iPhone 7 Plus Portrait mode gallery: it's called "beta" for a reason

This year the differences between Apple's big and little iPhones are more pronounced than ever before, as the iPhone 7 Plus picks up an all-new dual-rear-camera system. That combination of a wide-angle and telephoto lens has given iPhone users their first real taste of optical zoom, but one of the coolest-looking capabilities of the camera on the iPhone 7 Plus wasn't quite ready when they handset made its retail debut last month: its blurred-background bokeh Portrait mode.

It's unusual for Apple to introduce a new product when one of its signature features isn't quite ready, but the manufacturer assured us that Portrait mode would be coming soon, and it wasn't long before we saw the first taste of that support arrive for users beta testing upcoming iOS releases. Just the other day, we finally saw iOS 10.1 leave beta and start spreading publicly, bringing Portrait mode with it.

Even though iOS 10.1 as a whole is no longer in beta, Apple's clear that it still considers Portrait mode to be a beta effort, and Apple tells us that it will continue to refine the feature further. And while we're interested to see where those efforts lead, we had to give even this beta release a try, and get an idea for the strengths and weaknesses of Portrait mode as they stand today.

Users access Portrait mode by swiping over from standard Photo mode. There, on-screen prompts advise you how to properly set up a shot: Portrait mode will refuse to work if you don't have enough light in your scene, and if you're too close or too far away from your subject, the camera app will let you know so you can reposition things.

When everything's ultimately in alignment, a “DEPTH EFFECT” label will finally illuminate, signaling you that Portrait mode is ready to go – and you've just got to snap the shutter to capture your stylized pic.

Upon a successful shot, the iPhone 7 Plus will store two versions of your photo: one, the full Portrait mode pic with the subject in focus and the background blurred out, as well as a version before the processing, where much more of the scene should be in sharp focus – just in case you ever wish you had a copy with full background detail.

So how does it all look? Well, performance of the Portrait mode is a little hit-and-miss. The most obvious limitation is that Apple's software still has trouble isolating the subject of the shot from the background.

The effects of that can manifest in a few ways. On subjects with high-contrast edges, that can lead to situations where the blur effect is either applied too liberally, mistakenly blurring part of the subject, or too conservatively, where the in-focus range extends beyond the subject to also capture a thin strip of the background.

Some of those edge-errors are subtler than others, like how a lock of hair that projects away from a subject's body may be blurred, while those closer to the head stay focused.

Other mistakes are more pronounced; look at the gate photo here, where some iron bars transition from in-focus subjects to blurred-out background elements, while adjacent bars do not. Here, the camera seems to be struggling with interpreting varying background conditions, and its ability to isolate the foreground suffers as a result.

Finally, it's worth noting that Apple's Portrait-mode blur effect doesn't seem to be an all-or-nothing affair. With pictures of people, we noticed that while Portrait mode will keep the face sharp while blurring the background, subjects' torsos are often very slightly blurred when compared to the full-sharpness shots accompanying the processed Portrait images. That's a much more minor issue, but it's one we're curious to see if Apple will be addressing.

For now, check out our full gallery below and let us know what you think: despite its flaws, are you impressed with what Portrait mode's able to achieve? Or are you going to withhold your enthusiasm until it's working just a bit better?

Related phones

iPhone 7 Plus
  • Display 5.5 inches 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP (Dual camera) 7 MP front
  • Hardware Apple A10 Fusion 3GB RAM
  • Storage 256GB, not expandable
  • Battery 2900 mAh
  • OS iOS 13.x


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