iPad vs iPhone vs Macbook Pro

iPad Image
The Apple iPad

I’ve been a very lucky chap this Christmas, and after months of saying I don’t need one, I was given an iPad (32Gb WiFi only) ! What a brilliant gift to get, but I was a little sceptical about how useful it would be. After all, I have a decent Mac laptop, and I have long had an iPhone, so what could I possibly need an ‘inbetweener’ device like an iPad for?

It turns out that since opening it on the 25th, I haven’t actually put it down, which tells me something must be quite good.

First up, battery life. The iPhone is notorious for the need to re-charge every day, often before the whole day has finished. The thing is, using the phone as much as I do for work, it soon runs low – calls, emails, occasional browsing and the odd gam or two whilst on a train all take their toll. The device just doesn’t have the level of power I need. The Macbook, on the other hand, is amply blessed with power – running for about 4-5 hours between charges. Simply put, it’s not enough for a whole day on battery alone, and needs a charge at least once during the day. Now, the macbook is in use constantly, all day, every day whilst at work. It gets used for high level activities such as film editing, 3D design, DVD authoring and so on, as well as email, web browsing, presentations and such like. All in all it is the workhorse of the work place. The iPad has been charged once since I got it – it runs about 8-10 hours before needing more power, and this is pretty significant.

Screen size – as I get a little longer in the tooth, so I find things harder to read without adequate light, and distance. The iPhone is just about bearable, but I more often than not turn it to landscape and enlarge the images (especially web pages) just to be able to read things. So I need glasses… but not when I use the Macbook Pro – everything is dandy there. Lovely screen, everything perfectly sized for me. The iPad is also pretty well sized, and what I need to enlarge on the iPhone I don’t on the iPad. The screen is gorgeous.

Apps are available for iPhone and iPad – many simply transfer with no problems from phone to pad. Some do still run at the same size as the phone when on the iPad, but there is a handy ‘2x’ button to enlarge the display. This is used more frequently than you can imagine. The Facebook app, for example, is not yet able to run natively at full size on an iPad. Others, such as the Twitter app are fine, and the BBC News app is simply brilliant on the iPad. It’s OK on the iPhone, but crashes from time to time.

Other apps, like those I use regularly on the macBook Pro are there too – ‘Keynote’ for presentations, ‘Numbers’ for spreadsheets and ‘Pages’ for word processing. They are pretty fully featured copies of the software for a fraction of the price of the main application, and well worth buying.

One or two things in the apps annoy me. When typing I find it very very easy to hit a command button, often located along the top edge of the keyboard layout area, which does me no good. More than once I’ve been typing a blog post to see it all disappear in an instant! Frustratingly, it is more my fault than the software, but I wish these sorts of buttons weren’t put so close to the typing area!

Now the bigger issue – connectivity. With just the wifi version I don’t have a simple way of connecting to the internet when out of range of a wifi hotspot. My phone has a 3G signal, and I have a 3G dongle for the macbook. the iPad without a 3G connection may prove to be infuriating, although I have a plan.

The iPad has no USB port (what?? I can’t quite understand why…) and so no way of attaching a broadband dongle. The Macbook has two USB ports, of course and so no such limitations exist. However, the broadband dongle is a pay as you go device, with 12Gb data to use over a 12 month period. That time is nearly up, so a new dongle will be needed. Rather than buy a straight replacement, I think a ‘MiFi’ device will be needed! These superb little gadgets connect to the internet using 3G as usual, but they act as a wireless hotspot as well, allowing up to five nearby devices to share the connection they make. Genius. With a strong password it should be fine to use in a public place, I think… I’ll let you know when I get one and try it out!

Smaller irritations include the fact there is no simple ‘video out’ – to do this I need to buy an adaptor which plugs in to the dock connector and converts to VGA. I would think it a considerable improvement to add this to the box with the iPad, but no, it’ll cost a further £20 to have this ability.

