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The new iPad Camera: Why 5-megapixels?

The new iPad will feature an all new camera, however we’re seeing a fair amount of backlash in terms of the 5-megapixel sensor Apple have decided to endow it with. We’re not worried just yet. In addition to the pixel bump the new iPad camera features backside illumination as well as a 5-element lens and a hybrid IR filter, all of which can be found on the iPhone 4S. This is good news.

That said, it doesn’t answer the question why would Apple stop there and leave out the iPhone 4S’s 8-megapixel sensor? We take a look inside to see what three less pixels actually mean to your photos.

The Lens

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 can already attest to its quality if indeed the components are comparable to those found in the iPhone 4S. As for the hybrid IR filter, this prevents infrared light passing through the lense. While this is invisible to the naked eye, camera sensors are hyper-sensitive and can pick up IR light as red. IR filters in turn cool down images that could otherwise prove too warm and make pictures look a bit more realistic.

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.

The Sensor

Why 5-megapixels? Why not 8-megapixels we hear you ask? This is what we think:

Firstly: Apple have created a stunning screen on the new iPad. To be precise it’s 3.14-megapixels. That’s ridiculous. What image would look best on it? An image from a 3.14-megapixel camera.

See where we’re going here? 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. Apple have been able to reduce the discrepancy between camera and screen more than ever before in the new iPad thanks to its incredible display.

This means there is less rescaling and as you thumb through your images full-screen, they load instantaneously thanks to the smaller file size and A5X processor and look as good as they can while still being exportable and printable 6×4 or 7×5.

Secondly: The less pixels there are on a sensor, the more light-capturing capabilities they potentially have as each pixel is less densely packed. 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. Why would the new iPad sensor need to be better at handling noise than, say, the iPhone 4S? Because, as with the old iPad, the new iPad lacks a flash.

Software

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.

While we can’t say for sure just how the processing on the new iPad will look, we can at the very least remain optimistic going by that found on the iPhone 4S and so many features shared across cameras.

 

In a nutshell therefore, we can’t wait to do a tablet camera comparison and we’re not stressing about the new iPad’s pixel count. We were mightily impressed by the snapper on the Motorola XOOM 2 Media Edition which also has a 5-megapixel snapper and even wrote an article on 5-megapixel sensors in relation to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

So are 5-megapixels enough? Are you impressed on the whole by the new iPad? Have Apple taken their product naming too far this time? Share questions, thoughts, feelings, affections and vitriole in the comments section below.

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