Apple iPhone X launch: The new 'Portrait Lighting' mode is the next step in the evolution of the selfie

The Apple iPhone X offers the best Portrait Lighting experience because of its TrueDepth image sensing array on the front

It's a new year and Apple has announced not two, but three new iPhones. The iPhone maker even changed the smartphone's nomenclature and went in for the next number instead of the usual 's'-branded upgrades; also hinting at a product strategy change.

Apple iPhone X

Apple iPhone X

At the event, Apple did take time to explain a new Portrait Lighting mode. While iPhone 7 Plus users are already aware of the Portrait mode, the Portrait Lighting mode is something different.

With Portrait mode, the smartphone uses the dual camera setup to break down a scene in the viewfinder.

The software and hardware work together create a 3D depth map that lets the user get a DSLR-like portrait mode. It's basically an easier way to get the 'bokeh' effect without the need to carry a heavy DSLR and the lens that goes with it.

Who gets the new Portrait Lighting mode?

Moving on to the new Portrait Lighting mode, you really need to be clear as to which iPhone got the feature this year to begin with.

Portrait Lighting mode using the dual 12 MP rear camera on the Apple iPhone 8 Plus

Portrait Lighting mode using the dual 12 MP rear camera on the Apple iPhone 8 Plus

This is because not all iPhones launched, even those launched last night, are compatible with the feature.

Here's a simple breakdown about which iPhone announced offers the Portrait mode and Portrait Lighting mode.

Apple iPhone 8

NO Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode

Apple iPhone 8 Plus

12 MP dual rear camera setup: Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode

7 MP FaceTime HD camera: NO Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode

Apple iPhone X

12 MP Rear camera: Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode

7 MP TrueDepth array: Portrait Lighting and Portrait Mode

As you can clearly see, only iPhones with dual-cameras and depth-sensing are supported. The smaller 4.7-inch iPhones are simply incapable of using the mode.

Need just the Portrait mode? Then the iPhone 8 Plus should suffice, but you will not be able to take Selfie Portraits with it because it lacks depth sensing with the front-facing 'FaceTime HD' camera. As for the iPhone X, it literally packs in everything under the sun, which also gives Apple a great excuse to slap on a higher price tag.

The iPhone 7 Plus might also get the Portrait Lighting mode, but Apple hasn't confirmed that yet. It's also possible that while the 7 Plus camera hardware is capable of Portrait Lighting, the lack of a dedicated ISP for calculating lighting might be holding it back.

Getting into the details

Just like with the Portrait mode, Apple uses depth-sensing and face detection to not only to bring the subject into focus, but also add professional-looking lighting effects to the subjects face. In short, you will need either a dual camera with some software magic, or a single camera assisted by a depth mapping system to use the new Portrait Lighting mode.

The Portrait Lighting using TrueDepth camera on the Apple iPhone X

The Portrait Lighting using TrueDepth camera on the Apple iPhone X

On the Apple iPhone 8 Plus, the system uses the A11 Bionic chip, with the ISP and the dual camera on the back of the smartphone. On the iPhone X, the data gathering technique is similar to the iPhone 8 Plus for the dual rear camera, but takes things a step ahead with the front-facing 'TrueDepth' (Apple had to brand this one as well) camera.

The Apple TrueDepth Camera system

The Apple TrueDepth Camera system

The TrueDepth camera system, which is also used to unlock and authenticate stuff on the iPhone X, generates a 3D depth map of your face. The reason why Apple felt the need to brand it as the 'TrueDepth' camera is because it's not just one lens, but a host of lenses and imaging equipment that make FaceID secure and usable for authentication. In all probability, not all of this data is needed for Portrait image, or at least not the same level of detail. Feed this data to the ISP (Image Signal Processor) and voila! You now have a Portrait Lighting effect mode.

How FaceID uses the TrueDepth camera for authentication

How FaceID uses the TrueDepth camera for authentication

It's wise to note that Portrait Lighting effects are not randomly placed but are very accurate, thanks to software processing, the new A11 Bionic chipset and the new ISP involved. The data generated by the three gives the iPhone a very accurate description of the subject's face and the technology is far superior from the stuff we are used to seeing on Snapchat.

Apple uses the generated depth map to determine how lighting will naturally react on the subject's face.

In short, Apple has not reinvented the wheel when it comes to taking selfies, but it has instead refined it using new hardware and technology.

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