Finally, no cameras. Is this a disadvantage? personally, I think not. Whilst it would be nice to have the occasional video chat through an application like AIM, I am not distraught at not being able to. I have lots of other ways to take photos, after all, and if I need to video chat with folk I think I’d prefer to do so on the ‘workhorse’, not the iPad. As for connecting cameras to the iPad, or just connecting a memory card, or even a USB device to transfer images, this is a bigger cause of complaint. The iPad boasts the ability to display images like a digital photo frame. Wonderful. However, getting images onto the iPad is a bit of a performance, requiring iTunes to achieve it. How much simpler it would be to just insert an SD card, or a USB hard drive to transfer files directly.

In conclusion, the iPad is a superb piece of kit. I have been astonished at how often I use it when I was convinced there was no place for it in the line up of tools at my disposal. I can see now that it forges it’s own niche very easily, and is simply brilliant at doing the simple things that an iPhone makes tricky. In terms of processing power there is more than enough there, but I wouldn’t use it to edit video – it’s best placed for lightweight work -the occasional presentation, word processing or spreadsheet work, but ultimately it is brilliant at displaying web pages better than an iPhone ever will be. And better than getting the laptop out too – far less intrusive, lighter in weight and pretty well capable of doing most common tasks.

But by far the biggest advantage over either phone or laptop is the battery life. It is outrageously good at staying on! With the ability to run for 8 hours easily, it more than compensates for any shortcomings it may have.

Oh, and did I say it looks pretty snazzy too?

The iPad then is a rather good device. It is slightly overpriced (most Apple gadgets are, though) and has some features missing that you’d expect to be there. However, it is a very good device, and one which I am surprised to say I didn’t know I needed until I had one for about two hours. From then on it was obvious that I needed it!

Scott Kelby, Digital Photography

Whilst browsing in Waterstones this weekend I was pleased to find another volume from Scott Kelby. I have bought both of the earlier books, all entitled ‘The Digital Photography Book’ and have to say I’ve learned heaps from them. The style of writing is so easy to read and the tips and information priceless for those, like me, eager to know more about how to take better images.

This book, volume 3, leads on from the earlier versions and spends a good deal of time going over studio work, flash and lighting, portraiture, product shots and lenses. If you think you know all about these things, think again. Scott doesn’t go into deep theory about any of it, but gives practical hints and tips on how to achieve consistently good results. The emphasis is on giving simple information, much the same as you might get if you were right next to him on a shoot.

I think I have got so much more to learn, and am pleased to find books like this that take me on another small step. Much of what the book tells you is actually obvious the moment after you read it – I had a lot of  moments where I smiled to myself and said ‘so that’s how…’

Throughout the book are useful tips and links to online resources, and I found myself downloading things I wouldn’t normally have looked at, including updating the firmware on my trusty D200. I also spent a few hours with the camera just going back through the settings and finding ways to get better quality out of the shots I take. I would think that had I not read the book, I wouldn’t have bothered! I even found myself playing with HDR (High Dynamic Range) images, taking five bracketed shots and using Photoshop to set up the HDR stuff. OK, so I wasn’t on a shoot, and was playing around in my garden, knowing full well the light wasn’t right, but it was a chance just to test out the process. It worked as Scott said it would, and I feel more confident about working with HDR as a result.

I even got out my SB800 flash unit and re-read the user manual. Boy… that’s not much fun in there! However, I found ways to get it working that I hadn’t tried before, and whilst I am far from confident with flash units, I found I enjoyed trying things out. It was a bright sunny day, and I had a perfect chance to take dozens of images to test out things like fill in light, remote triggering and manual control of the unit.

So, thanks again Scott – volumes one and two are perfectly complemented by volume 3. What I need now is a trip to the US to sit in on a seminar, or for you to visit the UK and run some sessions over here!

provisiondirect, buy video camera, camcorder purchase

Today I was caught up with the need to buy a decent camcorder and a few accessories. In the past we have used Sony HVR-Z1 cameras (the same used on the BBC Blast tour) which are well featured and durable, and produce great shots for video work. Sadly, they are now discontinued, and although there is a strong second-hand market for them, it is sometimes better to upgrade.

