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DxOMark: The full-frame Leica M10 is 'on par' with the best APS-C sensors

by on Dec.15, 2017, under Reviews


DxOMark has just finished a new sensor test, and for once it’s not a “highest rated camera in the world” announcement. Instead, the testing and consulting company put the new Leica M10 to the test to see how it compares to the rest of the luxury brand’s lineup. The results: they’re calling it “a classic reinvented.”

Unlike the top-scoring Nikon D850 and Sony a7R III—both of which scored 100 and sit at the top of DxO’s full-frame sensor rankings—the M10 pulls in a meeker score of 86. However, that still makes it the second highest scoring Leica ever, just behind the Leica SL with an overall score of 88.

What’s intriguing is that, in terms of sensor performance, the Leica M10 actually scores “more on par” with the best APS-C chips DxO has tested, outperforming them significantly only in the low-light ISO category thanks to its physically larger sensor:

Image: DxOMark

DxO summed up these results well for us in an email:

Overall, better image quality can be found elsewhere for less money, but the Leica offers first-class engineering, and a digital camera with similar proportions to analog M cameras will be hugely appealing to Leica enthusiasts. Add to that compatibility with almost all Leica lenses ever made, as well as its simplicity of operation, and the M10 will be an attractive proposition to those who appreciate the quality of the Leica system.

No doubt a good chunk of our readers will bold-face and underline what DxO said above: “better image quality can be found elsewhere for less money.” But does the massive lens library, top-notch engineering, ‘simplicity of operation,’ and that pretty red dot help balance out the cost at all?

Head over to DxOMark to read the full review, and let us know what you think about these results in the comments.



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Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II Review

by on Dec.14, 2017, under Reviews


The PowerShot G9 X Mark II is an ultra-compact camera that features a larger-than-average 1″-type CMOS sensor. It serves as the entry-level model in Canon’s Gx-X series, and has an MSRP of $529. Being the entry-level model, Canon has given the camera a touchscreen-based interface that’s will be familiar to smartphone owners who are looking to trade up to something better.

The main problems with the original G9 X were performance related. Continuous shooting was slow, especially when using Raw or continuous autofocus, the menus were sluggish and the battery didn’t last for long.

The G9 X Mark II took care of most of the performance problems, due mostly to its new DIGIC 7 processor. The burst rate is faster, buffer larger and interface snappier. While improved, battery life still isn’t great, though an ‘Eco mode’ gives you another 80 shots above the industry-standard CIPA estimate of 235. Canon also added in-camera Raw processing, Bluetooth capability and improved image stabilization for video shooting.

Key Features

  • 20.1MP 1″-type BSI CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 7 processor
  • 28-84mm equivalent F2-4.9 lens
  • Built-in neutral density filter
  • 3″ touchscreen LCD
  • Up to 8.2 fps burst shooting
  • 1080/60p video capture
  • In-camera Raw conversion
  • Wi-Fi with NFC and Bluetooth

The G9 X II’S 20MP sensor is found on all of Canon’s 1″-type compacts, and is likely the same one found on Sony’s RX100 III. The DIGIC 7 processor is what took care of the original G9 X’s performance issues, and it makes a world of difference. As before, there’s a built-in 3-stop ND filter, with on/off/auto settings. While essentially all cameras now have Wi-Fi, the Bluetooth feature is a nice extra, as it allows for very quick re-pairing between camera and smartphone.

Compared to…

The camera that is most similar to the G9 X Mark II is Sony’s original RX100. It has an older sensor than the G9 X II, but it’s closer in price than its successor, the RX100 II. We’re throwing in the slightly more expensive Panasonic LX10, as well as the G9 X II’s step-up model, the G7 X II, into the chart below.

