On iPads and Cameras

In "Just how bad is the iPad 2 camera?" WIRED's Charlie Sorrel writes:

It seems impossible for Apple to put a decent camera into anything but the iPhone, and despite many hopes, both cameras in the iPad 2 are about as rudimentary as you could get without having to load a roll of film in there.

In fact, the iPad 2's camera has more in common with the low-res camera in the iPod Touch than it does to the rather excellent one in the iPhone 4.

This article was originally titled: "Charlie Sorrel has Absolutely No Understanding of the Physical Dimensions, Manufacturing Costs, Final Rendered Image Quality, or Even Intended Uses of Cameras in Tablet Devices," but the editor thought that was too lengthy.

It was inevitable: First, everyone bitched about the iPad lacking a camera. Now that it has them, everyone is bitching that they aren't good enough. People like this are stupid, and this is why:

This is a tablet, which isn't a device held in one hand. You really need to hold it with two hands, which leaves you in a position where you can't easily tap an on-screen button to activate the shutter. Even completely ignoring the you-look-like-a-tool-using-a-tablet-to-take-a-photo factor, it's simply not an ideal form factor for photography. A smartphone, however, is more likely to be in your pocket at all times, is easily held in one hand, and closely mirrors the size of compact cameras and video recorders like the Flip. It makes sense as a camera, more or less, and has proven itself quite capable in replacing the compact digicam market, as Canon's recent Digital Elph sales numbers demonstrate.

So you're now looking at a tablet as being used almost exclusively for video chat. In this case, having a high-resolution camera is inessential because, even on WiFi, video has to be downsized and heavily compressed to get a good frame rate. While the resolution of the camera is ultimately not very important, the quality of the image can be improved with good white balancing, auto-leveling, and saturation and contrast adjustments. I will bet you $1000 Fake Internet Dollars that Apple's software has been tweaked endlessly to maximize the quality of image generated by that little sensor, and that the resulting images will end up looking higher quality that the specifications would imply. (This works in the other direction, too. Bad software can make highly-speced cameras generate mediocre images. See: Most other phone and tablet manufacturers.)

The imaging sensor on something like an iPhone is great, but the lens and sensor assembly is way too thick to fit in the new iPad. Apple had to make the choice between a thinner, lighter tablet or a higher-quality rear camera that will likely never get used. As a first-gen iPad owner, I can say that they made the right decision.