Defocus all the things

New camera options bring a little extra to your pictures, but who does it the best?

The new rage in smartphone cameras these days is selective focus. Think of a really nice portrait you've seen of a friend or family member, where they were in focus and there was a lovely background that was slightly out of focus. It really makes the subject "pop" and photographers — both professional and amatuer — love the look. It's only natural that this made it's way onto our phones. It's not really something new, as there have been apps that do the same thing for a while now. But seeing the folks who make our phones get into the game means more adoption, and hopefully, better results.

Today's release of the new Google Camera app brings defocusing to an impressive list of devices (potentially, any KitKat device) so it's time we had a look at the results from a few. We pulled out the HTC One M8, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the LG G Pro 2 — which all have native defocusing built into the camera — and the Nexus 5 using the new Google Camera app to compare them to each other.

This is going to be a bit different though. Below you'll see the four pictures, in random order, and no clue about which picture comes from which phone. Then you'll move down to the poll and pick which looks best. Later this evening, I'll come back with another post showing the vote and which picture came from which phone. Hopefully, this way we can look past the name on the back of the phone and decide which looks best based on just the image and not any brand loyalty.

Number one


Number two


Number three


Number four



Reader comments

Battle of the Blur: Defocus camera showdown


i thought the same thing and didn't know how to vote. But the question was which looked the best, not which had the best defocus so I voted for 3.

#4 has the most focus upfront and most blur in the background but that's only because you're closer in that one and not in the other ones... Looks like a rigged poll

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I have to agree with DS1331. #4 is drastically too different to make a valid comparison. They should all be at roughly the same angle, lighting, and distance.

If that's the case Jerry, #4 is the Nexus 5. And #1 is the M8.
#3 is the LG G PRO 2.
#2 is the S5.

Deductive reasoning.

Posted via my SPARK enabled Sprint LG G2, K00949438Yd FRAMILY!

I'm pretty sure #3 is the M8. You can see that wide angle lens doing its job.

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It does look like the cameras took the pictures differently from the same spot. And if we are voting on blur effect and not picture quality. Then number four wins hands down...

Do my eyes deceive me, or are #2 and #4 the same?

The exposure seems to be very slightly different, but the issues are exactly the same, in the same areas...

I like this, you guys should do this type of poll more often. I like #3 the best. Color and clarity seem to be the best, I might be swayed by less cropping as well.

#2, #3 and #4 all get the focus thing down. No idea what the hell #1 is doing, barely defocusing the background.

#3 stomps all over 2 and 4 for quality, but isn't as good for an actual defocus shot. It's a toss-up between #2 and #4 for me, but in all honesty I'd rather take #3 and crop it lol. The others are embarrassingly poor pics

Got nexus 4 camera update don't like the new icon and want it to include immersive mode instead of the button at the bottom

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Yeah, or at the very least, if your first reaction to the photo is "Holy shit, the background is BLURRY," then there's something wrong. The blur effect in the second and fourth pictures doesn't serve to accent the mug; it just makes the whole picture look muddled.

I dunno, while the mug logo isn't as sharp in 2 as it is in 3, I think the mug itself is sharper in its edges and stands out more in the foreground in 2, so I went with that one.

Posted with an HTC One M8 via Android Central App

I was hoping for this as well, maybe when you announce what was what? Do it ridiculous if you have the gear, f1.4@ the fastest you can shoot.

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#3 has the best, it keeps the subject in focus best, while still putting a good defocus on the rest of the photo.

#1 is barely defocusing, #2 has the subject slightly out of focus, #4 has the subject more out of focus, but better defocus, #3 offers the sharpest subject, while still offering good defocus.

None of them look that good, seems like the cup is blurry too in every one. there's just no replacing real aperture for bokeh

If you really look at number 2 and 4 around the handle you can see where the processing of the image didn't get EVERYTHING blurred. Also number 3 inside the handle the box is not blurred out like it is right above the handle.

I like #1 the best because its more of a subtle blur and helps the mug stand out.

#1 may not have a heavily out-of-focus background, but it's the most natural. All the others have a problem with the edges of the cup getting blurred. The subject's edges should be crisp. Some have a halo around the handle where it's not as blurry, yet the edge of the cup is blurry. Number 3 completely missed the background area that's inside of the handle.

#1 also has the best lighting where you can tell the difference between the cup and the shelf. The bokeh effect is less pronounced but more realistic.

Ugh, "defocus"...what has really happened is using software they have decreased the depth of field in the photo. There is no adjustable aperture on a phone camera lens so they do it after the shot is taken.

Pretty neat but that term is going to drive me insane as a scientist who took photography classes to satisfy my art requirements.

And? People don't care what DoF is, but do care about a defocused picture. I'm a cable guy so I'm an expert.

