The big news about Apple's new iPad, announced earlier today, was clearly the new high-definition retina display, with its quadrupling of display resolution to 2,048x1,536 pixels (i.e., 3.1 million pixels at 264 pixels per inch) and 44 percent improvement in color saturation. To take better advantage of the gorgeous display, the built-in backside camera has been upgraded from the measly 0.7-megapixel camera in the iPad 2, to a 5-megapixel model.
Despite the big jump in resolution, though, it's hardly thrilling when you consider that the iPhone 4S has an 8-megapixel camera. While it remains to be seen how the image quality will compare to photos you snap with the iPhone (more megapixels on a tiny sensor isn't always a good thing), the new iPad's photo capabilities are plainly good enough. The fact of the matter is that the iPad is just not designed to be a primary device for snapping lots of photos or videos. I rarely take photos with my iPad 2, and that's not because of the weak camera (I happily snapped a ton of photos with the lame little 2-megapixel camera in my first-generation iPhone) — it's just plain unwieldy and weird to shoot with an iPad.
Nevertheless, the sweet display would only serve to highlight the camera's weaknesses, so an upgrade was certainly in order. The backside camera (now dubbed the "iSight" camera, vs. the front-facing "FaceTime" camera) not only sports a 5-megapixel backside illuminated sensor, but it also borrows the higher-end optic system of the iPhone 4S, with a five-element lens and hybrid IR filter. Other camera features include:
Auto face detection
Auto white balance
1080p HD video recording
Video image stabilization
Temporal noise reduction (to help improve low-light quality)
To further entice you to snap more photos with the device, Apple also announced a new edition of iPhoto for the iPad (just $4.99 in the iTunes App Store), which is much more interesting than the camera itself. The new app does much of what the desktop version of iPhoto does, but is enhanced with a sweet new interface (albums look like they're sitting on glass shelves) that offers new ways to browse through your image collection, as well as slick image editing, both of which take full advantage of the multi-touch screen and use intuitive gestures. There are a slew of features including professional-quality effects and brushes (just in time to compete with Adobe Photoshop Touch), online sharing options for easy uploading to Facebook, Twitter, etc., a cool Photo Journal feature that lets you share photo galleries via iCloud, and my personal favorite: Photo Beaming, which allows you to automatically transfer photos from other iOS devices. To get a good overview of the new iPhoto for iPad, queue up the video of today's launch event keynote to minute 62:15 and watch the demo by Randy Ubillos, Apple's Chief Architect for Photo and Video Applications.