The Ultimate PORTRAIT Mode Comparison: iPhone XS vs Galaxy S10+ vs LG G8 vs Pixel 3 vs Huawei P30 Pro vs OnePlus 6T

The Ultimate PORTRAIT Mode Comparison: iPhone XS vs Galaxy S10+ vs LG G8 vs Pixel 3 vs Huawei P30 Pro vs OnePlus 6T
Which phone takes the best portrait mode shots?

Ever since Apple introduced portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus in late 2016, other companies have been copying the feature and now, nearly two and a half years after the launch, all major flagship smartphones support portrait mode under one name or another.

To give you a short summary, portrait mode refers to the emulation of a DSLR-like background blur on a smartphone, something that allows your subject to "pop" against that background. Since smartphones have wide-angle lenses and small camera sensors, you cannot get enough background blur intrinsically and you need software to help with an artificial blur to selective parts of the image. The big challenge is to correctly separate the parts of an image that should be in sharp focus and the parts of the image that should be blurred. And then there are the usual questions around image quality, colors, detail, dynamic range and so on.

To see which phone does better and what are the differences, we got six of the hottest new phones in 2019 and started shooting. Here is the list of the devices we used:


So... which one takes the best portrait mode photos? Let's take a look.


Scene 1: Portrait Mode in perfect conditions



In this first test, we had the perfect conditions for a great portrait photo: soft light, no harsh shadows, background way behind the subject (that's our Peter K, in case you're wondering!), and just everything set for a great picture.

It's no surprise that we got good-looking photos from all of the phones here.

Some things do stand out, however. The thing that makes or breaks a portrait is the way the person is portrayed and this depends hugely on the physical properties of the lens. In the DSLR world, the pros usually go with a telephoto lens for portraits (that would usually be 85mm or longer). Such a lens is crucial to getting the proportions of the human face in their most flattering form. If you use a wider lens, you risk getting certain parts of the face to look disproportionately big: an unnaturally big nose or a comically big head are side effects of using a wide lens.

So this is why using the telephoto lens on your smartphone is the best way to capture a portrait photo that looks good. Unfortunately, out of all 2019 flagships, only the iPhone XS series use their telephoto (52mm) lens for portraits and all other phones rely on the wide-angle lens. And while all images look good in terms of technicalities like color reproduction and dynamic range in this shot, the one that looks best is the one with the most flattering proportions, which is the iPhone image. The second best here is the Google Pixel which uses software to crop in and simulate a slightly longer lens. On all other phones, you can notice some slight disproportions.

Background Separation


The Ultimate PORTRAIT Mode Comparison: iPhone XS vs Galaxy S10+ vs LG G8 vs Pixel 3 vs Huawei P30 Pro vs OnePlus 6T

Apart from the afore-mentioned issues of "lens compression", the other important factor for a portrait mode photo to look "natural" is to have proper separation between the subject and the background. All phones do this via software, leaving the focus sharp on the face and adding blur to the backdrop.

Unfortunately, the phone that started it all, the iPhone XS does the worst job separating subject from background. You can notice the nasty artifacts around the edges of the face on the photo how parts of the background are incorrectly merged with the face.

Pretty much all other phones do a decent job, but Apple really has some catching up to do in this regard.

Scene 2: Sunset colors



In this next set of images, you can again see the difference in perspective between the iPhone which uses its telephoto lens and the remaining phones that use their regular cameras.

The Google Pixel may go a bit overboard with sharpness, but in both this and the first example, it delivers pleasing colors and accurate background separation, and overall does a very good job.

The Huawei P30 Pro does a decent job too.

It's interesting that the LG here completely missed it and could not properly focus on my face, despite giving it a few tries. It was also the only phone that requires you to get uncomfortably close to the person you are photographing, or the portrait effect simply will not register!

The OnePlus captures a decent photo, but colors are a bit too pale and dull for our taste.

