The iPhone 7 Plus portrait camera vs a $1600 camera kit: which takes better photos?


There are several good reasons why one would be tempted to go for an iPhone 7 Plus over the iPhone 7 when picking their new phone. One: Apple's larger iPhone carries a bigger screen with higher resolution, and two: it has a larger, noticeably longer-lasting battery. In this article, however, we'll focus on the third key difference between the two iPhone 7 models – the camera.

As you might already know, only the iPhone 7 Plus boasts a dual-camera setup at the back, which allows it to pull off some neat tricks when shooting images. More specifically, the second camera has a 2X zoom advantage over the regular one, thus bringing objects closer without sacrificing details. Also, it can take impressive portraits by adding background blur (a.k.a. bokeh) to the images. This not only makes the people in the photo stand out more easily, but also gives the image a distinctive look, as if it came out of an expensive camera kit. 


This got us thinking: how do portraits taken with the iPhone 7 Plus and its 2X telephoto camera compare against images taken with a dedicated camera? Will the iPhone's digitally added background blur be as good-looking as genuine bokeh? You'll find the answer in the paragraphs below. 

A challenger arrives


In this camera comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus is running against a popular mirrorless camera, namely the Panasonic Lumix GH4. Instead of using the stock lens, however, we equipped it with an Olympus 25mm F/1.8 lens, which has a field of view similar to that of the iPhone's 2X zoom camera. It also produces a really nice bokeh effect at wider aperture settings.

For the record, if you were to buy this camera setup today, you'd be looking at a figure of around $1600. This happens to be about two times what an iPhone 7 Plus costs. Now let's see if the GH4's images would turn out twice as good-looking.

Alright, I'm ready for my close-up


If you've ever used the iPhone 7 Plus to take portraits, you surely know that you can't be too far away from the subject. Otherwise, the camera won't be able to apply the bokeh effect. If given optimum conditions, the maximum distance it could work at is around 8 feet. But even if you're within that range, there could be a rather unpleasant halo around your subject, as seen in the sample here. Overall, the iPhone's image looks catchy, but the bokeh looks forced and unrealistic. 

When taking portraits with the iPhone 7 Plus, the results are much more pleasing if you're closer to the person being photographed. There's none of that aforementioned halo going on, likely because the phone's camera can more easily detect the area where the blur should be applied. Sure, the camera's image looks better overall thanks to its genuine bokeh, but our lovely model in the iPhone's photo is also guaranteed a ton of likes.

In the third set of images we see one of the common defects of the iPhone's portrait mode – it can't always calculate the edges of the blurred area accurately. That's why certain spots aren't blurred, even though they are behind the subject. In this particular case, this could be due to the less-than-optimal lighting conditions in the corridor of our office. Poor lighting produces noisier photos, and noisier photos are surely harder for the iPhone's camera to process. But at the end of the day, the iPhone's photo is still looking pretty good. It isn't perfect, but there's enough blur to highlight the two charming ladies in the frame.

Here's another pair of photos where the iPhone 7 Plus delivers captivating, yet not quite perfect results. If we take a closer look, we'll see that there's blur where there shouldn't be, more specifically around the subject's hands. In the camera's photo, that same area isn't blurry because it is at the same distance away from the lens as the subject's face. However, the iPhone doesn't know that, hence it has applied bokeh to that area as well. But then again, that's a flaw one wouldn't really notice at first and one they won't be bothered by. 

For this final scene, I did not expect the iPhone 7 Plus to snap a portrait properly from the first time. I assumed that the flower in front of the subject would get its camera confused, not knowing what it should focus on. Yet it did set the focus right where I wanted it to be, and the bokeh effect appears to have been applied pretty well. Also, I expected the iPhone's camera software to struggle with our model's curly hair, but it handled it greatly, to my surprise. Sure, the image has its flaws, but I can't complain, knowing that the image I'm looking at came out of a phone.

Conclusion


It is clear that the Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus is still a bit rough around the edges. As we saw in the samples above, certain situations prove too tricky for its camera to handle flawlessly. And no, in most cases, the iPhone's dual camera can't deliver bokeh as genuine-looking as that out of a dedicated camera and a wide-aperture lens.

Should you care? Well, probably not. Despite its imperfections, the Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus produces the best bokeh effect we've seen out of a phone, be it from a dual-camera smartphone or applied with a dedicated app. Besides, most of the flaws we outlined would be noticeable mostly when you zoom in on the final image. The scaled-down portraits that you post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram would look pretty great to your followers. No less importantly, the camera kit that we used to produced the portraits above costs quite a lot. An iPhone 7 Plus can do so much more than our dedicated camera, yet costs half as much, all while taking pretty decent portraits overall.

So, are you surprised by the results? Do you find the iPhone's Portrait mode appealing? Let us know in the comments below, and if you're curious, feel free to explore the high-resolution images provided in the gallery below. 

