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
POST A COMMENT

189 Comments

View All Comments

  • podperson - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Just admit that most PCs are used as toys. Heck, the whole reason the personal computer took off (in homes) was as a games platform.

    Most of the people I see with PCs are using them to surf the web, watch youtube, update facebook, or mess around with digital media. Where I work there are Macs and PCs available to the public with 27" monitors all open to Facebook (hint, it's a university). Exactly what is this "work" you need to do on PCs? For most people it's a little bit of text editing now.

    For some kinds of things the iPad is markedly superior ergonomically to a PC (or even a tablet computer or WACOM tablet display) — e.g. sketching or various musical apps. For others a PC is markedly superior. For still others one or the other is completely useless.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Except it isn't bulky nor underpowered for many things.

    I have a 2006 G4 iBook that is lower performance than a 2010 iPad 2. If the iPad 2 is a toy, then so is just about any early 2006 computer, including older Pentium M based laptops.

    It is also far less bulky than self same 4 year old computers, with trivially 2 to 3 times the battery life.

    I paid $500 so that my wife can follow my kids around, but still have a computer she can put in her purse. Without the iPad, she would have indeed settled for an iPod touch, but a netbook with a hinge? Too short a battery life and too hard to manage (Windows XP, Windows Update, AV, etc) for the harried housewife/homemaker
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Just how big is her purse? As for battery life I think you are looking through rose colored glasses in emphasizing the positive qualities that your device holds. As long as the device lasts until you get home to plug it in (maybe even your vehicle) it will suffice. The iPad is too bulky and not functional enough too do day to day tasks. As I said earlier, the authors point this out.

    As much as we want these cute devices to succeed we find ourselves using other devices that are far more practical. I've made the same mistake myself in the past. Anyone remember the Sony Clie? Another proprietary underpowered overpriced device. I believe I paid $500 for it. It gathered dust for years until I finally put it in a box. There's the cool factor and then there's reality. Do you set it out for your friends' visits or do you actually get x value out of it?

    Also, you are going to be carrying your phone with you already. Why carry both devices with you when one doesn't have more functionality over the other? I would think that the balance for function belongs to the smartphone (phone service is more valuable than screen size).
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Her purse is big enough to hold an iPad, a wallet, another smaller purse, a phone, keys, two Capri Suns, two candy bars, a small bag of chips, and a couple of diapers.

    As for battery life, that's exactly what the iPad is; it lasts as long as it needs to until it gets home to be plugged in. I cannot find a laptop under 2 pounds with similar battery life. The minimum requirement is 6 hours.

    I carry my phone because I am more like Anand than not. She carries the iPad because she isn't like Anand, at all. It would be the equivalent of me driving a Civic and her driving a minivan; surely the very concept of a soccer mom and her requirements being different than a 9-5 commuter isn't lost on you?
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    So, we can officially say this is the official tablet of soccer moms everywhere. Yay.

    She carries it around not because she is unlike Anand. She carries it around because she has a strong back!
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    A lot of the "sales" are from the retail outlets and not-necessarily the end-user consumer. There's people that buy it to sell to China or other Asian countries that buy it for double it's price; there are a plethora of reviewers these days; there are the people with mass amount of wealth that buy up anything just because they can; and then the hipsters that want to be cool and fit in. It reminds me of the episode of South Park with the smug Prius drivers.

    I'm not saying this isn't a bad device and it's mobility makes it beneficial in many regards. But the price of its mobility does not make it as attractive as it would be at the lower price (~$250). I'm not saying it should go for $100, but you're nearing the $1000 end of the spectrum for these devices and way over that for the necessary apps and accessories.
    Reply
  • crunc - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    I don't know why I'm getting into this argument, but all the iPads, including iPad 2's, that I'm seeing out in the world would seem to dispell your notion that no one is actually buying them for their own use. I saw 3 of them within 5 feet of me on the train this morning, for example. In 3 weeks time or so I'll be another one on the train with one, and also using it at home. I don't own a laptop. I wouldn't mind a laptop, but I'd rather have an iPad. It is, for me, far more comfortable to use then a laptop. Even the excellent trackpads on MacBooks don't compare to the entirely touch-based interface of the iPad. Obviously they aren't for everyone, but for some these are a great choice. I don't expect to write a book on it, but I then don't write books. If I ever decide to write a book, maybe I'll get a laptop. Reply
  • Ushio01 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    It's a fasion accessory just like the iphone, to be with the "in crowd" you have to have apple products that's all there is to it. Everyone on here must know at least someone who bought an iphone and then use it only for calls and texts, I know dozens of people who have done this. Reply
  • crunc - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Actually, no, I don't know anyone who has an iPhone that only uses it for texts and phone calls. Everybody I know who has one uses it for virtually everything, myself included. In fact, I rarely text and only occasionally make phone calls (mostly of the, "should I pick up a pizza?" variety). You go on living in your little dream world, though. I won't stop you. I have an order in for an iPad 2 and I'm really looking forward to it. I love my iPhone and I want something akin to a laptop, but that isn't that, because the iOS interface is fantastic and the devices are more comfortable for me to use. Sure, there's some shortcomings to the platform, but they are overwhelmed by the multitude of positives. Reply
  • sarahtim - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I think this sort of comment represents a failure of imagination. As iPads sell million after million you have to adjust your idea of how many hipsters there are...
    Other people are different from you.
    Speaking for myself; I find my iPad extremely useful. I use it for a number of hours each day. I don't find it clunky. To me, and this is a very personal thing, the cost was of little consequence. While it is poor taste to blurt out your relative wealth when many folks are having a rough time of it, it is the only way to answer your comment. Further, I consider iPads to be very good value. I bought the bottom of the line iPad 1. It does everything I want. The bulk of its time is spent streaming video via the Air Video app.
    I represent a single data point - as do you. I fully appreciate that an iPad is a useless paperweight to you. No problem. When I use my iPad I do it in private. I don't discuss my ownership with others. I don't think I'm clever or a better person because I have one.
    You would have to look at me for a very long time before you thought of a hipster. Trust me on this. :-)
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now