The Heretical Thumbs Up: The iPad as Camera

I understand it’s fashionable to make fun of people who are using their iPads (or other large tablets) as cameras, but, you know what? I like using mine as a camera. The huge, hi-res screen is awesome for framing and picture taking. I have several cameras around the house, ranging from a DSLR down to the one on my cell phone. All of them have video screens you can look at while you’re taking the picture, but only the iPad is the one where the screen is large enough that there is no doubt whatsoever about a) what you’re looking at when you take the picture, b) what the picture is going to look like after you’ve taken it. This is great for me, especially for certain types of pictures, like the ones where I’m trying to show off new books — I can see before I take the picture whether all the book titles and author names are legible.

The camera itself is not the highest resolution out there or has the best imaging chip — my cell phone takes higher-res pictures, and my DSLR is quite obviously possessed of the better optics system, but then again 5 megapixels is perfectly serviceable for where almost all the pictures I take with the thing go, which is to say, on my Web site, where I size them to be no more than 500 pixels wide most of the time. Plus acceptable photoediting suites and good connectivity to upload photos (which is something that my DLSR doesn’t have; I have to take the memory card and stick it into a computer like a common troll) makes it my first choice for camera when I am not actually hauling out my Nikon.

The main knock on the iPad as a camera is that the thing is big and people look goofy taking pictures with it. But, you know. If you’re the sort of person who judges another person for using an iPad to take a picture, who is the actual asshole in that scenario? Hint: Probably not the dude holding the iPad. I would agree there are times and places not to haul out the iPad — for example, in any scenario where your taking the picture with it blocks the view of the actual event for someone else, or if you’re operating heavy machinery, etc. But in most circumstances: Fine with me. You shouldn’t have to whip out an entirely different piece of imaging equipment just because someone somewhere might think you look goofy for holding an iPad out for a photo. Especially if that person is the sort whose entire wardrobe is meant to be worn ironically.

39 Comments on “The Heretical Thumbs Up: The iPad as Camera”

  1. I don’t mind people taking photos with iPads, I just wish they didn’t block my view while doing so.

  2. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve attended events at my kids’ schools where someone is using an iPad or other tablet device as their camera/video camera and had it interfere with my view of the event. Sure, use it for what you want as long as it doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of an event.

  3. My main issue with the iPad as a camera is that it’s too big and bulky – and yes, I’ve used it as a camera/camcorder.

    I prefer to use my 4th Gen iPod Touch for that….

  4. The biggest problem with DSLR’s and point-and-shoots is the small screen or small viewfinder.

    I hate with a passion all auto-focus algorithms I’ve ever suffered to use. They remind me of that robotic arm in the IronMan movies who can’t do anything right. Autofocus can’t do anything right. It will lose its damn mind in dark settings and go into oscillations focusing in and out in and out of the thing I’m trying to photograph until it finally settles and focuses on entirely the wrong thing.

    The problem with manual focus is I can’t tell by looking through a DLSR viewfinder if I’m really, really in focus or only close to being in focus. And nobody sells cameras with the split screen focus rings anymore. So, I take the picture, and then when I get home and put it on a large monitor, I realize I’m slightly out of focus and the picture is worthless.

    I’m getting to point of wanting to get an eye-fi card, put that in the camera, and then buy an ipad or tablet and carry that with me as I’m taking pictures, and immediately check the focus of the shot right after I take it.

    From an optical performance point of view, there are definite advantages to the sensors in a DSLR, and the optics, and the controls, and the capabilities of the different lenses that put it worlds above the performance of an ipad camera. But the tiny viewfinder, no focus ring, and a tiny display on the back of all DSLR’s sure does suck compared to having a ginormous display on the ipad.

  5. I hear ya. The hard part of taking a picture is seeing the picture that’s going to result when you press the button. Those little video camera views are helpful to a degree but I actually prefer looking through a lens in that case. You take a picture with an iPad and you know what you’re going to see. The dimension of the resultant 2D view is what does it for me. It’s hard enough trying to imagine a 3D view into a 2D picture. That’s what photographers are paid to do. I want my cake and eat it too. iPad ftw.

  6. ‘I would agree there are times and places not to haul out the iPad’ Especially not while the bride is coming down the aisle and the official wedding photographer is trying to get a clear shot of her in all her radiance.

  7. kokkieh:

    Yeah, or in any darkened performance space. And at the risk of going all get-off-my-damn-lawn, that goes for not just iPads, but smartphones and any digital cameras with a display. The house lights are down for a reason.

