iPad even when I’m sitting at my Mac just for the convenience of having a stylus.

The Apple Pencil benefits from Apple's ProMotion technology that adjusts the refresh rate between 24 Hz and 120 Hz based on what you’re doing to improve performance. It's more responsive as you use the Pencil; when you're doing something less demanding, such as reading static web pages, the lower refresh rates conserve battery power.

The second-generation Apple Pencil is cleverly designed and useful to photographers

What’s new with the Apple Pencil 2 and this generation of iPad Pro is the design: the pencil is a bit shorter and narrower than the original Pencil, with a matte texture that feels better in the hand.

The best part is how it charges its internal battery: instead of awkwardly plugging one end into the iPad’s connector, this Pencil magnetically attaches to one of the long edges of the iPad Pro’s case and charges there. In fact, that’s all you need to do to pair the Pencil (which communicates via Bluetooth).

For apps that support it, double-tapping the Pencil switches between tools, such as from the paintbrush to the eraser when creating a selective edit in Lightroom for iPad.

Adjusting a photo using the Brush tool in Adobe Lightroom.

In the upcoming iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina, the new Sidecar feature will expand the Pencil’s usefulness, allowing you to use it to make edits directly in Photoshop or other Mac apps. And, of course, Adobe is likely to release its new Photoshop for iOS app later this year, too.