24 October 2015

As a photographer and professional who travels at least five days a week, portability has been an obsession with me. If I can find equipment that can do an excellent job in a small and light package I am there! This is why I wrote this article on Cintiq Companion 2, Surface Pro 4, Surface Book Comparison.

In preparation for upcoming shoots internationally I am working very hard to lighten my load and reduce bulk. Part of my effort is to find a solution to reduce the technology I carry to use Lightroom, Photoshop, CamRanger. web browsing, and office applications.

Up to this point this is what I carry:

  • Macbook Pro with Retina Display or a Macbook Air
  • Wacom Intuos Pro Medium or Small
  • iPad Air 2

The Pro/Air is used to store images and process via Lightroom and/or Photoshop. The Pro is more powerful and has a larger screen than the air; however, it (plus its power supply) is heavier and bulkier than the Air.

The Intuos Pro is used for editing purposes. I used to carry the Medium with me because I love the touch ring (which I mainly use to make my brush larger or smaller). In the past I tried to use the Bamboo but constant “clicking” of the express keys to enlarge or reduce brush size got irritating very quickly. I picked up the Small version and that did the trick; in fact for practical purposes I hardly ever notice the difference between the two even after getting home and using the Medium on my desktop.

The iPad Air 2 is used during shoots as I wirelessly transmit images from my Canon 5dr s to it in real time via a CamRanger. Its long battery life, small form factor, excellent resolution, and ability to use cell networks provides for superior use on the set.

Together with their power supplies (which manufacturers often leave out of the total size/weight disclosures!) these items totaled 8.4 pounds weight and 1.75” of bulk. This may not appear to be much but when one adds camera gear and attempts to jam it all into a Manfrotto backpack, every ounce and inch makes a difference.

I decided to try a different approach as tablets have become more powerful and resolution has improved. There are several options I decided to try with the objective of getting as close to an “all-in-one” solution that would provide for storing, editing and image review via file transmission. The options I initially considered were:

• iPad Pro
• Microsoft Surface Pro 4
• Microsoft Surface Book
• Cintiq Companion 2

I am not going to review each item’s specifications here, as detailed reviews are available on the web and my purpose here is to look at how my specific objectives could be met. Each person has different criteria; as such anything I say may or may not apply to the reader. What I find to be a good or not so good feature may not be true for others. That said, here we go:

I immediately eliminated the iPad Pro from the list with the greatest of disappointment. When this was announced I had hoped it would use the same OS as Macbooks and therefore run Lightroom and Photoshop. To my great disappointment this is not the case. Although there are trimmed down apps for photographers, having the full blown Photoshop experience is not an option. In my personal opinion I think this was a major mistake on Apple’s part if artists and photographers were a key target market for this product; however, if artists and photographers only constitute a minority of potential customers I can see why this decision was made.

The Surface Pro 4 is light but its screen is only about 12.3” which is smaller than the Macbook Air I have used. When one uses Photoshop, every square inch counts and my concern is that this may be a bit too tight even with the sharper resolution. That said, it is very light and thin. It can run any PC program including Photoshop. Its battery life and size will also allow me to use it for transmitting images during a shoot. Its integrated stand is also pretty cool as well as the lightweight and detachable keyboard. But the question again comes down to size, as in this case it does matter! Lol! I also am not a fan of the angular sides.

The Surface Book has about a 13.5” screen so puts it at about the same size as the Macbook Air but with much higher resolution (my Air is a 2011 version). I played with a demo a few days ago and was mightily impressed. As several reviews have noted, it is probably the most attractive produce Microsoft has designed. The detachable screen which then becomes a tablet work was a stroke of genius in terms of engineering. My concern is whether the tablet will still be able to operate Photoshop well since more computing power and battery power is in the “base”. It feels lighter than my Macbook Pro but it thicker due to the unique hinge.

I only got to play with both the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book for a few minutes using the demo versions out on display. My main concern for both is the pen. It is the same diameter as most pens and pencils so after lengthy use could cramp the fingers. The Wacom pen feels much better in the hand. I also noticed that it felt very, very “mushy” and not as precise as a Wacom pen. The demo was not set up with Photoshop so I do not yet know how this will translate in actual practice.

