Apple iPad, Day 22: Pictures and Photo Editing on the iPad
By Tony Bradley
30 Days With the iPad: Day 22
One of the most glaring omissions on the original iPad, and most anticipated features of the iPad 2 is the presence of a camera. For today’s 30 Days With the iPad post, I am taking a look at the capabilities of the iPad 2 when it comes to both taking photos, and editing them after the fact.
To be fair, the goal of this series is to explore the iPad as a replacement for a PC, not a camera. My notebook has a front-facing webcam built in, but taking pictures is not something one generally does with a PC. But, the iPad 2 can take photos, and shoot videos, so I am going to digress slightly and see how it performs.
It is fair, though, to examine how well the iPad fills the role of PC when it comes to photo editing. In the 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux series last month, I also devoted a day to comparing the GIMP image editing tool in Ubuntu with Adobe Photoshop in Windows. It seems reasonable to see how well the iPad 2 can stand up to the same sort of comparison.
It seems a little unnatural to take a picture with the iPad 2. Holding a 9-inch tablet up and framing the photo is a much different experience than using a smartphone like the iPhone 4, or an actual camera. In fact, I can’t imagine a scenario where I would have my iPad 2 and not my iPhone 4, so I am much more likely to snap a picture with the iPhone.
It turns out, though, that the unwieldy size of the iPad as a camera is not the only reason to opt against it. The camera sucks. The iPad 2 has a pitiful sub-megapixel camera, compared to the 5 megapixel camera on the iPhone 4. That means that a photo shot on the iPad 2 is a 960 x 720 image, while the iPhone 4 photo is 2592 x 1936–more than seven times the pixels.
Despite the hype, it’s not all about the megapixels, though. There are a lot of factors that go into capturing a quality photo, and megapixels is a relatively minor aspect. The iPhone 4 also has other features lacking on the iPad 2 camera, though, like HDR mode, and a flash.
I took a picture of my coffee mug using both the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4. The photos were shot as identically as possible, but the difference in the quality of the pictures is startling. The iPad 2 photo has poor contrast and color saturation, and the image is grainy and noisy.
I don’t know what Apple was thinking. After making iPad users wait a year to get the camera they expected in the first place, they put a camera in that takes picture about as good as my Sony Mavica from 1999. It is better than nothing and will do the trick in a pinch, but I would never choose to take a picture with the iPad 2 if other options are available.
OK. So, I have ruled out taking any award-winning photos with the iPad 2. That is fine. The larger display still makes the iPad 2 a better platform for manipulating and editing photos after the fact no matter what device the picture is taken with.
Getting a picture from the iPhone 4 to the iPad–especially without involving a PC–can be a tad tricky now, but when iOS 5 and iCloud hit the street photos will be automatically and seamlessly synced between devices.
I started out by downloading the Adobe Photoshop Express app. If I was on a Windows PC, I would probably be using Photoshop, so it seemed like a good idea to see what Adobe has to offer on the iPad.
The answer is “not much”. Photoshop Express is about as close to Adobe Photoshop as Windows Paint. The app itself is free, but I also purchased the Adobe Camera Pack add-on which includes additional features to reduce noise, and also has a timer function in case I want to set the iPad 2 up and rush over to jump in the photo myself.
Photoshop Express has the basic tools novice photographers might use to touch up a picture. I can crop the picture, and rotate or flip it. The app also lets me change the contrast, exposure, tint, and saturation of the image, and sharpen the image or reduce noise. Throw in some borders and effects, and that pretty much sums up Photoshop Express.
I asked my wife–a professional photographer–to take a look as well. She is an advanced user of Photoshop CS5, and makes her living editing photos using Adobe software, but Photoshop Express is simply not in the same league.
I did some research and found a different app called Photogene. Photogene is a much more powerful photo editing app than Photoshop Express. It is still not Photoshop CS5, but it has many of the more advanced features my wife expects to find when editing a photo–like white balance, histogram, and curves.
As a less advanced user, there are also a few things I appreciate about Photogene. One is the A/B button. I can make changes to the various settings and those changes are reflected on the image, but I can tap the A/B button to see what the image looked like before I started messing with it as a comparison. After I am done screwing the picture up, I can also just tap “Original” to basically undo everything and go back to the way the picture was when I began.
I also like the Export feature in Photogene. It lets me save the edited photo to the iPad 2 Photo Library, or I can post it to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox, or Picasa. I can also print it, email it, upload it via FTP, or copy it to the clipboard.
Can the iPad replace a PC for a professional photographer? No. The tools available lack the advanced features that a professional photographer needs, and the limited RAM and storage capacity of the iPad would be an issue when working with much larger images from high-end digital camera equipment. Professional photographers should definitely stick to the PC.
For the other 99 percent of the world, though–those of us who just want to touch up photos to post on Facebook–tools like Photogene offer more than enough functionality. Getting photos from a camera or smartphone to the iPad is cumbersome now, but when iOS 5 gets here the iPad can handle the photo editing needs of average, and even more advanced hobbyist photographers.