Related phones

iPhone 7 Plus
  • Display 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A10 Fusion, Quad-core, 2340 MHz
  • Storage 256 GB
  • Battery 2900 mAh(21h 3G talk time)

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53 Comments

1. phonehome

Posts: 812; Member since: Dec 19, 2014

I notice that many photo comparisons on 'top rated' cameras (notably smartphone) are somewhat of a crapshoot. On a side note, sure wish Apple would have a native 16x9 photo ratio. Unnecessary wasted screen space.

3. bucky

Posts: 3790; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

At least an option to choose it by default would be nice.

18. Unordinary unregistered

Dont forget the 4:3 is standard across all photography.

19. Andrewtst

Posts: 696; Member since: Jan 25, 2009

It never is just 16:9 camera way much more expensive and not many can afford it.

26. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

because 4:3 is standard dont mean you cannot give the option. So tired of apple telling us what we should use or not give us options.

31. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

Tired of Apple telling you what they designed and implemented on their hardware and software before you buy it? Portraits aren't shot at 16:9 anyway. Calm. Down. For a smartphone camera, this isn't a bad way to get nicer portraits. But, I still think comparing wildly different camera systems is a little weird.

44. AlikMalix unregistered

Um. You guys don't have a crop feature? There's actually an option for 16:9!!!

66. abubasim66

Posts: 5; Member since: Feb 22, 2016

Apple is tell you what you should use? They took away your free will?

35. combatmedic870

Posts: 986; Member since: Sep 02, 2015

4:3 is not standard, 3:2 is. 4:3 is actually a pain to shoot portraits with. It's a pain to shoot with period.

2. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Just curious. I thought other manufacturers have had these bokeh effects for some time now? Or is there something I'm missing? Or is the one on the iphone 7+ that much better than the competition? The reason I'm asking is that this portrait mode on the iphone 7+ just seems to be getting much more publicity. Just as having water resistance has suddenly become a must for a smartphone even when sony has been doing it for close to half a decade now.

4. bucky

Posts: 3790; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

You already know the answer to that. One of the most popular phones in the word received it. Whether they did it better than everyone else or not is another question. I have an iPhone 7 and I love the camera. But it's all up to you the way the gs7 and iPhone 7 takes pics. I think both are better cameras than the pixel though.

5. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

Its just Because It's apple. Everything they talk alot about in keynotes is going to be the new holy grail on these apple centered techsites.

6. maherk

Posts: 6960; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

It's been on Samsung phones for 3 years now.

8. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

I'd love to see a comparison between these, the M8 and the one on samsung tbh.. Maybe there's something these guys know that we don't. Don't know what else to say at this point. I understand the publicity towards the iphones but to blatantly ignore what others have been doing is just plain evil, Knowing that other smaller oems might need the publicity as competition is good for the industry.

10. maherk

Posts: 6960; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

A while ago me and DJ did a small comparison a while ago, and both the iPhone 7 and the S7 did a good job in this matter, although the S7 was a bit better.

21. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

forget the M8, and just compare it to huawei's dual-cam... (and xiaomi's maybe :-/)

32. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

It's up to the smaller manufacturers to market and publicize their devices besides word of mouth. People aren't ignoring anything, they just haven't seen much of those OEM's.

7. Modest_Moze

Posts: 184; Member since: Mar 23, 2015

Are you kidding me? Phone vs REAL Camera... WHY?

9. mthaX

Posts: 42; Member since: Sep 22, 2016

Conclusion: Its clear iPhone camera is just a gimmick

11. belosava

Posts: 127; Member since: Apr 14, 2014

Sponsored by apple

13. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3109; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

In iPhonearena's mind the iPhone always wins.

24. bucky

Posts: 3790; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

Im guessing you didnt read the article?

27. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

I did and he was apologizing for the iPhone in every pictures lol.

14. sachouba

Posts: 266; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

I think a comparison with the Galaxy S7 or the LG V20 would be more relevant, before comparing the iPhone with dedicated cameras. You know, just in case the iPhone hasn't even reached the level of current smartphones...

15. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

They all talk that iPhone has the most natural colors and others are oversaturated. This clearly shows that iPhone's output is clearly undersaturated and cold.

28. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Yes i find all picture from iPhone 7 and 7+ to be way to cold. Before iPhone was very warm i guess they cant find a good balance.

16. jimjam unregistered

assuming the 'pro' camera is more realistic then it appears the biggest issue is the ip7 white balance. Too blue in good light and too yellow in low light.

17. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1327; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

The real camera wins. To be honest, the real camera is not meant to be a point and shoot.

20. dnomadic

Posts: 424; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

This is a bad comparison....the gh4 is more of a 4k video beast than a photographers tool. The sensor is extremely small.... Try a Nikon d7200 for photos or even the much cheaper D5500...these are reasonably price photographer tools that are MILES beyond the potential of a iPhone.

23. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

yeah right... last time they comparing iPhone video quality to an old photo oriented DLSR (Rebel t4i)http://www.phonearena.com/news/Apple-iPhone-6s-vs-DSLR-camera-video-comparison-4K-vs-1080p_id74795 and this time comparing photo quality to video oriented DSLR, lol.... in normal comparison, iPhone cant even beat S7, V20, or Pixel

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