Camera

Front and rear facing cameras are necessary features on all modern, premium tablets. The usage model for a rear facing camera on a tablet is hopefully not as a primary image capture device but rather a convenient one. The idea being that if you’re on location somewhere using the iPad for work or play and need to quickly grab an image, having a decent rear facing camera can come in handy rather than having to put away your tablet, pull out your phone and then switch back afterwards.

Apple has improved its iPad imaging systems almost every single generation. That being said, the iPad Air is a bit of an exception to the rule as it retains the same rear camera sensor as the 4th generation iPad. We’re still talking about a 5MP sensor with f/2.4 lens, although the iPad Air now has a wider field of view with a 3.3mm focal length (identical to the original iPad mini).

Rear Facing Camera Comparison
  Sensor Resolution Aperture Focal Length
Apple iPad Air 5MP 2592 x 1936 f/2.4 3.3mm
Apple iPad 4 5MP 2592 x 1936 f/2.4 4.3mm
Apple iPad 3 5MP 2592 x 1936 f/2.4 4.3mm
Apple iPad 2,4 0.7MP 960 x 720 f/2.4 2.0mm
Apple iPad mini 5MP 2592 x 1936 f/2.4 3.3mm

The rear facing camera tends to shoot at lower ISOs than the rear camera on the iPad 4. Since there’s no substantial change in the sensor or lens system however, the result is less noise but a darker image in low light situations. I suspect this might be more of a configuration default for the software layer driving the H6 ISP in Apple’s A7. Image quality is surprisingly good:

Even lower light shots come out fairly well:

Although obviously noise goes up appreciably once you get into really dark scenes:

I took a bunch of photos at the NC State Fair as well as on my trip out to Santa Clara following the iPad launch event in the gallery below.

Despite using the same ISP as the iPhone 5s, there’s no 10 fps burst capture mode on the iPad Air. Similarly there’s no slo-mo video recording mode either. The iPad Air does inherit the other benefits of the new H6 ISP however. Image capture is still insanely quick, which makes me wonder if the A7’s ISP also leverages that large on-die system cache.

Front Facing Camera Comparison
  Sensor Resolution Aperture Focal Length
Apple iPad Air 1.2MP 1280 x 960 f/2.4 2.15mm
Apple iPad 4 1.2MP 1280 x 960 f/2.4 2.18mm
Apple iPad 3 0.3MP 640 x 480 f/2.4 1.8mm
Apple iPad 2,4 0.3MP 640 x 480 f/2.4 1.8mm
Apple iPad mini 1.2MP 1280 x 960 f/2.4 2.2mm

The front facing camera does see an improvement in sensitivity thanks to a larger sensor format. My understanding is this is the same sensor/lens combination as what’s in the iPhone 5s and 5c. Similarly to its implementation in the 5s, Apple seems to use the new front facing camera system to drive to lower ISOs and/or higher shutter speeds. You typically end up with a lower noise/sharper image, although sometimes there is a brightness/exposure tradeoff.

The other feature leveraged by the new front facing camera is the inclusion of a second microphone for noise cancellation. The goal here is to use the second mic to cancel out background noise and improve the quality of the audio you’re actually trying to record (presumably your voice during FaceTime for example). The impact is pretty noticeable. I ran an iPad 4 and an iPad Air side by side while playing a background track and have embedded the resulting videos below:

In the iPad Air sample video my voice comes across considerably clearer, as you’d expect given the Air’s second mic.

Video

Video capture settings look unchanged from the iPad 4. We’re still dealing with ~17Mbps High Profile videos from the rear camera and ~10Mbps Baseline Profile H.264 from the front camera.

Video quality out of both is pretty good for a tablet. In well lit scenes rear camera quality is definitely sufficient for sharing on the web.

