Traveling With An iPad And A Camera: Batteries, Backups And Bags [Feature]

Traveling With An iPad And A Camera: Batteries, Backups And Bags [Feature]

iPhoto is fantastic, if a little insular.

I just got back from a week-long vacation. We were staying in Tel Aviv, Israel, which meant lots of walking and cycling (I took my Brompton), plus day trips. Which in turn meant traveling light.

The iPad is perfect traveling companion, and the iPad mini is even better. But if you want to take lots of photos with an actual camera, or – worse still – a camera that shoots huge RAW images, you need to plan ahead. And as I didn’t want to take a Mac with me, I needed a few tricks to help out.

This post isn’t about how I managed my photos on the trip (although I will mention that side of things a little in terms of the hardware I used). It’s about the gadgets and apps that help you work around the limitations of the iPad when you’re relying on it away from home.

First, a list of my gear:

Essential Gear
  • iPad Mini Wi-Fi 32GB
  • iPhone 5
  • Fujifilm X100+leather case
  • Garmin EDGE 500 GPS bike computer
  • 4x Batteries for the X100
  • Lightning camera connection kit
  • Ultra-light iPhone backup battery
  • 5w iPhone charger
  • 10w iPad charger (the big one meant for the Retina iPad)
  • Huge, bulky Fujifilm battery charger
  • Griffin stubby USB cables
Stuff I Totally Should Have Taken
Bring lots and lots of batteries. Photo Flickr/France 1978

Bring lots and lots of batteries. Photo Flickr/France 1978

Batteries

The battery is more important than anything else. If you don’t have juice, you can’t do anything. You can carry a charger with you wherever you go, or you could schlep a big 13,000mAh spare battery along with you. I was carrying everything in small canvas shoulder bag, though, so these were out.

The battery is more important than anything else. Without power, you can’t do anything

Better to save power when you can, and make sure you’re fully charged before you leave the house. This means charging everything overnight, and using an app like SystemStatus to check that your battery is actually fully charged (it keeps sucking juice for an hour or so after hitting 100% in the status bar). The iPad mini lasts ten hours or more on a charge, which is more than enough for a day, even if you spend a lot of that day catching up with the Kindle app. Unless you are streaming Netflix over 3G, then you’ll haver more than enough power. I did a fair amount of photo editing and reading and I could have gotten two days of use out of the iPad on a single charge.

If your’e carrying both an iPad and an iPhone, use the iPad for battery-intensive tasks like checking maps. I have a Wi-Fi-only iPad mini so maps weren’t that useful, but if you have an iPad with GPS (plus an offline map app like Forever Maps) then you should use it. Not only is a map way easier to read on an iPad’s bigger screen, but the iPad’s battery is a lot stronger.

Charging

I took an iPad charger and an iPhone charger with me. The iPhone charger is small enough to carry if you’re going to be away from your home base for few days, and also – so I’m told – better for the batteries in your devices as it charges them more gently. But both the iPhone and the iPad mini will charge a lot faster if you use the big 10w or 12w charger designed for the big iPad. I used this charger when I was “home” for an hour or two and wanted a quick top up.

Battery saving tips:

  • Avoid GPS tracking apps
  • Don’t read books in bright sunlight — go to a bar or cafe
  • Switch off auto-brightness
  • Switch off Bluetooth
  • Set the auto screen lock to the minimum time

The iPhone charger also comes in handy for charging other gadgets, like the Jambox speaker and the Garmin GPS.

You’ll also want to pack a two or three-way power splitter. I didn’t, so I was constantly charging things in the bathroom or wherever I could find a socket. A socket doubler would have added minimal bulk to my luggage and been very useful.

GPS

Traveling With An iPad And A Camera: Batteries, Backups And Bags [Feature]

Any GPS dongle will do, but try to pick one that doesn’t force you install desktop software just to copy the files.

My camera doesn’t do GPS, but I love to know where I took a picture, especially on vacation. The quick answer to this is to use the iPhone to track my daily meanderings and add the resulting GPX track to my photos later. This is a great idea, but GPS kills the iPhone’s battery fast, meaning you need to carry a bulky external battery.

A GPS dongle will track your daily meanderings for photo-tagging and map-making purposes

So I took my Garmin EDGE 500 along instead. It was handy when I rode my bike, but I mainly just switched it on in the morning, tossed it into my bag and left it there until the end of the day. The battery will last for a full day (18 hours is the estimate), and you can pull the GPS info out and apply it to your pictures, or view your wanderings on a map.

The problem here is that you need a computer to pull the data off the EDGE 500, and you need to either install Garmin’s driver software on that Mac, or use an app like Trailrunner. My host had a Mac, but I wan’t going to ask if I could install software on it, so I just waited until I got home and added the GPS tags to my photos using Lightroom.

Kindle

If you have one, I strongly recommend taking your Kindle with you on vacation. First, it’s less conspicuous if you decide to read in a bar at night. Second, you won’t have to search out a shady corner just to be able to read a novel for an hour to so. And third, its battery will last you for your whole vacation without a single charge.

The Kindle can take the place of a backup battery.

But you knew that. What the Kindle also does is take the place of a backup iPad battery. No, it won’t charge the iPad, but it’ll save you a good 10% per hour of iPad battery use. It also weighs less than a bulky battery pack, making it a smart addition to your day bag.

