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iPhone XR photos, and how Portrait Mode works

A look at some of the photos I took with Apple's newest iPhone (and a test of Portrait Mode's limits).

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Scott Stein
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The iPhone XR and its cameras promise quite a lot of the XS' punch. And they deliver! Here's a first test over the last week in New York. Seen here: The front-facing TrueDepth camera takes Portrait photos just like the XS does.

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Another front-facing portrait photo. Yes, like the XS, my face looks nicer (and a bit smoother) in photos compared to last year's X.

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The rear wide-angle camera has Portrait Mode, too, but it's applied via AI, with a bokeh effect added to simulate depth. David Katzmaier posed nicely for my first test.

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Bokeh blur effects can be adjusted to create extra effect. It worked really well, and mostly seemed natural.

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The same photo, but with the effect removed.

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Wide-angle portrait shots use the single rear f1.8 lens, instead of how the XS creates portrait photos using its extra f2.4 telephoto lens. Shots end up seeming farther away at the same phone distance.

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Bridget Carey, standing in the hallway.

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I went closer, but had to get the phone pretty close to frame her where the XS would frame a portrait photo.

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Ty Pendlebury, in the office at a comfortable distance.

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Significantly closer to Ty. Faces end up looking more detailed than XS portraits in lower light, but faces can also have a more wide-angle look.

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Joe Kaminski also helped test the camera.

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Joe, the close up portrait.

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All the portrait tests I tried worked. Alfred Ng, at our office party.

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But, Portrait mode only works on people, like Marrian Zhou here. The mode literally won't work unless a person is detected by the camera app's AI.

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Aside from the lack of a telephoto rear lens, the rest of the iPhone XR's camera features are XS-identical. I took some shots around the office in midtown. Smart HDR is onboard, helping some shots look sharper.

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Some cool park benches and a mural a few blocks away.

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Getting close to a flower. No 2x optical zoom means you'll need to get creative with close-ups. There is digital zoom, but I'd use it sparingly.

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A sculpture garden in Madison Square Park (this isn't Portrait Mode).

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This crab on the sidewalk looks nice.

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Close-up on some office mints. 

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Taking some shots into the sun, early in the morning.

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Rubble, at a construction site nearby.

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Outdoor shots look really great, colors bright and contrasts handled well.

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Let's look at digital zoom. The Empire State Building, far off, in regular wide angle.

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At about 2.5x digital zoom, the photo still looks decent enough to share.

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But at 5x, it's really looking rough. (The iPhone XS' 5x zoom fares a lot better because some of it is optical.)

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Early morning, on Broadway. That building's collecting a lot of light.

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Getting close to the foosball table.

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Close-up with the Amiibo collection.

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A leaf I found in New Jersey, around 9 a.m.

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Night shots can sometimes look good, but can also get a little blurry if the camera's not held super steady. Near-total darkness on my walk home.

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My local train station, well after sunset.

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NJT commuting madness, taken with the front 7-megapixel camera.

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A shot between the seats on the NJT train. Welcome to commuting infinity.

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Standpipes always make nice test photos.

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This beautiful dog can't take advantage of Portrait mode, because it doesn't recognize pets. Boo. The dog still looks great... but if you want the best pet portrait photos, get an iPhone XS or a Google Pixel 3.

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Another night test shot, using digital zoom on some lawn skeletons.

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It was super bright here near Penn Station, but I loved the way it looked.

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Portrait mode only works on people, but I was curious to test its limits. Here's what I found. This wig mannequin was recognized, and bokeh effect added.

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Portrait mode also recognized this inflatable football dude.

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It even recognized this sculpted face.

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It didn't recognize this, though. (The frame doesn't go yellow.)

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Sorry, squirrel. No portrait mode for you.

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This sculpture was not recognized as a person.

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Sorry, lovely dog. No Portrait mode on the XR for you this year.

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And yeah, it didn't work with fruit. But stay tuned for lots more in-depth camera testing and comparisons soon.

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