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Thursday, 15 July 2010


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ok Ctein...time to lose that fake beard. TAKE IT OFF!!!

FYI, your secondary display app is almost certainly doing some very lossy compression on the screen image output to the ipad.

You don't need to add an Adjustment Layer.
In Photoshop, go to: Edit -> Color Settings-> More Options-> check “Desaturate Monitor Colors By xx%”.
Interestingly enough, 20% is the default value.

Ctein -

I agree with your assessment of the quality of the iPad monitor. I know many photographers who are now using it as their primary way to show their portfolio. I know one guy who actually sends an iPad with his photos loaded to editors and art galleries. So far he has always gotten it back.

I love showing my own photos on it. They look just the way I would want them presented.

Thanks for your article. I may try hooking my iPad up as a second screen myself.

By the way, you will find a million other uses for your connected iPad. One huge advantage it has over my notebook is that it has almost no boot time. I turn it on, push a button, and there is my email or the news I was looking for. Also, I didn't realize how much trying to preserve battery life ruined my computing experience on a notebook. My iPad always seems to be nowhere near running out of juice.



Once again, my Thursday morning is enlivened by useful and relevant information, well presented.

That being said, curse you - I'd dismissed the iPad until now.

While I don't use the iPad to actually edit photos, I do agree with the notion that it is hands down one of the best display devices I've ever used. Everyone I show pictures to on the thing is impressed.

i've been impressed by my ipad display, but my 17" macbook with (calibrated) non-reflective screen option is better--significantly better than previous generations of the mbp/pwrbk. and doesn't need workarounds to run photoshop. and doesn't have the annoying reflectivity.

the ipad does give me a way to easily share photos with people almost anywhere without compromising image quality, though. and i can't wait to get it working as an external focus monitor for my 5d2 for video.

Nooooooo! My monies!

My hat off to you Ctein, you have actually found something useful you can do with an iPad ;)

Though methinks a macbook would be simpler?

Ctein - As far as good screens on portable devices, I don't think I'm as picky as you, but the screen on my Dell Studio 16 XPS laptop seems to be very good. I paid for the upgraded 1920x10180, RGD LED backlight, LCD screen. (I've heard they don't offer it any more, but I really like mine.) It seems to calibrate well, though I have no way of actually measuring that. The detail is great, and if you don't mind glossy (and I don't) then there's not much wrong with it.

I would be curious though to hear someone's take on it who has a lot more background than I do with various displays. My laptop is the first screen I've ever used hardware calibration on.

Reminder to self to proof-read : that should be 1920x1080, and RGB LED

Dear William,

Are you speaking from knowledge or just speculating?

In order to keep down the length of the column, I didn't get into the details of what Air Display is actually doing. But here's what I see: it first sends over a very low quality JPEG that updates the iPad screen almost instantly. It then sends over one or two iterations that refine that until it is, so far as my discerning eye can tell, pixel perfect. The last iteration is the one that's time consuming and can take more than a second for a full-screen update. Changing only a portion of the display, such as when doing brushwork, goes much faster, of course.


Dear Pedro,

Heheh, I had totally forgotten about that setting! Dummy me. Yes, it's turned off in my Color Settings, because the Apple Cinema Display is already normal or even low in saturation. Okay, just tried it: 20% desaturation isn't quite enough; I'll need between 25% and 30% to nail it. Then it looks really good. You're right that the iPad isn't too far out of line for what Photoshop considers "normal" displays.



Dear Chris,

I haven't looked at the 17 inch MacBook Pro in the current generation, but I can say that the very latest version of the 15 inch MacBook Pro does not meet my standards. It is a much improved display, I agree, immensely better than my late 2007 MacBook Pro. But it still exhibits dithering and contouring where it shouldn't, indicating it is running less than the full 24 bits per pixel I need for real work. More seriously, it still suffers from the large swing in gamma with vertical viewing angle that is typical of laptop screens, which makes it impossible to accurately evaluate and correct shadow detail in a photograph.

