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iPad vs iPhone 4S camera shootout, part 1

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Would you even consider taking photos or shooting video with an iPad? That's the big question, because if the answer is no, then the huge increase in camera quality that the new iPad has over the iPad 2 is a moot point.

It's clear to us that the current trend is to treat the very idea of tablet computer photography and video capture with utter derision, almost every iPad 3 review that mentions the camera includes a comment or two about how stupid you would look doing so. We are reminded of the reviews of early smartphones. 'Who would be so stupid as to take pictures with their phone', they said. Now less than ten years later the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr. Conventional wisdom often misfires.

If you're still reading this then there is a good chance that you are open to the idea of tablet photography and video capture. It's also quite likely that you already own an iPhone or another brand of high-end smartphone. So, do you have anything to gain by using the iPad as your camera instead of another device? Perhaps.

iPad vs regular smartphone

Some of the latest smartphones from Nokia, HTC and Samsung are equipped with cameras that should easily outperform the new iPad. We have seen 8MP shots from some very popular smartphones that struggle to match these iPad 5MP photos, but in the main, the very latest smartphones are more capable at capturing stills. However, things are not so clear when it comes to video capture. Apple have done a sterling job with the video stabilisation, so much so in fact that it's quite hard to tell the difference between iPad 3 footage and dedicated video camera footage. The new iPad offers 1080p video capture with superb stabilisation at very high bit rates and with clear mono sound capture. If you are a proud owner of the new iPad, it's also worth noting that you just purchased a first class video camera too.

iPad vs iPhone 4S

In theory the iPhone 4S and the new iPad should be very close in terms of general camera performance. In some ways this is true. For example, both the new iPad and the iPhone 4S have similar dynamic range of luminance and colour balance. However, the iPad has a more processed look. The iPhone 4S shots have considerable more fine detail when viewed at 100%. Our guess is that Apple engineers have fine-tuned the iPad camera so that its stills and video look their best when viewed on the iPad display. This makes sense, though we would have preferred a slightly inferior iPad viewing experience and a cleaner final image. In short, the iPhone 4S captures cleaner, more detailed, images and video than the new iPad, though you'll need to zoom into the frame somewhat to notice the difference. The iPhone 4S takes the lead, but it's not by a country mile.

An end to end experience

One area where iPad photography and video capture makes perfect sense is when looking for a complete end-to-end experience. Consider this; the iPad 3 has a higher quality display then any consumer camera. It also takes great quality 5MP stills and top spec fixed lens 1080p video with stabilisation. Add into the mix iPhoto, iMovie and any number of the superb photo and video apps available for the iPad and you have a pretty compelling end-to-end solution.

There's one market for which the new iPad camera makes perfect sense. The education market is going to adore this new iPad. We can't wait to see how students of all ages put this new camera/computer combination to use.

Anyway, enough of our rambling. Be sure to check out this Flickr set for direct comparison shots. You'll find iPad photos first followed by iPhone 4S shots taken a moment or two later. In each case we have made sure that we've focused on the same area of the scene. They are all available at full resolution, so why not download them to your iPad or computer and examine them for yourself. We would love to know what you think, so please be sure to leave a comment below.

In part 2 of this series we'll be looking at video capture.

Further viewing: iPad vs iPhone 4S Flickr set 

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Reader Comments (7)

I don't want to be argumentative, but the new iPad's camera is supposed to be generality the same as the iPhone 4, but utilizing the technology of the iPhone 4S. Both the iPhone 4 and new iPad have a 5MP camera, so the best comparison would be new iPad vs. iPhone 4.

Could you perhaps write a third installment of this comparison with the iPhone 4 as the comparison point?

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris

It's moot not mute.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNR

"the new iPad has over the iPad 2 is a mute point." It's "moot", not "mute". Unless your point cant talk. Sorry, but that bugged me. Now on to read the article.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCollin

Thanks NR and Colin, it's now corrected. Thanks for taking the time to let me know, it's much appreciated.

March 21, 2012 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

Hi Chris, I very nearly did compare it to the iPhone 4, but in the end I decided that the 4S was the closest match as it had a similar lens configuration, a backside illuminated sensor, 1080p video capture and video stabilisation. The only similarity with the iPhone 4 is the pixel count.

But for the record, I would pick the iPad camera over the iPhone 4 camera 80% of the time. ^_^

March 21, 2012 | Registered CommenteriPad Creative

The power lens camera on the iPad three is a real helper. It substitutes for a camcorder quality production. The screen gives them a bigger monitor to observe the shot but I dont find it quite helpful because it is like taking a video with a laptop in your hand. You dont have any handles for support and taking an hour-long video can be very aching to the fingers.Its good for a single shot or a two-minute or five-minute video but in reality, aside the PC functions of the iPad , few people even use the camera.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Martin

Great pictures you have there. The Quality of the photos are much better than the previous ipad!

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarl

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