Traveling photographers are always looking for the perfect portable device, not only to upload their photos, but to edit them, as well. Many factors come into play, including dimensions (screen and device), weight, battery life, and more. Sleep is lost as one wrestles with the purchasing decision. Should a laptop be packed? No, it’s too big to nestle into a camera bag. It will fit in a carry-on. How about a tablet? Well, it’s small and light, but does it have the horsepower to do serious editing and storage? Maybe not. Microsoft, with the Microsoft 12.3″ Multi-Touch Surface Pro 6, tries to fill the void between the laptop and tablet, bringing laptop power and capability to the photographer with the tablet-like benefits of smaller size and touchscreen functionality. Not only do you have touchscreen functionality, you get a digital stylus that takes the touchscreen from a quick interface to something where you can do true precision editing work. From my perspective, this endeavor has been a success.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp
The Surface Pro 6 is certainly larger than most tablets, but it is not considerably heavier than an iPad and keyboard/case. It also has a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port for connecting a camera or card reader. After plugging a USB 3.1 Gen 1-compatible card reader into the Surface Pro’s USB port to transfer images, it became clear to me that USB 2.0 will forever feel slow. Whoops. It might be time to upgrade.
Microsoft Surface Pro runs on a Windows 10 Home operating system—not an Android or iOS-based mobile platform. If you use a Windows computer at home or at the office, you will be familiar with the workings of the Surface Pro. To me, dedicated mobile operating systems feel like mobile operating systems; fine for my phone or tablet, but not a tool for serious work, depending on the mission. Sure, some mobile apps are suited for the small screen (the word processor I am using to write this article being a perfect example), but when it comes to software functions requiring a lot of horsepower and multiple physical interfaces, be it a separately available keyboard, mouse, separately available stylus, etc., one sometimes needs to move past the touchscreen tablet. Because of the limitations of mobile operating systems, and the fact that the Surface Pro runs on a true Windows system, this system presents itself as having the capability to do serious work, photographic or otherwise.
The other thing that separates the Surface Pro 6 from the competition is the physical user interface. Not only do you have a nearly full-size illuminated keyboard (sold separately) and touchpad that doubles as a screen protector at your disposal, you get a very slick and precise pressure-sensitive stylus (sold separately) that works flawlessly on the Surface Pro’s touchscreen. This optional stylus is what makes photo editing on the Surface Pro a real treat.
Many photographers own specialized graphics tablets and digital pens to do high-precision photo editing using a stylus on a touchpad or even on a dedicated additional touchscreen. The graphics team here at B&H Photo uses tablets exclusively for all computer functions. You will not find a mouse on their desks. If you are familiar with these rigs, you may know how expensive they can be. Now, the Surface Pro and its add-on digital stylus have arrived to shake things up. All the functionality and precision brought to the table by graphics tablets are now built into a portable photo-editing machine. No longer do you need an external device for those heavy editing tasks.
We will finish this review by discussing the built-in photo-editing software that ships with the Surface Pro. Before we dig into that, those considering using the Surface Pro 6 should know that this machine will be more than happy to run Windows Store mobile photo-editing software like PS Express, Photo Editor, Fotor, and Fhotoroom, as well as commercial PC-compatible editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Like the optional stylus, this full-blown PC functionality, courtesy of the operating system, is another thing that separates the Surface Pro from its mobile tablet competition.
If you do not want to upload editing apps or dedicated photo-editing software, you can do some quick, easy, and powerful photo editing with the Surface Pro 6’s built-in editing software: Photos. I am personally a post-processing minimalist. I strive to get the best exposure possible in the camera so that I do not have to reserve a lot of time in front of the computer screen later. If I spend more than a minute or two on an image in post processing, I figure that I probably got the shot wrong at the time of capture. If your workflow is more about tweaking exposure and making small color adjustments, you will find the Surface Pro’s editing software more than capable of fitting into your process. For the photographer needing to get something to a client ASAP, the Surface Pro and its integral Photo software might be just what you need.
