One of the reasons I was excited about my new iPhone 11 Pro is that I would no longer have to carry my ILC1 to bars/taprooms/restaurants to get the “bokeh” shot of the beer glass with my pour of craft ale2. I expected that the iPhone camera app "Portrait Mode" would suffice. “Portrait Mode” uses multiple cameras on the back of iPhones and software algorithms to create an artistic depth effect, whereby the subject is in focus, and the background is blurred. It's an attempt to approximate the “shallow depth of field” photographs one can easily capture with an ILC and wide aperture lens.

The image below was captured with the 6mm (52mm FF equivalent) lens on the iPhone 11 Pro but with all the "portrait mode" software disabled.

Portrait mode disabled – Apple iPhone 11 Pro + iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2 @ ISO 125, Captured on Focos app

The following image was captured in Portrait Mode.

"Not Bokeh” — 17 October 2019, Day 13 of 2019 Project 365 — Apple iPhone 11 Pro + iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2, ISO 125

I have experimented with the iPhone 11 Pro and Portrait Mode. The software algorithms need some work. It can’t figure out what to do with the space inside the glass but found the “solid” portion of the water in the glass. I tried shooting some beer in Teku glasses, and the algorithm has the “body” of the beer in focus but blurred the stem badly.

I learned that I need the subject of the photo to be still and 2.5 metres or less from the camera. Good lighting is important. My experience is that the effect struggles in artificial light indoors. This "bug" could be a problem for how I want to use the camera, but this is to be expected for such a tiny sensor. Smartphones take great photos outdoors with good light but are complete shite for indoor images that are no challenge for a modern ILC.

But sometimes, it doesn't matter what you do. Sometimes AI is no substitute. The image below was captured outside in bright light on the iPhone 11 Pro in "portrait mode". There are noticeable artefacts around the outer edges of the can and especially the glassware.

Double Street Green by Other Half Brewing and Trillium Brewing – Apple iPhone 11 Pro + iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2 @ ISO 100, Captured on iOS 13.1.3 camera app

The image below was captured on my Fuji X-T2 and Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR lens.

Double Street Green by Other Half Brewing and Trillium Brewing – FujiFilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 55 mm @ ISO 400, Captured on Digital Camera X-T2 Ver4.30 app

More failures.

Apple iPhone 11 Pro | Fujinon iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2 | f/2.0 | ISO 20
Apple iPhone 11 Pro | Fujinon iPhone 11 Pro back dual camera 6mm f/2 | f/2.0 | ISO 20

  1. ILC = interchangeable lens camera 
  2. Don't judge me! I want my beer porn to look good. Examples: Fustigated and Cainophobia by Troon Brewing at Brick Farm Tavern

2 thoughts on “iOS Camera app “Portrait” mode failures

  1. The XT-2 is far and a way a cleaner image, which I'm quite glad about as the XT-2 is my go-to camera! I've been wondering about the Iphone 11, I'm stuck on the 7 for another year or so in my contract so it will be my next upgrade I suppose as there'll no doubt be a 13 by then (I'm usually 2 behind). I rarely use the phone for photo's but love the hipstamatic app, so I guess the 7 is good enough for that. An 11 would be wasted on me.
    Love the Papa card 🙂

    • I skipped the upgrade to the iPhone 8, X, and XS/XR. The iPhone 7 was good enough for me until the iPhone 11 Pro was released. I love my Fuji X-T2 and attempted to take it with me everywhere, but it was too much. I considered buying the almost "pocketable" and extremely loveable Fujifilm X100F and was saving for that camera. While the optics and sensor of an iPhone 11 Pro can't compete with the X100F, it's good enough and much more portable. I know it's a quality compromise some will not make, but my wife enjoys doing out more now that she doesn't have to make room for a camera on the table.

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