iPad 3: Retina Display review for photographers

So, the new iPad (or iPad 3, iPad 3rd generation etc) is here, and with it comes the Retina Display at an incredible 2048 x 1536 resolution! As a photographer, this display was the single biggest new feature of interest to me and how it would improve the digital portfolio experience of the iPad. And I’ve got to say, it is jaw droppingly beautiful. But don’t just take my word for it, I’ve done a side by side test comparing the iPad 2 vs the iPad 3 so you can see for yourself!

The iPad 3 Retina Display brings your images to life

Before I continue, just a quick word to say this review isn’t about if the upgrade to the iPad 3 is worth it or if you should even buy one anything else. It’s simply about the display, and therefore mainly aimed at photographers and those who use the iPad, or may be interested in using an iPad, as a way of showing off work. I should also probably say that although this is a review it’s probably going to be just as much an out and out drool fest with me basically proclaiming my love for this new display, so I apologise now!

As an iPhone 4 user, like many I’ve been so impressed with the quality of the screen to display my images and always felt the iPad 2, whilst great because of the larger size, still didn’t make my images pop in the way the smaller iPhone screen did. So, the introduction of the Retina Display on a large scale was very welcome and naturally my pre-order went straight in. Well, here we are on release day and as soon as I booted the iPad up and began my restore from it’s predecessors backup, the new screens high resolution already looked so much more vibrant than the older screen – and that was just looking at the grey slate background! The extra pixels instantly became apparent when viewing anything that had text on, of course I had to load up my blog (and if you don’t mind me saying, it looked better than ever ;) ).

Text on websites is perfectly crisp and defined on the iPad 3

My real interest lies in how this new screen presents my photos because I, like a lot of photographers out there, see the iPad as a very convenient way to show images off. Thankfully, when I started loading images to my iPad 2 last year I was doing so at the native resolution of the iPad 3 at 2048 x 1536 in anticipation of this release, and so when I first opened up the Photo app (as an aside, there is also an incredible portfolio app that I use as well, but I’m just waiting for it to be updated to Retina resolution and then I’ll be reviewing it here on the blog) and started flicking through the images I actually emitted an audible, wow. In fact, my first thought was along the lines of ‘are those my photos?’. Not because I’d accidentally opened photos I didn’t take of some random kitchen utensil or pair of shoes (my wife shares the iPad), but because the images looking back at me had such an incredible, crisp depth that I’d not seen in them previously. It’s safe to say, everything I’d read about the Retina Display so far seemed to be true, and then some. it doesn’t matter how much you read online about the quality of this new screen, or how much the Apple website tells you its much better than before, nothing can prepare you for just how good this thing looks when it is displaying your own images.

BLACK OR WHITE

When it comes down to which colour iPad you want for reading emails and surfing the web, it is mostly personal choice. But when it comes down to what iPad you want to view images (or video) on, there is only one choice for me. I’ve picked up the new iPad in black because my old one was white, and the difference for viewing images (and video) is huge. It just looks better when the surround is black, as it doesn’t distract at all, and with that new screen you want to be as submersed in the images as possible.

For image viewing, the black surround is far superior

And speaking of that new screen…

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE RETINA EXPERIENCE

Ok so here we go, it’s iPad 2 v iPad 3 screen comparison time! I want to try and get the quality of this screen across to my fellow photographers out there, so the best way to do that is show some side by side comparisons and close ups of the old iPad 2 screen vs the new Retina screen (which in the first batch at least, is a Samsung panel) with an actual image on there, as this will really help you appreciate the extra detail that will now be visible.

Naturally it’s impossible to do the Retina display justice by talking about it and showing images from it on a non Retina display but below is a 100% crop side by side from a portion of the same image sized for the iPads different resolutions. The left is the iPad 2 (scaled up to match the iPad 3 resolution) and you can see the difference in detail is quite apparent with the iPad 3 image looking far sharper.

iPad 2 on the left, iPad 3 on the right

But of course this doesn’t truly tell the story as you are still just viewing a regular photo on a regular computer screen, so to try and show the difference off to better effect I took some photos of the actual screens. This is the same portion of the photo as above but now we are viewing the images side by side from the actual iPad screens. The difference now is really quite obvious.

iPad 2 vs iPad 3

But let’s take it one step further and view this at close enough range that you can really see the difference in pixel count between the older iPad 2 and the new iPad 3 and it’s gorgeous Retina Display (and here’s a tip, if your computer screen isn’t wide enough to see the full image in the pop up window, you can click and drag it left and right).