I am awaiting the release of both of the Microsoft products; as such I decided to order the Cintiq Companion 2. Its strengths are screen size, Wacom pen, and the built in express keys. It is larger than my Macbook Pro with retina display but I hope that the overall reduction in bulk and weight will compensate for this.

I am an avid fan of Wacom. Over the years I have owned and heavily used the Intuos Pro 4 Medium, the Intuos Pro 5 Medium and Small, and two Bamboos. I have successfully edited many images using this technology and credit Wacom to making this possible.

The thing I love about the Intuos Pro tablets are two key features:

1) The pen feels good in the hand, is precise, and very sensitive. Several reviews noted that one may not notice the difference between 2048 pressure levels and the Surface Pro’s current 256 levels. I’m not sure about this since I have not used the Surface Pro pen in Photoshop; however, I set my Wacom pen to the lightest sensitivity. Often I barely touch the surface of the tablet using very low opacity settings for my brush in order to get very, very fine lines. The pen does a marvelous job at that! Of course I am obsessed with detail and often edit individual hairs and eyelashes; something many photographers would not (and probably correctly) bother with!

2) The touch ring. There are two things I do a lot of when editing an image. The first is zoom in/out; the second is change the size of my brush. The touch ring lets me do the latter with my left hand pointer finger while my right hand does the editing. Rotate my finger clockwise or counterclockwise around the ring and the brush smoothly changes size.

With this in mind, there is no other product I think that can beat it. So saying “goodbye” to those tablet and trying the Cintiq which allows direct-to-screen editing would be interesting.

I ordered the Companion 2 and received t it in a next few days. I was impressed with Wacom because they had a glitch with their online ordering system the day I put mine in so expedited shipping when they found the problem. This allowed me to get it on time.

Over the next few days I will be adding my impressions as I put the Cintiq through its paces in my “real life” applications. Again, a caution to the reader; how I use technology will vary from others so one has to take that into consideration.

The Cintiq Companion 2

Cintiq Companion 2

The Companion 2 with the optional Bluetooth keyboard, pen, and power supply, and stand weigh about 6.4 pounds and “stacked” are about 1.25” thick. As such I will save about 2 pounds and .50” thickness. This is a major plus.

The construction is solid an aesthetics pleasing to the eye. It is definitely larger and thicker than a Surface Pro 4; however, one of the virtues of the Companion 2 is that is has the express keys built in. My eye, however, suspiciously fell on the “rocker ring” that is in place of the Intuos Pro Tablet’s “touch ring”; so no more brush size adjustments by the touch ring. Ugh.

The power switch is well placed and designed. It is a low profile slide switch. To power on or wake from hibernation, one has to slide the switch down and hold for a few seconds. This ensures that it is not accidentally turned on or off, especially when one is carrying it in a bag. Since battery power is at a premium this is important.

The Bluetooth keyboard is light and compact. The keys have a good feel for me and just about the right travel. I still prefer the feel of a Mac keyboard but this one is fine. The keyboard, like a number of features on this setup is a compromise. In order to have a smaller size and keep weight down, the distance between keys is smaller than a standard keyboard. This takes a little getting used to but I have not had a problem with it (I am typing this using the keyboard). The keyboard automatically syncs with the Cintiq and apparently goes to sleep when not used for a while (I am assuming this and only remember to actually turn the keyboard off every now and then. So If I run out of power quickly it is my fault!)

Set up took a few hours but was not particularly difficult. The longest set up time was for Windows 8 needing to install 133 updates. Then, when that was done the free upgrade to Windows 10 was available but that didn’t take much time. I am new to Windows 10 but my initial impression is that it’s easier to use and more intuitive than Windows 8.1 which I have on my desktop.

