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!
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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.