Product Review: Apple iPad 2

May 19, 2011

By Dan Havlik

It’s only when you try one of the many photography portfolio apps for the iPad 2 that you really get an idea of how photographers should be using this thing.

I was one of the “lucky” ones who purchased an Apple iPad 2 soon after it came out. No, I didn’t wait in line with all the lunatics; I just ordered it on the Web after the launch and it showed up at my door about a week later. So what do I think of the iPad 2, particularly as a tool for photography?

Comme ci, comme ça

Sorry to sound blasé about what ultimately is a very exciting device but after messing around with—but not owning—the first iPad, I haven’t found that this version can do anything drastically different when it comes to imaging. Yes, there are a pair of cameras now but, as everyone knows, they’re not really meant for “photography”: the front camera is for video calling via Face Time and the rear camera has only 0.7-megapixel of resolution and is also mostly designed for shooting video.

Of course, even the 5-megapixel camera in the iPhone 4 will never replace your DSLR so, for me, the photo capture abilities of these devices have always been an afterthought. It’s as a display for photography where the iPad and iPad 2 are meant to shine and shine they do. Though it’s disappointing that the iPad 2 didn’t get a higher resolution “retina” display like the iPhone 4, its 9.7-inch, 1024 x 768 pixel, LCD touchscreen is mighty fine indeed. Still, it’s basically the same one as the previous version.

One thing I’ve noticed about the iPad 2—and maybe this was the case with the first version but I wasn’t aware—is that it doesn’t handle large image files very well. And I’m not talking about RAW images—which it’s clearly not built for—I mean high-resolution Photoshop files that have been converted into JPEGs. I tried several of these in the iPad 2’s built-in photo viewer and they took over a minute to fully res up so I could see them. Worse off, they seemed to trip up the photos around them, causing other lower-resolution images in a gallery to look fuzzy for a few seconds. Yes, it’s a good idea to optimize your photos for the iPad by making them smaller to fit the display but who wants or has time for that?

On a positive note, the iPad 2’s dual-core Apple A5 (1GHz) processor and 512 mb of RAM keeps everything else humming along at a brisk pace. Apps, even processor-hungry video apps, are fast and virtually glitch-free.

Speaking of apps, they’re what the iPad 2 is ultimately designed for. (Though I’m not sure you’d want to tell Steve Jobs that, even if he’d agree.) I’ve already written about my first Top Five <> and second Top Five <> photo apps for the iPad so I won’t go into them too much again here. Let’s just say though that they increase the photographic capabilities of the device tenfold.

While the iPad’s built-in photo viewer is okay, it’s only when you try an app like Portfolio for iPad, Padport, or Foliobook (just to name a few) that you really get an idea of how photographers should be using this thing. The same is true of video, which now that it’s become almost a standard feature on cameras, is something photographers are exploring more and more. The iPad 2 and multimedia apps such as MediaPad Pro just might make you fall in love with shooting and showing off your moving images.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment about the iPad 2 is that getting images and video onto the device is still a pain in the ass. Since there’s still no USB port, you’ll have to buy the iPad Camera Connection Kit ($30) if you want to transfer images directly onto the tablet. The kit consists of an SD card reader that fits into the iPad 2’s port and a USB-like Camera Connector, which is only designed to let you connect your camera directly to the iPad. In other words you can’t hook up a card reader so if you use CompactFlash cards, you’ll have to link your camera to the tablet to transfer the images.

You can also use iPhoto or Aperture to move images onto the iPad 2—or one of the many wireless transfer apps (our favorite is Photo Transfer)—but this requires an extra step or two. Not fun.


Though the iPad 2 is perhaps the best tablet computer out there right now and one of the most beautifully designed devices ever created for consuming content, it’s not exactly optimized for content providers, particularly photographers. But who cares? You’ll probably still like it anyway.

Apple iPad 2

Pros: It’s the iPad 2

Cons: It’s not the iPad 3

Price: $499-$829