If the newest 17 inch MacBook Pro has fixed these problems, then, yes, I would consider it suitable for critical photographic work. If not, it's still inferior to the iPad in vital ways.

In any case, dual displays are so much better than a single display, no matter what the sizes of the displays.


Dear Steve Jacob,

Apparently I need to learn to write better as the following sentence was not sufficiently clear:

"Laptop computer displays suck."

Can you suggest how I could rewrite that in a way that would improve comprehension?

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I believe the iPhone 4 screen is even better in quality.
Maybe too small for editing, but quite handy to show your pictures "on the go".

When the iPad first came out, I tried to figure out how it could be useful for me. It doesn't have enough memory for me to use it as the device I backup my photos to on trips, and also doesn't let me run PS (or Matlab, or Keynote, which I usually require on work trips). It would be nice on the plane though, in the tiny space between my knees and the seat in front of me. But I figured I'd still be stuck carrying a laptop, so why carry both?

So I thought the main use for me would be as a portable portfolio device, and playing with it confirmed it. If only I were a pro photographer and needed to show my portfolio more than 6 times per year! I also thought that $500-1000 was too much to pay for a portable portfolio device. If I was meeting clients every day, sure.

The excuse I am using now to avoid buying one is my rule of never buy a first generation device. I'm going to hold out for the second gen with the front facing camera and 128 GB...

Hi, I think there are many notebooks with high quality screens (which can be calibrated)

One quick example http://gizmodo.com/5047867/sony-vaio-aw-laptop-with-adobe-rgb-screen-is-a-photographers-dream

And I think Lenevo has some smaller and lighter ones too.

Oh Ctein, I had so hoped that my iPad lust would stay quelled, but after reading your interesting write-up, I know 'tis not to be.

Then, when Ed Taylor mentioned using an iPad for portfolio display, I heard the rustle of little wings sprouting on all my twenty-dollar bills as they prepare to fly away to Appleland.

I will not buy one yet, but it is on the horizon. Ctein's observations and ideas on the iPad are quite valuable. A series of blog articles with a title like "Photo 'Padding" (zippier wording?) would be much appreciated by many.

Ctein, thank you for sharing your experiences.


Okay not looking to start a war here but is there a way of running an iPad as a secondary monitor for a Wintel notebook?

Regarding the extended warranty: Is it AppleCare? If so, it -does not- cover accidental damage, so if you're drop prone, look out.

Talk to your insurance company. State Farm just insured my iPhone for a negligible fee on top of my renter's insurance.

Well done Ctein- I have approval from She who must be obeyed for a second monitor! Not for an ipad, of course- no more toys allowed...

One day a auto calibrated museum quality LCD would be the ultimate "photo" for display. No longer seeing thing in the dark like those hard to see museum FB print. No longer worry about what you see may not be what the photographer has seen when he is alive. It would reproduced so that a robot can inspect the signal and confirm that these are the signal which the photographer has been there and said "that is it".

Paper, what is paper?

The display is reflective, something I just can't handle well (seeing myself and the background in the display is distracting). My wife, who is a graphics designer, has basically stopped getting Apple displays for this reason. Whatever is in the background (including her face) reflects and slightly alters the perceived hue of whatever is shown on screen.

You could just get a small, portable second display instead, with no calibration errors, compression loses or display lag. But, of course, that wouldn't give you a new toy :)

I would be really curious to know if the iPad display is really any better than the display in a current glossy Macbook Pro. I tend to doubt it would be. I noticed that Ctein has an "older" generation Macbook pro.

From what I've read, it's already so in Bill and Melinda Gates' house in Washington. Maybe somebody who knows could add more--


Another good use of the iPad might be the reverse: using it for the palettes along with one's studio monitor. Will the Air Display hook us up in that direction too?

The reason I ask is that I find the native size of the CS5 palettes too small to work with comfortably. I'd always had enough real estate on my monitor to work with the CS3 palettes, but now I find I need space to enlarge them. I'd just started looking for a 2d monitor compatible with MacPro/SnowLeopard, & I wonder if this is it – plus other benefits of an iPad too?


What about the iPad as a camera display in the field?