Canon G9 X II Canon G9 X Sony RX100 Canon G7 X II Panasonic LX10
MSRP $529 $529 $449 $699 $699
Sensor 20MP BSI-CMOS 20MP CMOS 20MP BSI-CMOS
Lens (equiv) 28-84mm 28-100mm 24-100mm 24-72mm
Max aperture F2.0-4.9 F1.8-4.9 F1.8-2.8 F1.4-2.8
LCD 3″ fixed 3″ tilting
Touchscreen Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Burst rate

8.1 fps (AF-S)
5.3 fps (AF-C)

6 fps (AF-S)
4.3 fps (AF-C)

10 fps (AF-S)
2.5 fps (AF-C)

8 fps (AF-S)
5.4 fps (AF-C)
10 fps (AF-S)
6 fps (AF-C)
Video 1080/60p UHD 4K/30p
Wi-Fi Yes, with NFC+BT Yes, with NFC No Yes, with NFC Yes
Battery life 235 shots 220 shots 330 shots 265 shots 260 shots
Dimensions
(W x H x D)
98 x 58 x 31 mm 98 x 58 x 31 mm 102 x 58 x 36 mm 106 x 61 x 42 mm 106 x 60 x 42 mm
Weight 206 g 209 g 240 g 319 g 310 g

Look at the spec comparisons, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between the G9 X Mark II and its predecessor. Same sensor, same lens, same display. That’s because most of the changes are under the hood, which boost its burst rate, battery life (barely) and reduces overall sluggishness.

The G9 X II gets mixed results in terms of spec compared to its peers, though again, it’s an entry-level model. On one hand, it’s the smallest and lightest in the group, with a fast burst rate and Wi-Fi with all the trimmings. Its lens is the real weakness: it’s slow (more on that below) and has a focal range that doesn’t have a lot of reach. While better than on the original model, battery life on the G9 X II is poor, so bring along a spare battery if you’re out for the day.

Lens comparison

Just like ‘equivalent focal length’ that we use throughout the site, equivalent apertures allow you to compare image quality potential across cameras with different sensor sizes by taking sensor size into account. The equivalent aperture figure gives a clear idea of how two lenses compare in terms of depth-of-field. It’s also related to diffraction, which reduces sharpness as the aperture is stopped down. In other words, the higher the F-number, the softer the images will be.

Finally, equivalent aperture also gives an idea of low-light performance, since it also describes how much light is available across the sensor’s area. However, differences in sensor performance mean this can only be used as a guide, rather than an absolute measure.

