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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  • george1924 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Seems to be fixed now Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the correction :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • drugos - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    As usual, one of the most comprehensive reviews on the net. Thanks guys! Reply
  • Bosh - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Yes, as usual ! Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Who buys worthless over-priced rubbish like the iPad, apart from hipsters/dickheads? I can understand the appeal of it to them, and I've nothing against dickheads who love them, but what purpose do they serve to the rest of us?!?

    It's incapable of being used for real work so basically useless except as a toy when out and about, but too large to be carried around in anything smaller than what a small laptop could be carried in, so what it can do when on the move may as well be done on a smartphone.
    Reply
  • B3an - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Cant beleive i'm saying this about an Apple product... but the iPad 2 isn't expensive for the hardware. Look at the Motorola Xoom which is lot more expensive for marginally better hardware, although the iPad 2 has better hardware in some areas. The thing is though Apple can sell the iPad 2 at little profit because they just make the money from app sales. So it's hard for other tablet makers to compete on price.

    I agree with everything else though.
    Reply
  • shabby - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    The ipad2 is expensive, imagine if asus took their $250 10" netbook and removed the keyboard, replaced the hard drive with a sd card for memory, and ditched the intel mobo/cpu for a slower soc this thing would cost maybe $150.
    The only reason these devices have these prices is because that's how much people are willing to pay for them.

    As for the xoom, motorola for some reason thinks they can charge a premium for it, they certainly are smoking some good shit. These phone manufacturers will fail with their expensive tablets.

    Once asus and other netbook manufacturers start saturating the market with android tablets you'll start seeing cheaper solutions.
    Reply
  • jalexoid - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    That is not true. FOB price for the 16GB XOOM clone(proper quality clone, not a knockoff) is about $330. Smaller components cost more. Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    “The only reason these devices have these prices is because that's how much people are willing to pay for them.”

    Showing off the fact that we've had Econ 101, are we?

    Perhaps there's some object/service that operates differently that you'd care to mention.
    Reply
  • kukabuka - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Well, I for one think tablets are really great when you don't need a keyboard or a fast processor or a lot of storage. Which would be never. If the iPad sells way better than the Xoom, I'd say your theory about hipsters/dickheads being the only market group for tablets is confirmed. Reply

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