Best Portrait Mode Camera of 2017 (Video)

It’s been a hell of a year for phones in 2017 and so I’m doing a series of scientific-ish experiments to try and figure out which were the best phones of 2017. I’ve already done the fastest phone and the one with the best battery life, but today we’re going to see which one does the best portrait mode photos.

Now, portrait mode is the idea of taking a photo on your phone and through software trickery it’ll blur out the background to give this more depth of field look that we get with faster aperture lenses on SLRs, etc. And while it’s definitely not perfect, the latest processors in these phones end up doing a decent job of it (if the settings are ideal) and some phones are definitely better at it than others. But that’s what I’d like to figure out here.

The phones we have for this are the iPhone X, the Pixel 2 XL, the Note8 (with Live Focus mode) and the Huawei Mate 10 Pro (using it’s wide aperture mode instead of portrait since that has more features and works on things that aren’t people whereas the actual portrait mode on the Mate 10 Pro struggles with that). And for this experiment, I took the same photo (as best as I could) with each device in varying conditions.

Now in this first photo, I quickly took a shot of my latte in a well lit coffee shop and right away you can see he iPhone X, the one I thought would do the best here considering the conditions, botched it pretty badly with the blur spilling over into the cup in a lot of places and just all around looking pretty unnaturally. The Huawei and the Note8 seemed to do the same but not as drastically and the Pixel 2 XL I think is pretty undeniably the winner with this photo at least.

Photo 1

Next, I took a photo of myself using the front facing portrait mode on each of the phones. The Note8, doesn’t have one unfortunately but wanted to show a comparison of what selfies would look like on it anyway. Here we can see the iPhone X kill it frankly. It does a great job, most likely due to all the extra sensors on the front, of determining what part of the image is my face and what part is the background and adding a natural looking blur. The Pixel did a decent job except that the girl who happens to have a similar complexion to mine it thought was a part of my own face since she was positioned so close to it, and the Mate 10 Pro did a decent job but blurred out some of my hair and a part of my ear against the white background (I get the girl’s face and the fact I’m pretty white, but I’m not the color of the ceiling, thanks).

Selfie 1

Next, I took a photo of my friend in another coffee shop. And in this one, I’d have to go iPhone X, Note8, Pixel and then Mate 10 Pro in that order. Just based on the Mate 10 did some weird things around the outline of her face for some reason, the Pixel blurred the left better than the right and blurred out the computer a bit, the Note8 did a good job gradually blurring things out more as they were further away (i.e. the water bottle is slightly less blurred than the background which is how a real fast aperture camera would have handled it, and the iPhone X although it had to zoom in quite a bit like the Note8 did because of the telephoto lens, it managed to do a natural blur effect like the Note8 and a good job of keeping the right subject in the foreground vs the background.

Photo 2

Another selfie in a super bright area this time (not easy for any of these phones to do). The Note8, doesn’t have portrait mode on the front again so that’s just for a comparison, the Mate 10 might win for the best delineation of foreground and background with just a piece of my hair at the top left, but it overexposed the crap out of the image. The iPhone X probably did the second best with the blur effect but I’m properly exposed and sharper for sure and the Pixel just botched it with that weird clear area to the left of my face. Why does it keep doing that in the same spot to me?

Selfie 2

Now some rockem sockem robots. In this one they all did pretty well actually considering the tiny parts in the subject like the ropes etc. but the winner here is probably the Pixel 2 XL for a good blur job and sharp image with mostly accurate colors. I would actually have given it to the iPhone X because I think the colors are more accurate here but the weird things happening to the pole and rope on the left sort of pull your eyes there and you lose the cool factor. The Note8 and Huawei did a good job here too bu the coloring in the Huawei being pretty off as well as the weird coaster int he back of the Note8 image being in focus for some reason brings them both down in my opinion.

Photo 3

And there you go, portrait mode, of sorts, on these top 2017 phones. And I think I’d have to give front facing portrait mode, pretty easily to the iPhone X as with it’s extra sensors it does a good job of determining what a face is and where it ends, but the Pixel using only software does a decent job as well, just not quite as good.

For the rear camera, I’m pretty torn. I’d say the Huawei is eliminated because most of the time if it got the blur right, the color wasn’t and vise versa. The Note8 actually did a good job though with both and the fact that it and the Huawei can be adjusted means that if it wasn’t perfect you can back off the blur to get something that is still usable sometimes, albeit with less of a pronounced blur effect. The Pixel and the iPhone though both had a good balance of blur, color, and sharpness and while they did both botch it sometimes so did all the phones and for the most part did a decent job of getting a cool shot without and fiddling. I’m torn, so I did what anyone does when confuddled with a tough choice. I asked the internet.

And with putting up 4 photos from the Pixel 2 XL and iPhone X and didn’t mention which was which, the majority of you overwhelmingly picked the Pixel 2 XL.

Let me know what you think in the comments below and don’t forget to follow me on social for other tips, tricks, experiments, and more.

Related Items: ,

Join 90k others & subscribe to my weekly, not annoying newsletter for more tech!

* indicates required
  • Chemy

    Well with some of internet checking in here, I think the best results were for the Pixel and the iPhone, but I actually needed to read a couple of times your _notes_ to see the details, all are pretty good results, I thought the Note8 would have some nice option for the front facing camera because more of the price and size of it.

    What about the software based comparison, let say I have a budget/cheap phone and want to do some portrait mode 🙂 maybe also a comparison between the integrated app and the camera apps in their stores and results.