  8. I really like using my iPad Mini for taking pictures. You can frame very easily and can plan your editing if you think ahead. All in all it can be much better for a beginner.

  9. Those who snicker at using honking large sighting screens will have Karma bite them in a few years. Not that any of you will believe me, mind — I remember thinking my eyes would never get old, too.

  10. I’ve seen some cell phone videos that have been run through some sort of … I don’t even know what you would call it… smooth out the jerky movements… filter? I don’t know if it was actually a manual process or some automatic software. But it is rather interesting to discover how much I do not like watching video where the camera is handheld and bouncing all over the place.

    If you can, you should use some kind of gimbal to let the camera autobalance. If not, this software is some kind of magic post processing. It does end up cropping parts of the video as it rotates the image to keep things horizontal, but it’s pretty amazing.

  11. What Phil said. If people want to take a picture or video with an iPad, okay. But what’s annoying is when I’m watching my kids do a performance at school and people are holding their iPads up, obstructing my view of the stage. iPads are really hard to see around.

  12. My ASUS Transformer Prime makes a great camera… for things in the house that I want to just snap and upload quickly. But out and about? Needs to be a real camera that I can actually control the f/stop and ISO on, I’m afraid. And preferably change the lenses.

  13. I tried composing a whole bit about why iPad’s are less of a camera than, say, a cell phone, which itself is less than an actual camera…but really, it was just a bunch if circular logic that didn’t get anywhere. Instead, I can sum up my feelings without the flimsy attempts at justification with: putting a camera into a thing does not necessarily make the thing a camera. The iPad, while optimal under certain conditions, probably has a very narrow range of ‘optimal conditions’ to be a camera in.

    That said, I really just wanted to get to my awkward “taking iPad photos in public” story, which is: this weekend I was at a Scottish Festival and Highland Games. While waiting for some friends to arrive, we were sitting near the front gates where a large, colorful banner was hung. Every so often, folks would pause and take a photo of themselves in front of it – leading to the occasional friendly exchange of, “pardon me, would you take our picture?” Feels nice that people still feel comfortable asking that of strangers in a public setting.

    The oddest such encounter, was the young family who pulled out their iPad for the family photo, then asked a complete stranger to take it for them! Pretty brave, I think – not for the safety of one’s property aspect, but because you’re asking a stranger to take your picture using a distinctly non-camera like device. The volunteer this family approached had to be coached through it a few times before they took the photo.

    Watching from a small distance, my wife leaned in to me (the computer professional), and whispered, “all that effort, and they didn’t think to ask the people sitting here, one of whom owns an iPad?” I guess I should feel good for not looking like a typical computer geek? I’m not sure…bit fuzzy on that.

  14. The real question here is: what did you use to take a picture of your iPad taking a picture of those books?

  15. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve attended events at my kids’ schools where someone is using an iPad or other tablet device as their camera/video camera and had it interfere with my view of the event. ”

    I have a really easy fix for this. When they do this in front of me, I keep bumping their arm.
    “tap tap – excuse me, put that down”
    tap tap tap tap tap
    either they will stop, or they will have a blurry piece of nothing.
    I win either way. at least if I cant see and the others behind them, at least I can entertain myself by abusing the rude fool.

  16. Phones & tablets may not make the best cameras, but the camera that you have with you is the camera that you will use. I don’t routinely carry my camera, but I do carry a phone. It does well enough for many situations. I do sometimes find myself taking a picture with my phone instead of a camera because I’m planning to upload it and it’s easier to skip the step of downloading the picture to a PC. If there are newer cameras that have wireless, I don’t own one yet.

  17. No, my iPad won’t take as good a picture as my Canon DSLR, but on the other hand I can’t call home on my camera or play Angry Birds on it.

  18. If you haven’t gotten a card reader for your iPad, I highly recommend one. Then you can quickly port your DSLR pics into your iPad (selecting to download only the ones you check), and edit/use them with social networking app of your choice, etc. And then when you’re home, download the entire memory card.

  19. I’ve seen people near where I work use iPads to take pictures. It’s a little hard to get used to, seeing something that big being used to take pictures, but then again it’s also cool we live in the future where people take pictures with tablets. How insane would that have sounded ten, fifteen years ago?

  20. When we were in England with Aidan’s soccer team, one of his teammates carried around a Toshiba tablet everywhere and used it for all his photos. Those suckers are immense, and stupid heavy. It became something of a joke to the other boys, but at the same time they were regularly admiring some of the stuff he was doing, like panoramas of the insides of stadiums.