Click to view large

I think we can all agree, that is really quite impressive! In fact, I’d happily go as far as to say this is the best screen I’ve ever viewed my images on, period. The colours and clarity really do bring your images to life and they just pop out of the screen at you. I knew this thing was going to be good, but until I saw my own images on it, I didn’t know how good! The screen also has what I feel is a slightly cooler look it, with colours, although looking more saturated, also looking more natural. It’s hard to explain but as I browse through all my images on the two iPads side by side, it’s clear the new iPad produces a more pleasing colour tone.

NEW AND MUCH IMPROVED CAMERA

I’ll say a quick word about the camera, even though for me, the iPad 3 isn’t a device I’d use to take photos. But I’m a photographer and it is has a camera, so it seemed rude not to touch on it briefly before I continue with the rest of this review…

The new iPad 3 camera is bigger and much much better

I’m not doing a test on the video here, as they’ll be a million of those on YouTube pretty soon and this review in general was more about the screen for the interest of photographers who use the iPad as a portfolio. But for those interested, here are two stock images out of the two iPads that I’ve opened in Photoshop and applied an Auto Levels adjustment to, and nothing more.

Full res image from the iPad 2 at 960 x 720

And here is the same image from the iPad 3, scaled down to the same resolution as the iPad 2 to make web viewing easier.

iPad 3 image scaled down to iPad 2 resolution

Impressive right? But wait till you see the 100% crops. at 2592 x 1936 the iPad 3 captures way more information as you’ expect. here we have 100% crops from both cameras of the same area of the photo (and I realise the subject in the iPad 2 image is ever so slightly further away but you get the idea).

100% crops of the iPad 3 vs iPad 2 image quality

100% crops of the iPad 3 vs iPad 2 image quality

As you can see, like the iPhone 4s, the iPad 3 camera really does improve in a gigantic way over previous iPads. But like I say, the iPad isn’t a device I’d use to take images, but I’ve seen plenty of other people doing so, and those people will now be very happy indeed!

UPSCALING

Now, if you haven’t already been preparing your images for display at the iPad 3′s resolution then fear not, because even low res images scaled up don’t appear to look too bad. Certainly the icon for my website, which is not Retina ready, looks fine scaled up to the new display as did the test image I looked at which was in the iPad 2′s resolution.

Upscaled icons still look good

But of course, you’re going to want to get images on your new iPad at the Retina resolution to really do them justice, so don’t forget 2048 x 1536 is the size you need (I put a little border top and bottom of mine to retain the photos original aspect ratio).

PHOTOS LOOKS BETTER THAN EVER

It’s true. There’s really no other way for me to say it, the iPad 3 is hands down the best display I’ve ever viewed my images on, and I think when you see this thing in action you’ll agree. In fact even my computer display now suddenly seems a bit ‘meh’, which is annoying (bring on the Retina computer monitors)! The vibrancy and sharpness generated from all those pixels packed in to such a tiny space gives photos a look you just have to see to truly appreciate. It’s the best of both worlds, you get the look of print but the vibrancy and contrast of a display. So if you’re a photographer who carries an iPad around already to show potential customers your work then this is going to give a whole new lease of life to the experience and leave anyone who looks at your images on this thing, very impressed!

The iPad 3, the ultimate digital portfolio

If ever there was a time to believe the hype over a product or a new feature in a product, the Retina Display on the iPad 3 is it. If you’re a photographer who has been undecided over an upgrade, or trying to decide if you should buy in to the iPad as a portfolio device, then I guarantee you’ll do nothing but beam from ear to ear when you see your favourite images come to life in the palm of your hands!

Comments

  1. sean says:

    great review. Thanks. What is your opinion on the color? Does it require calibration?

    1. I’ve seen there is an app you can use to calibrate the screen but I haven’t used it, or know how much difference it will make. Might be worth looking at though just to see out of curiosity.

  2. Bob Furness says:

    Richard, great review.

