Ipad photographer at Yellowstone
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5 Reasons Your iPad Is Not Your Camera

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I’m sure you’ve all seen it lately, right? A person standing in front of some scenic attraction or other, clumsily turning what looks like a large placemat left and right while squinting hopelessly at the glare reflecting off the back of it.

I’ve been on road trips in the US for the last couple of weeks, and have lost count of how often I’ve seen this exact scenario. In front of a waterfall in Glacier National Park? Check. Up a mountain in Zion? Absolutely. In the hands of a busload of tourists at Yellowstone? Yes, multiple times.

That thing that looks like a placemat is actually an iPad, and that clumsy maneuvering is people attempting to take a photo with it. Which, in my opinion, is possibly the most ridiculous travel trend I’ve seen in a very long time.

Here’s why.

You Look Ridiculous

And not just a little bit. Like, seriously ridiculous. As if the iPad itself wasn’t about five times the size a camera should be, it’s usually still sitting inside its cover when in use.

You’ve now got something the size of a small backpack that you’re holding awkwardly out in front of you, half of it flapping around in the breeze. See exhibit A, above.

It’s probably a good way of getting the picture you want, at least, as everyone around you will be too busy rolling on the ground with laughter to get in the way of your shot.

It’s Completely Unwieldy

Something that big is simply not designed for taking photos with. There’s no comfortable way to hold it, and due to the size of the screen, you have to hold it almost at arm’s length to see what you’re shooting.

Trying to balance several pounds of tablet and case, line up the shot with a straight horizon, and then somehow press the screen or volume button to take the photo without messing it all up and/or dropping your iPad requires super-human skills. 

Judging by the results I’ve seen, those skills are in short supply.

There’s a High Chance of Damage

Cameras get a hard life when you’re a traveler. Thrown into a bag or pocket, knocked around and dropped more often than they should be, taken out in the rain, sun, and dirt, it’s amazing they last long at all. And that’s a device that’s designed to be treated that way. Your iPad isn’t.

iPad photographer at Glacier NP

That lightweight frame with glass everywhere is perfect for watching a movie on the plane, but not when hiking down a rocky trail to take photos of waterfalls. If you carry it in your hands, there’s a high chance of dropping it or breakage if you fall, and it’s not much safer in your pack or handbag either.

You Can’t Even See the Screen Outside

The big, bright, colorful screen on the iPad is wonderful when you’re reading a book or flicking through web pages on your sofa. If you’ve ever tried doing the same thing in direct sunlight, though, you won’t be quite so impressed. 

Colors disappear, and the glare makes it almost impossible to see anything at all. In reality, the device just wasn’t designed to be used outside.

As if the degree of difficulty of taking a decent photo wasn’t high enough already, you now get to compose your picture without even being able to look at it.  Perfect.

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The Image Quality Sucks

The first generation iPad has no camera (probably a good choice,) and the camera on the iPad 2 is truly horrible. With an effective resolution of well under one megapixel, coupled with the tiny lens and sensor, your photo is guaranteed to be terrible.

Grainy, washed-out pictures that aren’t even big enough to print out a standard 6×4″ photo? Not the way I want to remember my vacation, thanks all the same.

If, on the other hand, you’re one of the people who has splashed out for the ‘new iPad’ (ie, the third generation version) then congratulations, you have a wonderful piece of technology. But the camera still sucks.

While the lens is better, and the resolution has been upgraded to an almost-acceptable five megapixels, there’s no flash, the sensor is still tiny, an optical zoom is missing and overall, images of anything except stationary objects with perfect lighting are still pretty terrible.

And that’s before the camera shake from not being able to hold the damn thing straight…

My advice?  Just buy a camera.  Even a basic point-and-shoot will take better photos, be much easier to use, and fit in your pocket. Hell, even your phone is a better choice.  The quality of the images might not be any higher, but at least you don’t look like a carnival attraction while you’re using it.  Save the iPad for what it best at.

Which is, undoubtedly, not taking photos.

All photos via author

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  1. I have two iPad camera memories: 1. Watching a guy at Tanah Lot (Bali) stumble around the uneven, rocky ground with an iPad stuck in front of his face the entire time, and 2. A guy trying to use one in Tonga, even with the 1/2 of the screen covered in cracks (which supports your comment about them being easily broken). Totally ridiculous!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      It’s just so unnecessary … I mean, the price of a passable point and shoot isn’t much over a hundred bucks these days. Priorities, people! 😉

  2. I see it every time I pass the Eiffel Tower, I’ve sadly gotten used to it and don’t even think twice about it now. Does that woman in the waterfall photo have an iPad case that goes around her neck?!

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Remarkably, she does. I don’t know if that makes it better or much, much worse…

  3. Avatar Jeff @ GoTravelzing says:

    Using the camera on the iPad is ridiculous. However the camera on the iPhone is really good.

  4. It’s the “just because you can, don’t mean you should” adage. The iPhone now is not bad and is convenient when you don’t have a better camera around. It seems more and more people are actually just relying on their phone camera now as they keep improving. For most people they produce great results similar to what they get out of a simple point and shoot. I have a dslr and wouldn’t give it up for anything but I do like the convenience of my phone camera because I always have it 😉

    1. Dave Dean Dave Dean says:

      Yup, totally agree on all counts. I too find myself using the camera on my Galaxy S2 regularly – sometimes I don’t have my main camera with me, other times I just need a quick snap and don’t want to take the other one out of its bag. Also the panorama software on my phone is really good, so I use it for that in preference.