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Number 1 seems like a general picture. 2 and 3 are like bad attemps to perfect picture number 4.

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I think the first one is the Nexus 5 and the last is the One. I'm torn on which of 2 and 3 are the S5 and G Pro 2

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I'm amazed at how badly the pole represents the truth.. The first one has a very light blur but it's still the most accurate of the bunch, The second is also very acurate and blurs a lot heavier than the first but it's a pretty low-res picture, the fourth one applies a mild blur that's pretty acurate but falls short at the bottom of the handle, number 3 is pretty decent but it messes up by not bluring the inside of the handle. So that would be the correct order, from best to worst, 1, 2, 4, 3

#4 would've been good if it got the cup in focus and metered correctly so you could differentiate between the cup and the shelf.

I'm seriously floored that #4 is leading right now. Can nobody see all the crappy noise around the mug's handle?

#4 is way ott for me, I don't get why it is in the lead?! Aside from the handle issue #3 got my vote.

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#3 for sure. #4 is overly defocused. The other 2 are not enough. It would have been nice if they had all been done from the same distance and angle

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I voted for #4 because it had the better defocus. But is it just me, or does #4 look like it taken at a little closer angle than the others? I do like the look of #2 better though. Less defocus... but more attractive.

To my eyes, number 1 looks the most natural, closest to a DSLR, maybe with a slightly larger aperture (F4.0 or maybe 3.5) .

#2 isn't that bad either. It's a little underexposed, and the but effect still seems natural. It's a close 2nd for me. There is also something weird happening at the edge of the shelf.

#3 to my eye isn't much worse than #2, but the software obviously had some de-focusing the area inside the cup handle.

#4 is by far the worse. The edges of the cup are jagged and uneven, like the software had a hard time finding the edges. While it has the shallowest depth of field, the out of focus area is too uniform. The whole thing looks like something that was done with a lasso tool and Gaussian blur very quickly and crudely in Photoshop.

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4 is defocused regardless of the actual quality of the picture. The others only seem to be subtle and makes the pictures look like bad quality shots. Blah blah fecking blah.. get a proper camera if you want to take proper photos or observe professional pictures taken by professionals and see how they made them look these are phones that take pictures not cameras that make calls. Im only here to annoy people while im on the toilet and I have two bob bits so im on here for a while :)

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#3 for me. I like the wider angle lens allowing for better Bokeh

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#1 is the only photo that's realistic... look at the wood grain. #3, and #2 are next in line. #4 is clearly the M8 (see patches in AC mug handle).

I think the cup looks fine in all of the photos, so it seems like voting would depend on the amount of blur/defocus that users prefer.

This "blind" poll is a great idea, by the way.

Posted via AC App on HTC One

I know which phone took which picture, and am surprised at which one I think is the best picture. It's not from the phone I thought it would be from. After that, I decided a blind poll is the only way to go here, and for a lot of future camera comparisons.

Which one did you choose?
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Also... was picture 4 cropped/taken closer than the other pictures or was zoom used?

This one could use a "none of the above" option. The last one could have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for the fact that even the cup is slightly out of focus, and it's just too different from the other 3 to make a fair comparison, almost closer to a macro shot than a proper sense of depth in the image.

#1 is just too boring and overexposed, #3 has a lot of digital "noise", like diagonal lines getting uneven and such. #2 is the least bad of the four, I'd say. :)

Number 4 looks the most fake.... Why are people voting that? Just goes to show Instagram style filters take precedent these days :/

I think this is an example of a poll that gets it wrong. 4 does look the worst and blends the straight lines making it rally look like crap and not just out of focus.

How in the world is #4 leading? It's de-focused, but so is the freaking cup! #3 is the sharpest on the cup yet still has plenty of blur in the back. I think taking a good photo and then editing it with Snapseed to create the blur is much better then any of these options.

That's what I was wondering. #4 is awful. I went with #2 because it seems to actually have some slight blur in the gap of the handle of the cup. Everything is in focus in that location on #3.

Can you do picture qaulity from a moving car? Iv got some really good pics the other day doing about 70mph +10% on the motorway and was amazed how good the pictures are.

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But if I went faster than 77 I could of got a ticket. So I WAS going 70 ;), but my speedo might not be calibrated well and it may have been 10% more ;) its not like I was going faster than 77 ;). But seriously, I should of just said 77

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#4 has to be the Nexus 5 since the Google camera doesn't take widescreen photos. I've been playing with it a lot since I downloaded it, and I'm able to get some really great defocused photos, much better looking than that. It's all how you want to adjust the photo after taking it.

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Number 4 looks way too defocused I think number 3 looks best overall.

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I like the poll without brand names. Even among android users I think it's often hard to get beyond brand loyalty

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I like the idea of the contest, but to really compare apples to apples, I think that you need to get more formal with your setup-- make sure that each pic is composed and cropped exactly the same, and to the extent possible, get the same sharp focus point in each one.