Dear David,

Does your Dell display hold gamma constant when you change the vertical viewing angle? If so, it's a contender. If it doesn't, it's not. That's usually the make or break test for a laptop display. Or, for that matter, a desktop LCD display; the cheap ones don't.

Figuring out if your display is full 24-bit color takes a little more work. Since I have your e-mail address, I'm going to mail you a test file I have that you can open up in Photoshop. It's a mathematically smooth gradient pattern in grayscale and color. The change in value from one pixel to another is no more than one unit in any color channel. If you take it up to 100% on your screen and pan around it, you shouldn't see any banding or contouring if it's a true 24-bit display. If it's not, this test pattern will usually disclose that.

Another good test for seeing whether a display's 24-bit is to look at something that has smooth gradients in the dark blue (cyan-to-indigo) part of the spectrum. The place where manufacturers most often skimp on bit depth is in the blue channel, because it's harder for us to see color changes there.

Please let us know what you find out.


Dear Bernie,

There is another app, iDisplay, that is supported on both Macs and PCs:


Version 1 was extremely slow and had some other nasty bugs; I didn't even consider it. I did get in touch with the programmers and they told me to expect a substantial speed increase in future versions. Version 1.1 has just been released and I will probably give it a try in my copious spare time (ahem). Well, at least before my next trip in mid-August.

Really, the nice thing about all of this is how cheap apps are. If you have a friend with an iPad, it will cost you a whole five dollars to find out if iDisplay is right for you and your PC notebook.


Dear Chris,

I am not wantonly careless with my equipment but things tend to, well, ummm,... break. It's a really handy talent as a reviewer-- if something's going to go wrong or there is a weak point in a design, I will find it. Not so handy in an end-user. Like the movie poster said, a talent is not a gift.


Dear Janne,

I hate glossy displays, as I've mentioned before. It's the thing I most dislike about my 27 inch iMac. It's much less of a problem in a small screen like this that I can hold or position anywhere I want. I am thinking about testing out some of those translucent overlays, though... need to make a few phone calls to manufacturers.

"You could just get a small, portable second display instead..." And what is this mythological device of which you speak? I don't know of anything that will fill the bill and provides studio monitor quality, this is substantially larger / heavier and doesn't have to be plugged into a wall. Give me some product names, please.

Believe me, I have much better uses for my limited discretionary money than buying computer (or camera) toys. I am not a gearhead.


Dear Jeff,

I think my answer to Chris in an earlier post addressed your question.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

My friend G. Dan Mitchell tweeted about this post, and this is my first visit to your blog.

While I'm a low-tech photog, I *had* to get an iPad as soon as I saved up the requisite $$$ for the low-end model. I love it. It's incredible as a way to share your images, and if you use your imagination, it's actually a good creative tool.

F'rex, there's a silly little free app called Flashlight, originally written for the iPod Touch and iPhone that basically turns the screen white--great for using as a mini flashlight while looking for dropped keys in the dark. But it also allows you to change the color of the screen--color sliders! You can also adjust the brightness.

So what, you say? Think lightpainting objects at night. Here's the URL to a first attempt at using my iPad for lightpainting:


Here's a link to the app: (will open iTunes) http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flashlight/id285281827?mt=8

Enjoy your new iPad; It's a lovely device.

All the best,

The iPad has a higher pixel density than all current Macs, only the iPhones surpass it (the 3Gs by a tad and the 4 by double)

Oh bollocks, you've done it and made the iPad useful.

I have a 2008 Macbook Pro and I don't think the new screens are any different. The iPad is better.

Dear Kirk,

Ought to work fine that way. Maybe even better, since palettes tend to be static items, so screen update rate is less important. 'Course for that purpose, the very cheapest LCD monitor will work as well or better.


Dear Simon,

Apple sells an SD card adapter and a standard USB adapter which should let you read photos from your camera's card or directly from the camera. Never tried it.


Dear Edie,

Oh, marvelous!


Dear John,

The iPad's got a 20% higher pixel pitch than my 2007 MacBook Pro. I don't actually consider that an advantage-- it makes it even harder to see all the image detail at a 'mere' 100% view in Photoshop.


