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New iPad and iPhone 4S Camera Shootout

I've seen some very beautiful photos that were taken with the new iPad ("iPad 3").  Apple used the same 5-megapixel sensor in the iPad 3 as they used in the iPhone 4, but added the optics that were used in the iPhone 4S.  How does that combination compare to the 8-megapixel sensor (and same optics) found in the iPhone 4S?  Let's take a look.

Test Method

The test objects were positioned in a portable product studio.  The photos were taken outdoors, on a sunny day.  The natural light was diffused through the portable product studio's translucent white panels.  This arrangement created an even light on the test objects that was somewhere between dim indoor light and bright outdoor light.

Three cameras were used, an iPad 3, an iPhone 4S, and, as a "best-case" control, a Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR with a Canon 24-105 zoom lens.  The 5D Mark II's lens was set to 35mm (to match the 35mm effective focal length of both the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S).  The 5D Mark II was set to its lowest ISO setting of 100.  The iPad 3 defaulted to ISO 80 and the iPhone 4S defaulted to ISO 64.  The 5D Mark II was in aperture priority mode at f-5.6, which came closest to approximating the depth of field range of the two Apple cameras.  Shutter speeds varied but all cameras were supported to eliminate movement.  All cameras were set to auto for white balance.

The iPad 3's maximum resolution of 1926 x 2592 made it lowest resolution device in the test (the iPhone 4s has a resolution of 2448 x 3264 and the 5D Mark II was set to JPEG mode at a resolution of 3744 x 5616).  However, all images were loaded into Photoshop and cropped to a resolution of 1900 x 2400 at 72 dpi to level the playing field as effectively as possible.  No other adjustments were made to the images.


Click on any image to expand it to full-size.

iPad 3

iPhone 4S

5D Mark II

A Closer Look

Since the full-size images are quite large, here are some 100% crops at 500 x 450 so you can more readily compare color accuracy, sharpness, detail, noise and optical distortion.

iPad 3

iPhone 4S

5D Mark II

iPad 3

iPhone 4S

5D Mark II


Even with the improved optics, the iPad 3's 5-megapixel sensor was no match for the 8-megapixel sensor in the iPhone 4S.  The iPhone 4S image was sharper, more detailed, and had less noise.  With regard to color accuracy, the iPad 3 did a better job with reds and purples while the iPhone 4S did a better job with blues, yellows and fleshtones.  Greens were roughly equal.  The iPad 3 produced whites tinted toward blue while the iPhone 4S produced whites tinted toward magenta.

Of course, both Apple cameras fell short compared to the 5D Mark II.  But that's not really a fair comparison.  This shootout was between the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S.

Winner: iPhone 4S

As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.  Most iPad and iPhone owners are not going to take photos of color patterns and test objects and then scrutinze the images at magnification.  Both the new iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S produce much higher quallity images than was possible with minature image sensors just a few years ago.  But if I'm picking between the two, I'd reach for my iPhone 4S first.  And, let's face it, the iPhone 4S is easier to carry around.  It's a teriffic "one you have with you" camera.

Real-World Images

Here are two real-world images that were taken with Apple cameras.   Click the images to expand them to full-size.  I've reduced them both to 1400 x 1046 resolution so they can be viewed with little or no scrolling.  Can you tell which was taken with an iPhone 4S and which was taken with an iPad 3?

Dog by MacRumors Forum Member (used with permission)

Rockies by Elliot Shev (used with permission)

So, which is which?  Scroll down for the answer in the update below.