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.