https://www.gstatic.com/charts/loader.jsLensEquivalentApertures([“Equivalent focal length (mm)”,”Sony RX100″,”Sony RX100 III”,”Canon G7 X II”,”Panasonic LX10″,”Canon G9 X II”], [[24,null,””,4.90909090909091,”Sony RX100 III at 24mm: F4.9″,4.90909090909091,”Canon G7 X II at 24mm: F4.9″,3.8181818181818183,”Panasonic LX10 at 24mm: F3.8″,null,””],[25,null,””,5.454545454545455,”Sony RX100 III at 25mm: F5.5″,null,””,4.0909090909090917,”Panasonic LX10 at 25mm: F4.1″,null,””],[26,null,””,6.0000000000000009,”Sony RX100 III at 26mm: F6.0″,null,””,4.90909090909091,”Panasonic LX10 at 26mm: F4.9″,null,””],[27,null,””,null,””,null,””,5.454545454545455,”Panasonic LX10 at 27mm: F5.5″,null,””],[28,4.90909090909091,”Sony RX100 at 28mm: F4.9″,6.8181818181818183,”Sony RX100 III at 28mm: F6.8″,null,””,6.0000000000000009,”Panasonic LX10 at 28mm: F6.0″,5.454545454545455,”Canon G9 X II at 28mm: F5.5″],[29,null,””,null,””,null,””,6.8181818181818183,”Panasonic LX10 at 29mm: F6.8″,null,””],[31,null,””,null,””,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Panasonic LX10 at 31mm: F7.6″,6.8181818181818183,”Canon G9 X II at 31mm: F6.8″],[32,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Sony RX100 III at 32mm: F7.6″,6.0000000000000009,”Canon G7 X II at 32mm: F6.0″,null,””,null,””],[33,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Canon G9 X II at 33mm: F7.6″],[34,7.6363636363636367,”Sony RX100 at 34mm: F7.6″,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””],[37,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””,8.7272727272727284,”Canon G9 X II at 37mm: F8.7″],[39,null,””,null,””,6.8181818181818183,”Canon G7 X II at 39mm: F6.8″,null,””,9.5454545454545467,”Canon G9 X II at 39mm: F9.5″],[43,8.7272727272727284,”Sony RX100 at 43mm: F8.7″,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””],[46,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””,10.90909090909091,”Canon G9 X II at 46mm: F10.9″],[53,9.5454545454545467,”Sony RX100 at 53mm: F9.5″,null,””,null,””,null,””,12.272727272727273,”Canon G9 X II at 53mm: F12.3″],[54,null,””,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Canon G7 X II at 54mm: F7.6″,null,””,null,””],[65,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””,13.363636363636365,”Canon G9 X II at 65mm: F13.4″],[66,10.90909090909091,”Sony RX100 at 66mm: F10.9″,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””],[70,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Sony RX100 III at 70mm: F7.6″,null,””,null,””,null,””],[72,null,””,null,””,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Panasonic LX10 at 72mm: F7.6″,null,””],[81,12.272727272727273,”Sony RX100 at 81mm: F12.3″,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””],[84,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””,13.363636363636365,”Canon G9 X II at 84mm: F13.4″],[94,13.363636363636365,”Sony RX100 at 94mm: F13.4″,null,””,null,””,null,””,null,””],[100,13.363636363636365,”Sony RX100 at 100mm: F13.4″,null,””,7.6363636363636367,”Canon G7 X II at 100mm: F7.6″,null,””,null,””]])

That pink line represents the G9 X II and, as you can see, it quickly ascends to the top of graph. Once you hit around 35mm, the equivalent aperture is ~F7.6 equivalent, which is getting into diffraction territory. At its worst the G9 X II is about a stop slower than the RX100, which most likely gives the latter a slight image quality advantage. The step-up model from the G9 X II, the G7 X II, is roughly 1.5 stops faster. This loss of low light capability and potential for control over depth-of-field is the price you pay to keep the camera so pocketable.



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Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

by on Dec.13, 2017, under Reviews


Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Like it or not, 2017 is the year that background-blurring Portrait Modes gained major traction in smartphone photography. Apple and Google both offer improved versions of the mode in their latest devices, making for better-looking results all around. But the two manufacturers take somewhat different approaches to the process, each with different limitations and strengths. Take a look some side-by-side shots to see how they square up.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/60sec 4.459mm ISO 382

Because the Pixel 2 back cameras use both a depth map (stereo) generated from the split pixels as well as ‘segmentation’ (which uses machine learning to identify people / faces vs. background), both subjects in this photo are largely in focus. This is a result one wouldn’t expect from real optics, since the person behind should also be blurred. This doesn’t always happen with the Pixel 2, but sometimes it does if the subjects are close to one another and both identified as people / faces. Sometimes it’s actually desirable, but at other times it can feel unnatural.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/40sec 4.459mm ISO 400

Because of the F1.8 lens and HDR+ noise averaging (with alignment of images), the Pixel 2 can take photos of even slightly moving subjects in low light. Again note the progressive blur here: the back of the baby seat is only slightly blurred as are the switches in the background but the trees against the sky very far away are far more blurred.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120 6.6mm ISO 80

Here the iPhone’s longer – albeit slower (F2.8 vs. F1.8) – lens renders the background blurrier than the similar Pixel 2 shot. Note the odd dark/light patterns in the out-of-focus highlights though. This is commonly seen in out-of-focus highlights on iPhone shots, but not on the Pixel’s shots.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/209sec 4.459mm ISO 50

