The iPad 2's secret megapixels

ipad2.jpgJohn Gruber criticizes a mainstream media critic's efforts to find things wrong with the iPad 2, apparently so that his review would be more objective and balanced. Sure, it's an Apple fan finding fault with a critical perspective, but he points out a doozy: the writer, Walt Mossberg of the WSJ, couldn't report how many megapixels the tablet's camera shoots at because Apple wouldn't tell him. "Mossberg has an iPad 2," Gruber wrote. "All he needs to do is snap a picture, transfer it to his Mac, look at the size, then multiply the width by height." Access journalism does bad things to otherwise diligent writers. We end up lazy, no matter how much work we do. Smarter criticism of the iPad 2's crap camera comes from Charlie Sorrel at Wired.


  1. Not so. I once bought a digital camera (of a fairly good brand, Canon or so) that had two settings for digital video — 0.5 megapixels and 1 megapixels. After some experimenting, it turned out the 1 megapixels setting was just 0.5 megapixel resolution with a x2 digital zoom. So I know from experience that looking at the resolution of the image it stores doesn’t prove anything about the actual resolution of the camera. Needless to say, I returned the camera.

    1. Digital zoom does enlarge the photo digitally, as in zooming into part of the photo adding, filling pixels by software in the process, as opposed to optical zoom where the camera can just take zoom into a scene.

      That has nothing to do with the size of the photo, just the size of the subject matter INSIDE the photo, not the size of the photo itself.

  2. I love to hate on apple as much as the next android fanboy, but I really don’t see this as being much of an issue. A tablet isn’t really a convenient form factor for taking pictures/video in the first place. It’s not something you’d use on a regular basis. The front facing camera makes more sense for video chat (which I maintain is a pointless fad, but at least it’s an understandable pointless fad), and that certainly doesn’t need to be high rez. The only reasonable use for a rear-facing camera on a tablet is barcode scanning. If the included sensor is capable of that, then good enough. If not, then it’s a waste to put it in there at all.

    If you’re going to bitch about the ipad, then bitch about its legitimate failings – namely the lack of removable storage, reliance on proprietary software (itunes), lack of universal charging/data connectors, walled-garden app ecosystem, and spiteful refusal to incorporate adobe flash support.

    1. This.

      I’m one of those Apple fanboys, and I will probably get myself an iPad once I have enough spare cash lying around, but it is nice to see a critic stick to legitimate objective complaints. Our political debate could use the same treatment.

  3. @1 That doesn’t even kind of make sense. Digital zoom decreases the resolution. It’s basically cropping.

    1. Sorry, didn’t realize I was that vague: In my example, the 1 mpx setting produced video files with the resolution of 1 mpx but with ‘big pixels’, as if you’d take a 0.5 mpx video and double its size. (Or quadruple, not really sure about the math.)

      My point is that you can’t rely on the file output to determine the actual resolution of the camera.

  4. I’m sorry, but John Grubber’s counter-criticism is equally-bad, if not worse.

    The reviewer comments that a major downside is that the camera is crap, and says in passing that he wasn’t sure what the megapixels were. John agrees that the camera is crap, and the explains how you could take the time to figure out megapixels by yourself. That’s the major counter-criticism? That the reviewer didn’t know how to manually find out what the megapixels were? Even though everyone involved agrees that it doesn’t particularly matter since the camera is (apparently) objectively crap?

    The the reviewer says that the iPad 2’s battery life is worse than the original iPad’s in his “hard” battery test (high brightness, wifi etc running). John then complains that this is a stupid criticism because the battery life is within specs, which wasn’t even remotely the reviewer’s point, which was comparing it to the original iPad — hardly a strange thing to do, since people generally hope battery life to go up. John also complains that the benchmark is too hard, but that’s exactly the point of a benchmark, and it’s what the author was comparing to.

    The reviewer then mentions the plug. John dismisses this while agreeing that the plug was harder to plug in. What?

    Sorry. John’s counter-review is crap, and sounds like a badly-thought-out fanboy knee-jerk angry reaction to criticism.

    (NB: I’m not an Apple-hater. Don’t own an iPad, but have used one and am sure I’d love one if someone gave me one…)

    1. Spot on sir. Pretty much hit all of my feelings about the meta-review. I am somewhat of an apple-hater (although I do own a macbook pro and a 1st gen iPad). Ok, not really a hater I love OS X and the iPad is a nice gadget but I wouldn’t have bought one (it was a door prize).

  5. nevertheless, HD video + strong processors + nice size = awesome AR platform. there should be enough graphics oomph in it to place real objects on the street, like architectural models, or dinosaurs, or psychedelica, and tens of millions of people will have access to one.

    however, it is important to remember before you go augmenting your reality that (a) the wifi ipad does not have gps and (b) the 3G ipad does not need a dataplan for its gps work (although AR apps might need a network connection).

