The Cameras

If there’s one thing that people were waiting for with the iPad 2, it’s the inclusion of cameras. CPU and GPU performance improvements with the iPad 2 are dramatic, but it’s the cameras that will drive both existing and new iPad customers to the device. For being probably the single most notable difference between the iPad 2 and its predecessor, the camera execution and experience on the iPad 2 is actually surprisingly bad. 

I could pretty much sum up the iPad 2 cameras with one word: mediocre. The interface, the physical placement of the rear camera, and finally actual quality all leave room for considerable improvement. If you want a video overview of the entire iPad 2 camera situation, check out our video review

The front facing camera is actually about where it should be, in fact. VGA is standard fare for iOS devices because right now FaceTime is just 320x240 from iDevices. My issue isn’t with the front facing camera, it’s the back camera that really under-delivers, and for that reason the iPad 2 feels like it’s a device saddled with two front-facing cameras. The fact that they’re better than nothing (e.g. iPad 1) is small consolation for how seriously underwhelming the rear camera is. 

Both cameras are identical to what comes in the iPod Touch 4th generation, a device that starts at $229. At $499, it doesn’t seem like a completely unreasonable thing to expect cameras that are at least somewhat better. 

Let’s start with the camera user interface. At first glance, it’s the exact same as the camera interface on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Capture button in the center, a link to the photo application with thumbnail of the last captured photo in the bottom left, a digital zoom slider after a tap, and a switch between video and still at right. Up in the top right is the switch-front-back camera button as well. The iPad has no HDR options, and obviously no LED flash options either. Tapping on the preview exposes for the tapped region, but since the rear camera is fixed focus, focus doesn’t change. 

What’s really annoying about this interface is that it rotates.

I’ve spent every second since first picking up the iPad 2 wondering what possessed Apple’s UI designers to make this decision, asking myself what possible benefits this choice could have. The only possible one is that this is an equalizer for left-handed users, but then why not simply make an option in settings to change the location of the bar from the left to the right side? 

The problem with keeping the capture/switch bar at the bottom of each orientation is that it puts the capture button in the absolute worst possible place.

At each orientation, the capture button is dead center at the bottom. The result is that to tap capture, you need to either stretch your thumb all the way to reach it, or remove your hand and tap with the index finger.

 

Both of those result in a much less stable grip position and add to shake. Moreover, it’s a downright fatiguing position to have to hold the iPad in for any length of time. It’s somewhat annoying in portrait, but downright frustrating in landscape.

Putting the capture button here is painful. Were it left closest to the home button like it is on smaller iDevices, the capture button would be right near where the thumb naturally rests. Tap it with your thumb, and boom, no problem. Maybe a transparent button would also make sense.

The other problem with the capture interface is that if you have relatively large palms or tightly grip the iPad 2 to brace it and reduce shake, you run the risk of causing an unintended touch on the lower right or left corners. Numerous times, I went to hit capture and found that nothing happened. When that occurred, generally it was because I was touching the bottom left or right with my palm inadvertently. Touch filtering or heck, maybe some of that multitouch wizardry would go a long way here, Apple. 

The final problem is with placement of the actual camera. Because of its position in the extreme top left (viewed from the back), the only viable way to hold the iPad 2 for landscape capture is with the home button on the right side. Hold it naturally with the button on the left side, and you'll end up blocking the camera with your hand like this:

The image preview in still mode is cropped to 4:3 and upscaled to XGA. The native resolution of the rear camera is 1280x720 (16:9). To get to 960x720 (4:3) Apple simply cuts off 160 pixels on the left and right. The fact that the image preview in still capture mode is upscaled to the full size of the iPad 2 display accentuates its underwhelming and noisy quality dramatically. It doesn’t look awesome. The front facing VGA camera blown up to XGA is even less impressive. 

The only positive side effect of all this is that image capture is insanely quick. You can literally mash the capture button on both the front and rear cameras and capture essentially as fast as you can tap. No doubt some of that is the A5's impressive speed gains, but the other part of it is just the low resolution of those two cameras.

 

 

HDMI Mirroring & Charging Video and Still Quality Analysis
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  • Mishera - Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - link

    An and you made an excellent point when you said that tablets don't seem on a path towards perfection.  Right now IPads are somewhat of a novelty.  They're kind of like that thing you see at a museum as a child that make you go "wow" or a concept at a convention that's not fully realized.  The problem is people seem content with the device as it is because it's Apple, and companies are trying the "square in circle" method to put it in schools, businesses, etc.

