Apple iPad mini 2 review: Moving up the ranks

Orlin Milinov, 22 November 2013.

Tags: Apple, iOS

Last year camera, good nonetheless

The Apple iPad mini 2 keeps the camera from the original iPad mini - a 5MP shooter that can record 1080p video.

The front-facing FaceTime camera has not changed much either, it offers the same resolution, but the sensor size is slightly larger thus offering slightly bigger pixels and hence offering a slightly better low light performance.

iOS 7 brings a brand new camera interface with some cosmetic changes (it's flat) and it's more usable. On the iPad mini 2 (as opposed to the iPhone), all the controls are combined in one column - a front/back camera toggle, an HDR toggle and the virtual shutter key.

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The iOS 7 camera interface

The iPad mini 2 has three shooting modes you can move between by swiping up and down on the screen. Funnily, you can't just tap their name on screen to pick a mode - you have to swipe. The modes are Video, Photo and Square - there's no panorama, nor is there a 120fps mode like on the iPhone.

Square photographs have, of course, been popularized by Instagram and so have photo effects. That's another thing missing on the iPad mini 2 camera app though, there are no color effects. You do have Photo Booth, which shows a 3 x 3 grid with live preview of the effects, but that's an entirely different application altogether.

The camera supports AF/AE lock as usual with tap and hold on the viewfinder - this can be of great help with tricky scenes. There's no geotagging on the Wi-Fi only iPads mini, as they don't have a GPS chip.

The image quality is very good for a 5MP shooter as long as you shoot in good light. Noise is kept well under control until ISO250. Even at ISO320 the level of detail is just fine but the noise quickly starts to get annoying with light levels falling off.

The white balance is pleasing (it leans slightly towards warm) and the colors are fine except for being slightly less saturated than we would have liked.

Just as it was with the iPad Air, the iPad mini 2 has an excellent camera for a tablet - in good light it would take photos that are as good as it gets from a mobile phone.

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Apple iPad mini 2 camera samples

We also snapped an HDR sample with the iPad mini 2 camera. This mode enhances highlights but makes little to no difference in the shadows. Interestingly, in higher ISO photos the HDR mode actually helped reduce image noise.

We're pretty happy with the results as the HDR mode works quickly and seamlessly and helps with the inherently limited dynamic range of minute camera modules such as the ones used on smartphones and tablets.

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iPad mini 2 HDR samples: off and on

Here are also two low light samples, taken by the iPad mini 2 camera at different times around sunrise. You would notice that the darker image has an awful lot of noise, but the second one is perfectly passable for a mobile device.

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Apple iPad mini 2 HDR low light samples

Apple iPad mini 2 photo quality comparison

Of course, you can check out how the iPad mini 2 fares against its predecessor and the iPad Air.

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Apple iPad mini 2 in our photo quality comparison tool

Videos come out really nice

The iPad mini 2's camera records 1080p video at 30fps, which is the most popular option at the moment, even among smartphones. Note that the front-facing camera doesn't have enough resolution for 1080p, so you'll have to make do with 720p for video selfies.

As seen on the iPhone 5/5s and the iPad Air, the field of view in video capturing mode is less wide than in the still image capturing mode.

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Video camera UI

During video recording you can change the focus point and zoom, but there's no option to snap a photo (that option was very limited on the iPhone so we don't miss it).

The standard 1080p videos @ 30fps are captured at a bitrate of 17Mbps, which is about average for Androids too. Most disappointingly, the iPad mini 2 continues to capture mono sound (64Kbps, 44.1kHz) just like its predecessor and the iPhone 5s. Why Apple refuses to do stereo sound in video is beyond us.

Other than that, the video quality is great - that is, if you shoot in broad daylight. The videos come out smooth, noise levels are low and there is a really level of detail. Saturation seems to be fine. There's no pixilation or jumpy continuous autofocus, which are our most common complaints for other mobile cameras.

You can download an untouched camera sample from here (1080p @ 30fps MOV video; 0:06, 11.5MB).

What's more, we're really pleased with the digital image stabilization that the iPad mini 2 offers. With its help, videos come out really smooth. Here is a demo, notice how smooth the panning action is:

In low light, it's a whole different picture. There are annoyingly high levels of noise. Here, check this sample out.



Video quality comparison

Our video compare tool is another great place to check for differences in video quality between the iPad mini 2 and last year's model, plus all the other tablets we've tested.

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Apple iPad mini 2 in our photo quality comparison tool

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