I’d just gotten a new iPad Air 3, (the third one actually after I had some issues with the first two). And whilst at first all I could to is marvel at the speed and power it had over my older iPad Mini 4, something was wrong.
I could hear a distinct rattle from the rear camera, especially when you tapped the back near it. This wasn’t new, I heard it on my previous iPad Air 3 but thought this was a defect of some sort but here I was with the same issue, afraid that I had 3 duds in a row, and awful luck.
It seemed incredibly unlikely and so I checked my other iDevices, A 6th generation iPod Touch, an iPad Mini 4, and an iPad Mini 1. They all had the same ‘issue’. At this point I wasn’t sure it was an issue at all, however I still had doubt. Before this point as I was aware of the rattle in my previous replacement, as soon as I received my newest replacement (let’s name each subsequent iPad Air replacement as 1st, 2nd and 3rd iPad Airs, not to be confused with the generation as they are all third generation.) which is the one I owned now, I tested it for rattle, and I could’ve sworn I remembered that it did, which would suggest that it was not a defect, but I also remembered testing it a few hours later at which point it did not rattle.
I did not feel I could trust my memory at this point as either of those memories could be faulty. I went to the Apple store and checked their display iPads as well as the display iPads at a premium reseller. Both also exhibited the same rattle sound.
At this point all evidence aside from one pointed to the camera rattle not being a defect. I even called my friend and asked him to perform the same test on his iPhone 5C, which showed the same rattling defect.
I then called Apple support, just to confirm it wasn’t an issue and to my surprise they said that this was an uncommon issue and that neither the senior advisory team or the representative personally had heard of this issue.
This meant that I had the following information, with all but two pieces of evidence suggesting that it was just the design of the iPad:
- All my other iDevices made this rattling sound from their camera.
- My friends iPhone made the same sound.
- The display iPads made the same sound.
- The 2nd iPad air made the same sound (I cannot remember if the first did.)
- I seem to remember it making the sound immediately after unboxing.
The two pieces of evidence that suggested a defect are as follows.
- Apple support has not heard of such an issue and thinks it should be checked over.
- I absolutely remember it being silent after the first test but before the third test.
In my opinion there are two ways to reconcile this discrepancy.
In the case that the iPad was defective, the evidence had to be interpreted in the following manner:
All my other iDevices had at some time been dropped, and the camera rattle may be a result of physical damage, as well as my friend’s iPhone being damaged. The display iPads would have been played around with as people do in an Apple store and thus also been damaged. The second iPad must have been defective in the same manner, and my memory of it making a sound after unboxing is a false memory.
However, if this was just part of the design then the evidence that suggested it was a defect could be interpreted as follows:
Apple support misinterpreted my issue over phone and chat as I couldn’t demonstrate it for them and I did not tap the camera are hard enough during the second test. (I remember thinking to myself I didn’t want to keep tapping it incase it damaged something).
It is far more likely for the second version of events to be correct, but the false memory was still giving me doubt, and although unreasonable I still thought that the second version of events was possible.
I decided to do some research and googled camera rattling on iPad and to my frustration only results on the iPhone and other phones appeared, nothing for iPad. The prevailing idea was that the rattling was normal, and that it was the OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) that was making the noise. This made sense to me, as I thought the iPad and iPhone would have similar cameras.
To confirm, I did some more research and what was interesting was that the iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 3 had identical sensors, and that the iPod Touch and iPhone 5C had a very similar if not identical 8MP sensor too. These all had the rattle. Maybe it was a quirk of the sensor or this sensor was more susceptible to damage?
Sensors of each iDevice:
- iPhone 5C: 8 MP Sony Exmor R IMX145, 5 element lens with Image Stabilisation.
- iPod Touch 6th generation: 8 MP back-side illuminated sensor iSight camera, 5 element lens with Image Stabilisation.
- iPad Mini 4: 8.0 MP AF Sony Exmor RS IMX134, iSight, 5 Element Lens with Video stabilisation.
- iPad Air 3: 8 MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture, five-element lens with Video stabilization.
- iPad Mini 1: 5MP Rear camera.
Notice how none of these contain Optical Image stabilisation that posts such as this suggested was the origin of the sound. The only iPads which have OIS are the iPad Pro 10.5 inch and earlier generations of the 12.9 inch. None of the new Face-ID equipped models or my iPad Air 3. So it can’t be that. Any further searching of this camera sound resulted in ASMR videos and nothing of use.
Finally I did some more testing after reading that the rattling would stop when autofocus was engaged but I was surprised to learn that it is infact the opposite. The sound gets even louder when the camera was open. I finally understood what was happening enough to determine this was not a defect.
Why and how does this noise occur?
From my understanding, whilst the camera is not in use, the sensor or lens or shutter is locked in place, and it hard to move, although it is still movable. However, when the camera is used the lens is freely floating. I don’t believe this is due to the OIS (this argument is used to explain the sound with regards to OIS) but due to what I can only assume to be the autofocus. I reproduced this sound this way on both my Mini 4 and Air 3.
As I could make the sound go louder and quieter, I thought that this new information most easily fits with the evidence that suggests it is not a defect and the sound reduced in volume once the camera app was closed.
Therefore, if you have this issue on your iPad, no, your iPad isn’t broken.