    Thats what really bothers me. Apple pretty much marches on it's own beat, consumers eat up what they release, and companies desperately try to run behind them and release something with better specs, never questioning if there is a better direction.  As a consumer device it's excellent, its just there are so many more directions tablets can go.  I would almost would say that Microsoft had a better idea of what a tablet should be with their umpc line, except they could never get the ui right, and now it seems like their hardware endeavors are over for so I wonder who could really bring a better concept to market.  To make tablets work it's going to take on os and a hardware so far android can't do it, microsoft won't to it and hp is still a question mark so we just have to be content with whatever apple gives us.  
    Reply
  • Zink - Sunday, March 27, 2011 - link

    Here's a very surprising video showing the flexibility of the glass used in the screen.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedd...
    Reply
  • JustinB - Monday, March 28, 2011 - link

    While OEMs are racing to create a competitor to the iPad, it seems like commenters on sites like this are trying to create a competitor to the Reality Distortion Field... Reply
  • NetJunky - Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - link

    Actually Dropbox has its own lack of security. So I wouldn't say, that this is a best example of data sharing via web. Reply
  • Bronx 6 - Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - link

    Apple had touch first congrats.They can keep there not so tech ridiculously rich ppl who buy lesser powerful or frivolous shoppers.xoom is to much with not enough (like ipad) on board no dongle needed ports/hdmi/usb/micro usb like acer.i bought an ipad2 as my first owned apple product just so I could show everyone whata piece crap it is and then return it to the store.The things I get off android apps are sooooooo much better because they arent being ran by the Nazi's (apple).,i like not having to waste money on anything app wise,movie(better than anything I could dream for) and of course free absolutely FREE music mp3s.now I even get artwork on them and they appear just as if I bought them.The music mp3 apps even (some) even include music charts so you know what's new and hot.i dont need cable tv,satelite,nadda I get thousands of channels free from apps which use flash and lemme tell flash is the key to the future and present.i love how developers make the good apps ipad has for honeycomb tabs(splashtop hd remote desktop)-myfav allows me to use all pcs as if I was on it even whem im in another state.the resolution is amazing also the many keyboards u can get-new swype is surreal should be stock on all tabs.tried to ruin acertab with viruses it wont phase it amazing alone.i so love the apps on droid they are made by ppl wno arent like the government and honeycomb keeps getting better asnow 3.1 is so muchbetter and its free.the power.of these tabs are like two ipads and the cameras on ipad2 is patheic like an old boostmobile vga cam.mine has the same quality cameras as iphone4 has another + acer has the best tab for the buck they have a functual full usb port and it connects alot.of useful things like keyboard,flashdrives,ch arging capabilites.i had bought one accessery a case stand that's it had hdmi cords already.the ipad I bought over 8 seperate things totally a money hungry company who designs product too keep you buying shit week after week.itunes is just plain retarded.i get the sameshit they do for free easier than a pc.wide open is free like usa is supposedly.if ur reading this and have a tablet download swype beta for honeycomb.It takes the basic stock keyboard but adds stuff u will love even if you dont swype u type better than the stock more like a real one.i bought 2apps in 2YRS yet ive had more than I can think of.i spent $8 total.i have sold more of these to anyone I show and teach.my old mother has one and now wont use her win7 pc's only thru the tablet-thats including me fixing her old pcs accross the country in california all from my badass acer tablet.apple should stick to ipods.droid tabs are diffently ipad.killers.i hope ppl enjoy wasting their money basically getting raped.so dumb ppl stay apple,smart ppl sick of paying for things that we shouldnt and having the ability to do all n then some on tablets enjoy.ps these flash modified apps on droids I cant praise the quality they look during playback is wow.ive watched more hdtv thru this than I have in years with my hdtv sets pretty crazy,so is the gaming similar to xbox360.buy an galaxy tab first then return it for an acer so you can appreciate getting more for less.send me the difference for enlighting u on values of better things.then again the world is more than 50% ignorant and very rude to ones who help them.take it as grain of salt Reply
  • rampantarmadillo - Thursday, August 18, 2011 - link

    I recommend that you learn to seperate vertex and fragment perf, this would demonstrate you aren't clowns. Reply
  • powchie - Saturday, December 10, 2011 - link

    anand, brian,
    what's that workflow that the iPad cannot fit in?
    Reply
  • ChaoticCupcake - Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - link

    Any word on whether or not a camera can be attached and used as a webcam for FaceTime, Skype, etc.? Reply
  • omkarphatak - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - link

    Find out why choosing an iPad 2 over a laptop makes no sense... http://www.buzzle.com/articles/which-is-better-ipa... Reply

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