The iPad as a Hand-Held Darkroom
By NICK BILTON
Published: December 5, 2012
Over the years, I’ve been in and out of relationships with dozens of film cameras, Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Minolta and others, as a result of my passion for photography.
Nick Bilton/The New York Times
In the late 1990s, after college, I snapped so many photos that I ended up building a 5-by-6-foot darkroom in the corner of my living room in Brooklyn. There, standing amid long, dark strips of film under the glow of a dim red light, I spent countless hours mixing pungent chemicals and developing and printing photographs.
I have since retired most of my film cameras. Now, my camera bag is all digital, and my darkroom is 7 inches wide and 9.5 inches long: an Apple iPad.
The chemicals I once used have been replaced by a tiny, white USB connector that allows me to transfer my photos from any digital camera into the iPad in a matter of seconds.
What inspired me to jump from film to digital was immediacy — or impatience, depending on how you look at it. In the old days, I’d have to finish a roll of film, get home, develop it, wait, then wait some more. With digital, you snap a picture and there it is, like magic, on the back of your digital camera. With the iPad as a darkroom, it’s also editable immediately.
Editing your photos on an iPad instead of a conventional laptop also means you can carry one device fewer on your travels. Although most applications on the iPad will shrink the size and therefore the quality of your images when you import them, there are apps that can deal with full-size images. You can even connect wirelessly to printers intended to work with the iPad.
For older iPads with a 30-pin connection, Apple sells the $29 Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit. It comes with two connectors that plug directly into the iPad’s base. One has a USB cable slot, which works with almost any camera, and the other has a slot for SD memory cards.
There are also many less expensive third-party connectors, including a 2-in-1 Camera Connection Kit ($10) available from Amazon.
The cables for newer iPads, with the lighting connector, are overpriced, with each connector costing $30.
To transfer the photos from your camera, you plug a connector into the base of your iPad, connect your camera with a USB cord, then turn the camera on. The iPad will detect that the device is connected and allow you to select which images you would like to import. It’s quicker than a Polaroid.
The immediacy of digital has pushed photographers to want to edit their photos and then share them right away. A number of applications allow you to do this, some free and some costing as much as $20.
SnapSeed ($5) is an app made specifically for multitouch photo-editing. Sliding your finger up and down on the screen will allow you to alter the image, changing the contrast, brightness or saturation. A feature called Selective Adjust allows you to drag little adjustable pointers all over a picture to tweak the lighting in specific areas.
Apple’s own iPhoto application ($5) for the iPad also has some advanced features. You can apply filters, turning a color photo into a sepia or “vintage” image. If you’re in a rush, “auto-enhance” will try to improve the image for you. There are also brushes that pop out from the bottom of the screen, making your iPad feel like a painter’s palette. These can be used to remove red-eye and soften or sharpen an image.
Adobe, the big maker of graphics and photoediting software, offers two photo-specific iPad applications. Photoshop Express, which is free, has some limited editing features, like adjusting tint, saturation and exposure, but it’s really for novices. Advanced users will want to try Photoshop Touch ($10). This application offers similar controls to Adobe software on a standard computer — layers, curves, the ability to add text, and other advanced features. But be warned: the app is somewhat confusing to navigate, and you will have to take some time with its tutorial before jumping in.
For photographers who want to take iPad editing to another level, there are more advanced — and expensive — options.
Jeff Carlson, author of the book “The iPad for Photographers,” sometimes bypasses the iPad camera connection kit in favor of an EyeFi SD card and an app called ShutterSnitch ($16). EyeFi cards, which range from $40 to $100 depending on speed and memory size, can connect directly with your iPad wirelessly. Mr. Carlson said that although EyeFi offers a free app, ShutterSnitch is much faster and has a more advanced interface.
Mr. Carlson said he sometimes captures RAW images with his digital cameras. These are uncompressed and large files, often used by professional photographers because they preserve more of the image quality than standard JPEG files. To handle these files he sometimes uses the apps piRAWnha or Photoraw, both $10. But his favored application is Photosmith ($20) an advanced tool that can wirelessly transfer pictures to your desktop computer for printing or editing later.
The only question remaining is which iPad to use. The newer iPads with retina displays are the best choice for editing, as the screen is phenomenally crisp. But they are also expensive. Of course the iPad Mini is lighter, and a fraction of the price, so it might be a better option for vacation snaps. But if you’re someone who really wants to get into your digital photos, you might be disappointed with the Mini’s screen resolution and prefer the big version.
Although digital cameras have changed the way most photographers shoot, I haven’t retired all of my film equipment just yet. There is one area of photography that most app makers and digital camera companies seem to have neglected: black and white.
All of the apps mentioned in this article can strip the color out of an image like a scene from the movie “Pleasantville,” but none have succeeded in recreating the authentic look of black and white photos. In most instances, shooting black and white on digital cameras can feel like making a pizza in a microwave: sure, it looks like a pizza, but it’s just not right.So every once in a while I will still shoot a roll of 3200-speed black-and-white film on one of my old cameras. Then off I go to a darkroom to get it developed. Nowadays, while I sit waiting amid those pungent and familiar smells, I have my digital darkroom with me, and I edit photos on my iPad while the chemicals work their magic