How to Choose the Best iPad for Photo Editing [2021]

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If you don’t have time to read the article, then the best iPad for photo editing is the 2021 iPad Pro 11-inch.

With the many generations and models of iPads that have been released over the years, it can be difficult to know which is the best iPad for photographers specifically.

This article covers the top iPad models for editing photos and shows you why should consider each model in the full reviews towards the bottom of the article. Also, see what iPad photo editing apps are available, both paid and free, and which have the biggest positive impact on your photo editing workflow.



The Best iPad for Photo Editing in 2021

My Top Pick

The Best Photo Editing iPad

  • Super-fast M1 chip gives outstanding performance
  • 120Hz refresh rate means no lag when drawing
  • Compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 with magnetic storage and wireless charging
  • Fantastic battery life and low weight makes this easily portable
  • Beautiful colors on the high res screen
With fantastic performance from the M1 chip, and a 120Hz refresh rate which means almost no lag from the Apple Pencil 2, along with the ability to use Photoshop, the 11-inch iPad Pro is my pick if you want an iPad for photo editing.
The 11-inch model beats the 12.9-inch as the best iPad Pro for photo editing, as it is not only cheaper and lighter, but also doesn’t suffer from the light bloom of the larger model, caused by the XDR screen.
Colors look beautiful, and the contrast and brightness are perfect. When combined with the low weight of just over 1lb, and the thirteen and a half hours of battery life, you get a device that is almost impossible to fault, with the only negative perhaps being the price tag.

Compare the Best iPad for Editing Photos

iPad

Chip & Storage

Screen Size & Resolution

Pros / Cons:

Check Price

M1 Chip

128GB - 2TB Storage



11"

2388 x 1668

Pros: 120Hz refresh rate; Supports Apple Pencil 2; Super fast M1 chip



Cons: Quite Expensive

M1 Chip

128GB - 2TB Storage



12.9"

2732 x 2048

Pros: Very large screen; M1 chip; 2D backlighting

Cons: Expensive; Light bloom

A14 Chip

64GB / 256GB Storage

10.9"

2360 x 1640

Pros: Good trade-off price to performance; Wide color display; Light

Cons: Low RAM; Limited storage

A12 Chip

64GB / 256GB Storage

7.9"

2048 x 1536

Pros: Pretty cheap; Extremely portable; Wide color display

Cons: Old chip & less RAM; Small screen

A12 Chip

32GB / 128GB Storage

10.2"

2160 x 1620


Pros: Very cheap; 10.2-inch screen is ideal size for many

Cons: Low RAM & limited storage; No wide color display


What to Look for in an iPad for Photo Editing

Navigating between the various models of iPads for photo editing and the different generations within a model can be daunting.

I used the below checklist to determine which are the best iPads for photography, based on the criteria that are relevant to me as a photographer.

Your own requirements might vary, so feel free to use this list and re-arrange the importance of each critrion, if you want to conduct your own research.

  1. Size of Screen & Resolution.
  2. Color Accuracy of the Screen.
  3. Processor.
  4. Internal Storage.
  5. Compatibility with Apple Pencil.
iPad Pro for photo editing

Screen Size & Resolution

Larger screens with a higher resolution are easier to use for photo editing, as you are able to see the detail in your photos while looking at the entire picture. Smaller, lower res screens require you to zoom in if you need to make more detailed edits, which adds an extra step to your workflow, but is manageable.

Smaller screens also have the benefit of making the device much smaller, lighter and more portable, which is a massive bonus of iPads for photo editing over laptops, for example.

Models like the iPad Mini are therefore especially useful for those who travel a lot and don’t want to carry a heavier device like the iPad Pro.


Screen Color Accuracy & Display

Apple are well known for producing some of the highest quality screens out of all laptop and tablet manufacturers, and the screens in their iPads are no exception.

With the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, they have introduced the next evolution of screens with a liquid retina XDR display, which uses mini-LEDs to produce exceptionally high contrast, with very dark blacks.

But even the lower spec iPads tend to have very strong screens, with all recent models apart from the standard iPad having wide color P3 displays. These show at least 100% of the sRGB gamut (but typically around 120% in the most recent models).

Color accuracy is therefore not something you need to worry about with iPads, assuming you are buying a recent model, and are not going for the standard iPad, which displays below 100% of the sRGB gamut.


Processor

Recent developments in processors means that Apple now use their proprietary M1 chip in the iPad Pro lineup, which is the first processor following Apple’s transition from Intel’s silicon to their own.

These supersede the A series of chips, and are claimed by Apple to be significantly faster. Although you might not see much benefit right now, as developers move to designing programs specifically for Apple’s chips, these speed advantages are likely to become more obvious.

