Software & Hardware For The Social Media Strategist
Goodbye iPad Pro - Back To Square One...
I usually start this post with a phrase like “I last updated my Social Media Photographer's Gear series here in (insert date) of this/last year.” Since I’ve updated this post now 4 times this year, I had decided to just make this a monthly, updated post moving forward.
However... there's another drastic change in my daily computing setup: this one as drastic as my move from shooting with DSLR's using a laptop to going 100% iOS for shooting and mobile computing. But, this time it's in the exact opposite direction.
As digital marketers, do we really need all the gear and software we think we need? Since the start of my transition off DSLR cameras to mirrorless to compacts to iPhones and now back to mirrorless, I regularly stop and consider if it is me, or the gear that makes my work as good as it can be. While we all can get sucked into the mindless trap of unrelenting consumerism, I have found in the past few years that limiting my access to tech, gear, and software forces me to exercise my creative muscles in ways I wouldn't otherwise. Having access to the latest and greatest everything all the time is a blessing but it makes you intellectually lazy - plain and simple.
Luckily for me I have realized this and just happen to be at a point in my career where I am naturally embracing it. For me, advancing means simplifying. Just adding more "junk" to my iMac, photo bag, iPad or home office is no longer helpful. After being in the digital space for over two decades, I have found the right software and hardware tools I need in order to be productive and profitable. Ironically it took me an almost four-year-long experiment to find out that what I was using years, without even knowing it, was the most efficient setup I had. I have been focused on eliminating the things I have accumulated over the years that I thought were beneficial, but are not in reality.
This is not easy. I like gear. I like new apps. I like tricking myself into thinking I did something to make my art or work better by adding something to my bag of tricks. But I also love simplicity;
I'm not there yet - but I'm getting there. After almost four years of using an iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, I’m done jumping through hoops in a never-ending effort to make the iPad work for me as my primary mobile computing device. No-one can say I haven’t tried. This experiment lasted over three years and I am still frustrated on a daily basis by a few HUGE issues with iOS that continue to prevent it from being an O/S than can handle some really mundane everyday computing tasks.
The hardware, as many reviewers have said, is second to none. It's not the hardware, it's the software. The biggest issues I continue to have include the inability too have free-floating windows from different apps open at the same time, the lack of an external pointing device (specifically a mouse or trackpad), basic support for external storage devices, terrible support for importing and managing documents and spreadsheets, and the lack of a filesystem that can effectively interoperate with other O/S’s like macOS, Windows, Linux, or an ftp server system.
My goal has always been simplicity and small footprint. With my continuing frustrations with iOS and with the latest iteration of the MacBook Pro, I've decided to move back to macOS for all my work. So the 5K iMac is now gone… the 12.9” iPad Pro is gone… the multiple iPhones are gone. I had a good time using iPhones as cameras for the last few years. I'll still use one as a “B” camera but I am moving back to Fujifilm now. Additionally, all the accessories & software that made working on iOS…”work” are gone. One thing that is usually missing from the narrative about the iPad being a "computer" is all the additional hardware and software that is required to make daily use bearable.
This experiment was intended to show that iOS could be a compelling alternative to existing computing platforms which would be efficient and also be more affordable than traditional computing. It was NEVER efficient. But, I stuck with it. I told myself it was not the software, it was the paradigm. I had to retrain myself to do things differently. Eventually, I told myself, I'd relearn how to work on "the computing platform of the future," I'd develop new muscle memory for common tasks, and I'd be a step ahead of everyone else when the time finally came to make the move from macOS to iOS for the masses.
The majority of tasks I complete daily STILL take two to five times more clicks and time to accomplish on iOS as compared to completing the same task on macOS. With the recent release of the new iPad Pro, the hardware now starts at $999 and tops out at over $2,000 when a pencil and keyboard are added. Add to this that the platform is still without the accompanying updates to the O/S which would help it actually be a viable daily driver. So much for the more affordable part of my thesis. So, I have decided to give up on the experiment and declare defeat.
Maybe with the next major release of iOS Apple will address some of these issues. I love the hardware and will not count out the platform as my only computing platform in the future. However, I will not make the investment in time and treasure again until Apple makes the investment in iOS so the platform is actually usable for a professional user.
MY HARDWARE & SOFTWARE SETUP
I focus on efficiency with my budget, which is not the same as being frugal. I will challenge myself but I won't sacrifice the quality of work I produce for the sake of saving a few dollars. I don't want to throw money away either. I work hard to get the tools I need versus the ones I just want. How does this manifest itself? One example is that all my content is still delivered in 1080p HD. That means I don't need to be worried if my next camera shoots 4k because I won't be needing it. This is just an example of my thinking.
I continue to focus on getting my workflow, hardware, and software setup optimized so I can get as much done as possible, as quickly as possible, with the lightest digital and physical footprint possible, anywhere and everywhere. This means scaling back not only the hardware, but also the number of programs I use.
In previous years I had sold off all my DSLR, mirrorless & compact cameras and lenses. I spent some time being 100% iPhone for all my photo and video work. I tested using two FujiFilm X100F's and a Fujifilm X-E3 as higher-quality photo/video cameras. Unfortunately, the X100F's were too finicky when working with them for video. The additional steps required to get photos and videos from the cameras into my editing process were their undoing. Of course, now, I realize that this was an issue with iOS, not the cameras.
