Retina iPad mini iSight and FaceTime HD camera tests

The iSight camera in the Retina mini remains unchanged from last year's original. It's still the same 5 megapixel, backside illuminated (BSI), five-element, hybrid IR file red, and f/2.4 aperture. What has changed is the Apple A7 processor inside, and the image signal processor (ISP) inside it. That's 2 generations ahead in terms of imaging technology, which includes auto white balance, focus, exposure, face-detection, and more. In daylight, when the sun is flooding it with photons, there won't be much if any difference. When it comes to low-light, however, the A7 ISP pulls a little more detail out of the darkness, same as the iPad Air, but certainly nowhere near as good as the superior optics in the iPhone 5s. So the question becomes, how good - or bad - is it?

For macros, the the A7's ISP again produces noticeably better results than last year's original iPad mini, on par with the iPad Air. While noisier than the more powerful iPhone 5s camera, thanks to annoying glitches that remain in the iPhone macro focus system, the iPads manage to resolve their photos better as well.

High dynamic range (HDR), which merges multiple exposures to pull more detail out of both highlights and shadows alike, varies little across the board. The Retina iPad mini and iPad Air are slightly better than the original iPad mini, but not exceptionally so. Even the iPhone 5s, while producing much larger, cleaner images, doesn't pull staggeringly more image information.

Video is the same story. In daylight, there's not much difference. In low light, it's better but still noisy compared, especially compared to the iPhone 5s. Dual mics do make for betters odds when recording audio quality, but likewise arent up to the same standard as the triple mics and beam-forming in the iPhone 5s.

Also, unlike the iPhone 5s, Apple doesn't surface Panorama, Burst, or Slo Mo modes, or real-time filters in the Camera app. You can still take up to 10 photos a second by holding down the shutter button, you just don't get the real-time processing and fancy image selection interface. You can also add iOS 7 filters in post via edit mode, but the loss of real-time is a shame.

For some people the iPad is their only camera-equipped device, and their moments and memories are every bit as precious. Apple knows how to make great mobile cameras, all that remains is for them to put one on the iPads.

Like the rest of the new iOS devices released this year, the Retina iPad mini gets a slightly improved FaceTime HD camera. It's still 1.2 megapixel f/2.4 and 720p like the original iPad mini, but it's gone from 1.75 to 1.9 microns and switched to a back illuminated sensor (BSI).

In daylight, there's no discernible difference. In low-light, however, it's an improvement.

If you've tested out the new Retina iPad mini cameras, let me know what you think!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I can't help it, but I would group the qualities into two bins: iPhone 5s with iPad mini (except of that low light of course), and the two retina iPads together. I might be missing something as the crops are quite small though..
  • But why not put the camera currently in the 5s in the mini? Sent from the iMore App
  • $$$$$, To tease you to keep buying. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've found the new mini to be ok in normal conditions, terrible in low light. Sent from the iMore App
  • Time and time again, Apple has always been one of the top when it comes to camera quality. They've proven that it's not always the number of megapixel that would result in a better photo. Now, I wish their next step would be to really try pushing the image quality for low light conditions (front-facing camera included for FaceTime users. Although when I think about it using FaceTime in the dark is a bit suspect haha). But seriously, a lot of cool (weird) moments happen at night and it would be a shame not to capture them. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think Apple needs to create a better use case for its IPad cameras, which will mean they would also need to make them good enough to use on a daily basis. A stunning front camera would improve take up of FaceTime. An excellent back camera could be much more useful for work purposes like scanning.
  • They never will, because they also want you to buy iPhone, $$$$$ it's all about the money! Sent from the iMore App
  • Seriously, A7 chip in the 5s, and A7 chips in the new iPads. But only the 5s gets panorama and slow motion? C'mon, Apple, no need to be like that. It's just software. Let us new and loyal iPad users enjoy those features as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • Wrong. iOS + the A7 chip handle the ISP after the photo is captured. But it's the sensor of the 5s that's needed for slomo and burst mode, because of its speed. Panorama is excluded, too, again because of the sensor. Pano requires a lot of image stitching, a process that can turn a user captured photo-swipe into a panorama. This process is at the cost of many pixels along the sides (especially when the swipe isn't stable) thus rendering panoramas taken with 5MP sensors almost useless. Even the 8MP sensors aren't that great, while being just perfect for regular photos. The iPads cost a lot less than the 5s, while having a much bigger screen and battery AND a much lower profit margin. Add to that the slow production issues of the 5s because of the internals, and the high demand, which means its prioritised especially in the holiday season.
  • Apple wants the iPhone to stand alone as their Flagship device, that's why they do what they do. Sent from the iMore App
  • I wouldn't expect it to be much better than last years cause they really didn't announce any new features except for the FaceTime camera. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple better put iPhone 5s camera in their iPad Mini and iPad Air. Better in tablet and better in the phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • It will never happen, have you ever teased a cat with that mouse on a stick?, when the cat goes after it and you pull it away to keep the cat coming back for more???, you are the cat. Sent from the iMore App
  • I can tell a difference if I look really hard, but how really does? The iPad photos were all rather equal to me. The camera in the iPhone 5S was indeed noticeably better. I'm wondering if Apple continue to equalize the hardware across their product iOS/mobile line(s) with the next version... Will next year's iOS devices have the same camera hardware?
  • For some reason I thought the iPad 3 & 4 both bad better optics compared to the iPad Mini, but I could be wrong. Does anyone know for sure if iPad Air & Mini have the same exact camera hardware?
  • FaceTime got much better after apple started using hd cameras. Before it looked all grainy Sent from the iMore App
  • These samples are very impressive, I've been on the fence for one Sent from the iMore App
  • for the average user..this is a good camera
  • Low light conditions, the iPad Retina and iPad Air render almost useless. iPhone 5S is almost incomparable. The colours seem way more vibrant and accurate with the new Mini and Air, which is an improvement. But for FaceTime purposes, I would love to see a 5MP front facing camera at least. That would nudge things in a better direction. although I can see the implications in streaming. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think the HDR feature makes the photos soooo much better than without. I use it all the time. Sent from the iMore App
  • Apple should definitely implement the iPhone 5S camera on next years models. The 5mp one they have seems like it's falling behind a bit. Having True tone flash on it would be nice however strange it might seem to have an LED flash on an iPad. Sent from the iMore App