Defocus even more of the things

Your winner may surprise you ...

Earlier this week we posted up a few pictures using the various background blur techniques from four different phones. We also asked you guys to vote on which you thought was the best image, without telling you which phone it came from. No bias, no manufacturer loyalty, just your opinion from seeing a picture. The result is probably going to be surprising.

Results as of 12:00am ET, Thursday, April 17, 2014


Figure out which was which yet? They're all listed below, but number four, your winner, was the LG Nexus 5. Who'd have thunk it? For the record, my choice was the LG G Pro 2. Yes, it's over-exposed, but the "blur" is consistent and subtle. The M8 took the best picture, but the defocused area feels overprocessed, and it missed the inside of the coffee mug handle. Ditto for the S5 - too much processing in the background, and none at all inside the cup handle ring. In this instance, I think the Nexus 5 was the worst picture of all.

I was sure the HTC One M8 would win this particular test, until I saw the pictures. That's why we decided to go with the blind poll here.

Now let's see which camera was which.

The LG G Pro 2

G Pro 2

Called Magic Focus on the G Pro 2, things work a bit differently from the rest. You take a series of pictures, each with a different focal point, and after some software tweaking, you can pick the one that looks the best. We like the fact that you have a bit of a selection to choose from, but we also have to admit the effect isn't as strong as the rest. But maybe that's not a bad thing, because if your eyes go to the blurry portion first instead of the subject in focus, it kind of defeats the whole purpose.

The Samsung Galaxy S5


The Galaxy S5 has a tool called Selective Focus which is sort of a middle ground between the way the G Pro 2 does things and the way the M8 and Nexus 5 do it. You do take multiple images, and after the software does it's magic you can choose from near focus, far focus and pan focus — which brings the whole image into focus if you've changed your mind. It's very easy to use — which is the most important factor in what's "best" — but the software does compress the image a little more than we would like sometimes. There is a very defined area of focus compared to the G Pro 2, and the effect is far more dramatic if drama is what you're looking for.

The HTC One M8


HTC calls their effect Ufocus on the M8, and they have a second lens to drive the effect. Alex does it a great service here, but in a nutshell it grabs multiple focal points, measures the distance, and lets you choose what distance the subject is in. The rest of the picture gets blurred by software. The extra focal plane from a second lens gives the M8 a leg up on paper from the others, but in practice it's still a little iffy — especially where the is no well defined edge, or where object placement confuses the software. Like the inside of the coffee mug handle above. It also has a larger field of view, which is why we see the Galaxy Note box in it's picture.

The Nexus 5

Nexus 5

The Nexus 5's potato camera got one hell of an update earlier today, when Google released an all-new camera app. Take some time and read Andrew's primer on all the new features here, but for now we're focused (see what I did there) on Lens Blur. Google is using software and movement to do what HTC does with two lenses. Take your shot, and you're prompted to slowly move your camera up while the software gathers focal data. Once finished and processed, you can choose the focal point and strength of the blur. The effect can be subtle or dramatic, but the camera clarity still plays an important role. The app installs on any KitKat phone, so results are going to vary based on which device you're using.


Reader comments

Battle of the Blur winner, and a look at how the cameras get it done


Wow, I did not like the image the Nexus 5 took at all (#4) but obviously people felt differently. A poll is a poll... is a poll.

it could have used a bit more brightness but other than that, the blur effect stands out with more contrast. it'd be interesting to do this match again with a higher distance difference.

I've been playing with the feature on the N5 a lot today, and it's pretty damn good, actually. You can adjust the amount of background blur after taking the shot, which is really helpful on a shot-by-shot basis.

I think posters could guess which one it was. I thought number three was the best of the lot. Number Four had blur, but the unblurred area was meh.

The poll was asking what picture had the best blur effect. So by your comment. It means that you think one of the other picture has a better blur effect... =|

Yes but "best blur effect" doesn't necessarily mean "most blurred" does it? I thought number three was best, four is the most blurred but it looks awful. Mind you, all of them are a bit rubbish to be honest. I suppose for the next twelve months we are all going to be inundated with badly blurred photos....

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Its clear that jerry did put the nexus 5 in the max settings for blur, why he did that is beyond me, because if you use normal settings you have a great blur, very natural, similiar to the g2 or the m8.

Most people are naturally attracted to a shallow depth of field (higher blur) of the Nexus 5 picture than the others. The sample pictures should have all blurred about the same to get a better comparison. Otherwise it turned into a poll on how shallow of a depth of field most people like, and predictably, the shallower the better.

I'm still trying to figure out how people are commenting on what picture looks better. When the question was obvious on what picture has a better blur effect. No wonder the world laughs at us and say Americans are dumb...

