The new iPad 3 has been given a specced-up super-charged camera with a 5-megapixel back-side illuminated sensor and the same optics as found in the iPhone 4S. We’ve been seeing a lot of backlash about the resolution being 5-megapixels as opposed to 8 as found on the iPhone. What do we think?

Hardware

In any camera phone / tablet, there are three key elements that dictate the quality of the image - lens, sensor and software. With the lens of the new iPad looking very similar to the likes of the iPhone 4S with its 5 elements and sporting a hybrid IR filter, we could attest to its quality before even using it. In addition, with the new iPad's f/2.4 aperture, you'll get great light capturing capabilities and the best opportunity to get the low-light shot you're after.

As for the sensor, why 5-megapixels? Why not 8-megapixels we hear you ask? This is what we think:
Apple have created a stunning screen on the new iPad. To be precise it's 3.14-megapixels. What image would look best on it? An image from a 3.14-megapixel camera. The more you squeeze an image and re-size it to fit a smaller screen than its native resolution, the more crispy and bitty it gets - technical terms we assure you. 5-megapixel images will likely look better on a 3.14-megapixel display than 8-megapixel images and be handled quicker.

In addition, the less pixels there are on a sensor, the less densely packed each pixel is. If the sensor takes advantage of this fact in its creation, what you end up with is a camera that handles noise a lot better than a higher resolution sensor of the same physical size - and the new iPad does just that.

The final factor dictating image quality on a mobile camera is the software controlling in-camera settings (ISO, shutter speed and post-processing). We already know Apple are great at this part, making photos to specifically look glorious on the screen they're being displayed on, upping saturation, boosting vibrance and nailing contrast.

Photos

Starting with our outdoor samples, a bright sunny London provided a great setting to test out how the tablet copes with great lighting and oodles of detail. The 5-megapixel shots all look at the very least good with great levels of detail, and saturated colours. Dynamic range is also solid though overblown skies do creep into the toughest shots as do blacked out areas. Looking at the truck, moving objects are handled incredibly well especially in such a well lit condition with the shutter speed being 1/432 sec at an ISO of 80. If you want to crop in, that is where you may feel the 5-megapixel pinch, but overall, impressive start. Click through the photos below for a full sized version.

The high contrast scenes were taken to make the camera struggle and indeed it does. As you’ll see, the tonal range isn’t quite replicating reality though it still delivers a good overall shot. Touch to focus is also touch to expose, so if you look at the hanging basket, we tapped the foreground basket in order to lighten the overall image. It did this to an extent, however, prioritised getting a balanced overall shot. In turn, while the shot is well exposed, the basket still looks a bit dark.

If outdoor shots are good, Macro shots look great. Stunning detail, beautiful depth of field and given the bountiful supply of light in the scene, a nice fast shutter make everything come together stunningly.

Indoor images were taken in a poorly lit stairwell. The results go a long way to compensating for the lack of flash on board. Easily one of the best noise handling mobile devices we’ve seen of late, images look fantastic on the new iPad itself. When exported, they look noisier and less saturated, but still good. The same can be said of indoor macro, with the keyhole being taken at 1/15 sec at ISO-800.

Apple clearly soften detail and increase shutter speed to suppress excess noise ramping up the ISO creates. This does do a job, especially coupled with the digital image stabilization, though indoor shot detail is compromised in the process.

Overall therefore, the camera on the new iPad 2 is a 5-megapixel master. Easily bettering the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for example, with great overall saturation and detail, if you can get over the awkwardness of shooting on a 9.7-inch tablet, it’s superb. No flash will limit usage, though excellent noise handling compensates well for this and the superb UI is user-friendly whether you’re a seasoned shooter or newbie.

Video

The new iPad hasn't just been specced up in terms of its stills camera though, video is now recorded at a full 1080p to take full advantage of the retina display Apple have bestowed upon their new tablet.

Quality is extremely impressive. Content in well lit conditions looks sharp and colours are vibrant and well saturated. Add a smooth frame-rate into the mix and we would say the quality is at least as good as that of the iPhone 4S.

 

 

With no flash, indoor and dimly lit video can struggle at times with noise, however, Apple's optics handle grain better than most high end devices out there so this should seldom be a barrier to capturing your memories in full HD.

Adding to this, the UI is also simple to use and responsive with a tap of the screen re-focusing your shot quickly and easily.

Verdict

All in all therefore, once you get past the ergonomic challenges of taking pictures on your tablet, the new iPad camera is very impressive indeed. 5-megapixels, in this instance definitely suffices, images are handles blisteringly fast and detail and colour looks great. Despite no flash, noise is dealt with well and what’s more - video is stunning taking full advantage of the better than HD display. Despite having reservations about other aspects of the new iPad therefore, the camera definitely gets a resounding high five.

The new iPad is available now on T-Mobile.