I can't tell right now if the lettering on the cup in #4 is out of focus because the software went nuts, or because the shot was rushed.

If I were shooting this with a DSLR, then that lettering would be razor sharp, so if I'm faking that with software, I expect the same thing. Picking the "best" software means that I need to know if that lack of sharpness was the software or the photographer.

It might also be interesting to see the same shot with and without the blur applied so we can better judge that.

The Xperia Z1s has an awesome background blur app in the camera.

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Amused by the vote skewing toward 4. EVERYTHING is defocused there. I went with 3, but it's kind of hard to judge these because they're shot from different distances and I can't tell if the brightness of each photo is the result of the lighting or the phone used.

Not sure how #4 is winning... That one was the first one I eliminated. It's awful. It was between #2 and #3 for me. Went with #2.

Look inside the handle. The only one that seems to defocus it is #4. In all the other ones the part of the picture in the handle is as sharp as the cup itself. That being said something is off about #4 that I can't put my finger on. Not even talking about how it's a completely different angle from the others, but there are jaggied edges inside the handle and a halo around the image. I'm guess #4 is the Nexus 5. #3 is the LG, #2 is the M8(aliasing on primary colors in low light is a least with my M7 it is, and considering they use the same camera...) and #1 is the S5

Number4 is the best and that's the closest to what a narrow depth of field should look like. Most everything is blurred out except the main subject. So many of you are clueless about narrow depth of field. You really shouldn't be responding to this poll if you have no idea what you're talking about!

You don't want the cup handle blurred. The entire cup should be crisp with everything else blurred. I picked #2.

The people voting #4 are clueless. It is supposed to be a SLIGHT blur.

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#3 seems to have the best dramatic affect while #1 seems to have the best color representation. #2 and #4 just don't have a dramatic effect and are too dark.

I think #4 is the M8.... I'm just wondering why Jerry hasn't posted the results article yet. He said it would be this evening and its midnight central now.

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I like #3. They're smartphone cameras, not Nikon D5200s w/ 50mm lenses. I'm okay w/ the focus anomaly in the mug handle. I like the way the defocus increases with the distance from the subject.

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In my opinion :
Number 1 is the HTC, since it has the best low light picture .

Number 4 is the Gs5,since in order to get a decent defocus picture, it requires you to be ridiculously close to the first object.

#2, 3 and 4 look overdone, 4 has that weird blotch at the base of the chromecast box. 3 isn't too bad but the table closest to the camera (bottom right) is in sharp focus while the area immediately behind the mug is not. This is not how a naturally low DoF would look as DoF more shallow in front of the focus point than behind.

#1 isn't dramatic enough but probably looks the least unnatural.

#3 has the best photo quality overall and looks very real. #2 looks a little dark overall almost like it one stop slower than #3 and #1 while #4 just looks like its come from a cheap camera with a cheap sensor + lens.

I would put it as
#2 n #1

I see #4 is still leading this morning. I can only assume those folks viewed it on their phones, because on my desktop it looks dreadful. Pixelization! #2 has some of that, as well.

I voted for #3. I think #1 looks pretty good, as well.

"Later this evening, I'll come back with another post showing the vote and which picture came from which phone. " Evening came and went....

"Later this evening, I'll come back with another post showing the vote and which picture came from which phone".............still waiting.........

I think number 2 is the best, but I bet most people will vote for 4 just because it looks the most different...but I honestly think it looks like crap. The background is WAY too blurred.

Definitely. I feel like, once the illusion is ruined, it just makes it that much more obvious that the picture comes from a phone, which makes it feel like a cheesy Instagram effect.

Number 1 or Number 2.
While the fake Bokeh affect is more pronounced on 4, 3 and 4 clearly have some algorithym problems with applying the out of focus filtering. 4 is by far the worst. 3 and 4 have heavy influence of out of focus on some of the mug (check the rim in 3 and the handle in 4). 4 also has way to consistent of an out of focus affect that doesn't take true depth of field into account (the front boxes are just as blurred as the back boxes), 1 is the "cleanest" image but doesn't quite get enough of the effect, leaving me to say 2 is the best of the bunch.
still no match for real bokeh affect using proper glass on a manually adjustable lens system.

Agreed, but #2 has problems as well, when looking through the handle. It's completely sharp. I think #1 is the only one that manages not to look like a cheesy effect.

I'm so surprised #1 didn't win. Each successive picture has a more and more artificial look. Also, the first photo is the only one that wasn't underexposed. Plus, if you look around the handle of the mug, every other picture completely botched it. There are parts that are still completely in focus, despite the fact that they are at the same depth as the blurred parts of the image. I guess to the average eye, details and quality don't matter, just "TeH EfFeCts!"