Field test of iPad: Tablet's a winner for photos

Don Fleming




I will admit I was scared when my wife and I and our 12-year-old grandson recently embarked on a two week trek through Oregon and Western Washington without my DSLR camera. The only camera I would have for the entire trip would be my new iPad.

This trip would be a real test of the iPad 5mp camera I plan to use in my digital photography classes at Walla Walla Community College this fall. I had watched all the Apple camera tutorial videos and was intrigued by the Retina display so it was time to test this new iCloud device.

Our first stop would be to explore Maryhill Vineyard and Museum which provided a grand vista of color contrasts. The one problem I encountered was framing the scenes as the sun glare off the screen can make it difficult to focus all the elements of the picture.

The second stop would be Hood River to capture the wind surfers’ boards flying through the air. The first thing I noticed was I did not have a telephoto lens, like I usually have with the DSLR, and with a 5mg JPEG camera I knew I could only crop the image a small amount without creating noise. Getting close to subjects was a lesson I learned when using the iPad.

At Hood River we took some long walks along the Columbia River at dusk to test the sensitivity of the aperture settings. What I noticed when I pulled up the metadata in Aperture was no matter what white balance we were in from sun to shadow to sunset the aperture remained the same at f2.4. What did change was the ISO which varied from 80 to 100, and most surprising was the shutter speed which ranged from 1/30 to 1/2747 depending on the scene.

Multnomah Falls would be a test of the camera with strong green textures, shade and waterfalls. I found taking scenes like this was relatively easy in the vertical setting to capture all the elements, and by placing a finger on the middle of the picture the scene could be brightened before taking the shot.

At Cape Disappointment State Park and the Colbert House Museum the objective was to capture beach scenes, a lighthouse and interior scenes of the museum with a dimly lit large Fresnel lighthouse light. The iPad camera handled very well in low-light interior scenes, and I had to be careful to keep my finger off the camera button as the pictures accumulated rapidly.

We then drove to Mount Saint Helens for some dramatic landscape scenes of the volcano from Johnston Ridge Observatory. The infrared five-element camera filter really sharpened the pictures and on this scene, for a special effect, I used a new iPad edit app called “100 Cameras.”

We ended our journey on Seattle’s waterfront with a visit to Pike Place Market. Low light and no flash was not a problem for the iPad camera. Capturing the contrast of colors of the vegetable market place proved to be a real bonus as the iPad camera worked exceptionally well.

In Seattle and our grandson returned to Southern California from Sea-Tac Airport and I had a chance to sit back and edit the pictures with the iPad’s built-in editor. Rotating and cropping the pictures was easy, however I was not used to “auto-enhance” which only worked on some pictures to brighten and sharpen them. I do wish the camera makers would just eliminate red eye rather than always having to press a button.

Yes, I did miss my DSLR and controlling the manual settings, but the ease of instantly editing and sharing wi-fi photos was appealing and this trip confirmed my belief that the iPad will definitely be used in the field as a teaching tool.

Don Fleming can be reached at


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