Dear psu,

The 2010 MacBook Pro screen's definitely better than the screen in the late 2007 MacBook Pro I own ; dunno if it's better than the 2008 model screens.



David emailed me back, and it seems likely his machine has good bit depth, but it's still got the gamma-change-with-vertical-angle problem. The search continues.

Understand, people, that this gamma problem has nothing to do directly with bit depth, color space or whether you can profile/calibrate (not the same thing!) the display.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Rob Galbraith has tested several laptop displays from a photographer's perspective:


From the conclusion:

"The fact that the W700's screen can even be discussed as a possible desktop screen replacement, though, is a testament to what Lenovo has achieved. On balance, it's the best laptop display we've ever seen, rivaled only by the ThinkPad T60 and its 1400 x 1050 pixel FlexView display from a couple of years ago."

In fact, the Macbook Pro (15") scored near the bottom on viewing angles and color accuracy. So there's an alternative for those who don't need/want a Mac. I have a Thinkpad T42 and T60 and can attest that the viewing angles and overall quality of the display is outstanding.

Regarding "laptop computer displays suck" - have you ever tried the Thinkpad W700?

Very informative column—thanks. And I really like the pictures… there's something Old Testament about them. Prophet, tablet, etc. :-)

If you're ok with using Windows, I highly recommend the Sony Vaio Z series laptops. As the new owner of one I can vouch for the quality of their 13" display. Also, these systems are incredibly powerful and lightweight (3lbs).

I will be really useful when you can use it for tethered shooting (as opposed to merely 'reading' the images from the camera or card).

Very interesting, and timely for me as I've been looking for a new machine. I know the screens on laptops are awful, but I just can't bring myself to sit at my desk for any length of time. Taking a laptop to the coffee shop is 4x more productive, so I buy laptops.

It's tricky researching laptop screens. The manufacturers never give you enough information, and frequently they'll change the LCD without telling anybody. Lately the rage seems to be RGB LED backlit screens. There are several models from Dell (including their mobile workstations) that have them. Some of the Macbooks did have them, but it keeps changing. The Lenovo W-series has them as an option - that series is also includes a color profiler built into the palm rest and is otherwise obviously designed for graphics work.

Sadly the laptop makers never tell you whether the screen is an IPS or TN type of LCD. I notice that the iPad specifies an IPS, which is good.

It would be must easier to buy a laptop just for the computing hardware, and an iPad for the display quality. Thanks for telling us about this option!

I too found that iPad image quality is very close to a calibrated studio monitor. I run VNC on it so I can control my PC remotely and review images when I am shooting. Hopefully there will be laptop displays of the same quality soon.

Gamma shift is typical for basic TFT LCDs. IPS LCD used by iPad and better desktop screens is the only LCD which does not have that problem. IPS screens on laptops are really rare. It was an option for some Thinkpad models in the past, I don't know the current state.

That is pretty slick Ctein,

I need to get my wife one of those stylus pens. Her ipad looks like a 3 year old has been finger painting on it with saliva.

I've been using my iPad as an in-field reviewing/editing/uploading tool since day 1. Ease of use and the excellent display make it worth having.

To add to what Jari said, the panel in my XPS laptop (the RGB LED one) is a TN panel, hence the vertical angle issue still. It's much better controlled than my previous laptop, but still apparent with not too much movement.

Overall, it has a color gamut that's 112% of Adobe RGB (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3509) and based on the file Ctein sent me, as he said, seems to have at least pretty good bit depth.

Only slightly off topic: This month's Photo District News has an article about using the iPad as a portfolio device ("The iPad: A Portfolio Revolution?" By Jacqueline Tobin). I won't bother linking, because it's behind a login screen, but I saw it in the print edition on a newsstand last night.

Dear Folks,

The reason I didn't recommend Rob Galbraith's fine laptop tests is that they are now two years out of date. All the models have changed. For example, the current MacBook Pro has a much, much better screen than the one he tested, and so far as I've been able to determine none of the current Lenovo models have an IPS display.

