With iPad 2 now in the picture (no pun intended), exhaustive camera benchmarks from numerous publications paint a pretty bleak picture for Apple’s magical device. Like it or not, iPad 2 cameras mostly earn lower scores when pitted against Motorola’s Xoom, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and even Apple’s own iPod touch. The empirical testing backed by real-life footage proves what we’ve been suspecting all along, that iPad 2 takes substandard stills and grainier video than most tablets.

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Thanks to Macworld which ran the Xoom, Galaxy Tab, iPad 2, iPod touch, iPhone 4 and Canon’s PowerShot S95 through their paces, we now know that iPad 2 cameras are sufficient, albeit underwhelming. Perhaps this is the reason why Apple makes no mention of megapixels on the iPad 2 specs page, although that camera module is known to take just 0.7-megapixel images, leaving a lot to be desired. Not surprisingly, iPad 2 came in last in Macworld’s exposure and distortion tests and emerged fourth in image sharpness tests, ahead of the iPod touch. It earned only a marginally higher color accuracy score than the Xoom.

Apple’s tablet fares much better when handling high-definition 720p video, placing fourth in overall video quality scores, behind the Canon PowerShot S95, iPhone 4 and Xoom. iPad 2’s recording quality drops sharply in low-light conditions, though, for it records only slightly crisper 720p video than the Galaxy Tab which ranked last.

In other words, iPad 2 cameras will suffice for FaceTime calling and recording those kitten clips, but don’t expect it to match your iPhone 4 which still sports the best cameras on any iOS device. If anything, these tests reveal how Apple saved on CMOS sensors in order to keep manufacturing costs down. If the company’s hardware refresh strategy is anything to go by, this modest second-generation camera update should be followed up with a more substantial camera upgrade with iPad 3.

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