Currently, Photoshop is not optimized for M1 chips (so will show roughly the same processor performance as on the A series of chips), but Affinity Photo (plus Apple’s standard apps) are optimized for M1, so you will see a speed boost with these.

photo editing ipad

Internal Storage

Particularly for photo editing, internal storage can be a big issue, as modern cameras tend to produce large photo files. You can use my articles on photo storage and video storage to help you decide how many GB internal storage you will need on your iPad.

I would always recommend going for the largest capacity device you can afford, as this will give you the most flexibility in the future.


Apple Pencil Compatibility

You will need a stylus for your iPad if you are photo editing, as it will be pretty much impossible to add complex masks and other adjustments with your finger – you need the accuracy that a good stylus gives.

The Apple Pencil is the best stylus you can get for iPads, in both its first and second generation forms. All current iPads are compatible with at least one of these, with all iPads compatible with the 1st gen version.

The Apple Pencil 2 feels slightly more like a real pencil than the plastic pointer of the original, but otherwise drawing performance is identical.

Where the Pencil 2 outshines the 1, is in the addition of a customizable button, and particularly with charging, where it can be magnetically attached to the iPad Pro models for storage and wireless charging.

The original Pencil has a lightning connector to charge, and no real storage solution, which makes the 2nd gen version seem so much more refined and user friendly, and a real big step up.

iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

iPad Photo Editing Apps

One of the advantages when editing photos on iPads, versus Android tablets, is that iPads can now use their own full version of Photoshop. For me, this is the best photo editing app for iPad, even though it is not optimized for the new M1 chips.

If you are willing to work with a browser-based version of Photoshop, then PhotoPea is the best free photo editor for iPad, and is excellent.

Both PhotoPea and Photoshop work for iPad raw photo editing, and there is also Affinity Photo of course, which is less powerful than Photoshop, but does not have a monthly subscription fee.


Reviews of the Best Photo Editing iPads

All of the most recent photo editing iPads are reviewed below, and ordered from best to worst.


1. 2021 Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd Generation)

The Best iPad for Photo Editing

Specifications:
  • Chip: M1
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB (1TB+ storage models)
  • Storage: 128 GB – 2 TB
  • Screen Size: 11″
  • Max Resolution: 2388 x 1668
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 13.5 hours
  • Weight: 1.03 lbs (466 grams)
  • Pros:
  • New M1 chip is incredibly fast
  • 120 Hz refresh rate is far superior than the Air / iPad for drawing with the Apple Pencil and screen looks great
  • Outstanding battery life and low weight
  • 2nd Gen Apple Pencil can be magnetically attached to the iPad Pro for storage and charging
  • Cons:
  • Quite expensive
  • Not all apps make use of the M1 chip yet

If you are looking for the best iPad Pro for photographers, then I would suggest the 2021 iPad Pro 11-inch is it. This may not have the slightly larger screen of the 12.9-inch model, but it comes in at half a pound lower, and doesn’t show the light bloom of the XDR display of the latter.

The screen doesn’t quite match the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Pro in terms of sheer colorfulness, but looks much more natural as a result, and with the P3 wide color display is very well suited for photo editing.

Using Photoshop on the 11-inch iPad Pro for photo editing is a joy, and is super easy with the Apple Pencil 2, which magnetically attaches to the side of the iPad for storage and charging.

The 120Hz screen refresh rate is the big deal for me though, as it means that there is minimal lag between drawing with the pen, and the line appearing on screen – the cursor seems magnetically attached to the pen nib. Standard iPads only have a 60Hz refresh rate, and pen lag is more noticeable on them.

Although this is only the 3rd generation of 11-inch iPad Pro, it is confusingly the same version as the 5th gen 12.9-inch model, with the same processor, RAM and storage.

The M1 chip makes this super fast, and the frankly excellent all round performance means that if you can stomach the price, you get a tablet that makes photo editing so easy and fun that you’ll find you don’t want to put the iPad down.


2. 2021 Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th Generation)

The Largest iPad for Photo Editing

Specifications:
  • Chip: M1
  • RAM: 8 GB / 16 GB (1TB+ storage models)
  • Storage: 128 GB – 2 TB
  • Screen Size: 12.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2732 x 2048
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 10.5 hours
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs (682 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Very large screen
  • 120 Hz refresh rate is ideal for drawing
  • 1600 nits peak brightness using HDR really helps boost contrast
  • Unique 2D backlighting display with 2596 local dimming zones to create much deeper and more realistic blacks
  • Cons:
  • Light bloom around the edges of shapes is particularly noticeable
  • Expensive

Most of those looking for an iPad Pro for photo editing gravitate towards the 12.9-inch model, as the larger screen makes it seem as though it is better suited to photography.

