Opinion: Is the iPad Pro really ready for 4K video editing?


Even though the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus support 4K video recording, the 4K format is still gathering steam. TVs with 4K Ultra HD only became affordable in the past year (with major holiday discounts), but the lack of 4K content — and devices to even play 4K videos — have been sticking points. Apple’s just-released fourth-generation Apple TV doesn’t support 4K, and the only Apple devices that can play back 4K videos at full resolution without a separate 4K monitor are the 21″ Retina 4K iMac and 27″ Retina 5K iMac.

Even though they can’t actually display 4K videos, either through their own screens or accessories, Apple has enabled certain iOS devices to edit in 4K using the latest version of iMovie. So armed with an iPhone 6s Plus and two accessories, I decided to see whether the brand new iPad Pro was actually up to the task of editing and sharing 4K videos. The results were surprising, so if you’re wondering how 4K video editing actually works with Apple’s “Pro” tablet, read on…



What I Used

  • 4K Video Camera: iPhone 6s Plus. Unlike most consumer 4K video cameras, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus record 4K (3840×2160) videos in solely H.264 format rather than the newer H.265/HEVC standards. This makes iPhone 4K video files easy for various devices to open, but compromises on video quality and file size relative to H.265 videos. My 20-minute, 29-second iPhone 4K video required 7.7GB of storage space.
  • 4K Video Editor: iPad Pro. The iPad Pro has been billed as a potential laptop replacement with processing power on par with Apple’s entry-level MacBook computers. Sold in 32GB or 128GB capacities, the 128GB version is much more likely to have enough free space for 4K video editing: remember, the only workspace you’ll have is what isn’t already occupied by apps, media files, and the original (unedited) 4K recordings, which can become large.
  • A Lightning to USB Cable. Packaged with every iPad, including the iPad Pro, this USB 2.0 cable is required to connect your iPhone to the iPad for wired video transfers. Spares can be had for $5.
  • A Lightning to USB Camera Adapter. Originally released for the iPad (fourth-generation) and iPad mini, this adapter lets you connect various USB devices — including video cameras and cameras — to all iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro models to import videos and photos. It operates at USB 2.0 speeds.

What I Found

Recording 4K video with the iPhone 6s Plus was absolutely effortless. Default settings for both of the 6s models record video at 1080p, but under Settings > Photos & Camera, you can choose to Record Video at “4K at 30 fps,” which activates 4K recording across all videos. At that point, it’s literally a matter of launching the Camera app — or 3D Touch-ing Camera to “Record Video” — and hitting the red record button… preferably when your iPhone is horizontal rather than vertical.


Sharing 4K video to the iPad Pro was not as easy as it should have been. Connecting the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to the iPad Pro is simple, as is connecting the Lightning to USB Cable to both the iPhone and the Adapter. You’ll next need to “trust” authorize the iPad to share the iPhone’s files, after which you’ll be able to import videos (and photos) using the Photos app’s Import tab. Most likely due to an iOS bug, I found that the iPad Pro repeatedly requested trust authorizations from the iPhone, despite having previously been granted permission. Still, none of this is challenging — if it works.


In my testing with video clips, however, the import process didn’t work perfectly on the iPad Pro. A 1-minute, 46-second video clip came over without any problems in less than a minute, but after taking 6 minutes to supposedly import the 20-minute, 29-second clip, the video was nowhere to be found in the iPad’s library. A restart didn’t help, so I re-imported the clip, which properly showed up after an additional 7 minutes. As iFixit discovered in its iPad Pro teardown, the iPad Pro has the ability to support USB 3 transfer speeds and accessories, which could improve the import process — assuming Apple releases a USB 3 Lightning adapter, a USB 3 Lightning cable, and (assuming the iPhone 6s doesn’t include support already), a device capable of sharing 4K content at USB 3 speeds.


Using iMovie to edit 4K video is pretty straightforward. You just need to select the 4K video clip, bring it into a project, and learn the appropriate (generally unmarked) finger gestures and icon taps to tweak the video to your heart’s content. If you can’t figure something out, a ? icon explains everything on screen and lets you access a deeper “Learn more” help system. I haven’t actively used iMovie for iOS in years, but within 10 minutes, I was able to merge my two clips together, add two photos, customize transitions, add a photo color filter and title the video.