I subscribed to Lightroom/Photoshop/Bridge CC (the $99/yr package) and installed all three on the Companion 2. Then to ensure I run this just like my other setups I installed Windows Office 360 and iTunes (got to have music while editing!). Finally, I set up the express keys just as I do the Intuos Pro (Upper 3 keys: Top is zoom in, Middle is zoom out, Bottom is “X” to allow me to switch foreground/background colors. Lower 3 keys: Top is shift, Middle is Control, Bottom is Alt) I didn’t program the rocker ring since I had no idea what to use it for. Lol!

26 October 2015

Weight and Size Convenience

Picking up my backpack as I ran out the door this morning, I could actually feel the two pound reduction in weight off my back! Although I expected some difference I did not realize it would be something so obviously experienced. A win for the Cintiq! I am not thrilled with the size and weight of the power supply or the lengthy cord. The power supply and cord for the MacBook Air and Pro are compact, light, and esthetic.

Once I got to the gate at the airport I sat against a wall on the ground. I popped the Cintiq out of the backpack along with the pen. I hit the power switch. I had it on hibernate so was surprised that the battery only had one and a half hours left. It probably is because I set the screen for higher brightness.

It was a fantastic experience to start editing so quickly. The size of the tablet fit well on my lap. Though the weight and thickness bothered me yesterday, the weight actually helped with stability. The larger size as compared to an iPad or Surface Pro was also an unexpected plus, as it allowed the Cintiq to balance well on both my legs.

Tonight when I got to the hotel I was able to quickly set up the tablet. Not having to plug in a laptop, Intuos Pro, iPad, and phone for charging was great. The Companion 2 acts as a charger for my phone so that makes things easy.

On Screen Editing and Touch

I am slowly getting used to editing right on the screen. It still bothers me a bit that the pen itself and my hand obscure what I am working on as compared to the use of a laptop and tablet combination. I am also getting used to using gestures and touch to zoom in and out and move around on the image. It is great and fast compared to using express buttons to zoom in/out and sliders to move around the image. So I am sure with time I will get used to it.

Using the Touch Strip to Adjust Brush Size

In lieu of using a touch ring to adjust brush size, Wacom included a “touch strip” feature for this purpose. It is a small strip on the screen on the lower left side of the screen. As one drags one’s finger up the strip the brush gets larger. Drag down and it gets smaller. The idea is good although it takes some space away from the editing screen; however, it is often difficult to get it to respond. Sometimes it does not respond at all until I tap the pen tip somewhere off the image.

At this point I miss the touch ring on my Intuous Pro tablets. It was sensitive and quickly adjusted the brush size. I am debating whether to program the rocker ring keys to increase/decrease brush size. Of course that would throw me back to my days using the Bamboo with incessant “clicking” as I rapidly adjust brush size.

The size of the Photoshop icons, tools, menus, etc. are fine and comparable to that on the Macbook Pro and Air. I used the clone stamp, paint brush, curves, multiple layers, etc.; the typical tools and methods one would use for editing with no difficulty.

I completed several edits. I am learning that if I hover over the screen with the pen I can “see” what the pen is pointing at on the screen. This sometimes helps in regard to precision.

Image finished on the Cintiq Companion 2

Image finished on the Cintiq Companion 2

27 October 2015

Matte Screen

I am not a fan of the matte finish on the screen. Although the obvious benefit is less reflectivity, the effect is that images, type, etc. are not as sharp as on a traditional screen. The Macbook screens are very sharp and it helps me a lot while editing. I looked at the images I finished on this Companion 2 on a Macbook and they look sharp; as such my finishing results have not been adversely affected. Nevertheless, the reason I bought the Canon 5Ds r (which has no bayer filter) is to capture and edit super sharp images. The matte screen visually negates this advantage.

Windows Touch Keyboard and Handwriting Pad

Windows 8 allowed the touch keyboard to appear automatically when one’s cursor is in a data entry field of an app. If the program being used is a regular program, one must touch the touch keyboard icon in the tray to activate it. This is really a Windows feature and not something Wacom programs but is worth mentioning, as a good touch keyboard means that one does not always have to carry around the Bluetooth keyboard.

