It’s got that great big screen! I can see the pictures are bigger! Right?
Oh, well, you’re not wrong about the way the pictures look while you’re taking them. The iPad’s Retina Display shows you photos at 2048 by 1536 pixels, which, at the 9.7 inch size of the screen, works out to a resolution of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). Stunning. Even the earlier iPad 2 displays photos at 1024 x 768 (so, with the same size screen, do the math: 132 ppi). You see the same number of pixels on your iPad mini, but because the screen’s smaller (7.9 inches), the pixels are closer together. And that makes the photos sharper, at 163 ppi. Any of the iPad models is a great way to look at pictures.
But, for taking pictures… well, that iPad 2 in your hand is pretty plain jane, at 960 x 720 pixels. (It displays pictures much better than it takes them.) And the front-facing FaceTime camera gives you plain old VGA resolution (640 x 480 like an old-style computer monitor). The newer iPad and the mini? Much better, at 5 megapixels (and 1.2 MP for the FaceTime camera, because you really don’t want to be pushing more than that through a phone call). But compare that against the 10 megapixels you get with an entry-level digital camera.
Or, more to the point, compare it against the 8 megapixels your iPhone 5 or iPhone 4S pulls in. Even my old iPhone 4 takes pictures with as many pixels as the newer iPad models (though it doesn’t have the 5-element lens or the IR filter). In digital photography, the size of the picture is a fluid concept. The important thing is not how big you can make the picture when you view it; it’s how much detail, tone, and color you can capture when you take the shot. And the 8 megapixels from your iPhone translates into a lot more detail than the 5 megapixels from your iPad.
If you’ll eventually be looking at those photos on anything bigger than the 9.7-inch screen of your iPad, the difference will be plain to see. Prove it to yourself: Take a picture of the same scene, under the same light, using both your iPhone and your iPad, then look at both pictures on your computer monitor.
How about paper prints? Those 3 extra megapixels make a big difference. DigicamHelp.com recommends at least 5 megapixels to make an 8 x 10″ print. But an 8 megapixel iPhone photo will give you a 16 x 20″ print at comparable quality. Or a much sharper-looking print at the same size.
The old truism remains true, that the best camera is the one you have with you. And of course, it’s not all about pixel count; a nice sharp shot at 5 megapixels may well look better than a blurry one at 8. But it turns out that your iPhone is also better than your iPad at the other things that matter, like tones and colors, and the way the camera performs in low light. So, all other things being equal, and if you have a choice, put away your iPad and pull out your iPhone. The people behind you will thank you, and you’ll get better-looking pictures. ^michael
Aside from the instant gratification of seeing your photos on a tablet-sized screen (or if it’s the only camera you have with you) you’re better off taking pictures with your iPhone than with your iPad.
Oh, here’s another reason why you might not want to get caught taking pictures with your iPad.
And Ken Rockwell provides counterpoint, explaining that resolution has little to do with picture quality, in what he calls The Megapixel Myth.