DSLR vs iPhone 7+

When they introduced the iPhone 7+, I was annoyed.

2X OPTICAL ZOOM? PORTRAIT MODE?? These all seemed like exactly the gimmicky things it would take for me to upgrade my phone I'd had less than a year. The main thing that keeps me upgrading each year is the camera, and this year was no exception.

The phrase about photography that has had the most impact on me over the years is simple - "The best camera is the one you have with you." It's true, it doesn't matter if you have the Nikon ONE MILLION Plus if it's not on your shoulder when you see a bunny trying to eat cotton candy. With the advancements in phones today, the camera we carry around every day is lightyears ahead of the point-and-shoot cams we were toting around in high school.

This week, Apple introduced "Portrait Mode" to the world (in beta form). So I decided to test the software bokeh effect against my DSLR.

The specs? I'm working with an iPhone 7+ (in rose gold, le duh) using the new Portrait Mode in beta, comparing it to my Nikon D5200 using a 1.8f 35mm lens. I do want to note my one mistake - I shoot completely in RAW on my DSLR, so I had to process those through Photoshop, which did affect the color and exposure slightly. If I were to do this test again (and I likely will when the program is out of beta), I'd shoot in jpeg to best replicate the same effect. That being said, I think you're going to be blown away by the results. If you want to see the details a little closer, clicking on the photos will make them larger.

Pic 1: Bobby Close Crop

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

I candidly shot a few pics of my husband while we were warming up and was shocked at how well the iPhone set up. There's a clear difference from the regular iPhone to the Portrait Mode - it creates a solid bokeh effect while keeping BB in focus. Since Portrait is still in beta, it still has some difficulty discerning clean edges on a subject, but it did a great job in this photo. The biggest difference in the iPhone bokeh and the DSLR is that the DSLR creates a "real" bokeh effect - showing the edges of the light - whereas the iPhone just creates a blurred background. Study the light coming through the trees and you'll see what I mean.

Pic 2: Bobby Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

One of the biggest selling points of the iPhone 7+? The idea that I'd be able to blog with it when I didn't have my DSLR handy. However, taking outfit photos means taking a full-body look. The iPhone struggled a little more with the background on a shot that was further away, but still did a pretty decent job of creating a natural blur. The effect looks at least a full f-stop above the 1.8 I shot on the DSLR, but still creates a differentiation between the subject and background.

Pic 3: Brick Wall, Close Up

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

So what about my normal brick wall? I've taken hundreds of blog photos in this spot, so how would it fare with portrait mode? Well, we ran into some problems. You can see that my hair gave the software some problems, which might easily be fixed when the program comes out of beta. Even still, the colors and depth are impressive for a phone when you're at this range! I think it's worth noting how much the portrait mode softens the photo overall compared to the original, too. Sort of like you're putting yourself through a filter.

Pic 4: Brick Wall, Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

Let's back up and try that again. The iPhone loses some detail, and gets confused with my legs. Honestly, I look thinner using the DSLR (NO idea why though). But the two are close when it comes to background blur, even though iPhone got picky and wouldn't let us back up too far.

Pic 5: Street Photo, Close Up

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

After examining the results from the other photos, it became clear that the more distance you can put between your subject and background, the better. The differences between the Portrait Mode and DSLR are almost identical! Here's where I can admit the iPhone may have a slight advantage: You can still see the clear lines of the ridges in the jacket sleeves, but it blurs out flyaways completely. That means less Photoshop and a more polished look, so the iPhone's inability to read every last strand ends up working for me.

Pic 6: Street Photo, Full Body

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

You can really see how putting more distance between the subject and background helps in these photos! The biggest difference you'll see in the iPhone vs DSLR is in the foreground - the DSLR blurs the wall and grate a lot more than the iPhone does. However, around the face and shoulders you see a lot of similarities. If I were to apply the same color correctors and exposure work to the middle photo, you'd have almost identical photos.

The Verdict? YES.

Yes, you can take blog photos with the iPhone 7+ and portrait mode! While the software will never truly be able to perfectly replicate a DSLR with a prime lens, it does an amazing job of mimicking the effect. To lesser trained eyes, you can definitely use portrait mode to capture great outfit photos. Just remember these few key tricks:

  1. Make sure you have enough light. The phone will won't let you take a photo without proper light, but the better the light, the better your photo. Try to take photos outdoors, in an evenly lit, shady spot. If you can face the light but stay in the shade, you'll get the best lighting.
  2. Put a lot of distance between your subject and the background. While the portrait mode can do some magic against a wall, you'll get a more natural bokeh effect when you have more space behind your subject. Try positioning them on a long street, across a park, or on a balcony for ultimate blur effect.
  3. Add some contrast. Wearing all black? Try standing on a lighter background. The more contrast there is between the background and your outfit, the easier the camera can figure out what to keep in focus.
  4. Listen to your phone. Don't get frustrated when it gives you instructions! The software is created to help you get the best pics EVER, so move forward, backward, and look for the light to get your best photos.
  5. When in doubt, get closer. As impressed as I am with the full body portraits, there's no doubt that the closer photos just look a little better.  Just make sure that you check the edges of every photo before you post it since the software can get confused, and re-take anything that looks a little weird. The more accustomed you become to the weird nuances of portrait mode, the easier it'll be to fool everyone!

PS: Does it work for still shots? YEP.

iPhone 7 Regular // iPhone 7 Portrait Mode // Nikon D5200

At the end of my experiment, I decided to play with a little still life. While portrait mode is intended for human faces (and programmed to recognize them), it can create some beautiful blurred effects for objects! Just make sure you put enough distance between the camera and the subject, and make sure you have plenty of light. So why would someone use the iPhone over a DSLR in this case? Notice how much more of the plant is in focus in the middle photo - using the iPhone portrait mode over a DSLR could give a bokeh effect without completely taking the subject out of focus, which could be very useful for product shots.

Who else has played with Portrait Mode? I'd love to see your photos and hear more about what you think of the beta! Honestly, I'm impressed and can't wait to incorporate this Apple magic into my blog when I can't lug my Nikon everywhere. Oh, Apple. What will they think of next?