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
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
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.