iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6 camera comparison

Anyone who has ever owned a current generation iPhone alongside a current generation iPad is probably already aware of the fact that the iPad's camera has never been given the same treatment. However, the iPad Air 2 may be Apple's attempt at changing that. With an all new 8 megapixel camera on a 1.12µm sensor, it definitely bests the original iPad Air in almost every area of photography. But what about the iPhone 6? Can the iPad actually stand on its own two feet where photography is concerned this time around? Let's find out!

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Specifications

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Megapixels 8MP 8MP
Resolution 2448x3264 2448x3264
Pixel Size 1.12µm 1.5µm
Sensor Size 1/3"
Aperture ƒ/2.4 ƒ/2.2
Flash None Dual-LED
Front camera 1.2MP, ƒ/2.2 1.2MP, ƒ/2.2

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Enlarging images and viewing EXIF data

You can enlarge any set of images below by right clicking on a specific set and opening it in a new tab or window. Keep in mind this will only work in a desktop web browser and not in the actual iMore app. Also, I'm providing EXIF data for one image in each category for anyone interested. You can view that at the end of each section in a simple grid.

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: General photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

In terms of general photography, both the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 are extremely capable cameras. Considering the same image signal processing and software are behind both cameras, I almost expected as such. In most of the photos above, most people would be perfectly happy to walk away with either shot. In terms of clarity, both the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 are neck and neck. The one main area I did notice a difference was tones. The iPad Air 2 seems to produce cooler tones while the iPhone 6 is slightly warmer. The only place this was particularly evident to me was when whites were present, which we'll get to further into the comparison again.

Winner: Tie

EXIF data for incense sticks image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/20 1/30
ISO 200 250
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: HDR photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

HDR was interesting to me in this comparison. Looking at the samples above, check out the color difference in the second photo of the brick wall and tree. At first I thought perhaps this was just a bad sample, so I took the photo again. The iPhone 6 made the same choice the second time around. You can notice the white flowers in the front and the overall feel of the photo is warmer. Is it a bad photo? No. But it didn't accurately represent whites the way the iPad Air 2 did. In most other samples however, both cameras were about neck and neck and produce strikingly similar results. One other thing I would want to draw your attention to is the photo of the yellow flowers and the Michael Kors store. Here you can notice that the iPhone 6 on the right has the capability of achieving a much shallower depth of field if you want it to. Pulling data from the image revealed that the iPhone 6 chose to go with an f/2.2 aperture while the iPad Air 2 went with the obvious choice of f/2.4. That may not seem like a big difference, but as you can see above, it's very apparent, particularly in macro photography, which we'll address next.

Winner: Tie

EXIF data for flowers and Michael Kors image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/282 1/694
ISO 25 32
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Macro photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

I only took a few macro photos in this comparison because it became evident very quickly that the iPhone 6 has a clear advantage. Part of that can be attributed to it's larger f/2.2 aperture and part because of the larger pixel size. Look at the third photo and you can clearly see again that the iPhone 6 takes advantage of its wider aperture and produces a more appealing photo that brings more attention to the subject. That's not to say the iPad Air 2 image is bad, because it isn't, it's actually quite good, and much more than I've come to expect from an iPad camera.

Lastly, take a look at the last image of the purple flower. The iPhone 6 produced a clearer and sharper image up close than the iPad Air 2. This one was a little more difficult to capture as I had to deal with slight wind, which complicated things. The iPhone 6 only took one try while the iPad Air 2 took three before I got the flower in focus and not blurred. The iPhone 6 made the job pretty much effortless.

Winner: iPhone 6

EXIF data for metal post image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/120 1/120
ISO 25 32
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Low light photography

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

The iPhone 6 not only has larger pixels, but an advantage in terms of aperture. All you really have to understand from that is that it should produce better low light images with less noise than what the iPad Air 2 can produce. While I did find this to be true, the iPad Air 2 still did an acceptable job. However, the darker it got, the more the iPad Air 2 struggled and the more drastic the difference became. If you click to enlarge the Halloween ghosts, you can clearly see that the iPad Air 2 produced a lot more noise than the iPhone 6.

