Do we really need rear cameras on tablets?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| November 15, 2011

In about a year and a half, tablets have evolved from the mobile devices we didn't know we wanted to the top items on many of our holiday gift lists. Whether the iPad, an Android tablet, the Kindle Fire or even the upcoming Windows 8 tablets is your poison, with a broad price range and various target markets, tablets are quickly becoming household items with virtually endless uses.

Some people use them to help run their business while others simply use them as multimedia consumption devices – to catch up on news, blogs and Netflix while kicking back on the couch at the end of the day. Personally, I've used mine primarily to increase productivity and even content creation. But the one use that I can't seem to wrap my head around is as a digital camera.

Sure, most tablets come with a rear camera that's reasonably comparable to the rear shooters on phones from last year. But I have yet to figure out exactly why. The front-facing camera has obvious reason behind it. If I ever video call someone, which is very rare, I use my tablet. With the case I have for my Galaxy Tab, it's easier to just prop it up than to hold my phone in front of my face for the length of the call. And in some (very rare) instances a rear camera comes in handy for voice calls when you want to show the person on the other end what you're looking at. I will admit, I've used this a few times while on video call with friends.

Let's be honest here, though. Manufacturers didn't include rear cameras on tablets just for video calling. They're meant for stills and video capture; they've made that very clear. And surprisingly, I see more and more people using their tablets for taking pictures. For the life of me, I can't understand why.

There is nothing comfortable about holding a 10-inch tablet up in the air to take a picture – not when you likely have a smartphone tucked away in your pocket. (For the record, I nearly dropped my Galaxy Tab from my third-story apartment balcony while taking the picture above.) It goes without saying that the phone in your pocket is more convenient and probably takes better pictures than the shooter on your tablet anyway.

BuzzFeed posted an article titled "21 Reasons You Should Never Take Pictures With An iPad." Although most of the reasons are a bit ludicrous (like "Because you're 13" and "Because you're at a parade without a shirt") and they got their wires crossed on number 17 (it's not an iPad and Russell Holly was not taking a picture), the point of the article is solid. This is essentially how I've felt about tablets being used as cameras since day numero uno.

Are people doing it because they think it's "cool"? Is there something that I'm unaware of that makes this more convenient than using a smartphone? Or even a dedicated digital camera?

I'm not here to say people shouldn't use their tablets as a camera. By all means, if it's there and you prefer to use that over anything else, that's your own prerogative. But I'm questioning why manufacturers have even fitted these devices with rear cameras in the first place and why people are upset when a tablet ships without a camera. My Kindle Fire just came in the mail, distinctly missing any image sensors at all. I couldn't care less. But since this has become a standard feature on tablets, why have OEMs chosen to use bottom-of-the-bucket lenses? If you're going to take the time to work a camera into the design, at least give me a reason to want to use it. Otherwise, leave it off and cut costs.

In all fairness, ASUS has apparently made the proper progression here by adding an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 aperture auto-focus camera with a back illuminated CMOS. It still doesn't answer why it's there. But if they are continuing this whole tablet-camera trend, at least they're working on making the camera worth using.

So tell me, readers. Do you use your tablet as a camera? Or do you, like me, snicker on the inside when you see someone holding their blown-up smartphone in the air to take a snapshot? If the camera in your tablet were significantly better, would that change your mind at all?