Joan Gamell

@gamell

Can you tell? Pixel 2 portrait mode vs full-frame bokeh

Disclaimer: This is not a paid nor a comprehensive review, just my opinion.

I have been testing my new Google Pixel 2 photo capabilities this weekend and I am happy to say it’s better than I expected.

I was especially interested in seeing how the bokeh in the new purely AI-based portrait mode fared against a “real” (or should I say optics-based?) bokeh in pictures with a shallow depth of field.

For my first test I used an object with a complex silhouette. One of the following pictures was taken with the Google Pixel 2 and the other with my Sony A7rii with a 50mm f1.8 lens, can you tell which is which? (contrast, white-balance and vignette adjustments done in Google Photos)

Feel free to look into the EXIF to know which is which, but there is a small detail that will give away the Pixel 2 to the trained eye — the too perfect reflections on the bowl of the first picture*.

Other than that, I have to say I was gladly surprised by the quality of Google’s portrait mode, and with only one lens on the phone! As you can see, it deals really well with the difficult outline of the leafs and the detailed and confusing texture of the wooden table, blurring out only what should be out of focus, except in a couple of areas like on the lower left side of the bowl when it meets the table. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.

For my second test I used a slanted subject to try how the Pixel 2’s portrait mode stacked up to the 50mm/Sony A7rii with a gradually blurred foreground as the subject gets out of focus. Again, contrast, color and vignette corrections in Google Photos:

If you are a photography geek, the suspiciously sharp VERVE typography and the slightly noisy shadows of the second picture will give away that it was taken with the Pixel 2.

But still, I strongly believe that to the untrained eye the two photographs will look very similar if not equivalent for all intents and purposes, which again confirms how well the Pixel’s portrait mode performs in real life scenarios. The espresso machine blurs exquisitely into the background emulating surprisingly well a real bokeh.

Granted, it’s not the same — nor I was expecting it to be. But Google’s portrait mode comes for free with an already exceptional phone (and camera). If you want to take pictures with authentic shallow depth of field you will have to spend at least twice the phone’s worth in a good camera and lens. Not only that, but you are getting a sufficiently decent (for DSLR-standards) bokeh that fits in your pocket — Not having to haul a bulky 2 Kg camera around for the occasional portrait is an advantage many will appreciate.

*Objects reflected on others are still at the a greater distance from the sensor of the camera than the object which they are reflected upon, they thus should be out of focus (blurred out) instead of sharp when the DOF is shallow.

More by Joan Gamell

Topics of interest

More Related Stories