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iPad mini Buying Guide


Now that Apple is accepting orders for the iPad mini, here are a few things to consider to manage your budget while getting a device that meets your needs.

WiFi or WiFi + Cellular

The WiFi models will be available first, ready for pick up or delivered on Nov. 2. As I said in this week's podcast, WiFi-only can limit your connectivity. Public WiFi is often less than robust, and there are times you're not near an access point at all - frustrating for such a mobile device as the iPad mini.

But the price consideration for built-in cellular is substantial. The cheapest WiFi + Cellular model (16 GB) is $459 compared to $329 for WiFi only. A workaround is to activate a tethering data plan for your iPhone. AT&T for example, has a pro plan that provides 5 GBs of data monthly, and allows tethering via cable, WiFi, or Bluetooth. Your iPhone becomes a mobile Internet access point for the iPad mini and basically any other device you have with you.

I tested the tethering option with my iPhone 4S and a variety of devices, and it was remarkably robust. This data option costs $50 a month (compared to $25 a month for 2 GBs of data without tethering.) You're going to spend $30 a month for a decent data plan just for the iPad mini if you go the WiFi + Cellular route. So considering the initial investment for WiFi + Cellular and the additional monthly fees, tethering is more affordable.

Keep in mind that using an iPhone as an access point is not as convenient as having cellular built-in to the iPad itself. And you're tapping battery power in two devices instead of just one. It's not my first choice. But when you look at the economics of trying to squeeze an iPad mini into your budget, it could make the difference between getting the mini now, or having to wait.


Apple is offering free engraving on iPad minis that you order online. This is a cool option, but think it through. If you plan on reselling your device once the 2nd generation is available, then don't get engraving. Buyers won't appreciate having "Joe Smith" emblazed on the back of their mini.

Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader

This $29 accessory is a must for nimble photographers. It allows you to copy images directly from the memory card to the iPad mini. If you shoot with a non-SD card camera, get the USB adapter instead, then use your camera's cable to transfer pictures.

Smart Cover

It's wonderful, but it's also $40 - a tough call.

Bottom Line

The most affordable iPad mini (WiFi only with 16 GBs) plus the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, recycling fee and tax; and your grand total will be $394. The 32 GB WiFi only will run you about $500. The 64 GB model, WiFi only, over $600 (both with SD Card Reader option). In other words, this suddenly becomes a serious investment.

And finally, if you decide to take the leap, I would do so sooner than later. Once Apple runs through its stockpile on iPad minis, the wait time will probably stretch out to a couple weeks.

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Using Aperture on a Retina Display Mac

When Phil Schiller announced the MacBook Pro 13" with Retina Display, he showed photographs on Aperture, which has been rewritten to take advantage of the increased pixel density. Now there are two laptops with Retina (MBP 13" and MBP 15"). So, how are they different than Macs with a traditional LED display? Take a look.

Every icon, thumbnail, and letter in Aperture has been retooled to take advantage of the super high definition display. The details you can see in the thumbnails are stunning.

When debating between the 13" and 15" MBP, be sure to take a look at the tech specs. The 15" model also includes the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 1GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching plus the Intel HD Graphics 4000, while the 13" only includes the Intel HD Graphics 4000 card.

Either way, however, you'll see your images like never before with this hardware/software combination.

Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture, check out my Aperture 3.3 Essential Training (2012) on Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!

Backlit Cheerleaders

So many interesting visuals at sporting events. This image of backlit cheerleaders caught my eye at the game last night.


Captured with an OM-D with a Carl Zeiss 85mm f/2.8 manual focus lens.

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When Apple announced the Fusion Drive for the iMac today, the first thing that I thought is that I want one for my MacBook Pro. It solves the comprise that we're currently facing with laptop computing: trading storage capacity for speed.

Essentially it's a hybrid, combining 128GBs of Flash memory with 1 or 3 TBs of traditional hard drive storage. What's unique about Fusion among hybrid drives is that the operating system will put the OS and most commonly used apps in Flash. And if your behavior changes, so will the allocation.

If you want to know more about his, check out the Ars Technical article, Apple Fusion Drive--wait, what? How does this work?. However, I think I already know that I want one.

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The iPad mini is a fascinating device for nimble photographers. At 7.9" tall and 7.2mm thick, it will fit in most conventional camera bags.

Yet the mini includes a 5 MP camera, WiFi and cellular (cellular as an option), 1024 x 768 resolution display at 163 pixels per inch, a new media card reader accessory, and all of our favorite iPad photo apps will work perfectly on it.

You can get the base model for as little as $329, but most photographers will need the version that costs $559. So the question is, should you order one when they're available? That's what we'll examine in this week's podcast.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (30 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. You can support this podcast by purchasing the TDS iPhone App for only $2.99 from the Apple App Store.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Panorama is the Oct. 2012 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Oct. 31, 2012. Note: We're making an exception this month for image size. Submit your panorama at the size you feel appropriate.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. And from those images, I choose the TDS Member Photo of the Day.

Podcast Sponsors

Red River Paper -- Keep up with the world of inkjet printing, and win free paper, by liking Red River Paper on Facebook.

Make Your Photos Sizzle with Color! -- SizzlPix is like High Definition TV for your photography. Special this month, order one SizzlPix and get the second one for 50%. Put "TDS" in the comments field of your order.

