iPad Test Notes: Camera PerformanceS

When Apple unveiled the latest iPad, it promised the five megapixel camera would be a substantive improvement over its predecessor. But that's not saying much, since a five-year-old BlackBerry is capable of better shots. So in addition to the iPad 2, we compared the new iPad camera to the iPhone 4S (the high watermark of mobile cameras) and the iPhone 4 (the closest photographic competitor to the iPad).

And guess what? The iPad more than held its own.

New iPad vs. the iPad 2

Obviously the difference between the iPad 2 and the new iPad is like night and day. Images from the latest model are sharp, detailed, and won't damage retinas with intolerable levels of ugliness. Like, you can take pictures with this thing and not be ashamed to show the end result to someone. Just remember that the iPad is still a tablet, and yes, you will still look like an asshole taking pictures with it.

New iPad vs. the iPhone 4

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This matchup is the spec equivalent of "pick on somebody your own size." Both devices have five-megapixel sensors, and the new iPad has the technological advantage of featuring a camera module and CPU that are two years newer (which means 1080p video recording). And really, that makes all the difference. The iPad has better low light handling, macro detail capturing, and video recording capabilities than the iPhone 4. And perhaps most surprisingly, it's still less noisy. Winner: iPad

New iPad vs. the iPhone 4S

We wouldn't have thought this, but the quality between the two devices is actually a tight race. As with video, the new iPad is arguably sharper than the iPhone 4S. This is especially noticeable with the macro-ish shots of a quarter. But where does the new iPad stumble? Its ability to pick up detail and depth in images isn't as good—as is evident with the outdoor wall shots—and the amount of noise in images and videos is substantially more. Winner: iPhone 4S

Winner...

The iPad camera is pretty damn good. But ultimately, the iPhone 4S is still tops. Details pop just a bit harder, and there's a little less noise. But the iPad camera is hands down superior to the iPhone 4's, and that in itself should be considered an impressive feat.

...Except for Video

Video

When it comes to video, our resident video editor Michael Hession argues that the iPad actually records the best video of all the devices. He says the iPhone 4S still has a better dynamic range, but that the iPad is sharper. And it's hard to disagree with that. But at the end of the day, pics are still the top priority.Winner: iPad