Although the screen size is excellent, and the other specs match the cheaper 11-inch iPad Pro, the XDR screen of this 12.9-inch model suffers from a significant problem of light bloom. This is caused by the blacks being much deeper, which is a positive, but results in lighter areas bleeding into the blacks.

As most people have Photoshop setup to use a dark background, this means that light bloom is particularly noticeable when photo editing.

Although it can be mitigated by lowering the brightness (and the screen is otherwise superb), I don’t feel that the larger screen size and extra cost outweighs the benefits of the smaller 11-inch iPad Pro.

How does it compare to the 2018 iPad Pro?

Many of those looking for a good deal have considered how the 2021 iPad Pro compares to the 2018 iPad Pro, which have otherwise similar screen sizes.

Essentially, the 2021 version has an improved display and durability, along with a much better processor in the M1 chip. I don’t think the earlier iPad Pros are worth the money when the most recent models are so much better.


3. 2020 Apple iPad Air (4th Generation)

Excellent value for money

Specifications:
  • Chip: A14
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB / 256GB
  • Screen Size: 10.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2360 x 1640
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 2nd Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 10.5 hours
  • Weight: 1 lb (458 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Very good trade-off between price & performance with the A14 processor faster than the A12 in the standard iPad
  • Wide color display nearly matches the iPad Pro
  • Lightweight, yet with a nearly 11 inch screen
  • Compatible with the Apple Pencil 2
  • Cons:
  • Low amount of RAM is not ideal for photo editing
  • Limited internal storage

The Apple iPad Air has the advantage of being a small, lightweight tablet (although its weight and size is matched by the 11-inch iPad Pro), with a very good trade-off between price and performance.

It doesn’t feature the super-fast M1 chip of the iPad Pro’s, but the A14 chip is not far of when using Photoshop, in practice.

You also get the P3 wide color display in a beautiful high res screen, and compatibility with the Apple Pencil 2 is a massive bonus.

With lower refresh rate than the iPad Pro’s, the Air shows a bit more drawing lag, and can hit some RAM issues if you are dealing with particularly large image files.

But for my money, the iPad Air really challenges the iPad Pro’s when you take into account the fact that it is about the half the price of otherwise fairly similar models. If value for money is your most important criterion, then the iPad Air is the photo editing tablet for you.


4. 2019 Apple iPad Mini (5th Generation)

Most Portable iPad

Specifications:
  • Chip: A12
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 64GB / 256GB
  • Screen Size: 7.9″
  • Max Resolution: 2048 x 1536
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 1st Generation
  • Colors: Wide color display (P3)
  • Battery Life: 12.5 hours
  • Weight: 0.66 lbs (300 grams)
  • Pros:
  • One of the cheapest iPads
  • Extremely portable with its small screen and light weight
  • Excellent battery life
  • Wide color display for lovely colors
  • Cons:
  • Older A12 chip and less RAM makes photo editing harder
  • Small screen
  • Doesn’t use USB-C

Although the iPad Mini is very small, with only a 7.9-inch screen, it still manages to deliver a strong photo editing performance, thanks to the P3 wide color display, and decent internal storage in the 256 GB model.

The A12 chip is the oldest model still in production iPads, and is consequently the slowest, but Photoshop still runs fine – just don’t expect M1 levels of performance.

The 3GB of RAM is more of problem for editing large photos, and the 1st gen Apple Pencil is a pain to charge and store.

But if maximum portability is your most important metric, then the small size and very light weight (this is the lightest iPad) mean that the iPad Mini is exceptionally easy to carry around, and the long battery life should last all day.


5. 2020 Apple iPad (8th Generation)

The Original iPad

Specifications:
  • Chip: A12
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB / 128GB
  • Screen Size: 10.2″
  • Max Resolution: 2160 x 1620
  • Apple Pencil Compatibility: 1st Generation
  • Colors: Normal color display
  • Battery Life: 10 hours
  • Weight: 1.08 lbs (490 grams)
  • Pros:
  • Excellent value for money
  • Original iPad with tried-and-tested design
  • 10.2-inch screen can be the sweet spot for size
  • The cheapest iPad available
  • Cons:
  • Only first gen Apple Pencil support
  • No wide color P3 display
  • Low internal storage

As the current iteration of the original iPad, this model is the cheapest currently available, but does suffer from a few issues with the reduced price.

It has the older A12 processor and 3GB of RAM, as with the iPad Mini, but comes in a 10.2-inch screen size, which many find a sweet spot for a tablet – not too big or too small.

The display does not fit the P3 wide color display gamut of the other iPads, which is a problem for photo editing, as it means you lose an edge when it comes to color.

For my money, you are probably better looking at Android tablets if this is all your budget will stretch to, as they offer higher specifications at this price point.


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Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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