+1 the reason he did a blind test was for this reason. Now we have people arguing about photo quality. When it was asked blur effect. I know photo quality should be important, but it obviously was not not an issue or asked. Know that we know the phones used...we argue. SMH

this is my signature

If you look at the original post, it does not actually say to vote on which photo has the best blur, it says to vote on which photo looks best. Now, obviously blur is going to be a big part of what makes these photos look appealing or not, but amount of blur is not the sole consideration. Personally, I think less blur aplied more consistently and with less artifacts looks better than more blurr that is poorly applied. Pictures 1 and 4 are prefect examples of this. Yes, photo 4 has a much stronger blur than photo 1. However, the phone on photo 4 makes a mess of the boundery around the handle while photo 1 did a fantastic job deliniating between handle and background. This, to me, makes photo 1 a superior blur effect and a superior looking picture.

IMHO #4 won because the photo was framed better than the rest. If the purpose of blur is to highlight the one thing you want the picture to focus on and ignore everything else, then #4 wins because it also did a better job of framing the content so that you focused on the mug rather than everything else.

You always create more outfocus when the object you are focusing is closer to you. What kind of test is this?

i'm fairly certain they used the same distance but the cameras have different fields of view.

The test was specifically regarding the blur effect, and if nothing else #4 including the mug handle in the effect made it a clear winner to me. I'm also not TOO surprised the N5 was #4 as Andrew showed off some incredible blur shots in his Google Camera run through. Well, you could leave it as just some incredible shots. That said, I was thinking it was the M8. I think you probably could've gotten a much sharper image of the mug with less of the blur effect too. Anyway, great thinking with a blind test. Should do it more often.

Still think #4 had an unfair advantage as it was the only one taken from a closer distance, making the blur effect even more dramatic.

Interesting, I think somewhere in between the M8 and 5 would be ideal.

No Moto X love?

Posted from Moto X via Android Central App

Really? Where does it say that?
"I was sure the HTC One M8 would win this particular test, until I saw the pictures."

It looks awful compared to the other 3, and the non-blurred area inside the coffee mug is the most noticeable... And again, that layer of pink and purple on top of M8 picutres! (Sorry it just was the main culprit why I left the M8 at the store when I tried it out hehe)

"The M8 took the best picture, but the defocused area feels overprocessed, and it missed the inside of the coffee mug handle. Ditto for the S5..."

Posted via AC App on HTC One

The paragraph directly under the poll result picture. I'm not debating anything other than Jerry stated the m8 took the best picture.

Posted via Android Central App

"The m8 took the best picture..." - Jerry. He prefers the defocus on the G, I'm assuming. Maybe Jerry could clear it up. Jerry?

I assume this was because the poll wasn't really about the best picture but the best background blur the software can produce. Judging by that odd section in the mug handle the HTC One was not perfect even though a lot of us thought the photo was the best looking.

M8 was the clearest and best overall photo. Too bad the blur was so harsh, and that weirdness inside the coffee mug handle.

G Pro 2 has the most appealing background blur. Too bad the pic was a little overexposed.

Yesterday, I picked #3 right away for the overall quality and it happens to be the phone I own, so I'm petty happy. Go M8!

Why do you consider the Nexus 5 a potato camera? I've found it takes great photos (for a phone). It always gets the shot I want and with HDR+ I've been consistently impressed by the color representation.

It is true, and this demonstrates it perfectly. Its a horrible photo and very typical of the N5.

And you honestly think that over a thousand people chose the "worst" looking photo hoping it was taken by the N5. That's the conspiracy you think is happening right now?

There was no hope, it was obvious to anyone with an N5 that it was the N5 picture, there was no gamble there. They may as well have left the exif data in for all the difference it would have made.

I could easily tell which was the Nexus and which was the HTC One, because of their aspect ratio.

The Nexus 5 takes gorgeous pictures, and the new blur effect is amazing when it works well.

Honestly, any of these phones could have won. It was just the way the image on the N5 stood out because it was so different.

It stood out because it was horrible, and obviously from the N5, nexus fanbois voted for it, as they always vote for anything nexus.

Its an absolute truth demonstrated just about every day. The Nexus does no wrong even when it gets everything wrong. Thats sad. The Android version of iSheep, the nSheep.

As for the picture, the cup isnt in focus, the background is just more out of focus. Its very dark, grainy and looks like something from a camera phone from 2005. Its obviously from the N5 and looks like most pictures i took with mine.

