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


There are 110 comments

dwd3885 says:

#2 has the better defocus. But #3 is the better photo quality.

ritt02 says:

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.

DS1331 says:

#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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What if we weren't really closer and the sensor field of view was really that different between devices ...

crxssi says:

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.

DWR_31 says:

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!

BRENDO702 says:

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

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HeLLkAt31 says:

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...

You're right. It was for a few minutes. Had the wrong file stripped of exif there.

Ahh crap... Now I think I like #2 the best.

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.

timi_oke says:

#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

Posted via Stock Nexus 4*

eahinrichsen says:

#2 and #4 overdo the blur effect, I think.

For sure, I feel if you can actually distinguish that it was been processed, then it has failed.

eahinrichsen says:

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.

popartist says:

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

Agree 100%

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Should toss in a narrow DOF image from a DSLR to see if anyone can pick it from the lineup.

I considered that, but figured it would just start trouble :)

It's the internet. What isn't trouble?

Alcarnor14 says:

And you didn't want to start any? Who are you and what did you do to Jerry? :)

twolastnames says:

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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I vote #3.

ChaoVizua says:

#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.

Grahaman27 says:

But the blur bleeds into the mug on 3 and 4.

via moto x.

Narrow DOF in a real camera does this as well, depending on how tight the DOF actually is.

dyinman says:

But not at the edges, just because they're edges...

dianimator says:

#3 is all messed up. The part that is visible through the cup's handle isn't even blurry

Good call, that being said, at a glance I still feel #3 is the most natural.

B0WIE says:

I agree. I saw the error but still felt it was the best photo.

eahinrichsen says:

Oh, I didn't notice that until you pointed it out.

Alcarnor14 says:

Ooh. yeah. didn't see that. Still like #3 overall. But definitely a software defocus failure.

youareme7 says:

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.

GrillMouster says:

#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.

twolastnames says:

Hate to be this guy, but someone has to. You need to check your definition of bokeh.

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how so?

twolastnames says:

It does not mean a blurry background.

Sent with bathwater

sting7k says:

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.

twolastnames says:

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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Deke218 says:

#3 for the win but should have cropped the Galaxy Note box from the pic.

ldn_droid says:

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

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jdevenberg says:

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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G4 Man says:

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

Haha #3. That's some crazy physics where the coffee mug handle works as a lens!

#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.

etnpnys says:

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

noo_uk says:

#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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tim242 says:

#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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closers7 says:

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.

89kraus says:

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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ldn_droid says:

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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JasonF says:

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

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tobbywho says:

#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).

K White1 says:

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.

+1 Great to hear.

ldn_droid says:

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. :)

robbiekhan says:

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.

yojoebosolo says:

3 the best photo quality overall :)

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kev83202 says:

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.

nbell978 says:

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.

ldn_droid says:

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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77 would have been an easier way to write it... Just saying... :)

ldn_droid says:

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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John Nemesh says:

Nice photo of the water fountain in Pike Place Market! :)

RG129 says:

#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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oscari says:

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

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movielover76 says:

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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jsabo says:

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.

luke31 says:

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

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avantard says:

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.

nbell978 says:

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.

rauelius says:

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!

ScottJ says:

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

ScottJ says:

Next poll on AC: Do these pants make me look fat?

pacoinurreta says:

Well, you made me vote when #2 and #4 were kinda the same, probably the same...

tim242 says:

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

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doc31 says:

Says who? As a photographer I can pull off all four photos.... You are completely wrong

FearL0rd says:

Google... copy copy copy

icvos says:

I vote for the camera that took the water fountain shot.


#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.

abbott says:

I'm betting #4 is the Nexus 5

rookiegenius says:

The pictures seem to be arranged in the order of increasing the blur effect lol

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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pacoinurreta says:

I'm dying to know!

BigDinCA says:

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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Falconmauro says:

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.

azxsdc says:

#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.

Ikeman90 says:

Wheres the which is which post?

atit_s says:

#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

KPMcClave says:

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.

ectoren says:

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

chefmorry says:

Waiting here as well....

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jnbarth says:

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

etnpnys says:

+1!! I came back right now just for this reason! I wanna know!!

jrvtecaccord says:

Ha, me too!


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cjbrigol says:

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.

Dannyboiii says:

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.

Sprawl says:

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.

Dannyboiii says:

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.

Dannyboiii says:

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!"

yojoebosolo says:

Just post the answers already :)

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