iPhone 8 Plus Portrait Mode

Sara, Dia de los Muertos 2018 - Austin, Texas

Sara, Dia de los Muertos 2018 – Austin, Texas

My friend Chuck asked me, “How many cameras did you bring?” He knows me too well. I’ve been known to bring a smorgasbord of compact cameras packed in a small shoulder bag. “Four”, I responded. Then, with a little more embarrassment, I responded “Actually, Five”. I remembered the iPhone 8 Plus that I always carry in my right front pocket.

I realize for most people, their smartphone camera is now their only camera. Being a photo and camera enthusiast, I still cling to my old fashion notion of using a dedicated camera. That day, more than usual, I brought a slew of odd cameras, which I’ll talk about below.

Chuck also brought his dedicated Olympus camera. A really nice one, an OM-D E-M1 Mark II. But I explained and demoed why the iPhone really does what most people need, especially in good light. I showed him the portrait mode, which uses a second camera on the back, with a 56mm equivalent lens. That, along with some computational magic produces some fantastic portraits.

Take a look at Sara, sharply focused with soft background blur. That blur is computationally calculated. It’s gotten very good, nearly perfect in this case, though the computer was tricked a little on the features to the left. The wisps of hair, the golden dress beads and even most of the feathers all rendered perfectly. This is the digital future.

Tessy, Dia de los Muertos 2018 - Austin, Texas

Tessy, Dia de los Muertos 2018 – Austin, Texas

Tessy came out even better. The golden crown and earrings rendered perfectly. The truck tire and a balloon were the only thing that was bit off and I didn’t even see those, initially. As the artificial intelligence increases and software continues to be tweaked, those too will be perfected. It’s already way more advanced that I ever expected.

You might recognize Tessy from yesterday’s photo shot on film, developed by hand and printed in the traditional way, in the darkroom. While that contrasty, character filled print might interest enthusiasts, I’m sure everyone else in the world would prefer the iPhone portrait.

Enthusiasts will continue to shoot film or use dedicated digital cameras because, that’s what they do. They are interested in the traditional methods or pushing the limits technologically or artistically. But, we are on the cusp. And, in most cases, we are already there. For regular people, a smartphone is all they need for photography.

So what were the five cameras I brought to the Dia de los Muetros Parade? The iPhone 8 Plus, of course. The 20-year-old film point and shoot, the Canon Sure Shot Owl, which I used to shoot yesterday’s photo. My primary camera, the Olympus PEN-F. My pants pocketable Canon G7X Mark II. Finally, the 40-year-old SX-70 Sonar One Step.

For me, there is no perfect camera. Just a series of tradeoffs and differences in the image making experience.


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9 thoughts on “iPhone 8 Plus Portrait Mode

  1. I can see beautiful pictures by the phone here. As I said in answer to your comment in yesterday’s post. Phone cameras are enough for most people now, except professionals.

  2. Pretty cool. I just tried the Portrait mode on my IP8 and its amazing…I think I’ll sell all my cameras! NOT. But it does make a fantastic portrait. When they start making fantastic landscapes then we’re all in trouble!

    1. I would think that landscapes would be easier for the smartphones. Except, for low-light. AI based post-processing and noise reduction should greatly improve low-light photos.

  3. The Sara photo is an excellent demo of how well this can work. My only quibble is that it seems to have averaged away a lot of detail which should be present in the principal subject: areas of natural skin tone and other areas where a single color occupies a relatively large space.

    1. Mike, you make an interesting observation. I have post processed the photos, lightening it and adding some more saturation.

      It would be interesting to compare the image shot with my Olympus or Canon, in the same conditions.

  4. When you talk about smartphone photography you’re exclusively talking about Apple tech. Did you ever experience such portrait mode on the Android side? I personally haven’t (yet! I’m getting a OnePlus 6T next month). What I do know is that Google is pushing hard on AI photo processing. The Pixel 3 is jammed with extraordinary (software) tech that demonstrates this.
    Even though your IP8 is just over a year old; it’s already getting outdated. Amazing how fast this industry moves, huh? One of the most comprehensive resources for comparing smartphone photography is DXO Mark, you’ve mentioned them before. Not only is the newer IPXS Max a way more impressive camera beast, Huawei’s P20 Pro with 3(!) cameras seems to outperform it. When viewing DXO’s review on the P20 Pro I invite you to look for the night portrait. It’s stunning how little noise can be seen in that image; virtually none.
    It makes me wonder why I still primarily use the original Nex-5 for most of my family photography. How can so much glass (18-55mm lens) and a pretty decent sensor have been beaten by a camera component that measures just a few millimeters? I’m afraid my EVIL camera will probably start gathering dust in about a month from now.

    1. Hi Timmy, my experience is with the iPhone and I have not used an Android smartphone. However, I believe some Androids also have similar portrait technology.

      The technology advances with smartphones are amazing. But, keep in mind, as large as Sony is, Google and Apple have a whole lot more resources to put into smartphones.

      You bring up a really good point about how a NEX-5 compares to a modern day phone. In the area of color rendition probably both Apple and Google are superior to the NEX, for example.

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