In case you missed it, Google just released an official Camera app into the Play Store. It isn't exclusive to Nexus or Google Play devices either, so go ahead and download it. I'll wait.
Alright, let's dive into the app's new Lens Blur feature. Google's released a blog post with some of the details. In short, it's one of the features of HTC One M8's duo camera made available to any Android device running Android 4.4. Lens Blur lets you had a SLR-ish shallow depth of field effect, focusing on a target and blurring the background. Not only that, it lets you refocus an image after it's been taken. But does it work? For the most part, yeah, it does.
How It Works
To take a shot, you press the shutter and move the device upwards slowly. An image appears on the screen to guide you through the process and inform you if you're doing it wrong. It's really simple, and I didn't experience any motion blur in any of the shots.
By default, Lens Blur shrinks images down to 1024 x 768. For perspective, the 8MP "before" shots taken on my Nexus 5 for this post are 3264 x 2448. Thankfully there's an option to bump the blur quality up from low to high in the app's settings.
After this, the feature reduces images down to 2048 x 1536 instead. That's still an unfortunately low resolution for an effect that otherwise seems to work reasonably well.
Here is another set of images, this time with the effect set to high.
The refocusing effect is easy to use, but it's not quite as reliable as getting the shot right the first time. To access it, you swipe right from the camera to get to the gallery, just as you did on the previous version of the app. Once there, photos in the gallery that were taken with the blur effect have an extra editing icon available at the bottom. It's the one that looks an awful lot like Picasa in the screenshot on the right below.
Here, the blur effect feels less like black magic and more like the kind of photo editing trick we've been pulling off on PCs for years. The app presents a slider at the bottom that you can drag to determine the intensity of the blur. Then you can press anywhere on the image to "refocus" the shot.
As for the end result, well, I'm not even sure what's going on here. In this separate indoor shot, there are two patches of focus apparent just below each of the Android's antennas. On the right side of the image, the clarity seems to trail down along most of the body. Aside from that, most of the image is a blurry mess.
This is impressive work, especially for an initial release of the feature. It's easy to use, and for the most part, it delivers on its promise. I'm sad to see that pictures get resized, but hopefully Google developers will whip out a "highest" setting in the future that takes care of this. And while they're at it, maybe they can do something with that refocusing, because it feels pretty janky at the moment.
Nevertheless, this release really takes a lot of wind out from under the HTC One M8's duo camera. Developers are going to have to do something special with that Dual Lens SDK, because blurring and refocusing aren't all that unique anymore. Oh how quickly things change.