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Mobile systems and the photographer. Maybe one of the biggest deals in digital photography. The camera on a phone probably being one the most. But that’s just on the surface.

The Phone

Being a techie, I’ve been there with cell phones since day one. Almost. There are those special, enormous phones that you see Richard Gere using in Pretty Woman but they date back even further than that. Check out “Sabrina” with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn. Humphrey is a businessman back in the early 50s and is using a phone in his limousine. But these phones were radio-based instead of cellular. Still radio waves but the specific technology is different.

The First Camera Phone: The Kyocera VP-210 in 1999. Image: Science Museum Group

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I saw a late night talk show where movie characters from Back to the Future appeared: Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Doc Brown was talking about how the cell phone is a super-computer and all the amazing things we must be able to do with it. The host said “We take selfies!”. Doc Brown was so disappointed. It was hilarious!

The first thing I did with my cell phone was connect it to a computer/laptop with a cable. It was amazing when I could do it with a Bluetooth connection. Just that part took years to get to! Then using a Bluetooth keyboard to input text into a simple app. Then using a separate app to sync your information to your laptop. What a hassle it was to get anything done!

While this section pertains to most cell phones win the last 10 – 15 years, I’m going to talk about my switch from an iPhone 5 to 11. Which really was nothing short of a revelation.

Apple iPhone 11 in Red. My Baby! Image: 9to5Mac.com

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I know I don’t do as much as I can with my phone. But I know I do much more than the average person. I mean, how many people have Microsoft Word and Excel loaded on it? I have the mobile version of Lightroom. I can completely process a customer’s order with all the legal documents and billing via my phone. I can remotely access my data on my NAS with it. Haven’t tested, but I think I can also backup an SD card from my camera onto the phone.

Oh yes. I can use the phone for Internet access for my computer. Or heck, with a large enough screen, why do I need my laptop? Well, for apps. But you get what I mean. Heck, I have 256GB of storage on the phone and just to put that in perspective: that’s about half the amount of storage of data I had on my 2013 15” MacBook Pro. Yes, that’s a lot of space.

And the camera in the new iPhones is nothing short of spectacular. Because the phone uses a lot of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for photos, you can see some of that artificial in the photo. But that’s only in photos with a huge range in colors and if you really inspect the photo. On a simple inspection, the quality is perfectly fine.

If you’re a professional, get the best phone you can afford. Just about any iPhone or Android-based phones are more than capable for getting work done for both photography and the business of it. They each have their pros and cons. The usefulness of the iPhone far exceeds that of Android though. Constant software updates from Apple for at least 5 years. In my experience, once you get past the first year with Android, you’re on your own.

Casual Image with my iPhone 11. Pretty darn good! Image: Ricardo Gomez

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Tablets are just insane these days. My first tablet, which came out a good 5 years from the first generation ever, had a full version of Microsoft Windows and a physical hard drive. It actually worked reasonably well. But it got hot if I used it like a real computer and after a while, it would only run on a fully charged battery for about 45 minutes. I just had to keep the AC adapter with me all the time. Still a bunch smaller than a regular computer. But it was a hassle.

The Windows XP Tablet. Image: TigerDirect.com

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See what we have these days? 20 years later?

The newest 2021 iPad Pro just came out and is using the new M1 CPU that is being used in the Mac mini, 13” MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. A real desktop CPU in a tablet! I heard it’s going to be de-tuned a little to make sure battery life is where it should be. But performance will still be better than any Intel-based laptop. Any.

Think about that.

For the most part, iPads are basically extra-large iPhones. They run the same operating system that the phones run. A few apps take advantage of the iPad screen especially where drawing apps are concerned. But that’s the biggest problem with tablets. Apps. Specifically, the apps that take advantage of all that tremendous power.

But my theory is that Apple is going to do a massive upgrade with iOS for iPad this year. It has to. I mean, why make the iPad so damn powerful if the apps can’t do anything with it? I also thought I read something on Twitter about some new developments on the mobile platform a few weeks ago? Coincidence?

2021 Apple 12.9" iPad Pro with Keyboard. Image: Apple

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I chatted with the Capture One folks about a year ago at a meet and greet at Phase One in New York. I spoke to them about the benefits a tablet can have for Capture One. Some people would say: Why have Capture One on a tablet?

As powerful as a tablet is right now, why shouldn’t it be? The great advantage to having something like Capture One on a tablet is: you wouldn’t need to bring a tablet to do the retouching and other functionality. You would do it directly on the tablet screen. It may not seem like a big deal. But it’s that much less gear and that much more productivity.

But this is a HUGE ‘if’. I bought the first iPad Pro 5 years ago with the promise from Adobe that Lightroom and Photoshop was “right around the corner”. Well, they exist. In name. But their usability is pretty much useless. Lightroom is possibly the best photo-editing app for iOS. But that’s not saying much.

For me, there isn’t much reason to get a new tablet. The only reason for me to use a tablet right now is largely games or to would like to have a larger screen than my phone provides. But really, my iPad largely stays home.