    This may be a silly question. But when sizing photos to upload to the ipad, what dpi do you set them as. I am told that most monitors are at 72dpi, but the spec for the new ipad says that it is 264dpi?

    Regards

    Bob

    1. Hi Bob, all you need to worry about it the resolution of the image when sizing for the iPad 3 screen. So as long as they image is 2048 x 1536 it’ll look excellent :)

  3. Steven berkowitz says:

    Richard – did you read what EJ Peiker had to say about it? Didn’t like the colors.

    1. Looking at mine side by side, I much prefer the way my images look on the iPad 3 over the iPad 2, although I do agree there is a difference in colour temperature between the screens, but yes, I find it in favour of the Retina. You can see a variation in colour actually in the screen shots of the screen in my review. The green background around the owls head looks different between the two screens (photos were taken in fully manual mode on the camera to try and get accurate exposures between the two). Also, looking at my wedding photos today, there were a couple which I always felt had a slight yellow tint that I wanted to remove, but on the new screen it’s not as apparent. He isn’t the first to mention a yellow tint though, lot’s of people have done so on various websites. :)

      1. Steven berkowitz says:

        Good to know – think I will order one for me soon. Tx Steve

        1. No worries Steve. Just flicking through some of my images from Yellowstone as I type and that snow is looking crispy white on the Retina ;)

  4. Adam says:

    Blllleeeeeghhhh

    Apple products.. Yuck!!

    1. lol, hey Adam! Hope you’re well :)

  5. Dean says:

    Nice review. I just wish there was an easy process for transferring photos from Lightroom on my PC to my iPad. All the documentation I’ve read on the web so far is aimed at more experienced iPad users rather than new users. The iPad doesn’t seem to like a USB stick (complains it uses too much power), I couldn’t get bluetooth to work, and all the web sites I’ve read so far suggest using iTunes to sync photos but could never get that to work either. Any tips or advice would be appreciated.

    1. I tend to place all my images in a folder, and then sync that folder with iTunes. Basically, plug the iPad in, open iTunes and click on the photos tab. Then choose to sync with a specific folder, and choose the one you have put your images in. I’m saying that away from my main computer but I think that’s basically the steps off the top of my head.

      1. Andy Beach says:

        And if you create sub-folders in your sync folder these will become albums on your iPad. :)

        1. Yes good point! Thanks for the reminder Andy :)

        2. Dean says:

          Thanks. The problem seems to be that iTunes does not recognize my iPad3. I’ve been through all the troubleshooting steps I could find on the Apple support web site but no luck.

          1. Bob Furness says:

            There is a great little app on the store called transfer – look for it in the photography section – it cost £1.99 and will transfer photos between pc, mac and any i devise (from and to) over your wifi network without the need for itunes.

            Photos are transfered at ative size, itunes reduces the file size so is better at managing storage but if space is a problem for then you can reduce the file size before you transfer.

            It works perfect and is very simple to use

          2. Dean says:

            Thanks Bob, that transfer app looks like just what I need.

  6. John says:

    I’m a photographer and am on the fence about moving to a white iPad. I understand the black bezel ‘benefits’, but am finding myself repeatedly drawn to the white frame. Any other photogs using the white iPad?

    1. It’s always going to be personal choice, but there’s no doubt the white is less distracting for image viewing.

    2. John,

      I went with the white version. I’m using it to show my portfolio and client proofing via eye-fi during shoots. I chose the white over the black because I like the framing it provides. Images with a lot of white pop more imo, especially b&w. In the studio it gives clients a better reference point to hold onto while also framing the images. It just sorta works better for me and my style. In Richards side by side comparison above I think the black looks better, but in my hand viewing images, I prefer the white. Looking at video or stills in a dark room, the white disappears and looks black. I don’t experience any glowing or other issues while watching videos in a dark environment.

      More than anything its a personal preference, the screen looks so amazing, you’ll be happy either way.

  7. Beau says:

    Great review, just what i was looking for

    Going to a photo conference, and now i’ll HAVE to upgrade!

    1. Thanks Beau, glad it helped :)

  8. Bob Furness says:

    Richard,

    How about an article on how you approach resizing, including how you work out how big to make the top an bottom borders to maintain aspect ratio and what app you use to transfer photos from pc to ipad.