Scene 3: Getting Up and Close



To get a close-up portrait with most of these phones you really need to get up and close quite literally. The iPhone is the only device that uses the telephoto lens and allows you to get at a more comfortable distance and the proportions really look best on it, but it seems that all the greenery has fooled the iPhone and colors way too green/yellow-ish. The Google Pixel uses a crop so it keeps nice proportions to the portrait as well, but it also captures much better colors here.

The other devices do a decent job, but you see that for those up-close portraits, my face and particularly the nose looks disproportionately large. If you look in the details to the photos, you see that the Galaxy does not do a great job here as it severely overexposes the photo and does not have much detail. The OnePlus, however, is the worst: the photo from it looks blurry and colors appear dull.

Scene 4: Almost Havana



Switching to this pictures corner of a seaside cafe, you once again see the huge role that the lens has in creating a portrait shot. The telephoto lens on the iPhone stands out with pleasing, proportionate image, while the rest of the phone, and especially the LG look downright comical.

The OnePlus is the other phone that does not look great: its colors lack vibrancy and kill the feeling, the vibe of the place.

The Huawei here captures a slightly underexposed photo that also does not quite look as good as the competition.

Scene 5: Night Lights



We also tried shooting at night on the streets. This is an extreme challenge for a smartphone camera that has a small sensor and requires additional processing (and you have little light to make it happen at night).

Not surprisingly, none of the phones did great here. The iPhone shows its weakness in low light: it captured a noisy photo with muddy detail and colors on this photo look too yellow-y. The Pixel did a much better job with white balance and sharpness, but the lamps in the background look very strange. The Huawei also did a decent job, slightly blowing the highlights out of proportion. The LG was clearly the worst: it provides a very strange distorted image because it requires you to be so close to your subject for portrait mode to kick in and the white balance is way too green-ish. The OnePlus and the Galaxy also capture mediocre-looking images, but still better than the LG.

Scene 6: Should you use portrait mode when you have no light around?

Not really (unless you have a Pixel)


Just for the fun of it, we tried shooting in basically no light. This is NOT something that you should even attempt with a camera, let alone a smartphone. But why not try and see what happens?

And yes, all images here look uninspiring, but what the heck happened to the iPhone?

Well, physics, this is what happened. The iPhone XS series use the telephoto lens which has an aperture of f/2.4, while the majority of phones in this comparison use the wide-angle lens which has a much wider aperture of f/1.8 (the Huawei has an even wider, f/1.6 aperture). What this means is that not only was it super dark, but the aperture on the iPhone does not let much light in and you end up with a picture you really should just throw to the garbage bin.

Let's be clear: in these pitch black conditions, no phone did a great job. The only picture that is decent comes from the Google Pixel which pulls enough light and color to make this a photo that you could share, but on pretty much all the rest the result is not great. It's not disastrous as on the iPhone, but definitely not great.

Conclusion


At the end of the day, can we point out to the single best phone for portrait mode photos?

The iPhone XS is the only phone in our 2019 round-up that still uses the 2x telephoto lens for portraits and this alone gives it a huge advantage: at 52mm focal distance, faces get the most flattering proportions that you simply cannot get on the wide-angle camera that the rest of the phones use for portraits. For this reason alone, the iPhone should be at the top of the list for anyone that takes portrait photos of people and cares deeply about the look. The ability to get a live preview of the effect is also a great extra and the option to edit the blur level after you have captured the shot are also tremendously useful. There are two things, however, that Apple does not get as well as the rest: the first one is object separation as you often get a bunch of artifacts and the phone cannot correctly distinguish a face from the background, and the second thing, is the poor low-light performance.

Our second-best choice in this comparison would probably be the Google Pixel 3. The Pixel excels at taking portraits in all sorts of different conditions, from nearly complete darkness to your regular daylight shots, it has strong, vibrant colors and detail is sharp (to be precise, detail is oversharpened and it often overemphasizes wrinkles and all sorts of human imperfections, so we definitely wish Google toned this down). It has its downsides: the wider lens does not look as flattering, and the background blur surprising often fails at the corners of an image where you least expect it to fail and you don't get a live preview of the effect.