So up steps the Sony HVR-Z5. Almost identical, but with better optics, more considered ergonomics and additional settings in almost every feature it is a direct replacement and all of the Z1 accessories will still fit. This looked like the right piece of kit, but who to buy from? With almost every site in a google search for camcorders returning some price comparison or review site it is easy to find these things reasonably cheap (OK – £2,500 isn’t cheap, exactly). The thing is, they are mostly offered for sale with the standard one year warranty, and I had hoped for slightly more.

As usual, for all things video we call a select list of suppliers. Today we were delighted with the service from Jeremy at provisiondirect.co.uk. This company has an enviable reputation for great value and excellent product range. We have recommended them to clients looking to purchase kit, and indeed we have made one or two modest purchases there ourselves. Today was the day for buying again!

Jeremy is one of the most knowledgeable and friendly folk when it comes to pro and prosumer video gear. He is often very busy, but when you do get him, he finds the most brilliant pieces of kit for you, and tells you exactly ‘how it is’ with everything. After talking to Jeremy today I was satisfied that they still provide one of the best routes to buying kit, and the value he gives is second to none. So it was that we bought a Z5 with 2 year warranty at probably the most competitive price available. Not content with that Jeremy also added a few extras for us, which was brilliant… unexpected and not asked for. That’s the kind of person you are dealing with – full of information and very willing to help.

It is with great pleasure that I recommend to anyone looking to purchase a decent video camera, lighting, accessories, sound equipment, anything related to video, really provisiondirect.co.uk.

BBC Essex News Imagery

So the UK is in a big freezer compartment right now, and everywhere is pretty much covered with various levels of snow. As usual, the entire country grinds to a halt, when other countries, more regularly doused in the white stuff, seem to cope admirably well. I guess we’re just not used to inclement weather here in this maritime climate.

All the more fun then when I found an entire road almost abandoned and had the presence of mind to stand and admire the scenery with my trusty Panasonic Lumix camera. In truth, this sign is but yards from my front door – well, I couldn’t go out very far… it was snowing, y’know.

A quick snap later, and I thought I’d send it off to the BBC picture galleries. I was pleasantly surprised to learn shortly after that the picture was to be used as a main leader on the BBC Essex news website. It clearly made others chuckle as well as me, then.

January 2010 was chilly - welcome to Essex
January 2010 was chilly - welcome to Essex

And as it appeared on the BBC Essex News website:

Welcome to Essex, as seen online
Welcome to Essex, as seen online

Access iPhone Backup, recover files from iPhone backup

output from python fileIt was bound to happen sooner or later. I took a photo with my phone and used the image as the wallpaper for when the phone is locked. However, I completely overlooked this when I deleted the original image from the camera roll. This meant I had an image in place but no way of accessing it, and I quite liked the image!

It turns out that when you connect your iPhone to your Mac and iTunes starts, it runs a backup and places some files in your ‘~Library/Applications Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. The problem is that they are SQLLite files and not easily readable in any simple way. This is where I turn to the Apple community, particularly the discussions, and ask for help. Here is the post I made.

I was so pleased with the response – almost immediate and ultimately one of the most helpful. It appears there is a Python script able to open those files and restore the folder structure from the innards of your phone. The thread answers the questions most folk will have, but I thought I’d post here too.

What you need to do is copy the backup folder and all it’s contents to an easily accessible place – I chose a new folder on my desktop. Copy the Python script into the same folder. You then need to change the permissions on that script to ensure that it is executable. You should do this through the terminal, which means you’ll probably need to use ‘sudo’ and ‘chown’ to set the values correctly. Once you have done this you can run the script. You do this by typing ‘sudo’, then the complete path to the script, a forward slash, then the complete path to the folder (you can simply drag the items into the terminal window to do this and the paths will be filled in automatically for you). Finish with a forward slash and then ‘*.mdbackup’.

What this will do is reconstruct the entire iPhone folder structure inside the place you have got the python script and backup folder. Once done you can then set the permissions for the resulting foder and copy to all items inside… you can then access and manipulate the files.

This was, in fact, ludicrously easy – I had help from a former colleague who is something of a star with this stuff, but if you know a few basic commands in the terminal you should be OK.

I’ve also uploaded the Python script for you all to download from here in case it goes offline elsewhere. The original is HERE. The one I used (and changed ownership on) is HERE.