The touch keyboard provides several different layout options to accommodate one’s typing preferences and style. For instance, one can pick a traditional keyboard or one that only has the QWERTY keys but no numbers. The former allows one to type with the familiar layout whereas the latter allows for larger and more conventionally spaced keys. I found this feature to work well but I still prefer typing on an actual keyboard for longer documents such as this. For entering smaller amounts of information it works well.

Windows 10, however, provides a handwriting pad. The idea is that since the pen is in one’s hand, entering data this way should be more seamless. I played with it a few times and it does a good job deciphering my letters and numbers and suggesting words. So this was fine for limited use.

My frustration, and apparently the frustration of a number of Windows 10 user using tablets, is that the handwriting pad is the first default “pop up” instead of the touch keyboard. To get to the keyboard one has to tap on the keyboard icon within the handwriting pad. This is an extra step and for me (as well as a few users out there in cyberspace) got irritating very quickly. It is an extra step and at least for me typing is much faster than scribbling on the handwriting pad.

Thus far there does not appear to be a workaround except to disable both the touch keyboard and handwriting pad. There is a request on the Windows Feature Suggestion page to make it possible to disable just the handwriting pad. I hope Microsoft listens.

As mentioned, this issue is not a Wacom/Cintiq issue; one will run into this with any tablet using Windows 10.

Battery Life Concern

I have been running the Companion 2 this morning since 8 am. The majority of the time it has been in sleep mode. Brightness is about 3 clicks from high. It is now 11:15 and I just got the warning that the battery was at 10% so I have plugged it in. This is not great considering I have not done much with it this morning except to write this blog entry on and off. At some point when it has 100% charge I will do constant editing and see how many hours it will last. My concern is during shoots I may not have easy access to an outlet so this may not last through the shoot to receive and review images during a shoot.

Stand Design

The detachable stand was probably a design compromise that is less than ideal. Almost every time I pick up the Companion 2 it falls off. It hooks into the back bottom slot; however, if one does not keep tension on it by holding it in place it easily falls out. Adjusting the height also takes two hands and careful work. There are three “stands” allowing one to adjust the angle of the Companion 2 22, 35 or 50 degrees. I had to use one hand to keep the stand held into the Companion 2 and the other hand to pull up whichever of the three stands I needed. The way the stands are nested it is not easy to pry it up.

The stand also adds to the thickness of the Companion 2 and a nominal amount of weight. Of the two the thickness is more of the concern. But the main problem is the poor design of the stand and how it falls out and is hard to adjust. I understand that having a detachable unit is desired because often one may not need it; however, a better approach is called for.

28 October 2015 Wednesday

The battery definitely does not last a long time even in balanced mode. After charging all night to 100%, the battery was down to only 1 hour 20 minutes at 10 a.m. after about 1 hour of being “on” but not used much (it was in sleep mode quite a bit). During that time I only used the Companion 2 to look up emails and modify a spreadsheet. That said, the monitor’s estimated battery life varies greatly depending on how one is using the Companion 2. It is now 2:00 p.m. and it is estimating 46 minutes and 19% remaining which is a good three hours after it should have been out of power.

In my opinion, however, the Companion 2 definitely does not have enough endurance on battery alone if one uses it on a constant basis. This will be problematic for me during shoots where I do not have access to power. I’ve been on dry lake beds, on the street, etc. during shoots lasting well beyond four hours. When I used the iPad I rarely, if ever, ran completely out of power. I really do not think the Companion 2 will be able to have that kind of endurance which is a problem for me.

This matte screen continues to bother me. In order to create the finish, the screen shows what appears to be a kind of very fine texture. This does break up the reflections but makes the screen look a lot less sharp than my phone, iPad, or MacBook. I just don’t know if I will be able to get used to it.

29 October 2015 Thursday

I tried watching movies and youtube videos on the Companion 2. The picture is fine and sound is markedly better than listening on an iPad’s speakers. But once again the dumb stand is the problem. Since the maximum angle is 50 degrees, if one has the Companion 2 on a desk and wants to sit back in a chair to watch the angle is way too acute; one cannot easily see the screen. Instead, one must sit straight up and look at it slightly “downward”. This compares to a laptop where the screen can be at pretty much any angle to adjust for viewing angle comfort, reflections, etc. And, as usual, the stand fell off again as I attempted to adjust it. Mind you, I am not a clumsy person.

