Your typical tech review is about one thing. It's about a new piece of hardware and what you can do with it that you couldn't before or it's about a new release of software and how it'll make crafting your images easier and faster.
This is what makes this particular article a bit of an anomaly; it's really about DaVinci Resolve on iPad, which isn't just about the software release but about how the software and hardware work together. And it's less about what that means for right now but about what this means going forward.
Some backstory is needed to understand why this is all so wild. It was a big deal when color grading first came to small shops and indies because it was a wildly intensive task.
Editing small video files on a computer was available to most people by the late 1990s. Ten years later, when color grading came along, the processing power needed to complete these tasks wasn't available for the consumer. Even Apple Color demanded a lot of graphics power.
When I started using it consistently, my first-ever graphics card ended up cooked. The poor thing got so hot doing all the graphics-intensive actions of taking every pixel and remapping it to a new color that it gave up on life.
What Apple Color looked like way back whenCredit: B&H
This is where DaVinci Resolve comes in. It eventually found its way to home computers, but it was never easy. You either worked with your local Mac dealer or scoured forums to find the best possible graphics card you could put into your system to make it work.
At first, NVIDIA GPUs were the only choice, as you would all those CUDA cores. Always more CUDA cores.
Eventually, Resolve launched a "system profiling tool" to make sure your machine could handle it. Around 2013-2015, the highest-end Macbook Pro laptops (the big ones with discrete graphics cards) could handle basic grading tasks.
Even with that power, those machines strained when things got complicated with noise correction, color management, or plugins. Color grading on a portable tablet? Forget it. That was sorcery. The best you could manage doing was to use filters on your phone to tweak your images, but that was a bulldozer to trim roses.
Then came Apple Silicon. The current M1 Max and now the new M2 Pro chips tear through the types of processing you need for color. With the M1 and newer M2 iPad, you have the power to do color grading on a tablet. Unsurprisingly, Resolve followed suit and released Resolve for iPad. It's a discrete app with a dedicated touch interface that is such a pleasure to use.
M2 Pro SpecsCredit: Apple
The power of Apple Silicon and the way the power is designed is why we have to talk about the software and the hardware together. Resolve has always been exceptionally resource hungry. The special sauce here is that you no longer have separate memory for specific tasks with Apple Silicon.
There's no discrete "system memory" or "graphics memory." It pulls from the same unified memory modules that are integrated into the chip.
For example, on older systems, you would have 16GB of system memory but only 2GB or 4GB of graphics memory built into the GPU. This would have created a bottleneck, but with Apple's new chips, all the memory you purchase with your system is available for GPU tasks, which is massive, even if you can't upgrade it down the road.
The ARM architecture Apple is using was designed for efficiency, making it a great tool for low-power applications like mobile platforms. But by building a lot more horsepower into this architecture, Apple can supercharge its tablets. Combine that with the iPad's color-accurate screen (which is critical in motion picture workflows), and you've got a symbiotic relationship that developers will go crazy over.
M2 SOC with unified memory modulesCredit: Apple
On the other hand, you have DaVinci Resolve, a resource-hungry app whose key features make it a particularly interesting choice for conversion to a touch-based mobile interface. The Cut Tab in Resolve also tells me that Blackmagic Design has likely been thinking about it for a long time.
Using that UI via touch feels very natural and fluid. It behaves more or less like I want it to, without a tremendous amount of relearning, while still doing the things I'm used to it doing on a desktop.
DaVinci Resolve Cut Tab on iPadCredit: Apple
This is one area where the tab model worked well. In the desktop version of Resolve, you have an Edit Tab and a Cut Tab. I'm used to the Cut Tab working a certain way. I only expect those tools when I am on the iPad. I'm not missing the tools I need in the Edit Tab. It's a neat conceptual trick.
If there was only one working timeline and I was working in that space on iPad, I'd be constantly frustrated by the tools I'd be missing. Having both in the desktop version has helped train me about what to expect in different spaces, and in turn, for using the Cut Tab on the iPad.
If Resolve had used a single timeline like Premiere or Avid, where you bring up various tool palettes, then I think I would have been more frustrated. I'd constantly be looking for or trying to open palettes that will not open. With tabs, my brain shifts to thinking about what I can do in that one tab.
On top of all that, the new iPad also supports Reference Mode, which we've written about previously. There is a lot to cover, but in short, it allows the iPad to act like various other types of displays, like a traditional HD Rec.709 display or a more modern Rec.2020 display, allowing it to show you how your images will look under those viewing conditions when you finally do export.
Reference Mode on iPadCredit: Apple
Using DaVinci Resolve on iPad
Most of you aren't going to be color-grading an entire feature on this platform (we hope). Currently, this program is intended for a few key things.
First, DaVinci Resolve on the iPad is great for short social media content that needs a quick turnaround. It's impressive for that type of work.
