With the recent release of the newest iPhones, the iPhone 7 Plus is sporting dual cameras, one wide and one “telephoto” lens for bringing you a little closer to the action. Taking advantage of the dual cameras, Apple announced that it was working on a “portrait” mode where the camera software would use the two lenses to determine depth in a photo and thereby create photos with blurred backgrounds, emulating the type of images you can get from a DSLR. Being a photographer who also loves shooting awesome pics with my iPhone (at least I think they’re awesome, anyway!), I was very intrigued by this new feature. Enough so that I pulled the trigger on switching to the larger form factor plus model of the iPhone 7.
This past week Apple released iOS 10.1 beta for developers and I was excited to see that it included the new portrait mode update. My initial reaction to the first photos I snapped with it was one of shock at how well it worked. The “fake” shallow depth of field looked pretty natural in most of the candid shots I took with it. The first shot I took was of myself, blindly pointing the camera at my face and pushing the button. When I turned the phone around and looked at the camera, I was shocked. Shocked first of all that I actually framed the no-look selfie pretty well, but mostly that the image looked amazing! The blurred background made my face pop out just like a DSLR shot would do. See the image below.
My mind was flooded with the possibilities this was going to open up. As one who shoots photos with his iPhone a lot for social media and other uses, I am always looking for new tools to take the photos to the next level. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to render DSLRs useless. I will not be using this to shoot portraits for my clients. But as far as my hobby photography, this will definitely allow me to leave my bulky gear at home more often. For instance, Friday night we went to a local high school football game. I normally lug my camera gear along, but this time I left it at home and only took my iPhone. Even though I didn’t have my DSLR, I was able to capture some really great images using the portrait mode. Notice in the example below how the background is blurred out reducing distraction and making the subjects in the photo pop out. The blurring is not perfect around all the edges, but you have to look pretty hard to see the imperfections.
But I did wonder just how well this would perform on a photoshoot, so I convinced my wife to go out with me on a photo shoot. She’s been my photo subject for many a photo shoot, but this was the first time I left my DSLR at home. In the end, my belief that this would not replace DSLRs was confirmed, but also confirmed was my belief that this would allow me to leave my heavy gear behind more often.
iPhone 7 Plus on a Photo Shoot
Limitation 1: Speed
The camera in portrait mode performed well all in all, but it did have limitations. The first limitation I noticed was that it’s not the fastest at taking successive shots. Each shot takes a few seconds for the processing to complete and save the image, thereby limiting how quickly you can fire off shots. As my wife was moving and changing her poses, I often missed great shots because the phone wasn’t ready to take another shot yet. This is not a problem with a DLSR as they can fire off many shots per second to get those split-second moments that pass by.
Limitation 2: Distance
The second limitation I immediately noticed was the distance you are limited to. You can’t be too close to the subject (about 2 feet) and the subject needs to be within 8 feet. So that leaves about 6 feet of “wiggle room”. I found it difficult to be able to get back far enough to take full-body shots as it uses the longer of the two lenses. I could get far enough away to get mid-calf-up shots though. But this is understandable, as the effect is pretty minimal when you get that far away from the subject, so I can’t really fault it for that. But it is another reason that this feature will never replace a DSLR.
Example Images From Test Photoshoot
In the end I did manage to get some pretty publish-worthy photos using just my iPhone, which you can see below. Again, the blur effect is not perfect along edges (especially hard edges) and you often get a bit of a halo around the subject. But, unless you’re looking for it or zoom into 100%, you’re not going to notice it. I did edit the photos for color, but all edits were done on my iPhone using Snapseed. Click on each image to see a larger version.
In conclusion, I have to say I am very pleased with the performance of the new camera on my new iPhone 7 Plus and even more so with the new portrait mode. DSLR killer? No. Great addition to my always-on-me camera? A resounding YES!