The iPhone 7plus Portrait mode: ingenious or rubbish?

May 05, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Since a couple of month the iPhone 7plus is out, and one very special feature is this portrait mode. I got it very early. And had to wait until the release of the portrait mode. It has some ups and downs - and it is still in a beta phase....

My questions:

  • Does it work?
  • How does it perform?

Lets start with some technical considerations.

Technically it is a pretty remarkable approach:

  • The photo is shot with the "telephoto-lens of the iPhone
  • The iPhone camera scans which part of the image is where
  • the "portrait subject" remains sharp
  • the other lens is set at shortest distance to deliver a blurred image
  • and than the magic starts: the art of the photo which should be blurred will be mixed according to the information what is before and behind the subject.

Quite ingenious approach. The simulation of a larger sensor with a smaller one.


But what is the portrait mode like? Well - I took my lens with the nicest bokeh I own on a Full Frame camera. I tried to make the same shot with the iPhone and my Canon EOS 5DMk IV with the Zeiss Milvus 50 mm f1.4 (I know pretty unfair... to some extend...)

Above you see the result: Matching this I would say: Well the iPhone ends up with a f5.6-ish aperture... For full frame: pretty slow... But keep in mind... This is full frame... In reality this means - to name it with typical lenses used...:

  • Full frame: f5.6: sorry, but there are -literally no such slow 50mm lenses available for full frame...
  • APS-C: f4.x: You end up with 4.x-ish values: let´s assume a 24-70mm or 24-105mm f4.0 will deliver the same amount of bokeh...
  • µ43 (Olympus, Lumix): f 2.8: In this case you get the same amount of bokeh from the iPhone as if you would own a 12-40mm f2.8 (Oly) or 12-35 f2.8 (Pana)... And this sounds much nicer...

Strange Topics

Using the Portrait mode I had some strange findings - just where things went wrong. And it seems to be still unsolved:


The photo was taken of a bitter. Look close to the gutter you find some weird stuff. The algorithm did not find the steel and mixed the whole image up... Screenshot

This image shows some strange behavior around the leafs. It really does not look great....

And a bit even more weird is the missing glass. Which is clearly there. But not in the image above...


Nice Stuff

Sometimes it works pretty nice, and I wanted to show some examples below

This image shows where the portrait mode is working quite properly. Especially if you do not intend to pixel peep...

Also in this image it works pretty nicely

Another nice one....

This is also one of the nice images taken last autumn...


The portrait mode of the iPhone 7 plus is a nice feature to simulate some (!) out of focus blur. It is nice especially to share these images on social media. But in the present status of this technology please do not print them largely...

And be careful. please check the images before sharing. Otherwise you might share rubbish. Like the wine without glass....

And keep in mind: it does not replace the bokehliciousness of good glass on good cameras. This remains to be a totally different story!


The photos were shot with the iPhone 7 plus. The comparable photos were shot with a 5DMkIV and the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f 1.4.

  • The review of the Canon 5DMkIV you find here:
  • The Review of the Milvus 50mm f 1.4 You find here:
  • And the images of this review are there:





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