Need a New Photo Bag? Check out the Lowepro Specialty Store on The Digital Story and use discount code LP20 to saven 20% at check out.

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Remember to Photograph Your Set Up Too

When working with lighting and portraits, it's easy to get caught up in the photo shoot and forget how you captured the shot. Like a good cooking recipe, you want to be able to repeat your performance if it turns out well.

model_shoot_sebastopol.jpg Our lighting set up for an outdoor model shoot during the TDS Fall Photography Workshop.

During yesterday's model shoot at the TDS Fall Photography Workshop, I reminded our participants to step back and record the various lighting schemes we were testing. That way, when they nailed a portrait they really liked, they could duplicate the results another time with a different subject.

Camera phones are great for documenting photo shoots. You could have an assistant or friend snap some pictures during the session to capture the lighting set ups. As long as the datestamp on the camera phone and your DSLR match, you'll be able to see exactly how you got that great shot.

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Safari - Workshop Day 1

We were up early to catch the morning light for our adventure at Safari West on day 1 of the TDS Fall Color Workshop. With our own guide and vehicle, we had the entire area to ourselves.

TDS Workshop Group

The animals were out in the morning light. And the photography was terrific.



Day two focuses on landscape shooting and environmental portraiture with a professional model. More to report on that.

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Sonoma County Fall Color

I went on a scouting mission this morning to evaluate my favorite spots in preparation for the Fall Color with Safari West Workshop that begins tomorrow at my studio in Santa Rosa, CA. The color is just beginning here in Northern California, and will continue to intensify over the coming weeks.

Sonoma County Fall Color Healdsburg, CA. Photo by Derrick Story.

I still haven't decided where we're going for our Sunday morning landscape shoot. But I think this spot might be a contender.

Stay tuned for reports on the workshop, including images by participants.

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If indeed Apple announces the iPad mini on Oct. 23, 2012, the device will have a big impact for nimble photographers. The current iPad is the largest surface area object in our "travel light" camera bags. Measuring 9.5" x 7.31", the iPad determines the type and size of transport we must carry to be fully functional while on the go.

Reducing that surface size to something in the neighborhood of 7.85" on the long side means that we can carry a Compact System Camera, iPad mini, and accessories in virtually any camera bag. But in order for this to work, the new tablet will need certain attributes.

  • iPad Camera Connection Kit - Currently this kit -- that allows you to import images from a camera or memory card -- is only available as a Dock Connector model. We're pretty sure that the alleged iPad mini will use a Lightning Connector. Hopefully Apple will release an updated CCK so we don't have to use an adapter that could break because of the amount of leverage created. Also, there's no sure bet that the adapter will work with the current Connection Kit.
  • Retina Display - One of the discussed goals of the iPad mini has been price competition with Amazon, Samsung, and Google. Apple may want to release a non-Retina display version of the device to keep it price competitive. If they do, I'm hoping that a Retina display model will be available also. Once you've had Retina, it's very hard to go back.
  • HD Camera - I think the camera built in to the iPad mini is very important. This device will be much less awkward to take pictures with, yet still provides an HD view of the world. I'm hoping that we see a camera with the specs close to the unit that's in the iPhone 4S, or better.
  • GPS - A good camera that can geotag images is vital to nimble photographers. There's no better time to add location information than when the image is recorded.
  • Smart Cover This device needs to take up as little space as possible, and the Smart Cover we currently have for iPads is a great accessory. Would love to have one for the mini at launch.

Will we get these features? We'll know soon enough. The announcement is in less than a week (we think...).

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With Aperture 3.3 and iPhoto 9.3, Apple introduced the Unified Library that allows both applications to share a single library container. Not only does this allow you to switch back and forth between iPhoto and Aperture seamlessly, but it introduces new options for your photo workflow.

How the Unified Library Works

First, however, here's a brief look at the Unified Library in action.

Since this movie was made, a new feature was introduced in Aperture 3.4 making this "switching back and forth" even easier. The command, File > Open in iPhoto streamlines the process of jumping over to iPhoto (and vice versa).

Managing Photo Stream with the Unified Library

Some people have asked me how the Unified Library affects my Controlling Photo Stream with iPhoto workflow. Well, it's actually made it easier.

I still can have only one library designated to manage my Photo Stream. I've set up an iPhoto Library specifically for that task. My iPhoto Preferences are configured to automatically download images from Photo Stream into this container.



So all of my pictures from the iPhone and iPad flow into this designated iPhoto library. Now, let's say, that I want to work on one of these shots in Aperture. I go to File > Open Library in Aperture, and the entire Photo Stream is there. I can edit anything that appeals to me with Aperture's extensive toolset, export finished pictures out to my Mac, or share them online. When I'm done, I switch back to my regular Aperture library and let iPhoto continue to manage the Photo Stream.

Easy! Needless to say, I'm lovin' the Unified Library.

Aperture Tips and Techniques

To learn more about Aperture, check out my Aperture 3.3 Essential Training (2012) on Also, take a look at our Aperture 3 Learning Center. Tons of free content about how to get the most out of Aperture.

The Digital Story on Facebook -- discussion, outstanding images from the TDS community, and inside information. Join our celebration of great photography!