The stand is about 3/16” thick which is significant when one is looking at total thickness. So that, plus the bad design, makes it one of the poorest features of the Companion 2.

As I have thought more about it, although the Companion 2 is truly aimed at artists and use primarily as a tablet, for practical matters the physical keyboard is important for many functions. This is especially true if one is using the Companion 2 for other normal PC program functions such as word processing, web browsing, etc. Although the touch keyboard works, for me a physical keyboard is a must.

With this in mind, it means that most of the time I will have to carry the Bluetooth keyboard with me. Although it is very small and light, it also negates part of the advantage of the Companion 2’s form factor since one has to carry around both parts which are not connected in any way.

With all of the issues in my mind (short battery life, matte screen, separate keyboard that is not somehow integrated into the overall design, poor stand, etc.), I ordered a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to try. I am thinking the screen will be a bit tight but it will be a good way to test if Photoshop can operate well on it. I am most interested to see how one adjusts brush sizes and performs other functions without express keys or rocker/touch rings.

My guess is that I will like the Pro’s high resolution, glossy screen better, the lighter weight and smaller size, and integrated but detachable keyboard. All that said, if the Pro does operate Photoshop well, I would probably like the Microsoft Surface Book even better due to its larger screen. The main downside I anticipate with the Book, however, is a lack of an integrated stand when one is only using the tablet. We shall see.

Surface Pro 4

Surface Pro 4


2 November 2015

I received the Surface Pro 4 from Microsoft. Unfortunately, the i7 version was not available so I ended up getting the i5 version to evaluate. My initial impressions are what I expected: Unlike the Companion 2 which came in a rather large box that weighed so much that I immediately worried about its portability, the Surface Pro came in a box just slightly larger than that of an iPad.

The total weight with the power supply is just over 2 pounds; as such this will save me about 6.5 pounds of weight to carry. The total thickness is about ¼” which will save 1.5” of space. So all of this is a great thing.

As I mentioned before, the one thing that sticks out immediately is the sharpness of the screen compared to the Companion 2. It is so sharp and clear that even small fonts show up easily.

Unlike the Ciniq, the Surface Pro 4 came preloaded with Windows 10; as such, it did not take me long to install Photoshop and Bridge CC and Microsoft Office 360.

I had ordered the fingerprint enabled keyboard cover. When positioned so that the keyboard is up at a slightly angled position (which is supposed to make typing easier and stabilize the Surface Pro), the keyboard has a slight bounce to it as one types. Although I can live with it, I found that I prefer to have the keyboard down flat on the table. The keys are very responsive, however, well spaced, and much easier to use than the Companion 2’s small Bluetooth keyboard. In addition, since it is integrated into the cover, it is always immediately available. The Companion 2’s separate keyboard had to be stored somewhere and taken out when needed.

Macbook Pro, Cintiq Companion 2, Surface Pro 4

Relative size comparison of a Macbook Pro with Retina Display (left), Cintiq Companion 2 (center), and Surface Pro 4 (right)

3 November 2015

The pen that comes with the Surface Pro surprised me in a pleasant way. I had expected its thinner profile to cramp my fingers over the hours I would use it to edit; however, this was not a problem. The weight is also comfortable to use. My criticism is that is has a “mushy” or rubbery feel as compared to a Wacom pen. I purchased the replacement tips and exchanged the one that comes with the pen for a “harder” version that should have less resistance; however, this did not significantly improve the feel.

One major flaw is the pen’s button. One has to really press hard on it to make it work. In addition, it is so flush to the surface of the pen that it is not easy to find it simply by feel; I found myself having to actually look at the pen to find it. After several times of not being able to apply sufficient pressure with my pointer finger (which is how I use the Wacom pen), I found the best approach was to put the button under my thumb.

My use of Bridge CC is not easy because the icons are really small on this size of screen. Apparently this is just the way Bridge CC is and nobody knows if it will be changed.

