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iPad's new zooming-video feature for Zoom and FaceTime: How it works, how to turn it off

The new iPads have a new camera feature that's great for video chats; here's how to control it.

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Center Stage settings may change per app. Here's where it is in Zoom right now.

Scott Stein/CNET

One well-known thing about iPads: They're used for Zooms and video chats all the time, but their front-facing cameras aren't ideally placed. Apple's newest iPad Mini and entry-level iPad are able to help with the awkwardness, somewhat: Center Stage is a digital zooming tool built into the latest iPad's wider-angle cameras to automatically keep your face (and your family's) in frame.

The tech first debuted on this spring's high-end iPad Pros, but the feature has trickled down faster than expected to the new iPad Mini, and even the entry-level ninth-gen iPad. I've used it on all the iPads that have it -- here's how it works, how you should set expectations... and, how to turn it off. Because Center Stage's settings feel a little bit hidden away.

Much like other auto-zooming cameras like Facebook Portal, Center Stage follows a person's face around as they talk. It works by starting with a wider-angle video camera capture (122 degrees) and then zooming in digitally as needed. You don't have to do anything once it's set up. You could get up and walk around, and Center Stage follows you.

On the M1-equipped iPad Pro, it worked really well. It also worked similarly on the 9th-gen iPad and iPad Mini. I found that it quickly and smoothly panned and zoomed to my face as needed. It was sometimes a bit weird or jarring to video chat participants, however.

How to turn it off

Center Stage is turned on by default on iPads that have it, and the first time using it might seem off-putting. But you can turn it off; it's just that the setting feels a little hidden. It's also changed in iPadOS 15 since the feature debuted on the iPad Pro in iPadOS 14.

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In FaceTime, and in other apps, Center Stage settings hide in the Control Center when the app is open. Tap that Video Effects button.

Scott Stein/CNET

In FaceTime and on many other apps, you'll need to swipe down in the Control Center (the panel of controls in the top corner of the screen), where there is a new Video Effects button. Tap that and a Center Stage toggle appears (there's also a way to turn Portrait Mode for FaceTime on and off, too).

On Zoom, the Center Stage toggle is on the screen itself; on the left side, when in a Zoom.

Turning off Center Stage just reverts the camera to a non-moving view of your face.

It works with Zoom and other apps -- even video recording, in some cases

Zoom works with Center Stage: you can toggle support on and off in Zoom's iPad app settings. I found it works on most major video-conferencing apps. It also worked on a few camera apps -- Filmic Pro works with it, so you could record a selfie video and have it follow you around. Weirdly, Apple's iPadOS doesn't natively support it in the camera app for recording videos -- at least, not so far.

It will even follow a 2D face

I tried Center Stage with a cut-out photo of myself, and a picture of me on an iPad, and it followed both. Just FYI: Don't keep other face-like forms near you when you're chatting. It'll also try to track someone else in the room, or pull back to frame you both together.

It won't fix the iPad's eye contact problem

In landscape mode, iPads' cameras are still placed off to the side. That's how most people use iPads for video chat, since most keyboards and stands also work in landscape mode. That means you're kind of staring off to the side sometimes in Zoom meetings (or at least, that happens to me). Center Stage doesn't solve for that -- it just handles framing you better. I found some of my chats still had me looking off-screen a bit, but more zoomed-in.

Keep an eye out for bugginess

On my early review unit iPads, I found Center Stage sometimes caused calls to stutter, or the feature started turning on and off. Hard to tell if that's a bug that may affect others, or if it's something Apple will fix. If anything like that happens, I found that force-quitting the app and turning Center Stage off helped. Also, restarting the iPad.

Center Stage, as well as the higher-quality 12-megapixel camera that comes with the feature, are still a welcome upgrade to the iPad's front-facing camera setup: I wish Macs and iPhones had it, too.