It is very hard to achieve good depth of field focus on a Smartphone camera. This is largely due to the technical limitations of the lenses that are placed in Smartphone camera rather than to any software factors but the net result is you aren’t naturally going to get a well constructed photo with an in focus subject in the foreground and a beautifully fuzzy background from your iPhone using the default camera app. You’re going to need to cheat.
Cheating here isn’t new as Instagram and other apps have introduced artificial blurring techniques which have worked to varying degrees. When you intelligently they can produce fairly realistic effects, or they can produce obvious artificial effects. Some apps like real blur allow you to highlight areas in post production and go a step beyond the standard instagram line or circle of focus. However, they are still limited.
On android both Google and HTC have pushed the boat out in this area. The latest HTC one has a second camera which is used to create these depth of field effects, where as the new Google Camera app (which runs on many android devices unlike the HTC one specific hardware) utilises a technique of moving the phone around an object once you have taken the photo to let you change the depth of field effect. [Android Authority has a good comparison between these effects]. So if this effect can be achieved more realistically with a simple software option as you take the photo….can it be done on the iPhone with it’s generally recognised superior camera? The answer is Yes.
FocusTwist is an app designed to give you realistic depth of field by combining photos of different focus rather than adding a blurring effect to a single photos. This helps to give a more realistic approach to lens blur and also let’s you dictate the focus point post production.
Instead of taking a single picture, focus twist takes a short video allowing for a range of focus points which can be combined afterwards. This is how the depth of field is created in a similar way to some of the android effects that are coming out.
It’s not perfect, a DSLR will still win in a photo competition and you need to have an object fairly close to the iPhone. Plus you need to stay pretty still when you take the photo/video in the first place. However, it creates some nice effects that you can’t currently get with the standard iPhone camera app.
I should warn you at this point that you really do have to stay still when you take the video. If you move a little then the app can’t make the effect work properly. In addition you have to make sure that one object is fairly close to the camera so it is much better for portraits and close ups. Some of my shots below show my success or lack or success.
Below is a gallery comparing some photos I took using these different systems.
This is a feature I could easily imagine Apple bringing to the iPhone, after all the camera already has a burst mode and will combine all the photos to create a better shot, why not add in an option to change the focus and create a more dramatic depth of field effect? Despite the popularity of third party camera apps, this might be the only step that will get some users to use such a feature. After all, not everyone wants the hassle of multiple camera apps.
However, with Oppo now releasing an attachable smartphone camera lens and rumours of more flexible and adjustable smartphone camera lenses just around the corner, it will be interesting to see if we soon won’t need clever apps to create these effects but can naturally produce them.