The Huawei P30 Pro comes up as the third-best option. It captures decent looking images with a good amount of detail in various conditions.

The Samsung Galaxy S10+ feels like a disappointing downgrade from the S9 and the Note 9 that both use the telephoto lens to capture portraits. Here, on the S10, you can only capture photos with the regular camera and it's too wide for portraits. Neither the color reproduction, nor the amount of detail impressed us, but we would not say that the S10 captures bad-looking photos either.

The big issue with the OnePlus 6T are the dull colors that just do not inspire us in any way.

And finally, the LG G8 is the one that gets the lowest score. It requires you to stand uncomfortably close to the person you are photographing and being this close also means that photos actually look disproportionate, the head of the person you're shooting often looks unnaturally big, it's not a flattering look most of the time.

For our final scores, keep in mind that we put more weight on the daylight photos since this is where people shoot the overwhelming majority of portrait shots.

Which one is your personal favorite phone for portraits? And do you even use that mode as much as we do?

PORTRAIT MODE
Scores:
iPhone: 6.5/10
Pixel: 6.4/10
Huawei: 5.5/10
Samsung: 5/10
OnePlus: 4.5/10
LG: 3/10

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55 Comments

1. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Something I would never do is using phone in landscape to take a portrait. Vertical is much better.

2. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Actually all phones on Earth do poor portraits. Always part of the bodies ( ears, hair , fingers) are "cut" by the blurred areas.

15. Papa_Ji

Posts: 774; Member since: Jun 27, 2016

iPA Where is Nokia 9 pureview ???

25. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Probably they did not want to wait the thousand seconds the device needs to take the photo.

36. rsiders

Posts: 1858; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

You mean process the photo but ok.

19. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1140; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

All this article managed to prove to me is that Portrait modes are absolutely crap, no matter the device. The portrait mode pictures all just look weird and unnatural, why the hell would you use it.

3. oldskool50

Posts: 447; Member since: Mar 29, 2019

The photo you took in the dark, with the Pixel, is fuzzy an somewhat "pixel"ated. The S10+ picture is bright and fairly share. But you said, you shouldn't use portrait in the dark, unless using the Pixel III. But in your photos the Pixel was one of the worse shots. The iPhone just sucks taking photos in the dark period. Stop wasting time with it.

4. shield

Posts: 808; Member since: Sep 12, 2015

Nice Apple only 1 stupid test Win but all test fail. Portrait mod is Gimmick s**t only ultrawide is Best for second camera! LG destroy stupid Apple, all destroy stupid and ugly design!!

5. samgsam

Posts: 139; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

This test according to me has not been done properly. What you did is you stood where you were getting a perfect portrait on the iPhone and then continued to click photos with other phones from that point only. I might be wrong but that's what i see in the samples. It would be better if you move close or away from the subject depending on which phone you're shooting from. You can't click the same photo from a telephoto lens and a prime lens by standing at the same spot. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

43. jincx

Posts: 2; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

you are absolutely right. the person took these photos has no knownledge about portrait photography sadly.. these phone cameras should be reviewed by photographers only.

55. MrMalignance

Posts: 92; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Exactly, this is a great idea. They could also offer truly experienced analysis of the color reproduction and other factors we wouldn't know. Perhaps taking a professional photo as the base, to show what it should look like

6. japkoslav

Posts: 1343; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

They all suck so hard, it's so pathetic.

7. blingblingthing

Posts: 838; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

"Ever since Apple introduced portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus in late 2016, other companies have been copying the feature and now, nearly two and a half years after the launch" So HTC does bokeh in 2014 but Apple is being copied from 2017 because they changed the name?

26. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Sony had it too in 2014 with sub app Background Defocus, came bit after z2

8. MrMalignance

Posts: 92; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

iPhone didn't do half as well as those article suggests. Clearly it was perhaps 3rd. It doesn't help that very few of the photos had the same proportions. When background has an effect on the focal point, you need to have all of it captured. They clearly avoided that on most of the iPhone pictures, to hide apples weak points. The LG did better than the OnePlus phone, in almost every way, but still they talk trash and refuse to give it what's due. The pro apple bias and lg thrashing just makes this whole article weak and pathetic. I hate to be so harsh, but there is no other description fitting

56. oldskool50

Posts: 447; Member since: Mar 29, 2019

You're not being harsh. But the fanboys will se it that way. because anything said bad about an iPhone, even when its 100% true, is just hated to them. What you said was spot on.

9. blingblingthing

Posts: 838; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

I'm not sure why anyone would prefer the phone using the telephone lens for the portraits seeing that you'll need to back up when you switch to portrait. Also why would a wide angle camera make magically bigger? Why would a telephoto lens preserve a person better? Also, please give up a blind comparison. The iPhone seems to be the phone that excels at the least but magically rated the best.

27. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

For protrait companies can choose three options: 1) most common is a 52mm , with smaller aperture (sharper pics) to capture person while the wide does the blur. 2) the wide captures the person while another acts as depth. Could be ultra wide ( awful choice), regular depth or ToF 3) wide takes pics while the "tele" does the blur. Advantage is the main has always better hardware for night portraits.

38. blingblingthing

Posts: 838; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

I don't see how specific one gets you better pictures. Using two cameras, you have somewhat of a 3d landscape to help separate the subject from the background. Whether you want to capture with the main camera or telephoto, you're just reversing the responsibilities. Also, pixel is using one camera. To this using the telephoto lens argument is moot.

10. RoryBreaker

Posts: 186; Member since: Oct 11, 2015

To a large extent, this is all subjective. Use what works best for YOU.

11. kakudiego

Posts: 123; Member since: May 21, 2014

iPhone Arena, and surprise, iPhone wins

12. iloveapps

Posts: 385; Member since: Mar 21, 2019

Another article that makes android butthurt because iPhones does what it should be. And for the low-light, just wait until apple support and you will see that even though android was ahead in low light photography, it will be dust compared to iphone photos. Point and shoot is the best too in iphone and so videos.

14. LFCRodrigues

Posts: 54; Member since: May 09, 2014

Just wait for the New iPhone so you could get the night mode... On Android you could get even on cheapest smartphones. Yes, they can try to do better but you Will have to pay for a New iPhone to get It.

28. User123456789

Posts: 371; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Iphones best videos? Not even have HDR 4K. SD855 devices can record 4K60 HDR10 (if company decides to offer), while Apple has SDR only.

34. iloveapps

Posts: 385; Member since: Mar 21, 2019

How long can you record on 4K videos?

44. madphone

Posts: 5; Member since: Aug 20, 2014

You realize that apple is already doing that with the iPhone XR due to the lack of a tele-lens. Night Portraits are much better than on XS but still not on Pixel Level. ThePixels are the only phones getting the distortions right with a wide angle lens. Th eonly thing lacking compared to a tele lens is background compression. But i think it is a good trade-off, since that way you don't miss much but you have consistantly good photos. Point and shoot!

13. LFCRodrigues

Posts: 54; Member since: May 09, 2014

IDK I still feeling like Pixel does the best. The scene 3 looks like the XS did nothing but get closer to the subject.

20. blingblingthing

Posts: 838; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

The pixel indeed was best. The iPhone didn't even try to blur anything in scene 3 yet, the author is praising it.

16. blingblingthing

Posts: 838; Member since: Oct 23, 2012

Scene 3. The iPhone didn't even blur the background yet you're praising it and claiming the rest look comical. RIP your credibility.

18. jefff

Posts: 23; Member since: Dec 29, 2013

How DARE you?! When did Victor Hristov ever have credibility?! That's a dirty, filthy lie, and you know it. Don't besmudge his bad name like that.

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