As a hiking photographer, there are some great advantages to having a portable, photo editing tool. With the upcoming release of iPadOS, the iPad may, for the first time, become a tool that serious photographers can use as a significant part of their workflow. Features such as external drive support and direct import of files and media combined with the power hardware and USB-C connector on the new iPad Pros, offer a strong platform for photo editing, if 3rd party photo management software can catch up.

I recently upgraded to the new iPad Pro in anticipation of this software release. (I am, in fact, now participating in the iPadOS Public Beta, which I do not recommend for the light-hearted, I have already submitted ten different bugs, and I’ve had to force shut down my iPad a few times due to it locking up.) When I was making this decision, I struggled a lot with which iPad to get. And still I see posts on Reddit with others facing that same challenging dilemma. So after typing up the reasoning behind my decision half a dozen times on Reddit, I decided to write a blog article I could just refer folks to in the future.

Background

Let me begin by saying that I am lucky enough to be able to have both a 13″ MacBook Pro and an iPad. This was an important factor in my decision, as I did not need a do everything device. I get to choose what to use for what situations. There are a lot of time where I’m on my MacBook plugged into large screens (a 3440 x 1440 at work or my two 2560 x 1440s at home), for more complex work.

It’s also important to note that I am always with my iPad. I am more likely to have my iPad nearby than my phone, and far more likely to reach for my iPad than my phone. I often have it in hand walking around the office (it is my note-taking device, has all my documents, etc.). It is almost always in my everyday carry whenever I am out and about. I use it standing up, sitting on a couch, at a desk, you name it. I’ve responded to many a Reddit post with thorough and thoughtful answers while lying in bed, holding my iPad above my head, and typing out responses.

The 12.9 inch iPad Pro

I got the 12.9 at first. The new 2018 models had a much smaller form factor. Holding it in store, it really didn’t feel all that much bigger to hold, but the screen real estate was gorgeous. I was taken by being able to have two full screen apps side by side. By being able to write and sketch on a nearly full page screen (approaching your standard Letter-sized paper). When you sat down with it, the screen was immersive. I was pulled in to it. And for half my use cases (sitting at a desk or on a couch) it worked just fine. It was not hard to hold up when I could rest one edge on my lap. It did get a bit awkward trying to maneuver it around kitties jumping onto my lap, but small, price, right? Even just reading from it standing up, I’d lay it on one arm, the other hand holding it in position.

And the advantages… it allowed for a truly full-sized, natural feeling keyboard. And multitasking became much more realistic. I wasn’t fighting to see what I needed to with two apps side by side. Even pulling in a slide over when necessary. Oh, and watching movies and TV shows. I will admit to doing this more than I probably should. But the 12.9 inch screen felt like the perfect size for sitting at lunch and watching a show. I will note that although the larger screen was nice with Lightroom, I didn’t notice much of a difference here. It wasn’t bigger enough that Adobe could really use the space much differently, so in the end it just gave you more screen to see the image. Nice, but I found it not much better than it had been on the smaller iPads.

It was also interesting to have a screen about the same size as my laptop. Imagining using it as a second screen while on the go was quite exciting. Although I have rarely used that feature, finding even then, I’d rather wait to get to my office at home or work for some real screen real estate.

My Ona Prince Street on a table next to my iPad ProBut when bringing it with me, it required a bigger bag. My small Ona Prince Street wouldn’t cut it anymore, certainly not when adding a protective case. Holding it did take more muscle strain. And if you wanted to do any work on it while standing or laying in bed (typing, photo editing, anything more than browsing) it started to leave my wrists sore. And when adding the folio case plus bumper protection (I’m a klutz and remember, I carry this everywhere), it ended up being as heavy and bulky as my MacBook Pro.

And remember, when I needed big screens, even 12.9 seemed small. I had my MacBook and external monitors for large, multi-tasking work. What I was looking for was something lighter than my MacBook that could be my lightweight on the go computing device. If I had been getting rid of my laptop, I might have been less inclined to leave the 12.9 inch iPad. But, portability was critical to me, and so I went online and ordered an 11-inch.

The 11 inch iPad Pro

iPad Pro sitting on the arm of living room chairWhen the 11 inch arrived, I was still struggling with this decision. I hesitate a moment before cracking the new iPad open. Now I had both devices in hand, next to each other. Pretty quickly I felt relief at the 11-inch form factor. This familiar size with incrementally larger screen was what I’d been carrying around with me since the iPad first came out (minus a small stint with an iPad mini). Although I loved the larger screen, I immediately appreciated the smaller form factor. It felt more comfortable sitting on the couch with it. It was easier for me to pick up and bring with me. And ultimately, this is what I wanted. Something that did not feel like a burden to carry around. I did not want something I was tempted to leave behind when I wanted to go lighter weight. I’ve even been known, on some occasions, to bring the iPad Pro on backpacking trips and use it as a photo editor mid-trip.

I grabbed a slim case that was compatible with the keyboard folio, And I had a perfect little package. Did I miss the large screen at times? Yes. Enough to activate buyer’s remorse? Not in the slightest. I knew this was the form factor for me.

Summary

Ultimately, which iPad is right for you is a tough decision. I think you’ll be happy either way, but knowing what is more important to you is critical in making this decision.

11 inch 12.9 inch
Pros
  • Lightweight and small form factor
  • Less strain when holding it up and using it
  • Big beautiful screen for multitasking and immersive media consumption
  • Comfortable, full sized keyboard
Cons
  • Less screen for multitasking
  • Cramped keyboard
  • Causes muscle strain when trying to type on it while holding it up
  • Heavy and bulky, about the size and weight of a MacBook when cases are added

In the end, there were things I loved about each, so why did I choose the 11 inch?

  • I wanted something that I’d never want to leave behind to go light.
  • I type a lot while holding it, which is much harder on the 12.9 inch.
  • It felt more comfortable to pick up and walk around with.

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