So there we have it. Instead of carrying a bulky battery pack, just carry a couple of lightweight gadgets which mean you don’t need to use it as much. Hell – with a paper map and an iPhone, you mightn’t even need to take the iPad out for the day.

Photos

The X100S is an amazing travel camera, it turns out. Light enough to carry all day, small enough to be unobtrusive even in quiet places, and almost completely silent in use. It also takes amazing photos.

Traveling With An iPad And A Camera: Batteries, Backups And Bags [Feature]

Best. Camera. Ever.

The trouble? If you shoot RAW, those photos are around 45-60MB each. I stocked up on SD cards (8GB SanDisk Extreme Pro), but I also wanted to view and edit the day’s shoot on my little iPad each evening.

Thanks – presumably – to Fujifilm’s film heritage, the X-series cameras produce amazing in-camera JPGs. The straight color pictures are fantastic already, but if you add in the custom settings which let you emulate the look of various classic Fuji films, along with color filters for your B&W pictures and the ability to set custom values for many aspects of the conversion to JPG then you soon realize you have a camera that can be used JPG-only.

JPG-Only

It sounds sacrilegious to shoot JPG when you could have RAW files, but Fuji’s JPGs are better than the results I get in Lightroom.

It sounds sacrilegious to shoot JPG when you could have “better” RAW files, but even though I love to tweak pictures in Lightroom, this part of the photo “workflow” is too time consuming. And to be honest, Fuji’s JPGs are often better than the results I get in Lightroom anyway. I also liked the restrictions. You need to get white balance, exposure and the like dead on in camera, as JPGs don’t stand up to post-processing like RAW. So I made this into a virtue. Instead of spraying off a bunch of images to give me something to “fix in post,” I took my time. I switched off picture reviews, and made sure that everything was right before pressing the shutter. I even used manual focus for around 30% of shots, and manual exposure for a few, too. The resulting JPGs are around 3-5MB. I didn’t even fill up one of my 8GB SD cards.

Traveling With An iPad And A Camera: Batteries, Backups And Bags [Feature]

iPhoto is pretty good for editing and sharing.

It was like shooting film, only without all the bad parts. I even waited until I had transferred the picture to the iPad before looking at them. Do you remember what it was like to wait for days to get your film shots back after a vacation? You got to enjoy the moments all over again. Forcing myself to wait recaptured some of that anticipation.

Each day I would import all pictures, and immediately add them to a folder made for the trip (named “Tel Aviv”). Then I’d switch to iPhoto for viewing and quick touch-ups. I used Snapseed for some pictures, and used the photos app to add the results to my Tel Aviv folder.

I would have geotagged them on the iPad, too, and made an iPhoto journal to share the best pictures, but as you saw above my GPS tracks were locked up in the Garmin. In truth, the whole process was a little annoying, with too much manual juggling of pictures even for a nerd like me. I actually have a prototype method involving Dropbox which I’m currently working on. I’ll write that up if y’all want me to.

Backups

After importing an SD card’s contents, it went back into the camera. This was backup number one: I brought 4x8GB of fast cards, plus some bigger, slower cards for emergencies, and planned from the start to fill a card and keep it.

Back up two was iCloud. From what I can tell, the “Camera Roll” backup part of iCloud actually backs up all of your photos, events and albums. Photo Stream, on the other hand, only “backs up” photos in the actual Camera Roll. This is probably a good thing as it doesn’t try to stream all of your imported photos right away, giving you time to cull the crap and save the keepers out to the Camera Roll.

A third option would be Dropbox. There are several apps, including the excellent PhotoSync which can bulk upload to Dropbox from any folder on your iPad (the Dropbox app’s Camera Upload feature only draws from your Camera Roll).

Back Home

When you get back home, you have a few options. You can import your SD cards straight into Lightroom, aperture or whatever. Or you could save all the keepers from iPhoto on the iPad to your iPad’s Camera Roll and let Photo Stream take care of it. Or you could use iPhoto (on the iPad) to share all your photos via iTunes and grab them from there.

It really depends on your final destination. Just remember a few things. If you export from iPhoto on the iPad, then you’ll lose some of the metadata that is embedded by the camera. In the case of the X100S, this is information like the position of the focus point, or the film emulation mode used. This may or may not be important to you. Also, iPhoto will downsize any edited JPGs over (the last time I checked) 24 megapixels. That’s worth knowing. Anything smaller, or anything unedited, or anything in RAW is untouched.

Conclusion

It’s perfectly feasible to travel with a camera and an iPad, even for fairly high-end work. If you shoot RAW, then the setup will be a little different (you might want to delete most of the days shoot from your iPad after reviewing the images, and bring a huge pile of memory cards). Likewise, your iOS devices are excellent companions for a vacation. Unlike a business trip, where you’re constantly using the internet and maybe even making phone calls (people still do that, they tell me), you’re likely to spend a lot of the day with your iPhone and iPad still in your bag or pocket.

Add in a couple of well-chosen accessories, and take care of keeping things charged and you’re golden. And best of all, you can spend the plane trip home putting together a killer slideshow, ready to bore your friends and family as soon as you arrive.

Related
  • henrymaxm

    Israel :)

  • raneka

    Great Post!!!!!!!! Check out this video of the Limeade L130X.. Its a solid external battery.

    http://youtu.be/536bpO7lHI0

About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

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