  6. The cameras were only meant for FaceTime. It’s humorous that the most requested feature for the iPad 2 were cameras for FaceTime and this is a feature that others are complaining about. I would’ve like to have seen a better camera for document scanning. I couldn’t care less about video chatting.

  7. I’m a big critic of the appstore (and also of the people who hitch their business fortunes to it and then complain about how Apple runs it), but I honestly don’t mind there being no flash on the thing.

    We’ve hated flash forever. It put the advertising pop-up in play again. It does horrible things to slow computers, and even to fast ones when there’s enough instances on a webpage. The wretched, janky, slow Flash IDE from Adobe that coders will do anything to avoid having to use is the flip side of the wretched, janky, slow virtual machinery that Macromedia and Adobe crapped onto the web in the first place. And it’s a private kingdom, a proprietary framework. I just don’t miss it, and — as a flash developer myself who loves it as a game development environment — just can’t take seriously the idea that we’ve lost much from it not being on iOS browsers.

    1. Flash may be more trouble than it’s worth at times, but at other times, you need it. Sites that rely heavily on flash shouldn’t do so, but until they stop, I don’t want to be forced to ignore a large portion of the intarwubs (and you shouldn’t either). Flash or no flash should be a choice, and it’s a choice that apple has seen fit to take away from you.

      My android phone (G2) and tablet (nook color w/ Froyo) play flash videos and display flash-based websites just fine. Both use less powerful processors than the ipad 2 and both devices combined cost less than the cheapest ipad 2. Apple CAN support flash, they simply refuse to out of spite and a misguided delusion that they know more about how you should use your devices than you do. I don’t want my hardware manufacturers dictating my usage habits.

  8. Quoting the Engadget Review of iPad 2:
    “Let’s just put this out there: the iPad 2 cameras are really pretty bad. They’re not unusable, but it’s clear that the sensors employed are not top shelf by any measure. If you have a fourth generation iPod touch with cameras, you can expect the same results. In fact, it seems to us that these are the SAME cameras used in the iPod touch — there’s an “HD” lens around back (which means it’s roughly a single megapixel shooter), and on the front you’ve got a lowly VGA cam. Neither one of these produces remotely satisfying results for still shots, and in particular (when compared with something like the Xoom), the back camera just seems utterly second rate. For video duties and FaceTime calls, the cameras are reasonably useful — but we would never trade a dedicated camera (or at least a smartphone with a 5+ megapixel shooter) for this.”

  9. I think it’s pretty weird how surprised people seem to be. The ipad 2 has the same camera’s as the ipod touch. Which has been out for years and which is an extremely popular product.

    It only takes a moment to realize that the ipad is much more like a “big ipod touch” than a “big iphone.” The most common version is wifi, neither version is contract-subsidized.

  10. It’s outrageous that Apple didn’t put a full-frame image-stabilized sensor in my $2,500 MacBook Pro’s camera!

    I agree that most of this is lousy tech journalism. The iPad 2 has video camera that happens to take still photos. Video cameras make lousy still cameras. Apple designs its products. This means making tradeoffs. Yes, some of these tradeoffs also help pad its healthy profit margin. It doesn’t spec components to fill in feature matrices like other manufacturers. The video camera is for FaceTime and for augmented reality apps. The iPad makes as much sense as a digital camera as my MacBook Pro.

  11. Megapixels is a silly measure of camera capability anyway. I think the original reviewer’s point in bringing it up was more about revealing Apple’s attitude than anything else.

    Can’t we all just ignore Gruber? Every time an item of Apple criticism gets any traction, there he is, plastered all over the web, singing the same song about how Apple is visionary and forward-thinking and its critics are all doomed, moronic heathens. We could just replace his site with that summary, and we’d all save a lot of time.

    1. “Can’t we all just ignore Gruber?”

      i keep trying… his smug cultural commentary makes me a danger to his life… but he sometimes does cool things, like this part of his review (though it goes w/o saying not as cool as the engadget guy INVENTING NEW SONGS to test mobile garageband):

      “Looking for a better [graphics] benchmark, I asked my friend Guy English, an iOS developer who has worked on games like Tap Tap Revenge (as a contractor for Tapulous and Disney), to write a custom test app to measure an iPad’s graphics capabilities from the perspective of a game developer. It’s a simple app that renders hundreds (or even a few thousand) sprites moving around on screen, with gravity, and tracking up to three touch points. The results show that the iPad 2’s graphics improvements far outshine its straightforward CPU improvements — exactly as Apple has advertised.

      “For example, on my original iPad, with 200 on-screen sprites, the framerate dropped to 45 fps. On the iPad 2, with 400 on-screen sprites, the framerate remained at 65 fps. On the iPad 1, Guy’s demo app dropped below 60 fps with about 100 animated sprites; on the iPad 2, it didn’t drop below 60 fps until there were over 750 animated sprites.

