We’ve all been there: the concert, the beautiful sunset, the stock-car race, the Star Trek convention (what?). The setting is beautiful, or the lighting is amazing, or the lead singer is about to break your heart, to see that star, smashing his perfectly-good guitar. The opportunity for a great photo has presented itself, and the guy in front of you decides to seize it with his tablet camera.
Now, everyone, stop rushing to this dude’s defense. Yes, it’s super-judgmental to hate on tablet photographers, and yes we’ve all committed the sin at some point ourselves. But taking a photo with a tablet carries with it an implied acceptance of the scorn you deserve. It’s about as socially acceptable as taking your phone off your ear to put the mic directly below your chin every time you want to speak. Or un-ironically using a fanny pack if you’re under the age of 60. In fact, yeah, let’s go with that: tablet cameras are the fanny-packs of mobile.
Make fun of my bag again, punk.
As tablets penetrate more deeply into our lives, taking on more of the duties historically reserved for notebooks and netbooks, the integrated cameras once considered an afterthought or indulgence are becoming more and more essential to the experience. Here’s a few reasons tablet cameras are a good idea.
Front-facing cameras on tablets have never drawn the same amount of eye-rolling from the public as rear-facing units, and for good reason: they’ve got one purpose, and it’s a pretty cool one. Video calling, whether it’s via Skype or FaceTime or some other protocol, is one of those novelty experiences that reminds us we’re in the future. And it’s even useful at times. The applications for consumers desiring video communication are as endless as imagination allows.
The rear-facing (primary) camera can also get in on the fun, as it allows for less-cumbersome image sharing. “Let me show you exactly how to make my chili recipe,” says the homebound dad to his son at college, flipping from front-facing to primary camera to show the onions going into the pot. Then later: “Mom, I’m going to show you exactly how to post photos to Facebook, but first – check out all this snow we’re getting.” Cut to shot of an eight-foot drift outside a dorm window. Fade to white over laughter. End of vanilla FaceTime commercial.
Then there are more practical scenarios in niche corners of the professional world, where video calling is essential so the project engineer can see in real-time the valve that failed, or whatever. Video calling is awesome, and front-facing cameras have essentially become a requirement as more people realize it.
The Best Camera Is The One You Have With You
At the moment, some of the use cases above are still better served by true videoconferencing, or notebook-based webcams, but if you’re in the field (or kitchen), sometimes you’re more likely to have your tablet with you than your computer. This is exactly how the first camera-equipped mobile phones were sold. Their image resolution ranged from 0.1 to 0.3MP, with fixed-focus, plastic lenses: to call the resulting photos atrocious would be a compliment. But they were marketed as a means to capture quick shots in situations where carrying a full-sized camera was impractical. And despite the predictable put-downs from the naysayers, camera phones became a huge success. Some are even starting to replace basic point-and-shoot cameras.
Pfft. This’ll never catch on.
Even though augmented-reality apps like Layar haven’t yet taken off in the big way some predicted they would, the revolution is young yet. The integration of camera technology with other sensors to create a usable, navigable virtual world is amazing. It’s one thing to be able to pull up a map of your current location on your tablet screen; it’s quite another to hold that screen in front of you and see locations you’ve searched for overlaid on the world the camera is taking in.
Pictured: the future.
Finally, in a natural evolution of the never-really-popular “business card scanning mode” found on some high-end camera phones years ago, Google has incorporated an interesting feature into some Android tablets. Users can take a photo of a text-heavy document and immediately upload it to Google Docs, where OCR technology instantly converts the words in the image to editable text.
Imagine how accurate it’d be if I’d framed the shot right.