The background is a bit less blurred vs. the iPhone shot, probably largely because of the shorter focal length. Note the algorithm has mistook the bike’s steerer tube as part of the background (or foreground). Note the slightly darker centers in the out-of-focus highlights. More on this in the next photo…

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/209sec 4.459mm ISO 50

Lenses in smartphones have complex aspherical elements in them, which can lead to somewhat unpleasant disc-shaped blur that lends itself to things like donut-hole and generally ‘busy’ bokeh. Portrait mode helps mitigate this effect by blurring background and foreground pixels enough that these odd effects are essentially ‘evened out’. But not perfectly: the pixels in the dark rings in the center of each OOF highlight are still replaced by translucent (larger) discs of the same color, meaning there will still be some dark translucent circles in those areas. It’s subtle, since most of the pixels in those OOF highlights are light, not dark, but it’s still there if you look for it (in the previous photo).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 320

Two things of note in this iPhone shot here: (1) note the patterning within the out-of-focus highlights (it’s not a uniform disc) and (2) the blown highlights on the wood since HDR is shy to activate in Portrait Mode. Often tapping on the bright overexposed portion in your preview will darken the image enough to force the iPhone to turn on its HDR mode, but results can be inconsistent. The Pixel 2 cameras in comparison are always operating in HDR+ mode, even in Portrait mode, and are less prone to this.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 89

Note the far better exposure vs. the iPhone: HDR+ ensured the wood in Portrait mode shot did not blow out.

Also, note the brightest out-of-focus highlight, just to the left of the plant. It does *not* have a darker middle as we saw in the bike shot. This is because in the original shot (next photo), this highlight is completely blown, so the algorithm isn’t starting with the donut-hole disc we saw in the out-of-focus yellow lights in the bike shot. Completely blown out-of-focus highlights will look smooth and uniform – more so than with the iPhone 8.*

*It’s important to keep in mind that since the blurs are largely algorithms, some aspects of the bokeh may be updated simply by software updates. The comments we’re making throughout here are only really applicable for the software versions we shot the images with.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 89

Note the three major out-of-focus highlights just to the left of the plant. The darker ones show donut-hole bokeh but are dim enough that they get completely blurred into surrounding pixels in the Portrait mode shot (previous photo). The blown out-of-focus highlight to the left of them gets blurred to a pleasing uniform disc, without a dark center (which was not the case in the yellow out-of-focus highlights in the bike shot, which had slightly darker centers).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 218

Sometimes, with very close-up objects, we’ve noticed the Pixel 2 cameras do not blur the background much, if at all. Compare this Portrait image to the original image (next photo).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 218

Non blurred version of previous image. It’s not much different. We haven’t noticed this issue with the iPhone.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 200

The sprouts in the back cause artifacts in this image (see next image for comparison). This can happen with dual camera setups, since the two cameras often see very shifted stereo pairs for close objects. If the two cameras see two different things at what it thinks is the same location in the shot, this can cause artifacts not as easily caused from less separated stereo pairs (although lower separation comes with its host of issues as well).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 127

The Pixel 2 cameras’ stereo pair viewpoints are less than 1mm apart (roughly the diameter of the lens), and appear to have fewer issues with artifacts when shooting close-up objects against farther backgrounds. Since overall stereo disparity in the pair isn’t drastic, there’s less of a chance that the two perspectives see different things at the same image location. Note the sprouts here don’t get blurred oddly as in the iPhone image.

Also note the progressive blur in the bread, with the closer parts of the bread less blurred than the further parts. This is because Google uses the stereo pair of images to generate an actual depth map. The subject in focus shows no stereo disparity, objects progressively behind show more and more disparity while objects in front show more disparity but in the *opposite* direction. This is how the algorithms can generate essentially a ‘heat map’ of further and further behind the subject (or in front) from which it decides how much blur to apply to each pixel.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 320

The iPhone version of this shot has more blown highlights than the Pixel 2 version, presumably because HDR did not kick on automatically.

