How to Use RAW Files on Your iPad
Photo Gear,  Travel

How to Back Up, View, and Edit your Camera’s RAW files using the iPad while Traveling

I previously used a Gnarbox to backup my files while traveling for photography.  However, Gnarbox is years behind in updating their software for new RAW files.  Shortly after publishing a blog with a workaround for using the Gnarbox with the iPad to view and edit RAW files, my Gnarbox hardware died.

I set out to find a more reliable and less expensive solution for backing up, viewing, and editing my photographs using my iPad Pro while on the road.

If you have an iPad or iPhone running iOS 14 or later, you can attach an external hard drive or card reader to your iPad and view the files stored on the device using the Files app. 

The solution I found was to use a small hard drive enclosure with multiple ports and a 1TB SSD Drive. I found a Qwiizlab Hard Drive Enclosure with an imbedded SD Card reader on Amazon and paired that with a SanDisk 1TB 2.5” Internal SSD drive.

This solution isn’t dependent on a 3rd party to update RAW files (just Apple) and uses the iOS Files App to copy and view the files.  This solution is about 1/5 of the price of the Gnarbox and has 4 times the storage.

Quiizlab Hard Drive / SSD Enclosure
Quiizlab Hard Drive / SSD Enclosure

Advantages of Using a Portable Hard Drive Enclosure to Back Up Your Photos with Your iPad

  • It’s less expensive
  • Not dependent on a 3rd party company for RAW File updates
  • If the SSD or Hard Drive dies, you can easily replace it
  • Many hard drive enclosures have multiple port types and card readers that are hard to find on external, portable hard drives

Although I’m using this solution with my iPad, it will also work on both Windows and Mac laptops just make sure to format the SSD drive so it is compatible with your device.

Ports and Features of the Quiizlab Aluminum Hard Drive Enclosure

  • The Qwiizlab Aluminum External Hard Drive Enclosure supports a 2.5 inch SATA III SSD & HDD up to 5 TB and 15.5mm thickness.  I installed a SanDisk SSD PLUS 1TB SSD that is 7mm thick.
  • SD and Micro Card Readers
  • 1 – USB-C, 2 – USB 3.0 Type A, 2 – USB 2.0 Type ports
  • Comes with a USB-C cable with an adapter for USB Type A
Quiizlab Hard Drive / SSD Enclosure Set Up
Quiizlab Hard Drive / SSD Enclosure Set Up

Qwiizlab Hard Drive Enclosure and 2.5 inch SSD Set Up

The Qwiizlab Drive Enclosure and SSD is easy to set up.  There is a black ribbed cover that slides off of the enclosure.  The included USB cable is packed inside of the enclosure.  Slide the SSD drive into the enclosure.  There is some padding with one sticky side that you can attach to the cover to help to minimize movement of the drive.

The drive needs to be formatted as FAT, FAT32, exFAT (FAT64), or APFS for the iPad.  This can be done with the Disk Utility on your Mac.

iPad Files App Back Up Steps
iPad Files App Back Up Steps

Steps to Back Up Your Files Using the Drive Enclosure and iPad

  • Insert the SD card in the reader of the external drive enclosure
  • Insert the USB-C cable in the USB port of the Drive Enclosure and the other end of the USB-C cable into the iPad Pro.
  • You should see SSD Drive and SD Card in the Locations on the left hand side of the Files App
  • It is a simple Copy and Paste to move the files from the SD Card to the SSD drive in the enclosure
  • Tap the SD Card in Locations and navigate to the folder you want to move to the SSD drive.
  • Press and hold on the folder to bring up a menu.  Press Copy in the menu
  • Tap the name of your SSD drive.  Press and hold on the right side of the screen and press Paste in the menu that comes up.

The SSD can also be read by your computer.  So when your return home, you can copy the files to your computer’s drive instead of uploading each SD card.

Notes: 

  • If you are backing up multiple SD cards, you may want to rename your folders on the SSD drive as the camera will likely name the folders the same on each SD card.
  • If you have different memory card format, you can also attach a card reader to one of the USB ports in the Drive Enclosure and the process is the same.
  • If you have an older iPad with the lightning port, you will need to use a Lightning to USB-C cable. 

Note: I also tested this with the iPhone 13 Pro and the drive did not show up in Locations.  The iPhone 13 might not have enough power for the SDD and enclosure.

Viewing Your RAW Files on the iPad

The photograph files both on the SD Card and on the SSD drive can be viewed in the Files App.  Tab on the thumbnail to see a larger image.

iPad Save Image
iPad Save Image

Editing Your RAW Files on the iPad

I found that some applications had difficulty reading the RAW files directly thru the Files App using the Share Icon.  Examples are: photoshop on the iPad was missing the left toolbar, Lightroom imported some images as black and white, and Snapseed couldn’t open the RAW files at all.

I found the best approach was to save the image to the Photos App using “Save Image” under the Share Icon.  I could then edit the image in Photos, Snapseed and Lightroom.  Photoshop still had trouble with the RAW file from Photos, but it worked correctly once I saved the file to jpeg format using Snapseed.

Note:  I tested this solution with RAW files from my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III, E-M1X, and E-M10 Mark II.  I tried this with the RAW files from OM Systems OM-1 that was recently released and iOS could not read the Raw files, but the embedded JPEG files could be viewed. It will be interesting to see how soon Apple will have the updates for the new RAW files.

Written by Martin Belan

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Gnarbox 2.0 – Lack of RAW Support for Olympus Cameras
Qubo Mini Tripod Review for Micro Four Thirds Cameras
iPad and iPhone Workaround for Unsupported RAW files in Gnarbox 2.0

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