Exporting 4K video from iMovie had the same type of hiccups I saw when importing the 4K videos to the iPad. I was able to do a 1080p export of the video fairly quickly: it took only 7 minutes and 2.57GB to create a 22-minute, 25-second 1080p version of my clip, or around 1/3 realtime. That’s nice and fast — if you’re making short 1080p videos, you’ll be done in a flash.

IMG_8490 (1)

But the 4K export process stumbled. After 21 minutes of rendering, the iPad Pro stopped and said “An error occurred during export,” without providing any additional details. I then had to start again, and after around 45 minutes, the iPad Pro thankfully succeeded, creating a (surprisingly small, 4.15GB) 4K video. The 4K video rendering time would have been roughly 2 times the actual length of the video, except for the failed initial attempt, which brought the total rendering time to 3X realtime.

What I’d Change

The good news is that the iPad Pro can easily — though not flawlessly or quickly — be used to import and export 4K videos. If you’re only handling small videos, you’re less likely to bump into problems during importing, storage, or exporting. Depending on the type of “Pro” user you are, and the type of content you create, you might find the iPad Pro just fine for 4K editing work as-is.

However, many professionals would say that the iPad Pro’s efficacy as a 4K video editing tablet is currently limited by a variety of factors, ranging from storage capacity to software reliability when handling large 4K files, as well as import and export speeds. That’s even before you consider software/hardware limitations on handling raw H.265 videos created by non-iPhone video cameras, the current state of iPad Pro accessories, and the lack of 4K export quality controls. For serious video editing, it’s hard to recommend the iPad Pro right now over an entry-level MacBook Pro, which is similarly priced once you factor in the cost of Apple’s Smart Keyboard, yet much more capable. You don’t even need Apple’s Final Cut Pro to get a better editing experience on the Mac.

Improving the Pro’s editing performance is going to require at least some software and accessory changes, including an iOS update to improve transfer reliability, an iMovie update to enhance export reliability, and USB 3 cables to improve transfer speeds. Thinking more broadly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple release a iPad Pro USB dock with enhanced connectivity options, enabling the tablet to come even closer to a laptop for storage, input, and video output when needed. I would love to see such a device, but shudder to think of the price Apple would charge for it. For now, the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter is a fine if not terribly fast option.

More From This Author

Check out more of my editorials, How-To guides and reviews for 9to5Mac here! I’ve published a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users, as well as a great holiday gift guide for iPhone users, and a separate holiday gift guide for Apple photographers.

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  1. mahmudf2014 - 7 years ago

    Now we saw that, again, it’s not a Pro device after all. Get a Mac for serious work or get an iPad Pro for consuming content using large screen, great speakers. And with the fast A9X chip, there is no better tablet than iPad Pro but it is nowhere near of replacing PC/Mac for most people. Pencil won’t help you to edit your 4K videos or the smart keyboard won’t make it a Mac. And as an owner of almost all of Apple products including iPhone 6s Plus, rMBP, iPad 3 (yep, still third gen) i know i will get lots of negative comments but that’s ok.

    • chrisl84 - 7 years ago

      It should have been called iPad Plus not iPad Pro

      • mahmudf2014 - 7 years ago

        I can’t agree more. There would have not been any problem if they had called it iPad Plus.

      • Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

        Oh come on. The IPad Pro will be used by professionals and that’s how they designate their top end products. MacPro and MacBook Pro. It’s just a marketing name, so get over it. The Pencil will be used by the professional graphics/architects and Pros will end up opting for that product vs another iPad.

        The only things that I think they SHOULD do is add larger RAM and Storage options and have the Pencil magnetically charge instead of the Lightning connector.

        But I think the problem is that in order to add other things, the battery life would suffer and they don’t want to make the thing heavier and thicker.