Also, there are more depth map errors around the subject’s hair, again possibly because of how close to the camera she is (where the two cameras are likely to see different things at the same image location).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 147

The Pixel 2 version of this shot has far fewer depth map errors around our subject, particularly her hair.

Also, since HDR+ is always active on Pixel 2 cameras, the captured dynamic range is far higher.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 32

We found the iPhone to struggle a little more with autofocus in backlight and low light, but it did nail focus here for the most part.

Interestingly, the iPhone appears to preserve more of the out-of-focus highlights in the background than the Pixel 2 (next photo).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/867sec 4.459mm ISO 50

The Pixel 2 appeared to struggle less with autofocus than the iPhone 8 Plus, nailing it here.

Of note though is that the Pixel 2 appears to have preserved fewer of the out-of-focus highlights (‘bokeh balls’ as we call them here around the office), or at least dimmed them compared to the more obvious ones in the iPhone shot. We wonder if this has something to do with the HDR+ algorithm, but are purely speculating.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 250

Often, the iPhone 8 Plus in Portrait Mode would overexpose high contrast scenes, instead of activating HDR mode. HDR seemed reticent to activate in Portrait mode, leading to the blown highlights on faces here.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 160

Tapping on the blown highlights resets dims the exposure and often forces HDR mode to activate. The Pixel 2 phones don’t have this issue, as they’re always operating in HDR+ mode.

Once exposure is adjusted though, the result is a very well-lit image with nice colors and convincing background blur.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 52

Since the Pixel 2 cameras are always operating in HDR+ mode, blown highlights are well-controlled here resulting in a well-exposed image. Sometimes with very high contrast scenes, though, HDR+ images can start looking a bit ‘crunchy’ (the same thing happens in HDR merging software depending on the ‘radius’ setting).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 25

Here the iPhone 8 Plus produces a more pleasing result, with fewer depth map artifacts. It also preserves the warm tone of the sunset scene. Auto White Balance was generally stable and produced desirable results across many different shooting scenarios on the iPhone 8 Plus.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/1560sec 4.459mm ISO 86

The Pixel 2 cameras often show rather extreme variation in White Balance from shot to shot. Quite often, it neutralizes color casts too much: for example, here, it should have chosen a white balance closer to Daylight instead of neutralizing the warm sunset tones.

Also, when tones in the background and foreground are very similar, depth map errors can result. Note the errors around the hair of our subject, which might have been hard to distinguish from the dark trees in the background.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/1560sec 4.459mm ISO 61

Another example of depth map errors due to objects possibly appearing to similar to one another. Look at the artifacts around the hair on the right side of our subject and around her sunglasses. Next, look at how these regions might appear similar to one another in a lower resolution depth map by comparing to the un-blurred image (next photo)

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/1560sec 4.459mm ISO 61

You can see the areas of the blurred photo (previous) that contained artifacts are regions where the foreground and background (the hair vs. tree branches; the sunglasses vs. the dark background) might appear indistinguishable as you try and build a lower resolution depth map.

Another possibility is errors in segmentation, the process of identifying the entire foreground subject using machine learning.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 281

For such a complex scene, the Pixel 2 did remarkably well, choosing to blur more than the iPhone in this case (next photo).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 800

The iPhone also does well, but here keeps more foreground leaves in focus before extremely defocusing the farther background.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 281

Note the progressive blur: objects further in the background are blurred more than objects closer. This is because the depth map is generated from actual stereo measurements of how far an object is from the focus plane.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 500

Apple quoted with the iPhone 7 that it calculates 9 different layers when making its depth map. It presumably does so by a process of precalibration, where certain stereo disparities from the focus plane correlate with certain distances from it. We wonder if this might be why sometimes the subject looks somewhat cut-out from a far away background, if there aren’t enough objects behind the subject that fall within those 8 layers (or however many Apple is now using) before that 9th (hyperfocal or infinity) one.

Either that or the masking in this photo makes the subject look somewhat cut-out (see around the hair).

