Can You Spot Fake Bokeh?

Small, affordable cameras with small sensors and small lenses are doomed to produce images with deep depth of field, but what if you could add shallow depth of field in post? 

You've probably heard that current iPhones have "Portrait Mode," which mimics shallow depth of field by creating a depth map of an image using multiple cameras and then adding a realistic blur to a background. 


Surprisingly, the iPhone does an incredible job of mimicking shallow depth of field by not just cutting out a subject, but also adding a depth map to both the background and the subject. Notice the slight blur on Patrick's arm.

Luminar AI recently came out with an update that claims to reproduce "portrait mode" on your computer. To test this software, I took the same image of Patrick with my Sony a7S III and Tamron 28-75mm at f/22 and f/2.8. The image shot at f/22 was brought into Luminar AI and blur was added. 

The results, although not perfect, are quite impressive, especially considering that the results are almost instant and automatic. Is this effect good enough for professional use? For printed work, I don't think it's quite there yet, but for low-res social media posts, I'm not sure anyone will be able to tell. 

It's really exciting to see how photo software has progressed in the last few years. It may not be perfect yet, but what happens when it is? Will "professional" cameras be necessary in a few years? 

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Stuart C's picture

"Small, affordable cameras with small sensors and small lenses are doomed to produce images with deep depth of field"

A fantasy that often occupies the mind of those invested in larger sensor systems and need to justify their purchase. You can easily find shallow depth of field and bokeh being used effectively with smaller sensor cameras.

Thomas H's picture

Great video: short and to the point. I am finding myself on the road more and more often keeping only my Phone with me (a Samsung) and making HEIF images only, despite the fact that Capture One has such trouble processing them. Shallow depth of field was rather detrimental to photography of group of people ("snapshots.") The older I get, the smaller is my gear.

Terry Waggoner's picture

Yeah, he's the one on the right..........}8^-)

Richard Carter's picture

Photographers typically have more of a keen eye for bokeh. The real question is can the person(s) hiring you care about the way the bokeh looks or are they more concerned with having beautiful photographs.

Robert Edwardes's picture

Neither of those picture have the bokeh most people look for when you take about bokeh they want those balls of light. You need a 85mm 1.2 or a 135 f2 to get the bokeh people want

Salty Cremepuff's picture

Yeah, I can spot it if I try, but how often am I staring a any photo with enough concentration to pick it apart like that? If you look at a photo and your instinct is to analyze the out of focus bits to see if they look fake, then you're doing it wrong. It's kind of the same issue with PC gaming and all of the stuff about DLSS where people will post comparison screen shots of some foliage in the background that no gamer actually focused on the game will ever actually be paying attention to. The only reason I still carry my camera as opposed to just using my phone is that the ergonomics and controls make me way quicker on my camera than my phone. I detest using touch screens for photography.

George Sazandrishvili's picture

I shoot a lot with iPhone 11 pro and the portrait mode is quite good. There are situations where it cannot blur nicely and the subject gets over-blurred but overall it works well. Though, for pro portraits it's a no go. I recently got Canon 85mm for RF mount and I get magnificent bokeh and probably it will take quite a while until iPhone can match it.