For those who care about the technical details, here's a good description of the different kinds of LCD displays:


This link has nice examples of the difference in appearance with viewing angle on lesser displays:


The point of these photos is to exaggerate the problem and make it visible in illustration, but it is a real problem in practice. At a normal viewing distance and normal orientation, with even a good TN laptop screen you'll see a variation in gamma of 0.5 or more from the top to the bottom of the screen. That will really screw up your ability to evaluate shadow detail and midtone brightness. Well, it really screws up mine. If you can live with it, more power to you! You just saved yourself some money. I can't, I've tried.

A sidenote: LED backlights for screens can markedly improve brightness, uniformity, stability, and color rendition. When implemented properly they are a very, very good thing. It's the only way to make LCD monitors that render the full Adobe RGB gamut. They do not have any effect on the gamma problem, though.

After a lot of online research, I must modify my previous statement that, "Laptop computer displays suck."

It appears that the correct statement is, "Almost every single laptop computer display sucks." I've been able to find exactly one current model that has an IPS display among all the vendors. Here's a current laptop with (likely) excellent display:


and here are some screen shots:


Understand that I'm talking only about screen quality here. Cost, weight, size, and other important issues are being ignored.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I don't suppose you'd like to share the gradient file, or perhaps describe how to generate one that we could use ourselves?


I bought the iPad as a book reader, and it does that pretty well-- Amazon provides a variant of its Kindle downloads that work with the iPad, though not all features are enabled with Kindle books (I never needed any of the features anyway, so for me, the problem doesn't exist.)

That said...a friend and I were driving from Taos to LA last month and she said, "I wonder if there's a Starbucks in Gallup?" She fired up the iPad 3G; there was -- it's just a couple blocks north of the freeway.

I spent the last two weeks in Israel, and downloaded the Wall Street Journal every day; takes about a minute to download via wifi, and then you've got it (you don't have to stay online.)

There are a few weird (non-photo) things about it...why in God's name is the apostrophe placed on the second screen of the keyboard? Why isn't there even one USB port? It's an okay size, but it would be all right with me if it were 1/4 inch longer and 1/4 wider if it included a telephone...

There may be some weird thing going on with my Mac Air, that is not typical of other Mac Airs, but it seemed to me that it was easier to get online with a hotel wifi with the iPad than with the Mac Air...I think the antenna maybe better...

When traveling in Europe and the Middle East, where there's a big time shift from California, I found it very convenient to leave it plugged in overnight, but turned on. Then, when I got up in the morning, I'd have a big batch of email already downloaded...


Dear Will,

Here ya go:



pax / Ctein

Dear Steve Jacob,

Apparently I need to learn to write better as the following sentence was not sufficiently clear:

"Laptop computer displays suck."

Can you suggest how I could rewrite that in a way that would improve comprehension?

~ pax \ Ctein

My comprehension of generalisations is usually cloudy at best. However I was given to believe the new Macbook generation were a cut above the older ones, especially the 17".

I may be wrong, and apologies for not noticing you were using a Macbook already, but I find it hard to believe that some generation of Macbook cannot match it. Of couse I could be entirely mistaken.

No offence intended.

Pax to you too.

Thanks Ctein! Awesome!

Well, for one thing, I would like to buy an IPAD but for different reasons. I love the way you can carry your work everywhere.

That's awesome, I have been looking for something that would be a portable solution like this. Thanks!

Most laptop screens have become progressively better over just the last year. If your current notebook is over 18 months old chances are it's replacement model has a much better screen.

I started out looking at the Ipad as a "field computer" to use for extended time lapse, exposure bracketing, and even focus bracketing, and quickly realized it would never run the software I wanted/needed.

I ended up with a Lenovo x201s. A 12" LED backlit 1440x900 matte screen powered by a low power i7 with 8 gigs of RAM and a Crucial C300 256g SSD (I added myself). It even has the Intel HD graphics which support OpenGL is CS4/5. All this in a 2.5 pound package that runs all day on a single battery. (yep, you read that right.. 2.5 pounds thanks to kevlar coated plastic and magnesium) Connectivity is great, A/G/B/N wifi, it takes 3g cards, 3 USB ports (one high powered), and more.