9 November 2015

As I type this blog on an airplane I am sitting in an exit row seat on Southwest. The tray for my seat does not come down from the seat in front of it; rather, it comes up and out from the armrest. Since it does not extend forward very far, the placement of the Surface Pro is awkward due to the stand. Unlike a typical laptop the Surface Pro’s stand has to be extended out towards the “back” in order to be used like a laptop. This requires so much space that in order to sit on the tray it has to be positioned much closer to one’s body than a laptop would. As a result I am typing in a rather cramped position.

One thing that is great, however, is that the Surface Pro’s size qualifies it as a tablet and not as a large electronic item. So while all laptops had to be put away on descent, I am able to keep this out and writing. I have folded the integrated keyboard back flat against the back of the Surface Pro which automatically deactivates it. This ensures any keys which are pressed as the Surface Pro sits on my lap will not do anything. I am using the touch keyboard to continue writing.

The touch keyboard is the same for the Companion 2 since it is a feature of Windows 10. I am still not very good with it and make quite a number of errors as compared to a regular keyboard. I am using the keyboard that has the larger keys but I still mistype.

11 November 2015

Although Photoshop’s menus are a reasonable size, for some reason Bridge CC’s menus remain very small. I tried a number of fixes I found on the web but none are working thus far.

I edited a few more images. I got a bit frustrated using the Surface Pen when attempting to correct some skin issues in one image. As such, I installed the Wacom Intuos Pro Small. It connected without difficulty. The Wacom pen worked extremely well and I was able to fix the problem in a few minutes. I think the key is pressure. Although one would ask how there could be a practical (ie noticeable) difference between the Surface Pen at 1024 pressure levels vs. the Wacom Pen at 2048, apparently at least I noticed it. I also found that unlike the Wacom pen whose software allows one to adjust the pressure (I prefer mine lighter), you can’t make that adjustment on the Surface Pen.

So I experimented with the Surface Pro/Wacom Intuos Pro Small combination. It was pretty interesting. I loved having the touch ring. The surface of the Intuos has more “tooth” to it (it is not as slick) which I found to be helpful. The express keys were also very helpful for Shift, Ctrl, and Alt assignments. I still zoomed and rotated the image directly on the Surface Pro with my fingers instead of on the Intuos Pro (which I always seemed to have difficulty with).

I also tried using the Surface Pen right on the Surface Pro while using the touch ring and express keys on the Intuos. That combination worked well too.

Of course the problem with all of this is I am duplicating systems, increasing the weight and size of what I am carrying, and also have to carry one more pen and cord.

So I went back and tried just the Surface Pro by itself and edited some more. I managed to get the job done though I still longed for the feel and sensitivity of the Wacom pen and touch ring.

One thing I may do is carry and use only the Surface Pro on trips where weight and bulk are a primary consideration and where I do not expect to be doing a lot of editing while on the road. For instance, I may go on a trip where most of the days I am shooting and mainly doing basic processing in Bridge or Lightroom and a minimal amount of individual image editing. For trips where I know I will be doing a lot of fine editing I could take along the Intuos just in case I need it.

One other shortcoming of the Surface Pro 4 is that it has only one USB port. Usually this is not a problem; however, it can be. For instance, last night the Surface Pro needed an Ethernet connection vs. wireless. At the same time, I needed to plug in the Wacom Intuos pro Small in order to use it since its battery was dead (and even if this were not the case, the Intuos uses a small USB transmitter/receiving that has to plug into the Surface Pro’s USB port in order to use the Intuos wirelessly. The only workaround is to have a portable USB hub which means one more item to carry.

17 November 2015

Battery Life

The battery life on the Surface Pro is very good for average use (word processing, spreadsheets, checking email, etc.). When I am using I periodically the battery will last a whole workday without a problem. If I use it more intensely or edit the battery will drain much more quickly and I usually have to plug it in around the four hour mark. The good news is that during shoots, which usually lasts about 4 hours, the Surface Pro will suffice.

