The Problem With Importing XAVC-S Video On The iPad Pro

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iPad Pro video import

Read most any iPad Pro review and you’ll see the same line written in different ways: the iPad Pro is powerful enough to render three streams of 4K video simultaneously in iMovie. That’s quite a lot. It’s something my own 2013 Retina MacBook Pro would probably have issues handling. But nobody ever seems to talk about how the heck you’re supposed to get those high resolution files onto the iPad in the first place. I’ve tried asking around on Twitter but haven’t heard any responses from early access reviewers. I have a feeling that they either AirDropped 4K videos from an iPhone 6S, or simply transferred high resolution footage from a computer.

iPhone 4K video looks gorgeous, but I did buy a mirrorless camera and fast lens for a reason. I want to get shallow depth-of-field videos that the iPhone just can’t achieve right now, so simply relying on AirDrop of iPhone videos isn’t a great solution for me. Transferring files from a laptop works, but if you’re going to do that, why not just use the laptop? Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere are far more powerful than any current video editing app on iOS, and they make the cutting process so much faster to boot. Unless the portability of the iPad is of paramount importance, I will always do my video editing on a desktop machine with desktop-class software to achieve better and faster results.

One of my personal tests for the iPad Pro is to see if it can help me edit movies while out and about. Given its price — $1600 CAD for 128 GB Wi-Fi and a Smart Keyboard — and its positioning as pro-level tablet, I think it’s reasonable to expectation to import videos in XAVC-S format from my Sony A6000. I do not expect to create an elaborate movie — just preview and play a bit with what I’ve shot in a day.

The first issue I encountered is that Sony doesn’t let you transfer XAVC-S video over Wi-Fi.

I can transfer pictures and crappy mp4 files to the iPad wirelessly, but that’s it. So I went out and bought Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for $40, because this video from Noah Leon shows him doing exactly what I want to do with his A7S and iPad Air — import videos right on location without any other computer.

I recorded a test video the other night at 1080p running at 60 frames per second. The video was just a few seconds long and good enough to show me the quality. Transferring the files to the iPad was as simple as connecting the two devices via cable, turning the camera on, and pressing Import within the Photos app. I was really pleased with that.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. I recorded a few more clips in the evening rain, clocking in at around 0:35 and 0:45 seconds each. Given the bit-rate of these videos, each of them was easily over 200 MB. The iPad Pro was able to see these videos, but whenever I tried to import them, the camera would just crash. Sometimes it took 10 seconds, while other times it took 30 seconds — but the crash was inevitable.

I tried to isolate some variables. I recorded at different frame rates (24p, 30p, 60p) in XAVC-S and tried videos of different lengths. From what I can tell, frame rates don’t matter — it must be the file size that the iPad Pro or the camera has issue with. Transferring a small file doesn’t take too much power, but a larger file needs more juice to send over to the iPad, and that’s where things go wrong. The camera starts to charge from the iPad, and the iPad will not have that, so it shuts the whole connection off.

Depending on the camera you use, you may not run into this issue. However, XAVC-S seems to be a pretty popular format as far as I can tell. Pro-level Sony cameras use XAVC-S for their highest quality settings, and it’s really disappointing to see such awful support for video importing on the iPad Pro in iOS 9.1. It’s obvious that the iPad can handle the files, so I find it very frustrating that the import process is so difficult.

I have one more play in mind — to try the Lightning-to-SD-Card adapter from Apple. It was sold out when I tried to buy it. But from all the research I’ve done on forums, the iPad can’t see XAVC-S files using an SD card reader. It can only be done through the USB adapter, and only when the camera is set to MTP mode. So if you’re a videographer looking to take more advantage of the power in the iPad Pro, you’ll likely be waiting for Apple to implement a newer hardware accessory, or better software support for video importing.

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10 thoughts on “The Problem With Importing XAVC-S Video On The iPad Pro”

  1. Great article. This is exactly what I am trying to do with my A7S/RII and iPad Pro. Native XAVC-S support on the iPad Pro would be so awesome. I hope Apple will consider supporting that at some point :(

    1. That’s the strange thing: iOS does support XAVC-S b/c it supports H.264. My files do play back. It’s just a pain to import them from a camera, and it’s a very limited workflow.

  2. Thanks for this feedback. I also own a Sony Alpha ILCE-6000. I also have an iPad Air (not 2) about to be sold. I was thinking to get the iPad Pro but for a couple reasons I won’t. For one, it is way overpriced for what you get. I’d rather add a little more to that price tag and get a Macbook Air, a full-fledged computer, in lieu of a half-baked ‘computer’ using iOS. The other reason is, trying to do video editting on an iPad is half-baked. Considering Apple’s walled-garden policy on their hardware, needing various adapters, and then praying / hoping they will let you do what you want them to do, no thanks. I’d love to be able to do media editing while on an iPad from a mobile perspective, but the hassles you describe in your article here highlights some of the headaches and issues in trying to do so. So, any serious video edit work best be done on a real computer using FCP-X, or BlackMagic’s free Resolve 12. And, I already do this via my 2015 Macbook Pro retina. Plugged in at home to a 31″ external 4K monitor, or simply disconnect and take the ‘system’ with me while on the road. ;-)

  3. My exact problem as well. I have both SD card adapter and USB camera connector kit. Sony a7r ii and XAVCS 4K video 100mbps. I haven’t tried other frame rates or bit rates. Make apple fix it now! Thanks for writing this up

  4. Using the Apple USB camera adapter, If I record a short 4k30p 100mbps video around 10-15secs then the import of that single file will copy to the iPad and I can view it or edit it. If the source file is longer aka larger file size and the import of that file reaches 15 secs then the camera jumps out of MTP mode, the connection closes, iPad briefly flashes message about not powering the connected device, connection reestablishes via Mass Storage and then the videos aren’t visible to import. Also, I have USB Power Supply set to off and USB LUN setting to single. The behavior is the same with my iPad Air 2 and my iPad pro

    1. There’s rumour of a new USB-3 speed connector for the iPad. I’m hoping they take advantage of that speed and power and offer a better video import solution in the next few months.

  5. Just wanted to say thank you for the info so far. Please keep us updated if you make any more progress! I was considering getting an iPad pro with hopes of editing xavc-s from my Sony A-6000 as well. No aspirations of doing anything too advanced so the roadblocks you’ve explained so far are very disappointing.

  6. I have exactly the same problem when I try to send xavc from my Sony rx100m3 it my iPad Air 2. Short movies will work but longer movies fails due to a to high power consumption. I send them by the camera connection kit.

  7. I have had the same exact problem. The whole reason I even purchased the iPad was to do basic/quick edits during travel. Today – 12/8/15, Apple released a new version of the Lightning to SD reader to support USB 3 speeds and large file transfers. Hopefully the new hardware supports transferring of 4K/hd files, if not… I’m returning the iPad pro and sticking with my hauling around my MacBook Pro.

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