Mobile Storage

Here’s another area where technology is nothing short of stunning. The speed and capacity of external drives at completely reasonable prices is fantastic. An especially cool feature is when mobile storage has wireless connectivity so you can access or stream data.

My only issue is you have to decide whether getting an external drive is worthwhile or using that money to increase the storage in your laptop or mobile device. Though, you can’t share data as easily when the data is inside the computer. With a battery powered external drive that has wireless access for multiple users, that can be a huge advantage. But speed isn’t going to be great since they typically use standard hard drives.

Unless you really need to share data or can’t use a cable to connect to it, not much point in using one of these systems.

Here’s something quite interesting: mobile NAS. Sort of.

Mobile NAS

I was curious and just did a quick Google search. QNAP makes a tiny NAS that uses 2 M.2 SSD slots and 2 3.5” SATA connections for storage. It even has a 10Gbe ethernet port! This thing is tiny! It has almost the exact dimensions of my 9.7” iPad Pro and being about an inch thicker. And the kicker: no fan. There is another version where it uses 4 M.2 SSD slots and has a tiny fan. It’s supposedly very quiet.

I thought about why someone would buy this tiny NAS. It’s quite powerful and expandable. But it’s a bit pricey. The version with the SATA connections is $619 and the M.2 SSD-only version is $735. Let’s put that into perspective. I bought my QNAP 8-bay TS-873 NAS for $799.

QNAP HS-453DX. Image: AnAndTech.com

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My thought is this: remote NAS synchronization.

Let’s say I’m working remotely for the weekend or longer. I’m doing lots of photography and need to upload the data to my NAS or external drive. What I could do is setup this Mobile NAS (which requires to be plugged in) to synchronize any data I put on it with my main NAS in the office. I wouldn’t have to leave my computer on overnight to do the transfer. Put the data on the mobile NAS. Turn off my computer. Go to bed. Just leave the NAS on and I can go out and do more shooting and repeat the process. And if I’m out of the hotel room or away from the NAS but have Internet access, I can still upload data to my main NAS and have it sync with the mobile NAS at the hotel. So I have backup and someone else can access it if necessary. The big question: Is it worth it?

Well, it can be. Especially with the 3.5” drive bay model. Slap in a couple of 14TB drives for RAID 1 to mirror each other. You’d pretty much be ready for anything. 14TB you say? Well, for photography, that would be a chunk of data. But if you have a video team as well? Have 2 – 4 cameras recording in HD for 4 – 8 hours? Let’s do the math:

* 1 Hour 4K RAW video: 110GB

* 4 Cameras: 110GB X 4 – 440GB

* 4 Hours: 440GB * 4 = 1.8TB

* 2 Days: 1.8TB * 2 – 3.6TB

That’s just for video for 4 hours each of those days. Double that capacity if you actually shoot 8 hours for a 10 – 12 hour day… You’re up to 7.2TB.

One last issue: networking. If you wanted several people to connect to this device, you’d have to have a network switch with at least 1, 10Gbe port and the rest 1Gbe connections. Which would then double the amount of space you need to transport this. Maybe. Or, you could connect 2 – 3 USB wireless adapters which could be seriously cool. You could possibly get up to 1.3Gb/s. Just don’t think I’d have multiple users trying to work wirelessly. And again: space.

So, it could be useful. Totally. On a purely technical basis, it’s super-cool! But it’s about $2000 when you purchase storage for it…. 2022 maybe?

The Amazing Mobile Systems of the Future

Before I became a full-time photographer, I was an I.T. professional for many years. Seen lots of advancements. To be honest, I honestly don’t know where it’s going to go from here on out. More power? More storage? Got a little story….

When I was an IT department manager, I had access to all the latest and greatest toys. If I wanted something for myself, all I had to do was put in the order for it. No questions asked. Do you know what my office computer was? A Mac mini. I think it was a Core i3 with 4GB of RAM. 128GB of storage. Nothing fancy at all. It did everything I wanted it to do. Mind you, the most demanding thing I did with it was use Microsoft Office and Safari browser. But there were many others who thought they couldn’t do as much without having the best…

In fact, my first Mac for personal use was a 2011 Mac mini. If I had the money to have bought the 4-core version, I would've used it until I bought my 2020 13" MacBook Pro. My 2013 15" MacBook Pro was basically a mobile version of the 4-core of the Mac mini I wanted. You can do much with a Mac mini. Totally.

The Beloved Mac mini. Image: Macstories.com

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My thing is: costs.

Even the lowliest of new M1-based Apple Macs are 2x as powerful as my Intel Core i5 Apple 13” MacBook Pro. With this machine, I can pretty much do whatever I want with my photography. For now. But even what I do now with this machine is more than 99.9% of will ever use it for.

Even the recent M1 based iMacs announced a few days ago are more powerful than 99.9% of people will use them for and are an incredible value. So when the Mac Pro Mini comes out later this year, I shouldn’t have to spend a fortune on it. And it should last me for years.

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Ricardo Gomez Photography

Originally from San Francisco, Ricardo is now a New York-based photographer specializing in editorial and commercial photography.
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