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Portrait Mode on Smartphones | Single lens vs Dual lens Camera

Portrait Mode | Single Lens vs Dual Lens Camera

single lens vs dual lens camera

Don't we all just love those closeup portrait shots!

When only we, the subject, is in focus and everything else is beautifully blurred out. Such photos really appeal to everyone.

This kind of photography is known as portrait photography and is very popular amongst everyone.

However, shooting it has not always been everybody's cup of tea.

It used to require a DSLR with a very bright lens to capture such awesome images...till now.

But with constant hardware and software improvements in smartphone cameras, this style of photography has now reached our smartphones as well in the form of a dedicated portrait mode.

But is it any good?




How Background Blur/Bokeh is achieved in a DSLR?

Before we talk about portrait mode found in smartphones, let's just take a moment to understand how exactly do we get such amazingly blurred images from a regular DSLR. If you are already aware of this, do read it and let me know if my understanding is wrong.

So, AFAIK, there are 3 factors that help to achieve the background blur, also know as BOKEH, that we get in our images.

  1. The large sensor of the DSLR
  2. The bright or large aperture lens
  3. The focal length of the lens.

I will not go into technical details on how exactly these 3 factors work in tandem to produce the bokeh as it is out of the scope of this blog, however, the main point to understand is that all 3 factors are necessary to produce the natural BOKEH.

A regular portrait lens typically has a focal length of 80-85 mm in 35mm format and an aperture of f/1.8

So now that we are aware of how the natural BOKEH is achieved, let's take a look at portrait mode on Smartphones.





Portrait Mode on Smartphones

Cameras on smartphones are definitely weaker as compared to a proper DSLR.

They neither have the space to fit in a large sensor nor do they support different lenses. They only, usually, have a single fixed aperture lens.

However, smartphone companies overcame this problem by using a second lens and some software trickery.

Using image data from 2 lenses to identify the subject from the background and then applying a fake blur to the background, the smartphone companies have been able to achieve portrait shots with quite a success.

However, different companies have implemented portrait mode differently.

portrait mode on smartphones
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  • Some companies like Apple use one regular and one telephoto lens to separate the subject.

  • Others like Huawei use 2 same focal length lenses.

  • And then there are companies like Google which use only a single lens and use dual pixel technology as well as machine learning to measure depth and separate the subject from the background.

And, to be honest, all implementations work really well. It has allowed people access to portrait photography without expensive equipment.

However, achieving portrait shots using just a single camera does pose a question in one's mind.

Do we really need a second lens for portrait shots?
And I believe that the answer is YES!





Why use the dual lens?

A second lens, and more specifically a TELEPHOTO lens, is very important to get a proper portrait shot.

If you look at the images shot on a DSLR with a portrait lens, you will find that it is not only the background blur, or BOKEH, that appeals to users but also the background zoomed in look that results from using a lens of larger focal length.

Both the BOKEH and the background zoomed in look together yield an amazing looking portrait shot.

To mimic that as closely as possible, the smartphones also need to employ or use a telephoto lens.

If you compare the portrait shots from an iPhone X and a Google pixel 2, you will find that both do an excellent job of separating the subject from the background. 

And to be honest, I would say that the Pixel actually does slightly better than the iPhone in this regard, thanks to its Machine Learning Algorithms.

However, the proper portrait framing and look is only achieved on the iPhone. The iPhone photo looks more like taken from a DSLR.

This is thanks to the Telephoto lens that iPhone X uses unlike the single wide lens of Pixel 2.



You might have seen many tech critics and YouTubers praise Pixel 2 for its portrait effect stating that since its wide angled, it allows the users to capture more in the portrait shot.

But I feel they are mistaken!

Whats the point of having a lot in a photo when all of it is going to be blurred out. A portrait shot has to be focused on the subject and not have extra distractions.

Why would I want to have a photo of me with a tall building as a background and then blurring the whole building?

I feel this is the point where most tech critics and YouTubers are mistaken. And even most smartphone companies are not paying heed.

What do you think?



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VIKALP GAUTAM
I am an ardent Techie and a Free Thinker. I love to explore new topics and technologies, and share my knowledge and views with the world.
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