16
Apr
Blur-Thumb

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.

Blur3-1

Blur3-2 Blur3-3

Results

Blur1-Before

Before.

Blur1-After

After.

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.

Blur6-1 Blur6-2

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.

Blur2-Before

Before.

Blur2-After

After.

Refocusing

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.

Blur4-1 Blur4-2

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.

Blur5-1 Blur5-2 Blur5-3

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.

Blur7

Final Thoughts

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.

Bertel King, Jr.
Born and raised in the rural South, Bertel knows what it's like to live without 4G LTE - or 3G, for that matter. The only things he likes sweeter than his tea are his gadgets, and while few objects burn more than a metal phone on a summer day, he prefers them that way anyway.

  • jamesfuston

    This was a very welcome (and surprising) addition, second only to the viewfinder fix. I also love the vertical video prompt in the new app.

    • Randy

      How do you turn off the shutter sound?
      Thanks.

      • BozzyB

        You have to silent you phone first.

      • HappyToHelp

        put your phone on silent...

        • wheineman

          That does not work for me actually!

  • vyktorsouza

    is anyone else's camera showing up on play store as non-installed despite the fact that it is and it's updated?

    • Riggs

      Same for me as well.

  • DeadSOL

    I have it and, yet, I'm reading this article instead of using it. AndroidPolice is really addictive.

  • Danny365

    On my LG G2, Lens Blur shrinks images down to 1024x768, even if I set quality to high. And as you said, Refocusing is umm well... weird.

    • K

      Definitely hate how it scales down the image. There's always LG's magic focus feature available for the G2 via xdabbeb's modded camera app. Only for those that are rooted though.

    • Brendan

      HTC One scales it to 1024x580. That's a tad too low, even for my 4MP camera.

      • Ken Hunter

        Same here, HTC One. The assumption is that the high quality setting on the lens blur option requires a source image higher than 4MP which the HTC One cannot provide.

  • https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=iWizard Bikram Agarwal

    For me, the on-screen tip on how to use the Lens Blur vanished within fraction of seconds of appearing. So, I didn't know how to use it and ended up taking three shots instead. Understood it later. Took photos from front camera though and the motion blur was kind of a miss, with side of my face getting blurred. Will check it out further, later.

  • Captain Canada

    All HTC has going for it now is build quality, though that is super important.

    • Brendan

      And speakers, screen, battery life, Sense 6, headphone jack placement, gestures, etc.

      But, ya'know.

      • http://twitter.com/anishbhalerao Anish Bhalerao

        Haha, Sense 6 and screen and battery life yo so different?
        You should mention BEZEL MUCH too.

      • Captain Canada

        Okay I would agree with the speakers. The battery life is not as good as the GS5, who the hell sees Sense 6 as a selling point? The iPhone has the charging port and headphone jack on the bottom as well (also, when did we start rewarding companies for using common sense?) and gestures are done better by LG. Every top smartphone OEM has dense and good colour reproducing screens, no one buys flagships based on screen quality anymore.

        You went 1 for 6.

  • Chris

    Wow...with your example shots, I like this a lot more than I thought I would...

  • mldi

    I have this plushie and it's awesome.

    • xnifex

      I want one! where did you get it from?

      • mldi

        Amazon. Search "Squishable Android Plush". Comes in 7" and 15". I think maybe a bean bag too.

        • xnifex

          sweet thanks!

    • Gaurav Arora

      I read plushie as something else lolol

  • Michael Tran

    Selfies are easier to take now, since the whole bottom bar is the shutter button

    • Rusty

      You could also take a photo using the volume buttons so that you don't have to guess where the shutter button is

      • ddpacino

        That was there before the update, though. I'm sure many people never knew that.

        • Simon Belmont

          Yeah. Been there since Android 4.3 actually.

          I use that when I only have one hand free and generally get a non-blurry photo. Good for pictures of my kid.

          • EnyonEugenius

            On nexus 5 volume buttons being almot gainst the power button halfthe time i lock the phone insted taking picture lol and now that the huge capture button jump to top of the screen on horizontal capture i get fingers in my shot holding it on that camera lend side with one hand. Lost of fun.

      • Laurent

        Of course the volume button are much more useful ...

        • wheineman

          Unless you have an LG G2

  • http://www.twitter.com/italofigueired Italo F.

    It is not available for 2012 Nexus 7. I sideloaded it, and is very buggy. :/

    • Simon Belmont

      That's a 1.2 megapixel camera on the 2012 Nexus 7, so it's not surprising that it doesn't work. Also, it only has a front facing camera.

      I doubt these effects work on the FFC of the Nexus 5, either. Though, I haven't tested that.

