iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air camera comparison

Whether you love or hate iPad photography, there's no denying that it's a real thing. And in some instances, the iPad is the best camera you have on you at that particular moment. That's why for some people, the camera that's inside it may be a big deal when making a buying decision. The iPad Air 2 got some decent camera upgrades over it's predecessor, the original iPad Air. So that begs the question, if the camera is the most important factor to you, is the iPad Air 2 camera that much better?

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Specifications

iPad Air 2 iPad Air
Megapixels 8MP 5MP
Resolution 2448x3264 1936x2592
Pixel Size 1.12µm
Aperture ƒ/2.4 ƒ/2.4
Front camera 1.2MP with "larger" ƒ/2.2 aperture 1.2MP

Note: Any of the images below can be enlarged by right clicking on a particular set and opening them in a new tab. Keep in mind however that this needs to be done on a desktop computer and will not work in the iMore app.

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: General photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

For the general images you see above, I let both iPads do the heavy lifting. I had HDR turned off and made no edits. I also let the cameras focus themselves. For the most part, I feel like the iPad Air held its own against the iPad Air 2. Obviously in full resolution, the iPad Air 2 shows more detail due to the higher megapixel count, but for most real world purposes, both cameras fair well. At least where lighting isn't an issue.

The main area I saw a difference aside from the iPad Air 2 producing consistently sharper images, is color accuracy. The iPad Air 2 seems to do a slightly better job, but the iPad Air isn't far enough behind for it to be a decision maker.

Winner: iPad Air 2, but only by a slight margin

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: HDR Photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

For the above samples, the only setting I changed on both iPads was to enable HDR. I almost expect the results to be similar to the general photography section but was quite intrigued that they were not. For instance, right click and enlarge the second image from the top of the walking trail. Take a look at the background and the clarity of the trees. In this sample, the iPad Air 2 did a much better job of balancing the scene. This is also the case in a few of the other images where zooming in shows that the iPad Air 2 does a better job at staying sharp and showing details. This is most likely due to the higher resolution camera and also some software magic combined with the new A8X chipset.

Winner: iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Macro photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

Macro photography is another area the iPad Air 2 shows some major improvements. First off, take a look at the photos of the drinking fountains. Both iPads did a decent job but the iPad Air 2 did so without coming at the expense of darkening the photo. The photo of the red leaves also shows that the iPad Air 2 does a better job with depth of field than the original iPad Air as well. Lastly, take a look at the last macro sample of the leave. If you enlarge it, you can see more detail in the wood in front of the leave than you can in the iPad Air sample. While both do a decent job, the iPad Air 2 shows definite improvements.

Winner: iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Low light photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

The iPad has never come equipped with a flash, and sadly it still greatly affects the ability to take night time photographs. As you can see in the samples above, neither the iPad Air 2 or the iPad Air do a great job in low light. However, the iPad Air 2 samples are consistently sharper. This is evident if you enlarge the third sample of the flowers and garden. The flowers are more in focus and portray colors more accurately than the original iPad does.

Winner: iPad Air 2, but neither perform particularly well in low light

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Panoramas

From top to bottom: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

Both the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air do well with panoramas, unless you need to take them in low light. Looking first at the daylight samples, the iPad Air 2 predictably produces sharper and higher resolution panos, yet the samples from the iPad Air are perfectly acceptable as well. Now take a look at the final pano sample and you can quickly see that both cameras are rendered almost useless in low light. These photos were taken at dusk and the minute I toggled the camera to pano mode on either iPad, I already knew I wasn't going to get a useable shot.

While both cameras produced panoramas that were more than usable, the detail produced by the iPad Air 2, thanks to the bump in resolution, gives it an obvious edge.

Winner: iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Front-facing FaceTime camera

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPad Air

The FaceTime, or selfie camera as many people refer to it, has the same 1.2 MP resolution in the iPad Air 2 as the iPad Air. However, it's got an updated and improved sensor along with a larger aperture of f/2.2, which should allow more light in. In my experiments, the iPad Air 2 did produce better selfies in terms of noise. The improved sensor also seems to balance scenes better in bright light, as you can tell from the last sample where the trees are blown out in the iPad Air sample, but not in the iPad Air 2 sample. Where I really noticed the difference though was during FaceTime video calls. Since video typically requires more light than photos, the difference is much more noticeable if you're on a call in a darkly lit area.

Winner: iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: Special shooting modes

The iPad Air 2 and the first generation iPad Air are both capable of taking time-lapse videos. However, only the iPad Air 2 features Burst Mode and Slow-mo video. These are things to consider as well. For example, Burst Mode will make the iPad Air 2 a much better purchase if you need to capture motion. The iPad Air 2 can also capture slow motion video at up to 120 frames-per-second, which brings it in line with what the iPhone 5s captures. Slow motion videos aren't a necessity for most people but if you want it, you'll need the iPad Air 2.

iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air: The bottom line

For the past several years, Apple hasn't paid as much attention to the iPad camera as it probably should have. While the iPad Air 2 doesn't boast the same picture quality as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it's an incredibly decent upgrade when only comparing it to previous iPad models. Almost every aspect of the iPad camera has been improved. Not only does it seem to produce more accurate colors, it produces much sharper images.

If you're trying to decide between the iPad Air and iPad Air 2, get the iPad Air 2 if you can. Not only does it have a better camera, you get other great features such as Touch ID, a faster processor, and more. If you already own an iPad Air, the decision gets a little trickier. If your iPad is your main camera, it may be worth the upgrade. If you already own an iPhone 5s or newer, I wouldn't recommend basing your upgrade decision on camera merits alone.