It's worth noting here that the iPhone 6 Plus would most likely create an even bigger gap in performance since it has true optical image stabilization, or OIS, that allows the shutter to stay open for longer without motion blur. This means it can achieve brighter images than the iPhone 6 without coming at the expense of extra noise by bumping the ISO. Just something to keep in mind.

Winner: iPhone 6

EXIF data for Halloween ghost image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/15 1/15
ISO 800 800
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Zoom

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

I've never been a huge fan of digital zoom in any camera and prefer to simply take a photo and then crop. However, I understand that sometimes there may be a need. While I don't find the iPhone 6 or the iPad Air 2 to be particularly great with digital zoom, they both produced similar results in most of my tests. Again, you can see in some of the samples that the iPad Air 2 again produces cooler images than the iPhone 6, which is very apparent in the photo of the Michael Kors sign.

Winner: Tie

EXIF data from Michael Kors sign image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/322 1/370
ISO 25 32
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Selfies!

From left to right: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

Both the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 have improved front facing FaceTime cameras. Unfortunately they're still stuck at 1.2MP but at least feature an updated 2.2 aperture which should help let more light in. I've found this to be the case when it comes to FaceTime video, which seems to not be as dark on both devices. However, image quality is about the same across the board in most instances. In low light, the iPhone 6 did better on the first photo sample you see above, but other than that, the rest came out so similar I'd probably write it off as a fluke. When checking EXIF data, it seems both cameras chose the exact same settings 99.9% of the time, which leads me to believe, they're exactly the same camera. But for anyone whose interested, there's EXIF data for one of them below.

Winner: Tie

EXIF data from second selfie sample:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/15 1/15
ISO 640 640
Aperture 2.2 2.2
Focal Length 2.65mm 2.65

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: Panoramas

From bottom to top: iPad Air 2, iPhone 6

In almost all my camera shootouts against other non-Apple devices, I've always found that the Apple device does better on panoramas, particularly if there is bright light or a wide range of colors involved. I remain convinced a lot of this is attributed to the software behind the camera rather than the optics itself. As you can see in the above images, even though the cameras themselves are slightly different, they both produced stellar panoramas. This leads me to believe that my theory is correct. Whatever magic Apple does behind panoramas extends to the iPad Air 2 as well. No matter what the conditions are, you will almost always come away with a great image.

Winner: Tie

EXIF data from beach and dune grass image:

iPad Air 2 iPhone 6
Shutter Speed 1/1,894 1/3,049
ISO 25 32
Aperture 2.4 2.2
Focal Length 3.3mm 4.15mm

iPad Air 2 vs iPhone 6: The bottom line

Going into this camera comparison, I pretty much had my mind made up that the iPhone 6 would out perform the iPad Air 2 in almost every area. As it turns out, I was wrong. iPad photographers can finally rejoice as you truly do have something great in your hands. Not only can it keep pace with the iPhone 6 in almost every area, some folks may prefer the images it produces if you favor cooler tones. That being said, those that prefer warmer tones will most likely find the iPhone 6 images to be more to their liking.

These small disparities aside, the only area where the iPhone 6 handled noticeably better was in low light situations and when achieving a shallow depth of field. Both of these are due to the larger ƒ/2.2 aperture. The iPhone 6 also has a 1/3" sensor which I'm pretty sure is larger than whatever Apple has used in the iPad Air 2. I can't find any official information on that but considering I can fit more in the frame when taking a photo with my iPhone 6 than I can with the iPad Air 2, logic would dictate the iPhone 6's sensor is slightly larger or the lens system is slightly different, or a combination of both.

Aside from that, both devices take stellar images that you'll be happy with for a long time to come.

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