Yes I know, that’s a bold headline and if you’re an Android user you wouldn’t touch an iOS device even if it meant saving your life. Hear me out though. You can still appreciate something and even want it but continue to hold to your convictions, it is okay to do that. Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus through iOS Beta 10.1 is simply a feature anyone who calls them a tech lover should at the very least appreciate. Portrait Mode is still in beta and Apple will hopefully get things buttoned up enough to push it out to production sooner than later.
Portrait Mode uses the dual lenses of the iPhone 7 Plus to create that blurred background look of professional photography. The photogeek terminology for a blurred background is “depth-of-field” and bokeh. The way I generally achieve the look with my Sony A6300 (example below) is by using a fast f-stop prime lens like my Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC DN. The lower the f-stop the more light the lens is letting into the camera which can help create that shallow depth-of-field and bokeh. Generally I’ll shoot in aperture priority and tweak ISO and shutter speed to compensate, there’s a lot to think about when shooting on a high end camera. The iPhone 7 Plus with Portrait Mode takes all of that out of your hands and does it pretty damn good.
The blurred look has been attempted by countless camera apps and photo editing apps and even Google’s camera app attempted something similar with Lens Blur. Lens Blur was a good attempt at creating that background blur effect but it was pretty difficult to use as you had to take a picture and move your phone in an arc pattern to achieve the shot. It didn’t always work really well and users had a hard time making the arc motion required to get a proper shot.
The two lenses on the iPhone 7 Plus work together (along with software) to achieve this look without having to move at all. The software on board is from Apple owned LiNx and what it’s doing is called “depth mapping.” While one camera is taking in data of your focused subject, the other is taking in the background and applying the blur effect to it, and then the images are combined to give you a final product which is really pretty impressive given this is a smartphone. Take a look at what the before and after looks like.
The effect is really what many people have been looking for in their smartphone cameras for years — so much so there are countless apps on the App Store that try and get the job done and some are okay, but by and far there is really nothing like what Portrait Mode does. As pointed out by a reader, HTC did something similar with the HTC M8’s “Duo Camera.” This new feature should be coming in an update to iOS 10 but for now it’s only available to beta testers like myself. The other thing is the feature is only going to be offered on the iPhone 7 Plus, which means all you who haven’t upgraded or instead upgraded to the iPhone 7 are out of luck. Portrait Mode will need the dual camera setup of the larger iPhone to perform the transformation and this is why my headline mentions that you “may” want this phone.
Apple is looking to put the final nail in the coffin of point and shoot cameras as well as consumer grade DSLR cameras. Professional grade DSLR’s will live on for certain, because no smartphone camera can get the sharpness a good DSLR or Mirrorless camera can achieve with great lenses. But for the average consumer, for those who aren’t making a living from their photography or have an expensive hobby, their smartphone is the best camera they’ll ever have and Portrait Mode is going to make people’s photos that much better. I would expect other manufactures to be working on similar technology, so even if you aren’t going to buy an iPhone, you can appreciate what Apple is doing here. I’m pretty sure there will be an Android phone within the next 6-12 months that will have something very similar.
For a very detailed write up and explanation of the feature you may want to check out Techcrunch. What do you think of the results achieved with Portrait Mode? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
Last Updated on January 23, 2017.