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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

First impressions of Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

blurry cat GIF

The developer beta of iOS 10.1 dropped today, along with a story from TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino about the new beta Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus.

I spent a little bit this afternoon shooting some pictures with Portrait mode. My first impression is that it’s the most interactive shooting mode Apple has provided: A text overlay will tell you if you need to “Move farther away” or if there’s “More light required” or if you should “Place subject within 8 feet.” If it can’t produce a depth effect, it just takes a regular picture when you press the button. (If it can produce an effect, it saves both images—one without the effect, and one with.)

When the alerts vanish, however, the depth effect happens live, on your screen, so you can see what you’re about to capture. Shooting appears to happen with the telephoto lens; the range finding is happening on the wide-angle lens.


I was pretty impressed by the results of many of the pictures. Not all of them turned out, which I’d expect in general—and certainly consider this is a beta feature on a beta iOS release. When they turned out, they looked great. Pictures of my cat (like the one up top) managed to keep his head, upper body, and a stuck-out paw in clear focus while gradually blurring his lower body and completely blurring the scene outside my back door.

On Twitter, I heard from numerous people who noticed issues in the foreground (some blurred splotches, for instance, but no real blurred foreground). I’m not sure whether Apple is particularly concerned about pleasing people who know how a real depth-of-field blur effect would work, though, or just making an image with a pleasant effect. I’d say this beta is well on the way to doing the latter.

There’s much more to play with here. But I’ve got to say, seeing these initial results, I think this is going to be a really crowd-pleasing feature.

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