It runs Breeze's DSLR Remote, Helicon Focus, and some other tethering/capture programs that makes it ideally suited for use in the field. There's something special about being able to set up the camera on your tripod, frame it, and then sit in the cab of your truck nice and comfortable while totally controlling the camera for time lapse or other time consuming tasks.. all thanks to a long USB cable.. :) I wish I could find a USB wireless device that could eliminate the cable. Anyone?

With that said, and that this screen profiles to match exactly the colors on my SVII profiled NEC LCD2690uxi2's.. I find it hard to do processing while on the road (and I'm on the road a lot) with only a 12" screen.. so I've been carting around a 17" Dell Precision Mobile Workstation. I'd love to find a high quality second display. Anyone?

Does the ap for the Ipad work with Win7 devices? It might be what I need.. and lets face it, there is a lot of appeal to an Ipad just as a toy.. :)

FWIW, there is a shortcut to getting to the apostrophe key... if you tap and HOLD the comma (,) key (I think) you get an apostrophe without switching to the second keyboard screen.

Dear Steve,

I am hoping that within a few years most of the better laptops will be equipped with IPS displays. That will eliminate my gripe against almost all of them, including yours.

Don't have a good suggestion,, though, for a portable second display ... other than the iPad, of course. But it's an even smaller screen. And, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I don't know how well the iDisplay app will perform (with either a Mac or Windows machine). $5 and a cooperative friend will let you find out, though.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Hello Ctein -

I suppose it's all about compromises. Not sure how useful a glossy reflective small ipad display would be to my workflow anyway.. even if it is IPS.. :)

Ya know, I've been carrying a Viewsonic VP211b 21.3 inch panel (quite a good monitor for it's era) in a hard case with a 17" laptop (w/DVI port) and the stand/base in my duffel for years. It's sad there's still no better way. Well, maybe upgrading to the new Viewsonic 23" IPS panel to lug around.. :)

My impression of the iPad is that, when all is added up, it's probably the best reader and viewer built so far. I'm not convinced by it as an input device for text or graphics--it's too small for comfort in intensive use in either of those jobs. But it is utterly persuasive as a viewer and, look, here, you've found another way to use it as a viewer.

As part of its 25th anniversary in business laptops, Toshiba launched the product with two screens called Libretto w100 which could be the answer to the iPad. Although Toshiba said this product is still a concept but it appears to have finished products are designed and ready to be released in the market.

I'm a bit curious what the specs will be on Asus's new 12.1 inch pad.. they've been putting IPS LED Backlit displaysin sub $300 netbooks..

I'd much rather have a PC based 'pad' with a nice 12.1" screen, all else being equal, than an Ipad.. I'd get to run the field programs I want/need, 12.1 inches is a lot more reasonable as a viewer than an Ipad, and from the previews it even looks like an Ipad.. it will probably have a SD slot, removable battery, and hopefully a matte screen option too.. :)

Hi. Dave Howell here, from Avatron, maker of Air Display. Couple of points:

(1) Ctein, thanks for the awesome post; it's really inspiring! Just FYI, we have some changes coming up in the future that will make it easier to work remotely (like editing photos in bed). Things like keyboard support, audio streaming, etc. But these are not high on our list yet, as we're working hard on perfecting support for basic multiple-monitor configurations.

Also, that lag you noticed between the compressed and lossless screen transfers will always be there, but we have plans to decrease the lag dramatically. You can expect to see much better frame rates in the near future. We just hired a video compression expert to work on this full-time.

(2) Bernie, we just finished writing our support software for Windows XP, Vista, and Seven. The XP version is in alpha testing now; Vista and Seven will go out early this week. The alpha will be brief—we just want to make sure the software's been tested on more Windows configurations—and an open beta will be right behind.


Oh by the way, regarding color profile calibration, it's something we can fix in a future version of the Air Display support software. It's on our list.


Great info thx....

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