First impressions: Apple’s iOS 10.1 brings Portrait Mode to iPhone 7 Plus

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iOS 10.1 brings Portrait Mode (and depth of field effects) to the iPhone 7 Plus

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When Apple launched the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus back in September, the keynote teased us with the promise of DSLR-like bokeh effects. The software that enables this so-called Portrait mode just became available today with the consumer release of iOS 10.1.

Portrait mode is technically still in beta, and it's only available for the iPhone 7 Plus. While this feature is largely software-based, it presumably utilizes the dual-lens camera to gauge the depth of the scene. The result is a more realistic bokeh than software-only options like "tilt shift" effects and selective blur filters seen in third-party camera apps.

The background bokeh (blur) in this Portrait mode-shot image ensures that the dog's face is the emphasis of the photo(Credit: Will Shanklin / New Atlas)

A shallow depth of field helps emphasize the subject of the photo and can be used to great artistic effect. But eagle-eyed observers will notice that Portrait mode falls short of true DSLR quality. DSLR cameras achieve depth of field effects primarily through camera aperture, but smartphone cameras, with their wide-angle lenses and small imaging sensors, are not equally capable.

When using the iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait mode effects must be applied during shooting. Shooting in Portrait mode saves two shots: One with the depth effect, and one without. It also requires you to stand back from your subject at least 19 inches, which is the minimum focusing distance of the telephoto lens.

Not quite DSLR quality: Notice the blur and aberrations along the edges of the iPhone box(Credit: Will Shanklin / New Atlas)

Still, Apple's Portrait mode is superior to similar features found in phones like the HTC One M8 and the Huawei Honor 8. While imperfect, it's a unique feature that helps distinguish the iPhone 7 Plus' camera from the otherwise superior shooters in the new Google Pixel series.

The remainder of the iOS 10.1 updates are mostly bug fixes and performance boosters. The most notable pertain to the Photos, Maps and Messages apps.

In the Photos app, 10.1 fixes issues pertaining to blurred screens and app crashes. The grid view of the Photos app has also been improved to better display wide color gamut photos. In the Maps app, representation of the Japanese public transit system has improved. The Messages app adds replay options to new-to-iOS 10 animation effects.

Alongside iOS 10.1, these maintenance-focused updates are reflected in watchOS 3.1, tvOS 10.0.1, Safari 10.0.1, and macOS Sierra 10.12.1, which Apple also released today. To update the operating system on your iPhone, navigate to Settings > General > Software Update.

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