More Editing

I have been mainly using the Surface Pro for editing by pushing the screen to its lowest point allowed by the stand (so it is at a slight angle above horizontal) with the keyboard cover attached. I have the cover as close to my chest as possible (when sitting at a desk) and use my left hand to control the keys for Photoshop shortcuts. The most important are the [ and ] keys which are the default for smaller and larger brush sizes. (One can change the keys if one wants).

This actually has worked better than I thought it would though I miss that touch ring! My right hand holds the pen and I edit on the screen. The problem with this is that my arm crosses the keyboard in the upper right corner where the delete and backspace keys reside. As such, sometimes I inadvertently deleted layers! Thank goodness for the history feature that allows me to quickly restore it. It was an irritant but nothing terrible.

I have not used the Intuos Pro Small for over a week and have successfully edited quite a number of images including some requiring complex and very precise work. Again, the high resolution of the Surface Pro screen makes this possible because I can enlarge the image and edit down to the pixel level! I still prefer being able to see the entire image without the pen or my hand covering parts of it which is only possible when I use the Intuos Pro tablet. However, carrying that tablet adds to what I carry, the number of cables, etc.

I also discovered that Microsoft sells a Bluetooth adapter for the keyboard. This would allow me to put the keyboard off to the side so I can still use it but have the Surface Pro much closer to my body for easier editing. The only problem is that many reviewers hammered the product for short battery life or simply not working. I do not have time to test that right now but may at a future date.

Image finished on the Surface Pro 4

Image finished on the Surface Pro 4

22 November 2015

CamRanger Problems

I installed and used the CamRanger software. The CamRanger attaches externally to the camera and wirelessly transmit small JPEG images real time to the program on the Surface Pro. I use this to evaluate images, lighting, and the overall look of images as shoots progress.

I also installed Eye-Fi Mobi Desktop Transfer. The Eye-fi MobiPro SD card is another wireless transmitter that resides in the SD slot of the camera. Its images transmit to the Surface Pro. Then using Lightroom one can monitor the folder those files “land” in and do the same kind of real time evaluation as with the CamRanger.

Both of these programs worked on the Surface Pro during a short test of each. This was critical because in the past I had to use an iPad with these transmitters. So now I can use the Surface Pro both during and after a shoot. See my other blog regarding the CamRanger and Eye-Fi MobiPro. The CamRanger is my “go-to” transmitter while the Eye-Fi is used as a back up or for special applications (like underwater photography where an external transmitter cannot fit into a waterproof housing with the camera).

I had an intense 5 days of photoshoots in Las Vegas. During that time the CamRanger app would simply stop working or display a “cannot connect to camera” message. Rebooting the Surface Pro, Camera and/or the CamRanger sometimes resolved the problem but it was hit or miss.

This problem was so bad that I gave up using it and ended up looking at the camera’s LCD panel to evaluate shots. I tried to connect an Eye-Fi Mobi card (if you read my review of the Eye-Fi card you know how desperate I was!) but forgot the process and gave up on that pretty quickly.

After I returned home I did extensive testing by installing the CamRanger App on an iMac, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPhone, and iPad. The CamRanger worked flawlessly on all of those devices. The problem persisted on the Surface Pro. As such, I determined that this was a problem with either the CamRanger and Windows 10 or the CamRanger and the Surface Pro 4.

If the CamRanger app cannot work reliably with the Surface Pro 4, it will be a major problem. I could go back to using the Mobi card but due to how slow it runs would much prefer not to do that.

Other Programs

I tested the importing of images from my Canon 5DSR from a CF card using a USB 3 cable from the camera to the USB port on the Surface Pro. I imported 846 RAW files, each about 60 MP a piece in 20 minutes which is more than adequate.

The Surface Pro, as expected, runs any other typical Windows 10 compatible program. I use Microsoft Office 360 quite a lot and it ran very well.


My conclusion is that for travel I can definitely use the Surface Pro 4 if I can get the CamRanger software to work; if it does, for my purposes I now have an “all-in-one” solution that reduces my burden by 6.5 pounds and 1.5” of thickness in my backpack. Although I had to settle on some compromises, this solution is currently the best there is on the market to meet all of my needs.

The next step will be to test the Surface Book to see if its larger screen and built-in keyboard will be enough to counter added weight and bulk.


