Can the iPad shoot DNG? One of my students asked me very a sensible question in an iPhoneography class a couple of weeks back, one I’d not really given much thought to before.

The short Answer is that only the iPad Pro models running the 12 mp iSight camera module are able to do this, so you have a choice between the 9.7 inch and the latest iPad Pro Models.  I have the 10.5-inch model so my comments apply to that only but I assume the larger 12.9-inch model exhibits the same attributes.

Yep, Ok Brad so the Pro model can do the DNG shuffle but is it any good?

The camera module is the same iSight unit fitted to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which is to say it’s the latest and best incarnation of the module having the f1.8 lens and the most sophisticated sensor.  The main difference is the lack of optical image stabilization.

So the short answer was there’s no reason the iPad pro should not produce excellent DNG image quality provided you have an app that allows it to shoot in DNG, but I thought being a dedicated teacher I’d better delve a little deeper for you.

I decided this past weekend to give that a try, now please note I’ve not had the chance to do any comprehensive testing,  there could be some hidden issues I have yet to uncover.

 

Kiama Blow Hole, testing the DNG photo quality iPad Pro
Kiama Blowhole, taken with my iPad Pro 10.5 using DNG (UniWb).
Crop of Kiama Blowhole taken with iPad Pro using DNG (uniWb)
Crop from iPad Pro DNG looks great, fine detail on the water is excellent and the highlight tonality is vastly better than what you would expect to get from the standard JPEG capture.

You have a few shooting choices because you can load any of the latest iPhone DNG shooting apps, they’ll only fill the middle of the screen but you can expand them to a 2X view and they’ll then fill most of the screen real estate.

You could also choose to shoot using Lightroom Mobile, the iPad version shoots DNG natively.

As far as I know all of the dedicated iPad apps, Like ProCamera HD only shoot JPEG or sometimes TIFF. (Let me know if you have any alternative knowledge and I can update the blog.)

I have to say that in past I’ve had a good chuckle at people wandering around shooting with their iPads, it just looks so…. odd.  Frankly the 10.5 inch iPad Pro is a pretty cumbersome camera and no doubt the 12.9 inch is getting more than a tad ridiculous for the mobile photographer.

There are a couple of issues that show up in a practical sense, first, it’s difficult to control and hold the iPad at the same time, for example, setting focus points and exposure and holding it steady etc really seems to need about 3 hands! The iPad is large enough to catch the wind and unless you shoot in landscape mode it just feels uncomfortable, I imagine the 12.9 in version would feel even more precarious.  I’m sure you could get used to it but honestly, I just couldn’t relax when doing the “iPad out in the big wide world” test.

And then there’s the issue of actually carrying it around, sure it’s not heavy by any means but try as I might it wasn’t going to fit into any pockets I had.

But by far the biggest issue is that, well I just felt ridiculous, nobody else seemed fussed about it but I really couldn’t wait to get back to the car.

Testing DNG photo quality iPad pro 10.5in using TLC method
iPad Pro raw dynamic range is better than expected. In this case the image is a TLC – DNG and even in this downsized image it’s obvious that the photo possesses excellent textural information, the contrast range is very high as the inherently dark rock face is in deep shade, still it holds some solid detail and the breaking surf on the distant rocks still has full tonality.

So it was all bad then….no not at all, there’s lots of good stuff as well.

The screen is just amazing, even in the bright sunlight I could see pretty clearly what was going on and it was really obvious if the shot wasn’t in critical focus. For me however the really neat thing is the color and tonal rendering of the new iPad Pro screen, it’s far better than my iPhone 6S plus and shows no banding that I could see, looks like all that Apple bragging regarding the new screens was justified.

In the end, I couldn’t happily shoot outside with the iPad Pro, DNG or not, and I certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea of shooting with any of the JPEG only iPad versions in the great outdoors or probably anywhere else for that matter.

But it got me thinking, what if you needed to shoot indoors studio style stuff and you could mount the iPad to a tripod, ah well, then I think the iPad Pro might actually be a very useful tool.

