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iPhone 7 Plus vs. DSLR: Is Apple’s new portrait mode as impressive as it seems?

Published Sep 27th, 2016 11:25AM EDT
iPhone 7 Plus Vs DSLR
Image: Apple Inc.

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When Apple unveiled its new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus earlier this month at its bug press conference in San Francisco, it was immediately clear that the larger iPhone 7 Plus model is the star of the show this year. Both new phones are impressive, of that there is little doubt. But the bigger iPhone packs a class-leading new dual camera setup that is arguably the best smartphone camera the world has ever seen.

Among the new features shown off by Apple was a “portrait mode” setting that creates a “bokeh” effect on photos similar to what you might see in photos captured by a DSLR. In fact, Apple has mentioned DSLR cameras a few times when discussing the new iPhone 7 Plus camera. Is it fair to mention Apple’s new dual lens camera system in the same breath as a DSLR, or is Apple just overhyping its latest iPhone? It’s time to find out.

DON’T MISS: One of the iPhone 8’s hottest new features was just unveiled by another company

First of all, let’s briefly recap the nifty new tech Apple used in its iPhone 7 Plus camera. In a nutshell, the phone includes a standard 12-megapixel wide-angle camera and a second 56mm telephoto camera positioned right next to it. This accomplishes two main things: first, the user can tap a zoom button to switch to the telephoto lens as the primary camera, which effectively provides 2x optical zoom on a smartphone camera. That in itself is pretty awesome, but Apple’s upcoming iOS 10.1 update also includes a new feature called portrait mode.

Portrait mode allows the user to capture a photo that uses the wide-angle lens as the primary lens, but also integrates depth data from the secondary telephoto lens to keep the subject in focus while blurring the background. The resulting photo features the appearance of a photo that was captured by a DSLR camera. The question is, does the quality of these portrait mode photos actually approach DSLR quality or is this just a gimmick?

The answer, it would appear, lies somewhere in the middle. Portrait mode is hardly just a gimmick, but the quality of photos captured by the iPhone 7 Plus doesn’t really compare to the quality of photos taken on a DSLR camera.

Reddit user “xenonsupra” posted a comparison shot that does a good job of illustrating the differences in a single pair of pictures.

Here’s a shot captured by the iPhone 7 Plus with portrait mode (beta) enabled:


And here’s the same shot from a Nikon D800:


The difference is significant — check out both full-size images at this link.

There’s no question that the photo from the 7 Plus is impressive, but there’s simply no way to achieve DSLR levels of clarity, color reproduction and light in a tiny little smartphone camera module. The iPhone 7 Plus gets closer than any phone camera has before it, but the technology still isn’t quite there.

Want to see a more extensive comparison? Check out the showdown posted last week by iMore.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.