A radically improved iPad camera could make the tablet seem more like a “real camera."
The new iPad isn’t thinner or lighter; the battery life is about the same; and the price is identical. The difference (aside from faster cellular connections that most of us can’t afford) is an amazing set of graphics updates.
The screen and game performance may be the most significant changes, but we can’t judge them yet. We can, however, get a rough idea how photos from the new, 5-megapixel camera will look — because they should be at least as good as those from the 5-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4 (not the 4s, which is eight megapixels).
The iPad 2 has many wonders. One of them is "I wonder why the camera is so bad." It has not even a megapixel, with grainy output.
The new camera, similar to those in iPhones, has a sensor with a not-so-new, but still revolutionary technology — unfortunately named “backside illumination.” The gist is, they moved around the wires on the chip so they don’t get in the way of the sensor and block light. Sounds like common sense, but it took years to make possible. (This isn’t unique to Apple. Lots of point-and-shoot cameras have this tech, too.)
To get an idea of the upgrade, we took these still-life photos with an iPad 2 and an iPhone 4. (We share offices with our sister site Space.com, hence the NASA theme.)
A bit dark, a bit grainy. The camera sensor isn’t as sensitive, and it’s quite short on megapixels.
iPhone 4, no flash
Because the camera’s resolution is more than five times as great, we had to shrink the picture to capture the same perspective. So this isn’t the best way to measure the level of detail, but it’s a good way to see color and brightness.
iPhone 4, full resolution, no flash
This shows pretty clearly how many more pixels you get. The number dedicated to the whole scene on the iPad 2 camera is dedicated to just this tiny section, with plenty more pixels for the rest.
iPhone 4, HDR, no flash
High dynamic range (HDR) technology allows more detail in both the dark and light parts (less of that over- or underexposed effect). It seems likely the new iPad camera will have this, as well.
iPhone 4, flash
This is still a big bonus for the iPhone. It has a flash, which is often essential indoors. So you might not want to take your new iPad clubbing.
The new iPad camera goes even beyond the iPhone camera in several ways. It has a surprisingly complex lens system for such a tiny space (five lenses are stacked together, similar to what you get in a “real” camera). It also has a larger aperture — which basically means it lets more light in. And it can recognize up to 10 faces — to adjust color and exposure to make folks look better.
All this sounds pretty good. We can’t wait to see the real thing and truly get the picture.
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