        I’m personally going to check out the iPad Pro, but right now, my iPad 4th gen does what I need, it’s just getting a little sluggish, so I will either pull the trigger on the iPad Pro this year or wait until the A10X version next year. I read the A10X is supposed to have 6 CPU cores instead of 3, so we’ll find out what the A10X really is, but iI heard it will be another 2X performance increase from the A9X. So it’s just conjecture right now.

        What Apple typically does is they announce a new product format/design and the first gen is OK, but the 2nd or 3rd gen is when things get really interesting. It’s like that for most companies. Look how long it took for Microsoft to get their Surface Pro to be usable. 4 years. I just don’t want to switch and incorporate another OS platform.

      • rogifan - 7 years ago

        Seriously? The new MacBook runs the exact same software as the MacBook Pro, iMac and the Mac Pro. The “Pro” moniker has nothing to do with the operating system the device is running.

      • chrisl84 - 7 years ago

        You can’t even run two Safari windows at the same F****** time and you want to tell me PRO is justified! Go home

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      In order for this to be a “pro” caliber device it NEEDS some kind of external storage access — for a tablet this size, a USB port (type-c) makes sense. Even a damned micro SD slot would help, but nope. Apple won’t ever do that. It’s unreal. Why would putting even a mSD slot on this be a bad thing?

  2. BongBong (@BongBong) - 7 years ago

    Would love for Apple to seriously adapt a version of Final Cut for iOS. (Final Cut Express, anyone?)

  3. brianrmurray - 7 years ago

    Does iCloud Photo Library work for the import into iMovie? That would eliminate the USB2/3 issue, and it’s what I use to share photos and videos between my devices.

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      You will not want to transfer 4K videos wirelessly, even if they are compressed and only 30p — I don’t care how fast your network is, it’s not a replacement for USB3.

      • brianrmurray - 7 years ago

        If you don’t need to edit it right away and you let it upload and download to your device using the Original setting in iCloud Photo Library I think it’s a viable option.

    • MK (@MathiasMK84) - 7 years ago

      I assume all videos get transferred using icloud library. I mean, slowmow 240p gets transferred too and is probably about the same size as 4k in 30p. And why shouldnt it anyway… So… I was surprised the article mentioned an import with cable.

  4. I hate to be so picky but 1080p is 1/4 the resolution of 4K, so isn’t it 1K? Hence the difference between phones with a 1080p screen and a 2k screen.

    • xprmntr - 7 years ago

      1080 p is a lot closer to 1k (1000 pixels) yes

    • mahmudf2014 - 7 years ago

      1080p means 1920×1080 as far as i know. So it’s closer to 2K. On 4K, they say it to pronounce 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 definition. It makes sense.

    • Robert Longo - 7 years ago

      Not to be “that guy” either, 1080p is, essentially, 2K. For some reason we focused more on the height than the width when it comes to the names “720p” and “1080p”. (Then there’s 720i and 1080i, which isn’t really used anymore unless you’re in TV broadcasts. The difference between “interlaced” and “progressive” is small to the average consumer, but video editors know the difference.)

      720p is 1280 x 720 and that is 1.2K ~ 1K
      1080p is 1920 x 1080 and that is 1.9K ~ 2K

      There are 2 versions of 4K. There’s “Ultra HD” and 4K. Ultra HD is what the iPhone 6S supports and that is 3840 x 2160. From a consumer’s point of view, that is 4K but people who know the different will call it UHD or Ultra HD. There’s also 4K which is native 4K (what movie theaters will show their movies in since film is 4K). That resolution is 4096 x 2160 which rounds out to 4K.

      4K is a little confusing since Ultra HD is being folded into the 4K category. But the average consumer won’t know the difference.

  5. srgmac - 7 years ago

    With no easy access to semi-fast external storage? Not on your life. They could have fixed this by putting a USB 3 type-c port on it — but nope. Apple would never do that. They want you to buy some lame adapter…Not even a mSD slot on the iPhones FFS, and still selling 16GB iPhones! UGH!!!

    • spiffers - 7 years ago

      Nobody forces you to buy a 16GB iPhone. Not even an Apple product either. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. There are Android devices with slots for memory cards. Have fun!