As said, the screen is just brilliant and the size makes critical focus and exposure accuracy a cinch, you could work at a greater distance from the screen, and seeing such a large image definitely improves your ability to judge composition.  So yep this could be a killer indoor studio camera for people who need to shoot products etc but don’t want the complications of a regular camera set-up.

The real clincher, however, could be the easy interfacing with the amazing editing tools you can use on the iPad Pro.  Lightroom mobile just rocks on the iPad Pro but even better the new “Affinity Photo” for iPad Pro is utterly incredible, so in short, you have the possibility of a rather compelling workflow.

Ok enough of the basic iPad Pro stuff, what about the photo quality?

Well, the news is great, the DNG photo quality is excellent.

Kiama Blowhole park taken with iPad Pro using DNG, Test image.
iPad Pro DNG records excellent fine detail, this image is particularly telling. First, we have a square crop of the original 4:3 aspect ratio frame taken using TLC-DNG, you can take it from me the cropped off sections are just as detailed and clear.  The sky is nicely done and shows no banding, this image has not been corrected for vignetting so the corners are a little darker than the middle but that’s easily fixed if desired.
Kiama Blowhole Park 100% crop iPad pro DNG image quality test
Look at this 100% plus iPad DNG crop,  (note this is TLC -DNG so represents the ultimate possible image quality you could get from a single frame capture), have a look at that sign,  you can’t read it of course but it’s pretty obvious it has writing and icons on it, what’s even more impressive is that tonally the sign is very high up on the scale yet it holds full detail, it’s not even close to clipped….impressive indeed!

I must point out however that when I test, I always aim to see just how high the quality bar can be for a particular device, which means the DNG test frames are extracted in Iridient Developer using custom settings and in this case some of the frames were shot using TLC (buy my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” book if you want to know about TLC).

Long and short of it, my results should show the absolute potential of the camera with optimal technique.

Back to the test then, basically the 12 mp iSight module in the iPad Pro is a step up from the ones used in all of the iPhones prior to the 7 series models.

Specifically, tests indicate it produces DNG files that are sharper, have less noise, better color accuracy, less vignetting (when uncorrected) and virtually zero chromatic aberration.  In other words, it’s pretty much better in every measurable respect.

The custom processed DNG files show truly excellent levels of sharpness and impressively better highlight retention that the iPhone 6 series sensors offer, additionally I think the edge definition is improved but I would need to carry out more exhaustive tests to confirm this.

Kiama Blowhole Lighthouse iPad pro dng test procamera
iPad Pro DNG and near white tones? This TLC -DNG image has impressive near white tonality and I expect that a monochrome image captured this way with the iPad Pro would be excellent.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t feel I can see any significant improvement in shadow detail, but again I’d need to run some additional tests to confirm this.

Most people probably want to know about the noise, well I can say that when optimally exposed the native level of chrominance noise is much less obvious, in fact, I’d rate it a non-issue at the lowest ISO and the luminance noise is actually very fine-grained and film-like, so not at all unpleasant.

So to sum up, ultimately I feel confident after this quick test in saying the potential of the iPad Pro camera easily bests that of all the pre-iPhone 7 models and is by all fair measures rather excellent, provided you can keep the whole thing rock steady as there is no optical stabilization.

The JPEGs? Basically, I don’t really care but I expect they would be fine for non-critical purposes etc, if I get a rush of blood to head on a day of rare boredom I might run some tests on those, but please don’t hold your breath.

What I do promise, however, is that soon I will do an exhaustive ISO ramp up at my regular test site to see how this sensor compares to the previous gen iSight sensor, I expect it will do quite well.

 

Buy Ultimate iPhone DNG from the iBooks Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/ultimate-iphone-dng/id1274334884?ls=1&mt=11


About the Author iphonedngexpert

Brad is an accomplished photographer and trainer with 40 years of experience, he has taught photography to over ten thousand people over the past 15 years, developed a wide array of new shooting and editing methods, an early adopter and exponent of iphoneography and is regularly featured writer on an array of international photography sites.

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