  21. What gets me isn’t the use of an iPad (it is hard to hold to use as a proper camera, you really need to rest it on something)… it’s all those videos that have been taken with a phone or tablet (particularly one that isn’t actually orientation dependent for use) where they hold it in the portrait aspect… and the onboard software deliberately isn’t smart enough to crop the other direction so that you have a proper video without a thin vertical sliver bracketed by two large black boxes once it’s been uploaded.

    Regarding the “deliberately not smart enough”, I recognize the inherent problem of having to tell people when they call in that the different crop is by design so that it’s actually viewable YouTube in anything less than 4K playback, or the incessant calls of “HOW THE HELLS DO I GET IT TO NOT COMPLAIN I’M HOLDING IT THE WRONG WAY WHEN I TAKE VIDEO?!”)

  22. I use mine as a camera all the time. Not for special stuff, for that I have the Canon. But the iPad does a good job for off the cuff shots.


  23. My big problem with using a tablet as a camera is the size of the thing. It’s not the most portable camera out there, and in the wind it’s almost impossibly to hold it still enough for a clear picture. This is, of course, from the user’s end. I don’t understand feeling superior because you have a more expensive camera.

  24. I’ll have you know, as a 39 year old physics teacher, I do NOT wear these Chucks ironically.

    I wear them sarcastically.

  25. My seven year old takes pictures with the iPad all the time. And videos too. Her videos are hilarious. I think they know how to use these new gadgets better than we do. I finally broke down and got her a Coolpix because it was dirt cheap at Target. She knew exactly what to do, I think because of the iPad time she had taking photos.

  26. Molnar: At this point in my life I’m pretty accustomed to being sneered at in broadside attacks, but it happens that I complimented friends for their concert video footage taken on iPhones just last week. They went to hear Weird Al; I was invited but chronic health issues made it not feasible. They took a lot of stills and a few video snippets to give me the feel of various bits of staging, and they chose their moments well. I really did get a feel for what the show was like, and was grateful.

    But like I said, I’m used to it. People with limited financial means and/or significant mobility and other restrictions because of chronic illness and disability never do count for much when it’s time for the more fortunate to decide what’s worth condescending to. At least this kind of thing just makes me feel wistful and annoyed without putting my access to vital support at risk the way the same attitude in other contexts can.

  27. Another vote for the “iPads block my view of the event” crowd. I don’t care what you use, except if it’s bigger than necessary and cuts into my enjoyment of the event

  28. I’ll note that it is relatively simple to tether the iPad to a DSLR. I’ll concede this may not all ways be convenient but for certain applications it is nice to have the large screen AND all the added functions of the DSLR.

  29. Thank you for the caveat at the end. :)

    The only place I really *notice* people taking pictures – or, worse, video – with their ipads is at concerts. But to do this they have to hold it above their heads, to get a clear shot above the heads of the people in front of them, which destroys the view for people behind them.

    To be fair, *all* cameras have something of this effect in a concert, but ipads are larger, and therefore more destructive of the view.

  30. josinlmcquein, I’ve taken only a couple of pictures with my tablet (Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1), so this is based on limited experience. I steadied it by holding it with two hands and pressing the onscreen button with my thumb. The pictures came out fine. The first picture was just to try out the camera when I bought the tablet. The second was on the fly when I was pet-sitting for friends, using the tablet to read, and thought that one of the cats was looking particularly photogenic and my friends would probably enjoy getting a picture of him in e-mail. That one came out particularly well. That’s the kind of thing I think the tablet camera is particularly good for.

    I haven’t had Scott’s experience with wind because both of mine were indoor shots. I generally keep my tablet is in a moderately heavy case that has a cutout for the camera lens, so the case might help keep it steady.

  31. Someone upthread complained about the camera abilities of phones and tablets. For Android, I suggest using Camera FV-5; it lets you control everything manually except for aperture and focal length, which are of course fixed by the hardware. The Samsung stock app is pretty nice too, for sons of the fun little tricks it can do. Edit in Snapseed, which is easy and powerful. For IOS, I’ve heard nice things about Camera+.

    I’m an aspiring photographer who’s temporarily without a computer, and I’m actually impressed by how much I can do on my phone.

  32. I think the grief people give Ipad-photographers is because they suspect them to be showing of their wealth. Now that Ipads are becoming more common, the hatred should subside.
    Besides, everyone already knows you’re loaded John Scalzi.