iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode Reviewed

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.

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First shot I took using the new “Portrait” mode on the iPhone 7 Plus

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.

 

Processed with Snapseed.
Candid photo shot using iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode

 

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!

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode Reviewed

Ten of My Most-Used iOS Apps

I thought I’d write a little about my most “essential” apps. I’m always on the lookout for a good app, and at present have over 230 apps installed on my iPhone. I would probably be shocked (and maybe a little embarrassed) to find out what small percentage of those apps I use on a regular basis. So, in trying to determine which apps I would consider “essential” I asked myself, “If my iPhone was erased, which apps would be the first to be reinstalled?”

There are a lot of apps out there that I think are cool and use from time to time, but really only a small handful that I use on a regular basis. So, for what it’s worth, here are ten of my favorites (in no particular order).

AppAdvice ($1.99) – I use the AppAdvice app pretty much everyday. It is one of my main sources for all things Apple. It has daily news articles, app reviews, etc. If there’s news in the world of Apple, they’ll have it. The app also has a sweet section called “AppGuides” which have the top apps in various categories. They break apps down into four categories: “Essential”, “Notable”, “Decent” and “Beyond”. Looking for the best app for stargazing or searching for a job? You can find them in AppAdvice.

Apps Gone Free (Free) – This app is also made by the people at AppAdvice and is simply a daily listing of apps that previously cost money but are currently free. I have gotten a hold of a LOT of paid apps at no charge thanks to this daily-updated app.

20120930-190705.jpgGoodReader ($4.99) – GoodReader is an app I use a lot to manage documents from PDFs to image files to other document types. I can open files directly from e-mail into GoodReader using “Open With…” and then the documents are automatically saved for later reference. You can also password protect folders of documents within the app which makes it nice for downloading PDFs of our monthly bank statements and keeping them secure from prying eyes.

Springpad (Free) – I use Springpad to keep track of a lot of things. I can create “notebooks” within the app which can include all kinds of information like checklists, notes, images, voice memos, etc. And the best part is your free account can also be accessed from a computer through a web browser making it easy to update your information from just about anywhere you are. You can also share notebooks with other users which worked out really well this summer when my wife and I were making lists of stuff to take to our youth camp. We could both add items (or check them off) from our phones and the other one would see the changes almost instantly.

20120930-190715.jpgJotNot Pro ($1.99) – JotNot Pro is a “document scanner” app. Basically, you take a picture of a page and JotNot turns it into a pdf in your phone that you can print, e-mail, etc. You can “scan” multiple pages into a single pdf document with ease. This is one of the apps I found with the help of the AppAdvice app. I use it quite a bit to make digital copies of documents to e-mail to others or even myself for safe-keeping.

20120930-232148.jpgChrome (Free) – I downloaded the Google Chrome browser the day they released it in the App Store. I’m a big fan of Chrome on PC so I was anxious to try it out on my iPhone. It did not let me down. Using my Chrome sign-in username and password all my desktop bookmarks were instantly available on my phone, and any bookmarks I make on my phone are available on my desktop. I can even see what tabs I have open on my desktop or phone and open them up as well. Love it!

20121001-002440.jpgHanDBase ($9.99) – I have been using HanDBase since back in my Palm Pilot days. I was using HanDBase before smart phones even existed and Palm was king of the PDA world. Palm PDAs are all but a memory, but HanDBase is still going strong! In a nutshell, HanDBase is a personal database app. You can create any kind of custom database or use one of the many templates created by other users. One of the things I currently use it for is to keep track of what praise songs we sing in our youth group as well as what dates each song is sung on. And I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can do with this powerful app.

20120930-232600.jpgSnapseed ($4.99) – Snapseed is a great photo editing app that’s quick and easy to use. It has some pretty cool filters as well as image enhancement features. It’s not a one-stop-shop photo editor, but it is a valuable tool in my photo-editing arsenal.

20120930-190721.jpgRadarScope ($9.99) – There are some decent free weather apps out there that include radar, but I haven’t found any app that does radar better than RadarScope. Yeah, it’s a little pricey as far as iOS apps go, but it’s worth the price in my opinion. It features lots of different radar types available, animated radar, and up-to-the-minute alert boxes are displayed on screen as well. Simply tap on an alert box to get the details on the alert. Another cool feature is the storm track display which shows the likely path of storm cells along with marks estimating the time it will reach locations. This is my go-to app during our stormy summer months.

20120930-232726.jpgFlixster (Free) – When I want to see what movies are showing in my local theaters and check the times, Flixster is the app I rely on. I can mark my theaters as “favorites” so that they’re always easy to find when I want to browse show times. Flixster has a lot of other features, but honestly I pretty much just use it to look up show times.

There are a lot of other apps I use on a fairly regular basis, but these apps probably see the most use outside of the built-in apps like mail and maps as well as usual apps like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now it’s your turn…outside of the “usual suspects” what apps do you use most often? Let me know in the comments!

Ten of My Most-Used iOS Apps

Little-Spoken-Of New Feature in iOS 6

With all the news about the iPhone 5 and new features in iOS 6, one new feature has flown under the radar and as far as I can tell, has not been talked about at all during or since the iPhone 5 reveal. It is a feature that got my attention when it was originally mentioned last June during Apple’s initial reveal of iOS 6 at WWDC. Since I hadn’t heard any mention of it during the release of iOS 6 I was afraid it may have gotten the boot, but upon upgrading my iPhone 4S to iOS 6 I was pleased to find the feature intact.

What Is It Already?

Okay, enough beating around the bush. Most people probably won’t be as excited about it as I am anyway! The feature to which I am referring is the ability to upload images from your iDevice’s camera or camera roll directly through web pages in mobile Safari.

Clicking on “Choose File” in a web page will now let you select a photo from your iDevice’s camera!
For instance, if a website has a feature where you can upload, say, a profile picture for an account, and that website has a form where you can select a file from your computer and then upload it to the website, previously you could not do this from within mobile Safari on an iDevice. If you clicked on the “Select File” button, nothing would happen. So, to upload pictures from your iDevice to a website like Facebook, Twitter, etc. you had to have an app that would upload the pictures for you. Not anymore!

Now you can, if you so desire, go to facebook.com in Safari on your iDevice, select “Desktop Site” from the menu to view Facebook as if you’re at your computer, click “Add Photo” and then select a photo from your camera roll (or take a new one on the spot) and post it! I realize it would be pretty silly to do all that when you can just use the Facebook app, so Facebook isn’t the best application of this new feature, but you get the idea. This feature enabled me to add the ability to take and upload pictures of students in my youth group to my secure online attendance database directly from my iPhone to help with putting names with faces in our group. I would have needed a special app to be able to do that under iOS 5. And it’s a lot easier than taking their pictures with a digital camera, keeping track of who’s who, transferring them from the camera to my computer, and then finally uploading them to my online database. Pretty sweet, huh?

I realize not everyone is going to share my enthusiasm over this rarely-spoken-of feature, but it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me personally. Go ahead, try it out. You know you want to!

Little-Spoken-Of New Feature in iOS 6