OnePlus 5 vs iPhone 7 Plus: Portrait modes compared
Whether you like the stunning black and white shots of the Huawei P10, or how much of a scene you can fit into one photo using the wide-angle camera of the LG G6, is entirely up to personal preference. While I appreciate both options, I’ve found myself making very good use of the telephoto lens on the iPhone 7 Plus, as it allows you to zoom in on a scene without compromising quality, which has always been problematic for smartphones for obvious reasons.
But aside from offering lossless optical zoom, a telephoto lens can also be used as a tool for measuring depth when it's paired with a camera with a shorter focal length. Case in point: the iPhone 7 Plus and its Portrait Mode feature that aims to simulate a shallow depth of field (better know under the almost viral term “bokeh”) when taking portrait photos. It's been a hit and miss in our experience, but Portrait Mode has come a long way since it launched back in 2016.
The iPhone 7 Plus, on the other hand, keeps the model sharp in focus, while pleasantly blurring the environment behind her. It isn’t perfect either, as there are some “seams” left around her hair, but it’s an all-around much, much better photo than the one from the OnePlus.
Scene 1 close-ups
The OnePlus 5 fares much better here than in the previous scene. The image it produces here is much sharper, with better separation between model and background. When examined up-close and side-by-side with the photo from the iPhone 7 Plus, the OnePlus 5 image is ever so slightly softer, although not by much.
The iPhone picture has a higher contrast and warmer tones than the OnePlus 5 shot, although whether you’d take one over the other color-wise, largely comes down to personal preference.
All in all, the two phones fare similarly in this scene, both in terms of subject separation and blur quality, with the OnePlus 5 producing a slightly softer image than the iPhone, which is not all that problematic in this case, especially since it's not apparent unless you blow up the photo.
Scene 2 close-ups
Since this scene has a busier foreground than the ones before it, we can see that both contenders become equally confused by the more complex geometry, failing to properly blur the background visible through the openings in the chairs.
Other than that, the iPhone photo has cooler colors this time around, whereas the OnePlus 5 picture is warmer and seemingly more vibrant as a result.
Scene 3 close-ups
A general rule of thumb for taking a portrait picture with a creamy background is to have a lot of space between your model and background, and, of course, to have the aperture of your lens as wide open as possible. That said, we still decided to see what we’d get out of a more cramped scene, without much breathing room between subject and background.
As you can see yourself from the results above, the iPhone 7 does not fare well exposure- and color-wise in this scene, likely due to the stronger backlighting. The iPhone photo is dull and grainy with skin tones that are unnaturally dark. As far as the actual depth of field simulation goes, it is there in the iPhone 7 shot, but it is very, very subtle, which is to be expected considering the cramped scene.
The OnePlus 5 leaves us with a brighter, more vibrant image, with much better-looking and more realistic skin tones. The background here is also more aggressively blurred, which you may or may not like, but from a distance at least, it looks a lot better than the iPhone 7 shot. However, when we take a closer look at both images side-by-side, it becomes clear that the one taken on the OnePlus 5 is again substantially softer.
Unfortunately, both the iPhone 7 Plus and the OnePlus 5 leave us with undesirable results in this scenario. Whether you’d take an incorrectly exposed shot over an out-of-focus one is entirely up to you. One can be fixed to a degree with post-processing, while the other – cannot. The question is, should you even bother with fixing (not enhancing, fixing) a photo from what is essentially a point-and-shoot camera?
Scene 4 close-ups
This is a similar scenario to the one in the previous scene. Even without going in-depth, there’s a night and day difference here – the iPhone 7 Plus photo is underexposed, with a much cooler white balance, which makes it appear dull and lifeless. When examined up-close, it is also undesirably soft.
The OnePlus 5 fares better in this scenario, as far as exposure and white balance are concerned, producing a much more vibrant-looking photo. However, when comparing it to the iPhone 7 shot in full size, it is just as soft and just doesn’t look that good.
Both phones fail this test, although the OnePlus 5 does arguably better in terms of all-around color representation and exposure.
As you can see for yourself, neither the iPhone 7 Plus, nor the OnePlus 5 can perfectly simulate the creamy shallow depth of field that’s so sought-after in digital photography these days. Whether you’d take sharper but duller-looking pictures that you can fix in post, over vibrant and well-exposed images that are, however, very soft most of the time, is entirely up to your personal preference.
One thing that’s clear is that the technology still has ways to go until it’s capable of reproducing a more natural and more believable shallow depth of field in smartphone photos. In the mean time, if you can’t live without copious amounts of bokeh in every picture you take, you should probably consider investing in a dedicated camera with a fast lens and an ND filter to go along with it, because how else are you going to take photos at f/1.4 in broad daylight?