Not long after the original iPad debuted, I was home for the holidays and saw a husband take a picture of his wife at a bar with a BlackBerry PlayBook. Being from a small town that always seems a bit behind the times, it surprised me that he had the new PlayBook in the first place, let alone that it was his camera of choice.
It was an easy sight to laugh at then, and it’s remained an easy target — just look at how a large swath of Twitter reacted when, at today’s Apple event, Phil Schiller said that the iPad Air 2 is "the best viewfinder for composing your photos and your videos":
Apple is promoting iPad photography and I have never been more upset with that company...— Austin Hunt (@iAustinHunt) October 16, 2014
Why is Apple promoting the shameful practice of iPad photography?— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) October 16, 2014
The iPad Air 2’s camera is technically solid. It has an 8-megapixel sensor comparable to the one widely praised on the iPhone 5s and can shoot slow-motion video, time-lapses, and 42-megapixel panoramas. So what’s with the playground teasing?
Sure, it’s a bit goofy watching someone frame up a shot with a 7- or 10-inch screen in front of their face. But how much of that instinct to laugh and poke fun comes from sheer unfamiliarity? Besides, Apple’s not wrong to praise the obvious benefits (even if its motives are sales-based). Having that much screen real estate helps you better compose a shot, it lets you make sure you have the right subject in focus, and it’s much easier to review your results on a big Retina display instead of pinching-and-zooming on a phone or phablet. And with the increasing options for photo editing apps, the idea of being able to use one device from start to finish is getting more appealing.
The idea of being able to use one device from start to finish is getting more appealing
Many curmudgeonly professionals see tablet picture-taking as a particularly egregious example of photography's digital popularization. I see it as a sign of democratization, though, another wave of the digital photography revolution. I was never exhaustively trained in photography. I took darkroom classes in high school and it was my minor in college, but the majority of my experience came from trial and error. I’m a product of that revolution — I’ve spent the last decade shooting whatever I could, and now it’s something I do professionally.
It can be frustrating to watch someone fumble around as they hoist a tablet to take a photo, even more so if it’s blocking your view. But these days it feels useless to judge someone from afar for the camera they use or how they use it. I want to watch others go through that same process of trial-and-error that I did, and to see their results on photo-sharing apps like Instagram or VSCO. I want them to know how to capture important moments even if they only have a tablet with them, because we all have the ability to be citizen journalists now, even if many people never need to exercise that role.
It feels useless to judge someone for the camera they use or how they use it
Now that’s not to say the iPad Air 2 is the only camera you should own, or that it doesn’t have its own host of problems. The starting price of $499 hovers near the cost of good, lower-end mirrorless cameras (like the first and second versions of Sony’s RX100 series), and we’ve already shown that you can actually get decent bang for your buck under $250. That $499 price tag is also just for the 16GB model, so unless you’re deeply embedded in the cloud you’re going to have to spend more if you want to comfortably store all your photos and videos.
But if you’re in the market for both a tablet and a camera, the gap between those two products is thinning every day. And seeing how quickly the quality of tablet cameras is catching up, there’s no reason these other problems can’t be mitigated, too. If that means the only issue we’re left with is how ‘strange’ tablet photography looks to some people, all I can say is get over it. Tablet photography is here to stay.