However, while I think everyone should use the desktop version of DaVinci Resolve for their entire post-production pipeline (as a platform for the Color, Fusion, and Fairlight tools, if nothing else), there are some tools for basic editing on the iPad. The real thing folks are wondering is how it is with color grading.
DaVinci Resolve for iPad Color TabCredit: Blackmagic Design
Again, I hope folks aren't planning on grading a 90-minute project using the iPad. I don't think that's the point. For what this tablet software is made for, I think it's wonderful.
I think the main point of Resolve on iPad is on-set team collaboration. I've been on countless shoots where we shot something and wanted to show a quick grade to a client or director. Sure, you can fire up your laptop and get it done that way, the iPad offers a mobile solution that's already color accurate, but that's not something we can say for most laptop displays.
DaVinci Resolve for iPad Cut TabCredit: Blackmagic Design
Second, I think there is some possibility to do small, basic project grading here. The ideal scenario would be for small edits on short-form content.
Say you already delivered a 2-minute project, and on the subway ride home, the client emails something like, "Everything is perfect!!!! But, if I could change one thing, that one shot of the shoe is still like a touch too dark."
The ability to open up the project (provided you have the media in an online platform like Dropbox or Blackmagic Cloud) and tweak that one shot is something I could imagine using from time to time, especially with a project I had already gotten to know well.
Working In The Cloud
It's also convenient that this all launches in time with DaVinci Resolve's very robust and useable cloud system, Blackmagic Cloud Store. Projects that I was working on on my desktop appear immediately in the iPad app, and changes made on the iPad flow back to the project on the desktop. It's super duper slick.
On top of that, iPad storage is limited to around 2TB. While that is a ton of storage, it isn't nearly enough for you to keep multiple projects "hot" at the same time.
However, Resolve also works extensively with Dropbox and other cloud platforms for storing both full-resolution and proxy media. It's not a seamless experience yet on iPad (I had to do a touch of relinking), but it works.
Blackmagic Cloud StoreCredit: Blackmagic Design
Bumps In The Road
Honestly, the biggest frustration I've had so far has been getting footage to and from Resolve using iPad OS. File management works on iPad has always been a little different than on MacOS. It's just not organized around desktop principles and takes a while to get used to the new workflow. I mean, you will eventually, but this seems like one area where we hope for more evolution as time goes on. Having said that, it's more of an Apple issue than a Blackmagic Design one.
One other tiny thing is that if you use Resolve's Color Management, that info is no longer in the media pool. It's now in the Color Tab only. Not a lot of us love to use it (though for 35mm film scans, Blackmagic Camera, and Alexa footage, I love it). If you use it, just be aware of that.
iPad Pro M2 with Magic KeyboardCredit: Apple
A Contender In Filmic Pro?
We'd also be remiss if we didn't talk about another app that is taking advantage of the iPad's newfound power.
Filmic Pro and the team behind it offer some of the best video shooting tools for iOS. Many people don't think about the amount of processing your image goes through in real time when shooting with an iPhone. It's much heavier than we are used to with a traditional camera. There is noise reduction, color correction, and even depth mapping, to name a few things. It's doing a ton to make the image look good straight out of the camera. It even changes settings depending on what or who your subject is by using machine learning.
This makes it easier and faster to create great Instagram posts and take better pictures of your kids, but it also bakes that processing into your footage, which can be very frustrating. I think this is a fine decision for Apple since 99.9% of iPhone users don't have Resolve and want their footage to look great right out of the box.
For those of us who do want to do it later, we want to be able to shoot the cleanest footage possible, with the least processing, so we can step on it later. That's one of the many beauties of Filmic Pro.
Filmic engineers work closely with Apple to get the cleanest signal possible with the least amount of processing. On top of that, you get a whole host of manual exposure tools to boot. It's not quite my default video app, but it's the first thing I open in any low light or professional shooting situation.
Filmic has worked closely with Apple to release full support for Apple ProRes XQ on the iPad M2, which is bonkers. It was only a few years ago that the ARRI Alexa couldn't record to XQ. Now, we have a $1,000 device that shoots to XQ, a format designed for the highest bit rate applications. So, with the current M2 iPad, you can shoot directly to ProRes XQ, edit it, and color grade it all without leaving the iPad.
Filmic Pro v7 for iPhone and iPadCredit: FiLMiC Pro
What We Think About DaVinci Resolve on iPad
This isn't yet going to replace your Macbook Pro, but it's not meant to. Resolve for iPad is meant to become part of your overall workflow, to make you more flexible, and to make the process of getting a team in sync about the look of a project a more pain-free process.
To that end, it feels like many different pieces coming together all at once in a fresh new way so that "it just works." It does something on a tablet that required a $10,000 computer a decade ago, which is wild.
What do you think about Resolve on iPad? Is it something you want to add to your workflow?
Let us know in the comments!