So I recently went on a trip to the Northlands in New Zealand, around the Whagarei region which is about a two hour drive north of Auckland. Auckland is its own entertaining adventure in sprawl, so “2 hours” is sort of from city centre, but also sort of not.
But I digress.
So we went on this vacation, and as a photographer I’m always hauling a backpack full of Kit around, lenses and cameras and my tripod and a remote trigger and and and and it’s a lot of very heavy stuff to just have with you! Especially when, a lot of the time, I don’t end up using it.
For this trip, I wanted to try something different, to see what I could pull off with the fewest things possible, with the aim of determining how dissatisfied I’d be with the camera and lens I’d chosen and the processes available to me.
My everyday camera is a fairly normal DSLR, with a fairly normal size and weight profile that’s somewhat exacerbated by my habit of using glass-and-metal lenses that are several decades old.
Instead, I took a Panasonic Lumix GX1, a 14-42mm pancake lens, the 25mm ƒ1.4 lens, my iPhone 6S (with MicroSD adaptor), and my tripod (in checked luggage). And that’s it.
And the question from there being, can I get the photos I want, edit them, and share them in ways that make me happy?
In short, the answer is ”no”, but as with all of these things the full answer is far more nuanced.
Weight, Size, and Quality.
As far as mass and density goes, this setup was extremely great. I can fit the GX1 and the pancake into the pocket on my hoodie, the iPhone naturally fits wherever, and the 25mm lens can, somewhat grumpily, sit normally in my purse.
Compared to the sheer volume of stuff I carry for my DSLR, this was amazing. I normally use a cross-body strap for my camera, and the GX1 is lightweight enough that I don’t feel it. The 25mm fits in my bag with ease, and I don’t feel it.
I didn’t carry the tripod with me on outings, reserving that for long exposures near where we were staying.
What I found was that for the most part I rarely shifted off the pancake lens, its focal range generally being what I wanted, going wide enough for lovely work in forests, and long enough for some interesting close-up work.
For night shots, the 25mm was indispensable, being fast enough for good low-light photography.
The GX1 takes full RAW photos, so I was able to get the quality of images I’m used to from my DSLR. Not as good, because it’s a much smaller sensor, but more than good enough for my happiness.
I was also surprised at how much I used my iPhone. The 12MP sensor and good optical performance made for some shots I was very happy with. That they’re in JPEG and the sensor is minuscule compared to the GX1 does mean the quality is markedly lower. However, I’m often surprised at the extent to which good edits are possible on JPEG images in Lightroom, leaving my concerns more minimal.
The Process, or, The Meat of Things
The goal of this trip was also to test whether or not iOS was ”good enough” for being the sole point of travel editing and sharing. Modern iOS is geared around sharing, from first-party actions to share to Facebook and Twitter to a share system that allows for relatively straightforward uploading to your alternative Sharing System Of Choice.
This gives me a good “photos into the world” part of the process.
What about the other components, the saving and the editing? Well, with the MicroSD adaptor, it’s easy to dump my SD card to my iPhone for review and edits. Photos supports RAW directly, so the photos are Just There and trivial to look at and enjoy. Other apps are intended to link in to Photos and provide an editing ||intent|| share action, allowing for customisation and expansion.
Photos on iOS is good but on OSX it’s a travesty, a pale and sad shadow of how good Aperture once was, and the result of that is I want to use Lightroom, and Adobe makes Lightroom for iOS, as well as a smattering of Photoshop-branded editing enhancements.
This should mean Problem Solved, right? Import, edit, and allow Adobe’s sync magic to, well, sync magic?
Adobe, in typical Adobe style have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, in a variety of ways. First up is that Lightroom can’t read RAW files. That’s right, the entire purpose of Lightroom, to be organisation and RAW processing for photos, cannot be done on iOS.
Lightroom allows you to import files from the Camera Roll on iOS. iOS allowed me to import RAW files from my camera. Lightroom could not read those files, they just didn’t show up, leaving curiously empty folders still visible within Lightroom when I tried to import.
In order to get a photo into Lightroom, I had to:
- Import the photo into one of the Photoshop for iOS apps
- Do some base processing on the RAW file
- Save it back to the Camera Roll as a JPEG
- Import it into Lightroom
Photos and iOS were smart enough to treat the JPEG as descended from the RAW file, and Photoshop was able to re-process from that RAW file as desired.
I don’t even.
Second, Photoshop Express can’t import from Lightroom. Photoshop Fix can, though? So I don’t know what’s going on here.
Third, Lightroom can’t import from your Creative Cloud library or Dropbox, only the Camera Roll. Not that I have one, because why would I use that when I can use Dropbox, but I can’t import from Dropbox! Photoshop Express and Fix can both import from CCL and Dropbox, of course.
There’s also the weirdness around Lightroom and PS Express having different sets of editing tools, meaning it would make sense to go back and forth (or starting over a few times in LR) to get an edit that one likes.
Overall, this makes the process extremely clunky, difficult to work with, and unsatisfying. I was able to share 20 photos that I really enjoyed from the trip, so the process, while crippling, wasn’t a full impediment.
In the future, I want to keep with this “extremely lightweight” mode of enjoying my vacations and travel photography. It’s nice to not carry a full laptop around, nor a backpack full of heavy glass and aluminum. It’s nice to have that single camera and a couple of lenses and just be okay with just that.
An iPad Pro would have fit brilliantly into this. It’s extremely light, with a best in class screen and excellent third-party support, but the lack of competent support from Adobe is crushing, and I’d end up fighting the tools more than I would enjoying sharing what I’ve done. As a result, I’m extremely hesitant to invest in this path.
For right now, it seems that the better tool for a lightweight travel editing solution is a Surface Pro or a Macbook, since they can run the real versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.