I'm not a Nexus 5 fanboy and I chose #4. We were voting purely on blur effect. The Nexus 5 is definitely the worst camera in the group as far as overall image quality. But, the ability in this scenario for it to blur the background was pretty good. Also, I believe Jerry could have toned out some of the blur if he chose, for those that think it was to blurry. Not the phones fault he didn't do that.

Posted via Android Central App

Did you miss the fact that the mug was also blurry? It's not the best blur 'effect' at all, it's just blurry.

The mug is slightly blurry, but that's pretty common with a Nexus 5 camera in general right? What I'm looking at is how much more blur there was in the background compared to the focal point (mug). The mug looks crystal clear compared to the background, even though its not.

Posted via Android Central App

Any camera can do that with manual focus, and a lot better than the N5 did here. It doesn't even look like one of those blur effect shots, it just looks like a misfocus.

I have to disagree. If it were a simple mis-focus the entire image would be equally blurry, and its not. The mug is obviously cleaner than the rest of the image. Also, if I were scrolling through a series of images, as we do often in this forum or social media; I wouldn't have even noticed a blur effect in any photo other than #4. Meaning the others didn't have a substantial difference between a normal shot and a blur shot. Which is why I chose #4. You make a decent argument and I can't say you are wrong because this is obviously all opinionated.

Posted via Android Central App

The blur in most of those shots can just be out down to depth of field anyway, you don't even need an effect to get that.. effect. The N5 picture looks like the camera tried to focus on the mug, failed, and the background is just lack of depth of field.

Frankly all 4 are bad examples of the effect.

I'm sorry, but lay off the crack. How many times in one article do you need to claim (wrongly I might add) that the n5 takesxcrap photos. Far from reality bud. Don't be so butthurt.

You easily could tell the photo was from the N5. I honestly have no problem admitting that I bet people chose it just to be those "Nexus Elite" you see all over the internet.

Posted via Android Central App

I think it was a pretty poor choice using a black mug as the focal point. It's very hard to tell how much of the blur fades into the focal point in all 4 photos. Yes, the nexus blur is dramatic but did we lose any small details on the mug? Pretty hard to say...

People with Nexus5's voted for #4 regardless because they knew it was shot by a nexus. they could tell from the aspect ratio. favoritism

They could tell because of how hideous it is. It was clearly from the N5, no other phone produces pictures that look like that mess.

I agree that the photo from the N5 is pretty bad in terms of clarity, but you are definitely a little wound up about it :)

I knew the winner would be the N5, because it was awful. Most of the Nexus fanbois (which infest this site) recognised the horribleness of the picture and voted for it.

Its dark, has no detail, nothing is really in focus properly, the background is just even more out of focus. Vile.

When it comes to this camera feature, people want lots of blur rather than subtle, it seems.

I felt like Goldilocks; not enough blur, too much blur, but this one looks just right. I thought #2 and #3 were a happy medium (I didn't even notice the clarity inside of the cup handle until reading the comments, though).

This was a fun poll, Jerry. Out of curiosity, what did you use for the fountain picture?

Posted via AC App on HTC One

WOW, People clearly don't understand how lens blur works. #4 is the worst out of the 4. I mean even the subject is somewhat blurry! #3 to me is still the best.

WOW, you clearly don't understand how lens blur works. #3 is the worst out of the 4. I mean even the subject is somewhat blurry! #2 to me is still the best. (lol)

#2 and #3 are crystal clear inside the cup handle.
If you try to approximate a bokeh effect but your fake effect can't tell what should be in the foreground vs what should be in the back, then it sucks. Plain and simple.

#1 would have ran away with the poll if the effect weren't so subtle.

^^^ This. #1 is the winner, the sharp lines of the graphics on the box in the background within the cup handle is a clear giveaway that the bokeh is simulated.

#4 is just awful . . and i love my Nexus phone.

Haha yeah wtf people who voted the nexus image is a mess ! Testament to the run of rubbish cameras from Google.

The m8 has the best camera for sure !

Posted via Android Central App

Honestly I'm surprised how bad the M8 did with having 2 cameras. The chromecast on the box just looks so blocky.

Yeah I think that's the real takeaway here! Really poor showing considering the entire point of the dual camera system was to create better fake blur.

Actually, it looks like the software tried to perform the "depth" effect on the Chromecast image on the box, and that's why you see those artifacts. They seem fairly common for the M8's UFocus effect with high contrast. It's a neat idea, but I think HTC has a little ways to go before the software really works well.

I think that most people read the question as "which photo has the most blur" rather than "which photo uses blur effect to best simulate shallow depth of field."

#4 clearly is the blurriest, but the lack of focus on the intended focal point of the image defeats the purpose of using the effect in the first place.