Take a Surface Pro out of the box and fire it up. Once you go through the initial setup, you are immediately ready to edit photographs. Once you upload photos from your camera, memory cards, or open images taken with the Surface Pro’s onboard cameras, you will be able to view multiple images in the “Pictures Library.” Using your finger on the screen, the optional stylus, or the optional keyboard touchpad, select the image you wish to view or edit and it opens full screen.
When it comes to viewing your photos, the Surface Pro has a gorgeous 12.3″ screen with 2736 x 1824-pixel resolution. The screen looks amazing. Use two fingers to pinch-zoom into your images and get ready to virtually count pixels. On a laptop or desktop computer, you zoom with keyboard shortcuts or mouse clicks. On the Surface Pro, your fingers do the zooming and it is quick, easy, and precise.
Once inside Photos, a tap on the screen brings a menu up. On the menu: Zoom, Rotate, Draw, Edit, Share, Print. An expanded menu presents: Slideshow, Open with, Copy, Set as, View actual size, File info, and Send feedback.
Starting with the secondary menu, “Open with” gives you the option of opening the image in other software pre-installed on the Microsoft Surface Pro (Paint 3D, Paint, or Windows Photo Viewer) or apps/software you have installed for photo editing. “Slideshow” kicks off a—you guessed it—slideshow of the library images. “Open with” allows you to open the image in another program. “Copy” is what you do before you paste. “Set as” allows you to set your image quickly as the lock screen picture or the “Photos tile” on the main screen. “View actual size” gives you an instant 100% crop. And “File info” shows the metadata to the left of the image.
Back to the main controls… “Zoom” gives you an instant zoom and an adjustable slider, “Rotate” gives your image a quick 90-degree clockwise turn. Press it again for another 90-degree rotation. “Draw” allows you to mark up your photo and a drop down menu lets you control the color and shape of the implement. You may use the pen or your finger here directly on the screen. An eraser function is included. “Share” is where you export your image. “Print” is used to print.
The “Edit” option takes opens an editing suite on the right side of the screen. There are three basic paths you can take at this juncture:
“Crop and rotate” allows you to set a predetermined aspect ratio for your image or resize on your own: original (no crop), custom (pinch and drag), square, 16:9 widescreen, 2:3, 4:3, 7:5, and 10:8. “Make portrait” does a vertical crop on landscape-format images. You may also “Flip” and “Rotate” here.
“Enhance” gives you a small library of filters to choose from: Original, Sauna, Neo, Slate, Rouge, Sunscreen, Icarus, Sahara, Zeke, Arctic, Burlesque, Denim, Vanilla, Napa, and Mercury.
“Adjust” is where you find the more technical adjustments. If you are familiar with advanced photo-editing software, the Photos “Adjust” is very basic and easy to use. If you aren’t one for intensive photo editing, the options given here are really all you need. At the top of the suite is a pair of adjustments: “Light” and “Color.” Both cleverly show thumbnail-sized copies of the main image overlaid with a white bar. Visually, you can see how moving the bar is going to affect the image before you even move it—kind of like a miniature preview. Slide the bar and the main image reflects the changes in real time.
Both Light and Color have drop-down options. Below Light are sliders for Contrast, Exposure, Highlights, and Shadows. Color allows adjustments in Tint and Warmth.
Below Light and Color are “Clarity” and “Vignette” and they are both controlled by a slider.
Finishing Adjustments, at the bottom you have “Red eye” reduction, and “Spot fix”—a type of healing brush that helps remove things like sensor dust or facial blemishes. Select the option and then tap the screen with your finger or optional stylus—zoom-in to the image for more precision—and tap the area you want to clean up.
Not ready to pay for premium photo-editing software? Not enamored with mobile apps built for photo editing? The Microsoft Surface Pro’s built-in photo-editing suite is easy to use, capable, and fast. Combine this with the optional stylus and touchscreen and you can quickly add some real enhancements to your images with minimal effort.
In summary, the Surface Pro 6 is a portable tool that is more than capable of serious photo editing, because its operating system allows it to run full-powered editing software, while its user interface gives photographers all the convenience of a touchscreen, and its add-on digital stylus further raises the bar by allowing precision control of the editing software.