  6. francoborgo - 7 years ago

    We see more and more of those : “It just does not work”

  7. yojimbo007 - 7 years ago

    Learned some new things through this article… Thanks👍

  8. I think it would have been much quicker if you used Airdrop from your iPhone to send the video to the iPad Pro. I don’t know how Apple has done it but every time I tried to send a large file from my iPhone to my Mac I found quicker Airdrop compared to using the Lightning to USB cable

  9. Armands Bērziņš - 7 years ago

    iPad Pro is not yet ready for “medium” serious video editing, there are a lot to be done there. But it is super powerful to use Adobe Lightroom in my experience for photo editing (but in that point big thanks to Adobe Creative Cloud). iPad Pro should not be considered as standalone device but as powerful tool. There are already a lot people that find iPad as desktop computer replacement but there also will be people that won’t find iPad as serious computer for years and that because of iOS. The iOS have so many limitations even thought that from iOS 8 Apple is trying to brake those borders there a lot to be done. And that’s very difficult, I mean, that would be pretty easy to add mSD card slot, but if the card is slow that would make the situation like this: you have computer with Core i7, SSD boot drive, RAM more than you ever need, but you store all your footage on USB2.0 flash drive (or some cheap SD card). Even if thats a internal HDD. The slow speed of storage device will slow down everything – importing, editing, exporting. Typical “Homo Sapiens Consumerus Vulgaris” will blame device, every part of that device will be slow, low quality but not the his beloved 10€ SD card. This is one example, but as you understand, there are a lot more aspects to work on so the consumer with it’s zero knowledge won’t affect the systems work quality. Look how bad Android has gone with it’s “Open for everything” policy.

  10. Just used iMovie on iOS again after more than 2 years (on 6s Plus). What I noticed:

    -It’s very capable for an iOS app!
    -Finally, some color grading, so video’s don’t have to look that bad
    -Let me choose titles and transitions independently of the chosen theme (which are all rather dated)
    -Who cares about 4K, 60fps 1080p looks much better! Where’s 60fps support??

  11. Jay (@jaybillel) - 7 years ago

    This is what AirDrop is for, the fact that you had to construct a janky adapter/cable chain should’ve been a hint that you’re doing it wrong.

    • Jeremy Horwitz - 7 years ago

      Oh, you mean using Apple’s official USB camera adapter for iPads and USB Lightning cable is now “doing it wrong?” Here’s a hint back: transferring 8GB of data isn’t really what “AirDrop is for.” Try doing it sometime between an iPad and iPhone, then let me know how long it took you.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        Pity there isn’t a Lighting to Lighting cable, that would eliminate USB2 for hooking up an iPhone to an iPad and we would finally know if the Lighting port is faster than USB2.

      • Jeremy Horwitz - 7 years ago

        It’s going to be very interesting to see how Apple handles the USB 3 transition. They could comceivbly do Lightning to Lightning, Lightning to USB 3, and Lightning to USB-C; I wouldn’t rule anything out, and based on post-Firewire history, suspect that they will do one cable (Lightning to USB 3) with two adapters. In any case, I think the iPad Pro’s Lightning port and USB controller strongly suggest that the connector isn’t the limiting factor in transfer speeds, but rather the controller behind it. We shall see.

  12. prentom87 - 7 years ago

    Copied from wikipedia: “Occasionally, 1080p (Full HD or FHD) has been included into the 2K resolution definition. Although 1920×1080 could be considered as having a horizontal resolution of approximately 2,000 pixels, most media, including web content and books on video production, cinema references and definitions, define 1080p and 2K resolutions as separate definitions and not the same.

    Although 1080p has the same vertical resolution as DCI 2K resolutions (1080 pixels), it has a smaller horizontal resolution below the range of 2K resolution formats.

    According to official reference material, DCI and industry standards do not officially recognize 1080p as a 2K resolution in literature concerning 2K and 4K resolution.”

  13. Vern Lovic - 5 years ago

    Did I miss it, or was it on purpose he never specified the iPad 10.5 or 12 inch?