      Phone? Yes. Tablet. No. 🙂

  5. They are on the loose here in Prague this week, too…UGH!! I use my Iphone when I don’t have my main camera out of the bag, and just want a quick snap.

  6. Avatar Gerard - GQ trippin says:

    Q and I have a collection of people snapping pics with their iPads. It’d pretty ridiculous here in Asia too. I’ve seen a guy record an entire concert holding up his giant iPad during the entire show!

  7. Avatar walkingon travels says:

    ha ha ha! I was just at the top of the Space Needle with some family that had come to visit us. I looked over and there was a girl with an iPad desperately trying to take a picture before some walked in front of her friends. It was the silliest thing I ever saw. Here I thought we were all trying to find smaller, faster and better ways to capture images. And here Apple just brought us back in time 100 years. Ah well.

  8. What a great article, I see this all the time and it makes me crazy. I mean a decent point and shoot is a third of the cost of a damn ipad! I love my ipad but won’t be taking pics with it! Thanks for the laugh!!

  9. Avatar Marie @ A Montrealer Abroad says:

    Thank God some people still have common sense!

  10. Avatar Kevin - The Mad Traveler says:

    Classic. I saw someone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem trying to get shots. The more impressive the tourist attraction or scenery, the more idiotic the idea of using an iPad for it becomes.

  11. #1 Who cares? The only thing that cares: You have taken that picture and therefore you have captured the moment.

    #2 “There’s no comfortable way to hold it.” Just hold it the way you hold it when you surf the web. The Camera button is right under your thumb then.

    #3 oh wait, cameras and smartphones are indestructible?

    #4 Bullshit! The display is equaliy bright as the display of any smartphone out there. Yes of course, directly in the sun it sucks, just as hard the display of my canon eos or my kodak camera.

    #5 Image Quality is perfectly fine for me (new iPad): http://www.flickr.com/photos/gillyberlin/sets/72157630167031912/ – There are still smartphones out there, that are unable to make pictures this good.

    #6 If my smartphone battery is empty or I left my camera at home, I’m always happy, that I have the opportunity to take pictures with my iPad.

  12. P.S. Please excuse my poor english

  13. Mwwahahahaha. #1= my favorite.

  14. Avatar AdventureRob says:

    Someone needed to say it. I’m seeing it a lot more now, and it’s just strange.
    Surely these people have smart phones too they can use?
    I only ever use my iPad as a camera when taking photos of things to put on ebay, and that’s because it’s linked in with the ebay app which is easy to use.

    It’s so unwieldy to use as a normal camera, I’m really surprised by how many people use it as such. Seems much more inconvenient to carry and get out compared to… every other camera on the planet. I’ve seen people in Japan walk around with iPads like a necklace too. They don’t use it as a camera (well some don’t), but it’s still stupid. Steve Jobs will be rolling in his grave.

  15. Avatar Dan Thompson says:

    Oh MY GOSH, I HATE that too! Drives me nuts. It’s like, seriously people, we know you have an iPad (and frankly couldn’t care less)… Use a camera already. Or even your phone would be better!

  16. Avatar Dallas photographer says:

    I was looking for ways to tether your camera to your ipad when I found this article. This is hilarious.

  17. Avatar Elmer Cruz says:

    guilty but now reformed! although if they come up with an underwater casing I might be tempted to take it to a dive, not to be used as a camera, perhaps a fish identification app that you just point to a fish and it will instantly identify the bugger! Now that would be so cool!!!

  18. I am glad to see you write on this topic. I am traveling with a bunch of gear, including an ipad, but wont generally take pictures with them, other than snapshots in the apartment or hotel room. I did see, though, lots of tourists on the busy Charles Bridge in Prague taking photos or videos as they walked. Maybe I am paranoid, but they just screamed “steal me” as they walked by, particularly in an crowded area, crawling with pick pockets and thiefs. Am I paranoid?

  19. Avatar Amy Scott says:

    Yes, I’ve been seeing this on my U.S. travels as well! The first time I saw it (I think it was in Yosemite), I was totally confused until I got closer and realized what was happening. Absolutely ridiculous. I agree with you on all counts!

  20. I live near the corner of Haight and Ashbury and I see people looking really stupid taking pictures of the street sign with their iPads.

    My wife does it too, that’s part of why we’re getting divorced. She has the damn iPhone4 too, so she could easily take a picture like a normal person. But, no, she needs everybody to look at her taking a picture so she whips out the iPad. Okay, not the reason for divorce, but very symptomatic.

  21. As someone who is a bit of a neophyte w/ much of today’s technology…AND as I plan a trip to Europe for three months this fall, I fully intended on buying an iPad mini and using it, in part, as a camera. I’d heard disparaging comments about this practice, but had no idea why and asked about it on another blog just today.

    I’m so glad I came across your post tonight – now I get it and realize just how ill-equipped an iPad will be for that purpose. Thanks for the intel! Valuable lesson learned at just the right time.

  22. Avatar George McKenzie says:

    I’ve got an iPad Air 2 which takes excellent pictures. I agree it’s not great in the wind or while on the move. I also have a good PowerShot digital camera which takes better pictures but I usually travel with carryon only so I like having just one device for pictures, internet and phone (Skype). I really don’t care if anybody thinks I look ridiculous taking pictures with my iPad. I’ll continue to do it happily !

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