This is the second part of my review of new iPad. I strongly recommend the first part and my previous iPad reviews to understand where I'm coming from with this device. I'm reviewing only the features that I care about, as there are an unlimited number of other reviews out there.
Resuming right from where I left off, last column...
Ultra-high-resolution displays like the iPad's can't reasonably portray graphics at their "native" resolutions, if those graphics were designed to look good on normal displays. Ordinary displays have resolutions of 100–150 ppi; the Retina displays easily double that. Consequently, if I design a thumbnail for my website that's, oh, say, 170 by 135 pixels I'd expect it to take up 1 inch square or so or so on a normal display. On a new iPad it would come out something more like 1 cm square.
iPad's rendering software upsamples the graphic to display it a more plausible size in layouts suitable for normal human beings instead of Lilliputians. Unfortunately, the upsampling looks lousy. Even my 768x1024 pixel "fullscreen" images look mediocre. The thumbnails look like, well, total crap.
For those who want technical details on dealing with this, read this. I'll be taking the brute force approach; e.g., leave the image tag heighth and width attributes alone (e.g., 170x135 px) but upload double-resolution (340x270 px) JPEGs and just let the receiving device cope.
My test page now looks great on all screens. It's going to be a lot of work, since I don't have high resolution versions of most of the full-screen images; it's back to square one to re-create them. The thumbnails, at least, I can up-rez relatively efficiently (a few minutes work apiece) from existing resources.
The problem isn't pressing; currently this matters only for the new iPad. Still, the handwriting's on the wall; it's not going to be too many years before everybody is running high-resolution displays. Consider yourself warned.
Now, let's talk about the camera.
I need to bring up ergonomics, a very subjective matter. I ask you to imagine the very best-handling digital camera/phone/whatever you've used and rated as a 10 and the very worst as a 1. Ready? Where would the new iPad fall on that scale?
There's just about no way it's good. The iPad is too heavy and awkwardly shaped to comfortably hold in camera-using position. You can select what point to focus on and set the exposure for by touching the screen, but then you're gripping one-handed, and that hand'll cramp up really quickly. In landscape mode, the lens is at the lower right corner, where it is very easily accidentally touched while holding the iPad in a way that places your hand near the shutter button. Voila, a smear of finger grease on the camera cover glass! Rotating the iPad 180° places the shutter button right next to the "exit this application" button. Guess which one you'll be hitting by accident? Portrait mode is better but still difficult.
How does the camera perform? As the photograph of the Macbeth chart (above) shows, color rendition is really excellent. It is slightly too saturated, but the hues are spot on. A good digital camera will do better, but this is more accurate color than any film can provide (says the guy who's tested most of them). Under non-daylight conditions, such as fluorescent or incandescent light, there is a slight color cast, orangish for incandescent lamps and yellowish for compact fluorescents. It is usually ignorable. It could easily be corrected; even Mac OS's Preview is sufficient for this task.
I measure the resolution at about 1200 lines by 1600 lines. That's roughly a 2-megapixel equivalent, a bit low for a 5-megapixel camera. In film terms, that's roughly like getting 25 lp/mm from a 35mm point-and-shoot camera. Not quite at the level of "acceptable sharpness" in an 8x10 print, but close. Indeed, such prints made from the iPad's photos are passably sharp; just don't scrutinize them too closely. Remarkably, sharpness is entirely uniform from center to corner; that new five-element lens really is remarkable. It does show a bit of pincushion distortion.
The camera will focus close enough to cover smaller than a 3x4" area; on the iPad's screen, it's more than a 2X enlargement from life-size. Even with relatively low resolution, you can photograph detail as fine as the naked eye can see.
The iPad's exposure range measures only seven stops. This is definitely an expose-for-the-highlights camera. Let the shadows go. Automatically-determined exposure usually works well, as figure 2 indicates, but there will be times when you'll need to dial it down by tapping the screen in a brighter area. Figure 2 show off both the accurate color and short exposure range. Elmo's almond eyes and the slight pinkish tinge to the skin around his eye are faithfully reproduced while the feathers are pleasantly close to the proper shade of gray.
Zooming in on figure 2 to 100% (figure 3) shows the ointment's big fly. Extremely aggressive noise reduction produces that undesirable "watercolor" look. The fine detail in the feathers on Elmo's throat pops in and out of existence depending on whether it has enough contrast to survive the noise-reduction algorithm's not-so-tender ministrations. At low light levels the noise really becomes unacceptable, viz. figure 4 (100% scale). It's tolerable on the iPad screen and might be acceptable in a "drugstore" sized print. It's ugly in anything larger.
Even in direct sunlight, the photographs aren't noise-free, as you can see in figure 5 (full frame) and figure 6 (100% scale). The noise is fine-grained; in a print, it looks about what you'd expect from a fine-grain 35mm film. Entirely acceptable to most viewers, even me, but well below what digital cameras can deliver today. Subject matter with bold edges and tones won't suffer much from the noise issues, as figure 7 (full frame) nicely demonstrates. Although it lacks tack-sharpness, it makes an attractive 8x 10print.
All in all, I'd say the iPad camera's quality is vaguely comparable to a middlin' 35mm point-and-shoot (better in some ways, worse in others). That puts it well below today's good digicams and the iPhone 4S. But the camera's usable, if you don't get your expectations too high; that certainly couldn't be said of the one in the iPad2.
Note: None of the illustrations here were massaged or enhanced, save for a slight exposure adjustment to figure 1 so that it would properly match the Macbeth chart.
Ctein's regular weekly column on TOP appears on Wednesdays.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.