One thing I never use my iPad for: Photography. It’s the truth. The new iPads could ship without built-in rear cameras and I’d be just as happy to own one, since my own personal use case count for a camera on a tablet is absolute zero. But, I know there are many out there who use it, and plenty more who wonder just how good it could possibly be. I took the iPad Air out with the first generation mini and iPhone 5s to see how it fared against one of the best smartphone cameras, and last year’s Post PC darling.
In the first photograph I took on each, it was clear which device has the best camera. Although sharpness is similar between the 5s and iPad Air, the colors, light and white balance are noticeably better on the iPhone. It’s not a huge surprise given the number of improvements made between iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s.
It became a common theme when comparing photos that the iPhone 5s has much better contrast and color reproduction. It looks sharper, more vivid and natural. Even at these relatively good levels of light, the iPad mini is struggling to keep up with the other two.
With most of my shots, I didn’t really have a hard time trying to replicate the same picture on each device. But once you start getting really close, the iPads didn’t seem to like focussing as much or as quickly as the 5s. Regardless, you can see the difference in depth of field. iPad’s end results show little difference between sharpness and blur levels based on how far objects were behind the main object. With the iPhone 5s, you can get some stunning results with some very nice background blurring.
Lowlight performance is something that always shows cameras apart. With these three devices, it’s clear which is the better camera from looking at the sunset image. Up in the top, darker parts of the blue sky, there’s a lot more noise on the two iPads’ images. To further show the difference, I decided to show the difference between a well-lit shot of an object vs. a low-lit version of the same scene.
The top image shows the model helmet with three-point, bright lighting. In the bottom image, all three lights are switched off leaving only one light source: The Window. You can see the huge difference in noise/grain levels. iPad Air does not like low-light situations. On to the iPad mini:
Again, with the iPad mini, the noise levels are much higher on the poorly lit shot. In areas of fine detail like small text, this can make it hard to read or see what it is. Would the iPhone 5s do any better?
The short answer is yes. In fact, the low-light shot from the iPhone 5s looks almost as bright and clean as the iPads’ better lit shots. There is some noticeable noise, but it’s now where near as loud as the iPads’ images.
Overall, it’s clear that the iPad really isn’t a tool for great photography. It’s poor in low light conditions, doesn’t focus quickly and generates noise. That’s without taking in to account how big and unwieldy the iPad is. It’s nowhere near as convenient to carry around as the iPhone. But, if we were to compare it to older cameras, like those on the iPhone 4/4s we might be surprised at how good it is.
Do you use your iPad to take pictures regularly?