  • http://bertelking.com/ Bertel King, Jr.
  • http://bertelking.com/ Bertel King, Jr.

    No shame here. I've done it, and I'll probably do it again.

  • DeadSOL

    I do it all the time and I'll continue to do so! ;)

  • IG

    Who said Litro functionality coming up soon to Android?

    • IG

      Lytro*

  • Baspower

    Is this technology part of Project Tango?

  • RajivSK

    ...But how will you know if you did it right?

  • turdbogls

    has anyone found out how to go back and edit photos without going through the camera?

    i took a few, later, went into my "photos" app and choose the image and there isn't an option to tweak the focus. kinda a big oversight IMO...unless this is coming up in the new G+ update

  • Dude!

    Can you do HDR + Lens Blur?

    • Brendan

      No.

  • NinoBr0wn

    Yea, now I'm not as interested in the M8 anymore.

    • Brendan

      It's still arguably one of the best phones out there right now. You get an amazingly built phone with awesome speakers, a beautiful screen, an OS that is arguably better than stock Android with gesture, and decent camera, despite it's MP count.

      And it still supports these features natively and does them arguably better, plus there's the dual camera SDK that came out today that will open up limitless possibilities.

      • http://www.youtube.com/kimirPORTALS kimir

        Not to mention the M8 takes these depth photos 'instantly' (as in not requiring a gesture), which can help when the subject is moving.

      • NinoBr0wn

        I know, but I have a Nexus 5, and the M8 ain't free.

  • BNDT

    My Nexus 4 just crashed using Lens Blur for the first time :(.

  • ddpacino

    I need to do more testing to figure out how to use it properly. I'm sure it'll be fixed and work much more efficiently after an update.... much like ICS Face Unlock vs JB+ Face Unlock. Worlds better.

  • Mikeb3ll

    Just tried it out on my Nexus 5 and me likey!

  • Laurent

    Still has the dark video bug on Nexus devices (since 4.4.4.2) : https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=66573

    • http://www.bordersweather.co.uk/ Andy J

      Wow - you are running a version of Android that no-one else knows about, or you meant 4.4.2 - I prefer to think you are running a secret version though.

  • Ryan

    eh, I still don't think this works as well as afterfocus. but then I don't think HTC's implementation (with 2 cameras) works as well either.

    • Andrew Morales

      It's definitely easier than AfterFocus, though. But I think you're right about the One M8. From what I've seen, Lens Blur looks much more natural than photos taken with the M8.

  • miri

    "Refocusing
    The refocusing effect is easy to use, but it's not quite as reliable as getting the shot right the first time."

    Small correction (yes, I always have to be right): Unless you're using a Lytro or something to that effect it's not refocusing nor is it intended to be used for corrective purposes. It is, as the name states, a lens blur effect meant to enhance subject isolation by artificially squashing the depth of field with a filter.

  • pat

    I didn't notice in the article, but when you go back to edit the photo you can also tap in the photo which will create a new focal point then the blur will occur around that point instead. very cool.

  • Riley Biers

    Who the hell actually cares about the damn resolution size? Are you really going to be printing these? This is perfectly acceptable for viewing. You idiots are always obsessed with the more is better spec bullsh***

    • Simon Belmont

      Yeah. The high setting puts out a ~3.1 megapixel picture, which isn't bad.

      I'd like to have the OPTION of a higher resolution post-blurred shot, though. But, for the most part, the high setting will be sufficient, I think.

    • http://bertelking.com/ Bertel King, Jr.

      They're perfectly acceptable for viewing... until you have a device with a resolution higher than 2048 pixels. If someone has a Pixel, a Nexus 10, or a Macbook/iPad Retina anything, and they take an awesome picture with their Nexus 5, they can set it as a wallpaper. But if they use this cool effect to make the photo look better, it will become too small of an image to use anymore without stretching it out.

      Even just browsing through the images looks bad, as there will be that one image that only consumes half the screen, and you can't zoom in on it without seeing the pixels.

    • John Samuel αΩ

      Yes, some people print their photos. Also, 1024x768 doesn't even allow for full screen on my device.

  • John Samuel αΩ

    Thanks. The article's images are absolutely terrible. For depth of field images to work well, you should take pictures of something with adequate depth.

  • John Samuel αΩ

    Those photos are really really bad. The effect works a lot better than shown. Don't fill the entire frame with your subject and choose a background with more depth.

  • Simon Belmont

    Ha. 10 days later and I notice this reply.

    I'll have to try it on my Nexus 5's FFC. I didn't think it would work, but that's cool that it does.

  • Focalyz Team

    The same depth of field effects feature in an iOS app called Focalyz available on the App Store https://itunes.apple.com/app/id719869591 http://www.focalyz.com

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