Everyone's got a post-focusing or lens blur effect going on right now, from OEMs and their flagship devices like the Xperia Z2, HTC One (M8) and Galaxy S5 to Google's own camera app. While they all do sort of the same thing, they're actually more different than you might think. Today we put the four up against each other to crown a winner. Who do you think blurs the best?
For our video we set up a single scene including objects scattered throughout the foreground, mid-ground and background. Each device took a shot of that scene to show you just how quickly, effectively and cleanly they worked. While they all offered post-editing effects, they were in no way identical or even equal. The major differences to be found were in whether you could change the point of focus after the shot was taken or simply play around with the degree of blur in the out of focus area. The major points are covered below the video.
Galaxy S5: Selective Focus
When I first saw the Galaxy S5 at Mobile World Congress I was a bit stumped as to how Samsung managed to mess up such a seemingly cool feature as Selective Focus. It took me quite a while to get the scene set up right to actually capture a shot in the right way, but the limitations were obvious. Even once you get the shot right, you only have the option between changing the focal point from either foreground, background, or pan focus (with everything in focus). It's spotty, a bit clumsy and not that impressive, even after I've had plenty more time with the S5's camera.
Xperia Z2: Background Defocus
Everyone raves about the Xperia Z2's camera, and for pretty good reason: the 20.7 MP shooter is amongst the best on an Android smartphone. But quietly sitting in the camera modes on the Z2 is Background Defocus, a mode that allows you to play around with the degree and type of blur in images. You can't change the point of focus, but the ability to blur sideways, vertically or in a more traditional circular fashion is a pretty cool addition. Even more cool is the slider bar that lets you adjust the degree of blur in the out of focus area. I really like the Z2's Defocus feature but it seriously misses out by not having selective focus possibilities and it is a little temperamental, pushing the focal point away from where you actually focused.
HTC One (M8): UFocus
The almighty Duo Camera is a pretty serious hardware addition to the HTC One (M8), but is it all that? Sort of. The best thing about the Duo Camera's UFocus feature is that it is always available as a standard editing effect when you take a photo. You don't need to set a shot up in a very specific way like the S5, and it's not a special mode you have to enable like on the Z2. Once you've taken a shot on the M8, you simply go into the Edit settings and you'll see UFocus as an option. Of course, the shot still needs to be UFocus-friendly, but you can change the point of focus after the fact by utilizing the depth information captured by the second lens on the back. It's not perfect, and you can't adjust the degree of blur, but it's pretty good.
Nexus 5 (or any KitKat device): Google Camera
No-one would expect the Nexus 5 to perform exceptionally well on a camera test, but after the camera fixes brought about in Android 4.4.1 and 4.4.2, combined with the awesome new Google Camera, we have a serious contender on our hands. Not only has Google Camera fixed a lot of those irritating issues on the Nexus 5, like constant refocusing and a painfully slow autofocus, the Google Camera's Lens Blur is a real ripper. Admittedly, it's a little clumsy to operate, requiring you to slightly raise the entire device while keeping the subject centered in order for it to capture depth information, but if you can get this simple gesture down, the results are fantastic.
The final verdict
You can not only change the point of focus after the fact but you also have a slider to change the amount of blur in the photo too: the perfect combination of all the devices above. And the best part about it is the fact that it is a free app available in the Play Store for any device running Android KitKat. This means you don't even need to buy a flagship device to get what I consider to be the best post-focusing/lens blur experience available. Sure the Duo Camera does it without a gesture, but considering it's a pretty easy action to get used to, it performs better than the others and it's a free install for a whole range of phones, it's a clear winner for me. So what are you waiting for? You can grab the Google Camera below!
What's the best camera app in your opinion? Do you think post-focusing and lens blur are essential features or silly gimmicks?