Hilarious... The uproar the n5 has caused by having the audacity to be chosen as the best shot. The people pissed the most are the ones who chose the n5. I chose number 2 and I own an n5. OMG!

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Umm, isn't the Nexus 5 equivalent focal length right around 30mm? Like most of the other phones here... Even the One is really close at 28mm, it just has a different aspect ratio sensor (16:9). Either there's a bunch of reviews listing the wrong focal length for the N5, or there's something wrong with the samples, or I'm imagining things...

Other than that, I appreciate Jerry going for a double blind effect or just taking the pictures as simply as possible (let's face it, most people don't fiddle with settings much on a smartphone camera)... HOWEVER, I think it'd be a more interesting comparison if we took a decent camera with an equivalent lens (though I'm not sure if there's a fast enough lens at 30mm equivalent on APS-C DSLR, at least if keeping the exercise affordable, maybe the 14mm f2.5 on M43) and use THAT as a baseline... THEN adjust blur on the phones that give you the option to match. Several of the phones might do better or worse depending on how much of the effect is applied and how much it processes the image, having different levels of blur on the poll seems pointless (unless only the N5 gives you the option to adjust? still overdone tho)... Unless the point was to poll how much people like over processing (think Instagram is evidence enough of that tho).

I had cast my vote for #4. I don't own a n5. I've always bought Motorola. I read through all the comments after voting last night and could see many valid points which opposed my vote. I put credence in those comments.
As for AC member 'rovex' and all those who jumped on his bandwagon... WHAT A BUNCH OF PETTY WHINERS! You demonstrate the very reason Jerry did this as a blind poll! You didn't comment until the results were out making your opinions null and void. Your brand loyalty/hatred is showing!

Posted via Android Central App

The #2 is has the best result!! YOu can hardly see blur leak unlike the #3 that doesn't blur the center of the mug holder and #4 with so much blur leak. -_-

Just because #4 has more blur effect, you voted for it?

I am using an Xperia device and the Background defocus camera extension has an option to make it more blur or less blur after a shot. I wonder if any of these app has this option too.

I can't speak for any other phone other than the the one I have, but the Nexus 5 has that option. Via the camera app though, which should now be available to all the devices tested.

Posted from a Nexus 5

There will always be greater background defocus when the subject you are focusing on is closer. Not a fair test. Looking at the background defocus and the quality of the picture, I still feel the HTC is the best here.

I said it in that post and I'll say it here. I don't think most people looked at the 4 pictures and said "This one looks best, I'll vote for it."

I think they saw #4 was the most different, and voted for it. This result is lame. I'd have kept the strength of the effect similar to the other pictures. The voting would have been much different.

Genius. Instead of installing two cameras, Google just takes a shot, moves it and takes another one. That's what I call efficiency :D

It's not very efficient to have to choose a special mode to take a picture. You have to know you want to blur it before you take it.
Unlike the M8, where you can do it on any of your pictures.

HTC should have packed in more pixels for that depth sensor. I'm almost certain that's the reason it's so easy to spot the lines/halos surrounding objects on different focus planes.

wow this is nice, jerry for some reason beyond me put the nexus 5 blur slider to the max, of course it would look awful, but is nice to see that he tried to screw the nexus 5 and he got screwed haha nice internet you guys are awesome sometimes.

the G Pro 2 took a nice picture but the "defocus" is kinda weak and based on the description of how it works I think the others are ahead.

The GS5 looks pretty good but in the handle of the mug it isn't defocusing as much as out of it.

The HTC One M8 has the best looking "defocus" meaning it looks the most optically correct but like the GS5 it has some issues inside the mug handle.

The Nexus 5 does well but it has some issues, it seems especially around crossing lines. again around the mug handle there is some sloppiness where the Chromebox box crosses the mug. Also why'd you turn the blur up to 11? That might be why it fell apart.

All in all I think each implementation does some things right but none seem to be prefect but all have the ability to give great results in the right conditions.

This comment was fair, balanced, informative, accurate, AND positive. What are you doing on the internet?

Posted via Android Central App

Personally this is a about what camera did the blur effect the best.
To me #4 clearly made the mug POP the most , which is what the blur effect is about.

I have nexus 5 and love the camera and 4 was what I choose in the blind pool.
HTC extra camera and tricks did it no favors, I still think it's camera is sub par. This only confirms it more for me.

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It was a bad test. Blur on the Nexus 5 is adjustable and here it's maxed out - - the default is quite subtle . Properly done the target will indeed be in sharp focus and the blur credible. I wouldn't have voted for it on the basis of this pic, but having seen what all these phones can do I don't doubt the Nexus could have won, the Google Camera implementation on the N5 is a huge improvement. Regardless, for all the Nexus haters get a life.