      “After I showed him the results, Guy told me, ‘The results show that the iPad 2 is easily about twice as powerful as the original and that this speed gain is a freebie — you don’t need to change your code structure in order to see significant gains. The differences in the amount of time spent rendering indicates that the GPU is really much faster than the original. The original iPad had a comparatively weak fill-rate and it was an issue for the device. The second generation really leaves that behind and it looks like it’ll be able to do some really incredible things graphically. My demo code is workman-like, competent code — meant to measure the relative strengths of the parts of the system. Taking some time to get the most out of that GPU and CPU will pay off with some really remarkable games and graphics apps.'”

      I DO REALIZE that apple’s walled garden is the apple tree in the garden of eden and the ipad is the slimy snake in the tree going all “sssssssslide your fingerssss acrossss the sssssurfasssssssss” but somebody needs to just for the sake of research find out how far the thing can go blending models with live video.

  12. The iPad is the first piece of technology that I have ever lusted after. But I’m still waiting because even the iPad 2 doesn’t quite measure up for reasons of potential personal requirements that I won’t bore everyone with.

    However, why all the fuss about the camera capacity?! If I want to take a picture I use my really quite portable and really quite capable digital camera. This camera is for “face time” use (shudder!). Who really thinks that someone is going to go around making images by doing point and click with an iPad?

  13. Well, to be fair, Steve Jobs’ doctors have to remove Gruber’s nose whenever they need to do a little work on Steve’s nether regions. Grubes does keep it nice and clean down there, however.

  14. Think you missed John Grubers point. And that was Mossberg report was lame (weak) for such a big time publication to post. Poking fun at reporters, other web tech pundits and his self is one of the things Gruber does on his blog you should read both articles they are not about Apples lame choice for iPad 2s camera. The wired article is click bait barely a step up from spam.

    1. Spot on.
      Here’s the deal; Gruber doesn’t suffer fools. He frequently posts negative reviews without lashing out. But, if Gruber feels you’re being lazy, or stupid, he’ll call you on it.

      Shit like in the Mossberg bit, of getting upset because a hard battery test shows the iPad exceeds manufacture specs is a foolish position. Comparing the iPad’s lack of Flash to other tablets that either don’t have Flash or prove that Flash is a battery draining, stuttering resource hog—is foolish.

      Not understanding that specs aren’t an adequate comparison point is foolish. I, for one, am convinced that the race to have better specs on paper is what got the netbook and compact camera in trouble. Focus too much on advertising numbers and not enough on producing happy interactions will doom ya—and, as has been discussed here and elsewhere, megapixels aren’t that good of an indicator of quality, there’s a level of diminishing returns. So Apple doesn’t print megapixels on the packaging, it doesn’t care—does the camera work in most of the cases most users want is the question; maybe it does, maybe not; just because it is a camera doesn’t mean it should produce pix the same level as a Cannon.

      Goddamn it, I’m pissed off that in my crazy-ass battery test Apple only came out nine minutes higher than they promised!

  15. Since when is the resolution of an image required to have anything to do with the camera with which it was taken?

  16. Want to produce Flash but not buy Adobe?

    Google “Swish.”

    You can produce Flash without buying Adobe.

    I don’t know if that proves that Flash is “open” or not, but there are alternatives to the status quo.

  17. I assumed the low-res specs were another example of Apple out-thinking its rivals: for any given CMOS sensor size, the lower the resolution in pixels, the better the light sensitivity. Light sensitivity may be important for taking stills, but it’s even more important for video which works under more rigorous time constraints. Why spend more on a component that serves to satisfy only those few masochists who want to use a tablet for taking high-res stills while being of lesser use to the majority that just want to upload their cat’s antics to YouTube without a lighting director?

    So, does anyone know if my theory is valid? In other words, is the iPad 2 better for shooting video than its competitors because it has “worse” cameras, or has Apple simply skimped on components for the sake of its bottom line?

  18. Charlie Sorrel’s piece is “smarter?” I’m sorry – check out the closing, where he asserts that it looks unlikely that there will ever be an iPad with a better camera. Because clearly, if Apple hasn’t put a better camera in it today, it will *never* happen, because there will never be another iPad! Ever! It’s just like how my iMac is exactly like a Mac Plus.

    My bet: it was absolutely essential to keep the $499 entry price, and preserve margins. (Which is correct; Apple’s beating everybody on price, and there’s doing so well that there’s no reason to cut margins.) You can’t have everything, & so the assumption is that people are not going to be holding up iPads to take photos instead of using actual cameras or even their iPhones. Which is probably right.

    Far better to skimp on the camera than on other components, if you have to find somewhere to cut the costs a bit.

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