    For those like me who find this whoe subject slightly confusing, it would be a great “master class”

    Regards

    Bob

    1. Bob, that’s a good idea and something that I’ve had a couple of emails about! Leave it with me, I’ll see what I can do :)

    2. Bob,

      Matt at the Turning Gate has posted extensively about the pixel density issues for photographers loading web images for view on retina and non-retina displays. It’s definitely worth reading.

      Apple is a bit ahead of the game with this display, but as more and more people adapt to the retina display and other companies follow suit, I think it’s better to be prepared for the future so I’m designing for retina instead of older devices. Since mobile searches are going to beat desktop searches this year, eventually more will look at our websites on mobile devices than on desktops which will increasingly be retina displays. The caveat is bandwidth. I’ve got the new iPad, but we don’t have LTE 4g access where I live so it’s going to be really frustrating loading these triple size galleries for the next year or so… I’m gonna stick with wifi and hope my clients do too.

      1. Great link Brandon!

  9. Jim Warner says:

    what portfolio app do you use?

  10. Adrian says:

    Tnx for info Richard, very interesting indeed, I was about to push the button on a good deal on an Ipad 2 when I came across this, am thinking I will take the plunge and go for the new Ipad, was also gonna go with the white Ipad hadnt even considered how my shots would look on white vs black, so thanks again, has def helped me with my decision

    Kind Regards

    Adrian

  11. Ed says:

    Please add an update to your review concerning the fact that Safari on the new iPad down samples all large images. If you try to view samples, for example from the new canon or Nikon DSLRs on their websites, the beautiful full jpgs will shrink to ugly 1440×960 Images.

    Also, a word about the upper limits of image sizes allowed on new iPad? I can’t load full size jpegs from my Canon 5D Mark Ii.

    I love my new iPad but it is clear it wasn’t designed for photographers.

    1. Hi Ed, regarding the down sampling of images – if you hold your fingers down on any down sampled image within Safari then select ‘save image’ it will save the full res version to the iPads photo album. I believe Apple have said the largest jpeg the iPad can support is 18mb. The thing to remember with the iPad, is it isn’t a fully functioning computer, so if you want a full operating system then you need a full computer. As a way to view images and display them as a digital portfolio then it’s superb. It’s just knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of the iPad are vs a full blown computer.

  12. Yukon Binoculars says:

    Great review. Very informative. Thanks

  13. Susan says:

    Great article. I am trying to decide if I need an iPad3 since I have an iMac 27 and a Mac Pro laptop. I barely use my laptop so wondering if I would more likely be carrying the iPad3 with me when I go out and do photography. They did show me a connection to upload my SD images but so far not for compact flash except he did say I could hook my camera to the iPad3. Since raw photos take up so much space would a photographer normally get the 64GB one? I am new to all of this and don’t even have a smartphone yet, holding off for the iPhone 5. Also, anyone out there is it better to just go with the iPad3 WiFi or better to upgrade to the Verizon 4G iPad3? Just seems monthly service charges on an iPhone ($30) and than more on top of that with the 4G iPad3 may be too much for me. Thanks again for this article, it was extremely helpful. Would appreciate any help from the i Pad3r’s out there.

  14. Larry B says:

    In addition to the great display of the iPad3 is the new camera resolution and closeup capability. When my wife presented me with the need to convert to digital form the accumulated 40 plus years of snapshots we’ve taken and inherited in shoe boxes and albums, I was daunted by the pending scanning process. I purposely bought the iPad 3 for process of photographing the photographs rather than scanning. Even hand held, the images were sharp enough for the end goal. My wife simply stacked up the loose photos or pulled back the cover slips on the album pages. Then I used DropBox to transfer them to my PC server. General throughput is at least 100 pics per hour which has to be 5 times that of scanning.

    Yes, some pics are in need of color correction, retouching, etc. as a post process.
    Try to use indirect daylight for illumination. Glossy prints can pick up the reflected image of the aluminum case edge which I masked this off with paper tape on the case.

  15. Robert Pugh says:

    Having the iPad 2 and loving it, is it worth the upgrade for displaying my photos to my customers or would they not see the difference if they have never seen them on the iPad 2 ?

    1. The difference is very noticeable. I’d certainly upgrade if you rely heavily on using an iPad to show images to clients.