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  • over9k - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    Two paragraphs in and this is already better than all the other "reviews" out there. Reply
  • Beautyspin - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    You should not really call any review by Anandtech of Apple products as reviews. They are homages paid to their shrine. This is a ritual with them.. Reply
  • Drumsticks - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    I always hear people complaining about bias here and elsewhere for apple products. But what exactly is the reason for that? The majority of the review is seriously objective - you can't argue that apple has some of the best performance in he game right now, and the best display to boot. He only thing rivaling it is probably the higher clocked Z3770, while Qualcomm will probably pass Apple's GPU early next year.

    as far as subjectivity goes, even if you don't like the design, the materials are solid. And it manages to be lighter than every other ten inch tablet on the market (and thinner) withot sacrificing battery life. The only subjective things I could possibly see are maybe the sound quality and the OS itself, of which he criticized a few times. Where does the bias come in?
    Reply
  • Fleeb - Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - link

    "and the best display to boot"

    We have yet to wait for the Kindle HDX review but it is lighter, packs more pixels and with 100%RGB gamut.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    Its lighter because it is cheap plastic. It is also a far more limited device. Really laughable to think it compares to an Air. Reply
  • dsumanik - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    Read this review with a grain of salt. Anand lai shimpi is heavenly vested in apple stock, doing everything he can to boost the dismal situation.

    Thinner bezels and light weight do not hide the fact that functionally, this iPad is the same as the previous 2 generations.

    Sent from my ipad3, which will be upgraded when apple actually updates the product line.

    Here's some basic ideas mr cook:

    Wireless charging
    Fingerprint scanner
    Thunderbolt sync or usb3
    Haptic feedback
    NFC
    Reply
  • John2k13 - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    You know what's disgusting about your comment, and those similar to yours? That you basically accuse the author of being a liar, a shill, and completely lacking in integrity- without a shred of evidence. I read the entire 10 page review, and it was incredibly detailed, precise, and well-written, something that would be obvious to most sane, rational, objective people.

    "Anand lai shimpi is heavenly vested in apple stock, doing everything he can to boost the dismal situation."

    First of all, what "dismal situation"? Apple stock is up around $130 from a few months ago, or almost a third. Hardly "dismal". Also, do you think a single review from a website visited primarily by tech geeks is going to have any fucking effect on the stock? I mean, are you for real? Don't assume the author holds the same amount of ignorant stupidity that you apparently do, to think for a second this review would have a snowball's chance in hell in affecting stock. You clearly know nothing about how the financial market works.

    "Thinner bezels and light weight do not hide the fact that functionally, this iPad is the same as the previous 2 generations."

    Functionality on a tablet is primarily based on software, and the iPad has 475,000+ optimized apps which are getting more powerful all the time. The hardware simply enables better software. A tablet is basically a blank slate for the software, and better hardware helps in enabling better software. Every single aspect of this iPad is improved, so yes, it is more "functional". That list you made, though, is pretty ridiculous, and obviously a desperate attempt to list anything you can think of that the iPad doesn't have and pretend its significant.

    Wireless charging- why? This makes the device more functional, how?
    Fingerprint scanner- Wow, brilliant "idea". You probably mocked touch ID when it appeared on the 5S. Again, this would be nice to have I guess, but in no way impedes "functionality" of the tablet.
    Thunderbolt sync or usb3- I have no idea what "thunderbolt sync" means, and its pretty ridiculous you're harping on a USB3 port. It will never happen, nor should it.
    Haptic feedback- Utterly useless gimmick, but heym why not, right?
    NFC- I have NFC on my Nexus 4, and not ONCE have I even run into an opportunity or a reason to use it. But yeah, I'm sure you honestly think it's needed or useful on an iPad. Again, another meaningless bulletpoint you were desperate to add mindlessly.

    Next time you want to baselessly accuse an author of being a liar, a shill, a sellout, and having no honesty or integrity, try to make a coherent post that actually contains some intelligent, well thought out information. Otherwise, by attacking the author you just embarrass yourself as you did now. Grow up.
    Reply
  • ABR - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    Actually thunderbolt sync is one of the changes I'm really waiting for. Have you ever tried restoring even a 16GB iPad over USB? Slow agony. I can't even imagine what someone w/a 64 or 128GB model must go through. Even ordinary everyday syncs are far slower than what they could or should be. Reply
  • Howard Ellacott - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    You clearly don't realise what thunderbolt is, which is why that's such a stupid suggestion. Yes, faster syncs would be amazing, and restoring a 64gb iPhone is a right pain, but thunderbolt isn't the way. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - link

    USB 2.0 isn't the real bottleneck there, it's NAND. Most eMMC solutions can't even saturate the USB 2.0 link with sequential writes, so Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 would do absolutely. Reply

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