It’s impressive though that the arm rest in front of our subject is properly blurred.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 207

The blur in this image looks more natural and progressive to us. The colors leave a bit to be desired though, with somewhat desaturated, greenish skintones.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 159

This looks more natural to us than the ‘cut-out’ look of the iPhone image, interestingly. However, what’s odd is the color tuning, which is different from the front-facing camera (next photo).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 400

We can’t help but feel our subject appears more ‘cut out’ against the background here. We wonder if this has something to do with the number of layers of depth mapping, or a suboptimal masking process (around the hair particularly).

Skintones are more pleasing than with the Pixel 2 image, though.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F2.4 1/60sec 3.38mm ISO 149

The front facing camera oddly has a different color tuning than the back camera and, arguably, a bit more pleasing. Skintones are more magenta as opposed to the cool, sometimes greenish skintones with the rear camera.

It’s worth noting the iPhone 8’s front camera cannot do Portrait mode. The Pixel 2’s front camera does not have a dual-pixel sensor on its front camera, so performs this blur simply through a process of segmentation. That’s where machine learning comes in. Google trained a ‘convolutional neural network’ with nearly a million images of people (‘and their hats, sunglasses, and ice cream cones’ according to Principal Engineer Marc Levoy) to learn which pixels belong to people vs. not.

And impressive result, given the lack of a depth map. You won’t get the progressive gradual blur you get with the real camera, but for selfies this is probably ‘good enough’.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/60sec 4.459mm ISO 382

I’ve included this here because I just wouldn’t have expected a smartphone to generate an image like this if you were to ask me just a year or two ago. In low light, dual-pixel AF got focus (it’s a little soft because Portrait mode uses a digital crop, then upscales), and foreground and background blur are both well controlled. Look at the progressive foreground blur on the right side of the plastic food table.

The image remains clean thanks to multi-image averaging, while using 1/60s indoors to ensure at least some sharp shots of even a toddler.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 1250

The iPhone’s F2.8 aperture in Portrait mode (and smaller sensor), and likely the lack of the 9-frame image averaging HDR+ uses on the Pixel 2 results in many unusable Portrait mode images in low light. Compare this shot to the Pixel 2 one next…

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/60sec 4.459mm ISO 258

The use of a faster aperture (and likely larger sensor even after the digital crop) and 9-frame image averaging of HDR+ generally yields far more pleasing low light portraits on the Pixel 2 than on the iPhone 8 Plus.

HDR+ uses intelligent tile-based image alignment that can keep even moving subjects sharp by selecting appropriate ’tiles’ from the sharper images of the subject within the 9-frame buffer used for a single shot. (That’s right, the camera is constantly shooting 9 full-resolution images a second – which also ensures zero shutter lag).

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2
F1.8 1/60sec 4.442mm ISO 213

We’ve found some depth map errors can occur around high contrast edges. Note the dark rails surrounded by light backgrounds can cause problems. Still, this is a heck of a pleasing image of constantly moving toddler… *taken indoors on a smartphone*.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/3344sec 4.459mm ISO 51

Running toddler. Focused (well enough). Isolated from the background. Taken on a smartphone.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/294sec 6.6mm ISO 20

This is a good example of progressive blur with the iPhone 8 Plus. Note how the grass only a bit behind the subject is less blurred than the grass far behind the subject.

Furthermore, in this scenario, HDR *did* kick in in Portrait mode quite often, resulting in even exposures.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/5848sec 4.459mm ISO 61

This is another good example of the progressive blur thanks to the depth map on the Pixel 2: while all the grass and the background looked pretty much in focus in the original, the grass nearer to the subject is blurred less than the grass further away.

There are some artifacts around the subject’s hair, but that’s not surprising considering she was running toward me while I was running backward.

Again, this is a *smartphone* image!

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/585sec 6.6mm ISO 20

The extra telephoto reach of the iPhone is useful for further compressing foreground and background (and magnifying the background), which can be useful. The iPhone 8 Plus also tended to render more pleasing blue sky tones, and saturation generally.