I don't know exactly why, but when I got the X-E3, it just sat on a shelf in my home office and barely got picked up, much less used. I made the final decision to sell it to someone who might actually use it after I took the X-E3 on a week-long trip and I didn't use it once. Part of the trip included a couple client shoots and the X-E3 sat in the airbnb while I shot the events with iPhones. I didn't even consider taking it to the client shoots.
I “switched” to using iPhones exclusively on all my projects back in 2015. While I have dabbled in more Fujifilm and Canon cameras since that time, I had not used any device other than an iPhone on client work during my switch from 2015 until the fall of 2018. My last shoot performed exclusively on iPhones was the two weekends of the 2018 Austin City Limits Music Festival. Even with access to “better” cameras, I continued to choose to shoot with the iPhone due to the combined capabilities, consistency, convenience, and final product the device delivers. I will continue to do so, but will start using Fujifilm mirrorless cameras again in the future as each situation calls for it.
I absolutely LOVE the look of the photos and videos that come out of the Fuji's but my during my experiment, I was looking to achieve balance with overall quality, ease of use, and flexibility. With the iPhone I have been happy enough - and more importantly, my clients were happy, with the video and photos that the iPhones produce. So the experience with this three-plus year experiment has sealed the deal for me. I won't have any issues shooting any event without a "real camera" and am happy with the result of this part of my journey.
Still, after moving off the iPad and back to a MacBook Pro, I am running leaner than ever before, carrying one iPhone, a small mirrorless camera, and just a 13" fully-specced out 2018 MacBook Pro with me everywhere I go. The laptop has replaced my 27" iMac and the iPad Pro. Making this change now gives me the added flexibility to produce complex video for publication during my trips. Even now I am able to carry my entire office and all my photo/video gear with me in a medium sized photo bag.
With the iPad Pro I had to plan ahead before any trip where I’ll be shooting and producing video in the field. I'd create any elements I’ll need for the final edits before I leave and load them up to the iPad. Of course, this left me with no room for having to make changes when I was on a shoot. All video and photo editing and distribution in the field was completed on the 12.9” iPad Pro which worked out fine 90% of the time. But, that 10% of the time it didn't work out, it was a show-stopper.
So - what is different now as compared to the previous three years during my "iOS as computer" experiment? EVERYTHING. I side-graded my 2017 Apple Retina 5k, 27-inch iMac and the third-generation 12.9" iPad Pro to a 13" MacBook Pro with additional video power provided by the Blackmagic Design eGPU and additional screen real-estate provided by a 34" LG Ultrawide monitor. I no longer use iPhones as photo and video cameras unless I absolutely have to for one reason or another. I'm back to using Fujifilm cameras…and Canon. I’m going to need to make a decision on one brand as I am NOT going to put myself in a situation where I am maintaining tow different lines of cameras. If I’m honest, I think I might be going back to Canon for no other reason than the sheer utility of the product. We’ll see.
A dirty little secret about using iOS devices: Using the iPhones constantly required that I supplement them in situations where I wanted a bit more functionality out of them. I wanted a bit more reach from the lens. I wanted a wider angle. I wanted better, smoother stabilization. At the same time I wanted to be able to pull out a camera an "just shoot" without having to attach accessories and cages and stabilizers. I found that when you use your iPhone for your camera... you have to dress up the phone to make it perform as a camera in many situations. In the the end, using the iPhone didn't save any time at all as compared to using a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
With all that said: This is the current gear I use on a day-to-day basis to deliver award-winning SEO and social media marketing results to my clients. It's all been tested in real-world situations, on real jobs and, as always, everything on this list is highly recommended by me personally.
Still in my quest to have a light footprint, I’ve recently gotten rid of the BeastGrip iPhone camera cage, HeliumCore Cinema Cages, the MoonDog Labs Anamorphic Lens, the Shure MV88 microphone, the Moment lenses, the DJI Osmo Stabilizer, the other stuff, and the other stuff, and the other stuff. I’m done with shooting on iPhones. All my Moment lenses and iPhone photography accessories have been donated to my oldest daughter as she starts a food blog. This is where I am in my journey... and I don't have much more to say about it than that. I feel like I took four years to find my way back to where I began. sigh
My goals with my setup remain the same. Small footprint and efficiency. It’s just strange that after working on this over the last several years, I’ve come almost completely full circle with my set up. I guess I already knew the answer before I started on this quest.
So what am I currently using now? Without further ado, here's the basic list:
Computers / Mobile
Apple 13” 2018 MacBook Pro (2.7 GHz i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD) w/ a 4 TB G-Technology Rugged Raid Pro USB-C Hard Drive for daily external storage space and a 34” LG Ultrawide Monitor powered by a Blackmagic Design Radeon Pro 580 eGPU.
Apple iPhone X S is used as my daily driver.
Cameras & Gear
Fujifilm X-T2 Camera for still event, food, and product photography
Canon EOS M50 is my in-studio vlogging camera.
Canon G1X Mark III is my “everyday/everywhere else” camera. I use it for everything from shooting flatlays in studio to vlogging outside the studio and shooting b-roll footage on site. It has the same sensor as the other Canon APS-C cameras but is extremely small, weather-sealed, and completely self-contained.
1st generation Apple iPad with ProPrompter PRO Mobile used as a teleprompter for vlogging in-studio.