iPhone Vs. Hasselblad X1D: The Bokeh Comparison

When it comes to background blur, or what we photographers like to call bokeh, it’s a well-known thing that smartphones aren’t the best. In the recent years, however, they have improved, thanks to the dual camera systems and pixel separation algorithms. They have improved so much that some may be tempted to say they are on par with some of the best professional cameras out there. Marques Brownlee decided to see for himself if that was the case and compared the current best smartphones on the market against the Hasselblad X1D.

The iPhone X, the Note 2, and the Pixel 2 all are fantastic smartphones with more than capable cameras. They all can separate the subject from the background in one way or another to create some sort of fake background blur to mimic the effect of the shallow depth of field we can create with a bigger sensor camera.

In the video above, Brownlee shows how they stack up against one of the most portable medium-format cameras, the Hasselblad X1D. Putting them next to such a camera makes it even harder for smartphones to keep up, or at least it should. But looking at the results, in some scenarios, the phones actually perform quite well and I’m sure some people that don’t know anything about photography wouldn’t quite notice the difference. As a photographer, it’s clear that the camera still has an advantage, especially for non-human subjects as shown by Brownlee.

What do you think of the results? Do you use the portrait mode feature often or do you think it’s just a gimmick? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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11 Comments

Pretty amazing stuff. How long until we can change ligh direction in post?

Phil Stefans's picture

Already done...check out Anthropics PortraitPro...you can make some amazing changes to lighting in it...

It is crazy. With in-phone HDR the common man can take some great pics with a smartphone. What's next in the smartphone? Auto tone-mapping?

Zac The Photographer's picture

Google has figured out how to do Photo Bokeh via machine learning. I think they're about 18 months away from being able to give us Bokeh in Video. That's when dslr manufacturers should be worried

Ryan Cooper's picture

I don't know about that, while phone makers are getting some impressive results with this sort of thing, they are still a long way from fully offering a true competitor to a DSLR.

For example, even though this simulated bokeh is decent you still aren't getting the effect of a portrait lens as the phone lenses are very wide angle, where as portrait lenses are generally telephoto in order to provide a more flattering perspective.

The other big one is that post-processed bokeh is just blurring, it can't emulate the physics of light. (though it my be able to one day but I'm not sure how they would tell the difference between a bright element in the frame and a light source). This is why in the example images in the video above that feature christmas lights in the background there is such a big difference between the phones and the hassy. The phones are unable to simulate spherically aberration caused by light sources within the frame.

Finally, the other big one, at least for me, I that I feel the user experience of operating a phone during a photoshoot kind of sucks. ;) Rather than a stable grip with a viewfinder and ergonomic shutter button, a phone has to be awkwardly held in front of me and I have to tap a non-tactile control on a touch screen.

I also think the days of smart phones are numbered. Once the tech arrives that truly allows for inconspicuous wearables that allow for a detailed heads-up display such as a say a contact lens that can project anything right into our vision I feel that smart phones will be very quickly forgotten. I also think a wearable like that would improve the value of dedicated cameras rather than competing with them. (imagine a situation where a full frame mirrorless like that Hassy could wirelessly stream its live view right into a digital heads-up display projected by the aforementioned contact lens into the corner of your vision while also allowing you to do something like trigger the shutter by blinking.

Matthias Dengler's picture

At first I thought, when I saw the article "oh gosh, not again. Can we not just drop this topic with smartphone cameras?" But the moment the video started, I watched it completely. This guy explains everything so well and has a great way of presenting. Great post, here!

I do agree that phones are getting better, but I don't think they will really replace professional gear, as you have just less options. He talks about having more options with phones, but I do not agree. You have more options if you want to immediately and quickly edit your photo, but if you want to edit them properly and blow them up big to sell them, I don't really think smartphones are going to make it. The other thing is, you cannot pair them with flashes or other professional gear. Furthermore, you cannot exchange the battery. So at a certain point, you will be walking around with a powerbank in one hand, a long cable and a camera in the other hand. Last but not least, you have to go right in the face of people, which is awkward.

Zac The Photographer's picture

You've made some valid points here but I would like to draw your attention to this: Godox A1 Smartphone Flash & trigger. I don't think smartphones will beat the standard required by commercial photographers but there is one thing I do know. The smartphone manufacturers are much more savvy and smarter than the people who are designing and marketing the DSLR.

michael buehrle's picture

i can't bring myself to watch yet another "iPhone vs" video. must be a slow news day, again.

I learned early in my 7 Plus tenure that Apple can identify nine separate planes of distance from its two cameras, so I did some tests, and indeed I saw (similar to that shot against the brick wall) a very nice continuous level of blur from the close front to the far distance. For all I know it's now more or better, even on the older 7 Plus camera due to constant software tweaks.