And remember, since you’re shooting HEIF, you get extra storage space savings, and the advantages of 10-bit files with support for more colors thanks to the wide gamut P3 capture. Encoding in P3 gives the cameras a wider color palette to work with after Raw capture.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/2342sec 4.459mm ISO 51

Naturally there’s less compression with the Pixel phones due to their wider angle camera used in Portrait mode, but I quite like wide-angle portraiture.

Note the overall lower saturation, and somewhat bland skies. This is up to personal preference, but one thing to note is the Pixel cameras only output sRGB images. This means the color palette with which the camera can ‘draw’ is limited compared to recent iPhones. Google probably chose this method for now because sRGB is a good standard for most people, and Google doesn’t have a key advantage Apple has: a proper ecosystem. Apple is implementing P3 displays in all its devices, from its iPads to its Macbook Pros to its iMacs. That means you’ll actually be able to enjoy those extra colors in those P3 images – if they’re there – across all Apple devices.

The movie industry has already accepted P3 as the new standard (think of it like Adobe RGB but with more saturated reds, yellows and greens, but a little less cyan-green and cyan saturation). The video industry is eventually aiming for an even larger gamut: Rec.2020, which is only a bit smaller than ProPhoto RGB, and it’s great to see Apple pushing the stills industry to adopt it as well.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Sony a7R II
F1.8 1/4000sec 55mm ISO 100

Just for fun, we’ve included this full frame 55/1.8 shot. On a high resolution screen, or viewed at 1:1, the quality is obviously far above what either smartphone can produce. But flip to the next image and view it at an image level. For many people, the Pixel 2’s result is good enough. Especially for a device you have on you at all times that requires just one button press to take a well exposed, focused photo.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/4673sec 4.459mm ISO 62

Compared to the full-frame F1.8 previous shot, for many people this result will be good enough. Especially for a one button-press device you always have on you. Just be careful: don’t pixel peep.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/168sec 6.6mm ISO 20

The iPhone’s result is smudgier with more artifacts around the hair, but the blur and colors are quite pleasing.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/252sec 4.459mm ISO 51

Compared to the iPhone 8 Plus shot of this same scene, the Pixel 2 retains far more detail than the iPhone shot. This is likely due to its HDR+ mode that is always using multi-image averaging, therefore requiring less noise reduction. The iPhone shot (next) in comparison looks like it’s had a lot of noise reduction applied to it, at the cost of detail.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/120sec 6.6mm ISO 160

The smaller aperture on the iPhone combined with the less (or none at all) multi-frame image averaging in Portrait mode than the Pixel 2’s 9 shots means the iPhone 8 Plus uses more noise reduction than the Pixel 2. The result: a far smudgier image under the same (yet bright) conditions with far less detail.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/17sec 4.459mm ISO 413

In low light, HDR+ on the Pixel 2 ensures decent noise levels by aligning and averaging multiple images.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 8 Plus
F2.8 1/60sec 6.6mm ISO 1250

The combination of F2.8 and the requirement of 1/60s to avoid camera shake (no OIS on the telephoto lens), and possibly not as advanced multi-frame noise averaging as the Pixel 2 leaves a lot to be desired in low-light portraits on the iPhone.

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

iPhone 5c
F2.4 1/20sec 4.12mm ISO 50

This is in here to remind us of how far smartphone cameras have come. Compare this iPhone 5c image to the Pixel 2 image (next)…

Portrait mode shootout: iPhone 8 Plus vs Google Pixel 2

Pixel 2 XL
F1.8 1/120sec 4.459mm ISO 215

Indoors, but only what should be blurred is blurred! The subject is sharp and in focus, with a blurred background, thanks to a fast shutter speed, HDR+ multi-image averaging with alignment so not much noise reduction is required, and a proper depth map to gradually blur subjects further from the focus plane.

And having this sort of a camera in your pocket at all times means you can capture fleeting moments like when your daughter doesn’t want you to leave for work.

Imagine what’s to come…



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