Surface Book

Surface Book

December 2015

I purchased a Surface Book with 16 GB of RAM and an i7 processor. The Surface Book boasts a separate Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) in the base so that when the detachable screen/tablet is docked to it software can use that more powerful GPU than what is in the tablet itself.

I really liked the size of the screen as compared to the Surface Pro 4. That extra inch makes a major difference when editing. The detachable screen/tablet is an awesome feature. It can be removed and even reversed so that you can still take advantage of the GPU and batteries in the base while editing images in the “flat” position.

The keyboard does not have the same good feel of a MacBook keyboard and feels a bit loose and flimsy. In fact two days after I got it, the “3” key popped off and I can’t get it back on. The keys wiggle laterally a lot so that may be a contributor.

The unit plus power supply is 4 pounds. As such it is 2 pounds heavier than the Surface Pro 4. I am willing to live with that if it does better in performance.

8 December 2015

I have edited a number of images on the Surface Book. The Screen is made with a maximum tilt limit. This is most likely because the screen is heavy since it has most of the electronics and battery in it. If it could lean back further the unit would tip backwards.

Because a keyboard is needed while editing in Photoshop, and since the detachable keyboard is not Bluetooth (so cannot communicate with the tablet when separated), the only way to edit is to lean the screen as far back as it can go because then you can rest your hand on the screen. It is a bit awkward at first but I got used to doing it that way. Sometimes I had to use my left hand to steady the laptop while drawing with my right.

I tested CamRanger on the Surface Book and it worked flawlessly; as such, it appears the problem I experienced with the Surface Pro 4 is between the CamRanger and the device (i.e. not with Windows 10 unless it has something to do with how Windows 10 works with a Surface Pro 4 and CamRanger).

Liquify Tool Problem

While editing images I came across an odd problem. Although the liquify filter screen looks normal after an adjustment is made, when “OK” is pressed and one ends up back at the regular Photoshop window the layer with the liquify adjustment shows large square or rectangular blocks around the area where the liquify tool was applied. The colors are also off.

I contacted Adobe and the answer was that Photoshop is only supported on desktop and laptop platforms; as such, they could not help me.

I installed “regular” Photoshop CS6 onto the Surface Book and its liquify filter worked fine and as expected. So there is some kind of problem between Photoshop CC’s liquify filter and the Surface Book. I ensured all drivers were updated but that did not resolve the problem.

After searching the Adobe forums it turns out this was a known problem which was fixed with a new release of Photoshop CC a few days after I experienced it. I installed the new version and it fixed the pixelization.

I later began having problems with “bounce back” when using the liquify tool. I would push a part of an image and, instead of staying put, that part would “bounce back” either to where it started or land at an arbitrary location. Further research revealed that turning off “Use Windows Ink” in the Wacom application fixes this problem.

Surface Book Conclusions

I have very mixed feelings about the Surface Book. I love the screen size and resolution. Additional USB ports helped. I did not detach and use the screen by itself as I thought I would so that benefit was not as critical to me. The screen position limit was awkward for editing. So the question is whether the benefits are sufficient for the significant cost as well as added weight and bulk.

My Overall Conclusions

I believe the ideal solution for me will actually consist of several solutions:

SurfacePro 4 for situations where I need ultraportability and when the amount of editing I will be doing is limited. For example, when I travel internationally where every ounce and inch counts but where I will be spending most of my time shooting and only edit a few images this will be perfect. All that said, this will only be acceptable if I can get the CamRanger to work with it.

MacBook Air with a Wacom Small Tablet when a little more weight and bulk is acceptable but where I am still on the road and know I will be editing a higher number of images. The benefit of the Wacom tablet is sufficient to warrant this and will be very helpful. Although I like the idea of editing directly on a screen, I prefer the ability to easily see where I am editing without the tip of the pen or my hand getting in the way.

My hope is that perhaps Apple will introduce a 15” MacBook air so I can use that instead of the current 13” version I currently use.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display with a Wacom Small Tablet when weight and bulk are of no concern and editing is the main focus.