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Photo shootout: We tested Portrait mode with an iPhone 7 Plus fashion shoot

Susie Ochs, Adam Patrick Murray | Oct. 12, 2016
Just for fun, we pushed Portrait mode to the limit and compared the results to a DSLR. The results made our photographer jealous.

Again, we’re pushing what Portrait mode is intended to do—this isn’t enough light for the best result, but it still looks interesting. And since the mode defaults to keeping both the original and blurred versions of each photo, you really don’t have much to lose by experimenting.

phototest indoors bright
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray. 

For our next set of photos, we stayed indoors but cranked up the lighting. In this shot, Adam was once again experimenting with how far he could get from Alina and still get the depth effect. It seems like we got the best results inside of 8 feet, but it was possible to push it up to 12 feet and still get it to work. The blurring is pretty minimal in this image because she’s relatively close to the background.

phototest indoors closeup
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray. 

Once we got close up, we started to see how Portrait mode works to isolate Alina’s face. In this image, you can see how her entire face is kept perfectly in focus, like it would be if you masked it in Photoshop, while her hair (seen on the left side of the photo) is immediately very blurred even right next to the face.

Taking this same shot with a DSLR, we wouldn’t expect her entire face to be in the same plane of focus. Her left eye, for example, and her nose are angled closer to the camera lens than her right eye, but the iPhone 7 Plus keeps them in the same focus. The strap on her dress is even closer to the camera lens, but it’s blurred because the camera didn’t isolate it to stay sharp along with her face. It’s an interesting effect, just not what we would expect from a full-frame DSLR.

phototest alley best
Credit: Adam Patrick Murray. 

Then we went outside, where we found an alley illuminated with beautiful afternoon light reflecting off the windows of the building behind us, almost like we’d planned it that way.

In this shot, you can see Portrait mode having some problems with the very outer edges of Alina’s hair. (Sometimes you can control for that, if it’s less windy or you load up on hair products, but for this experiment, the flyaways are our friends.) It does OK with the larger pieces, and it’s understandable that it couldn’t isolate every strand.

The depth effect also blurs the texture of her shirt a little, and it’s slightly odd how the background is equally blurred right behind her as it is all the way back. With a DSLR, the amount of blur would increase as you approach the horizon. Adam says that a talented Photoshop user could reproduce this blur effect with software, but it’s pretty remarkable that the iPhone 7 Plus camera can do it for you, in real time as you’re taking the photo.


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