Instagram is one-upping Apple with a portrait mode feature that runs on a wider variety of phones and works with video, not just photos. Last month, TechCrunch reported about a Focus feature buried in Instagram’s code, which began publicly testing a week later. Now Instagram is rolling out Focus, which blurs the background while keeping someone’s face sharp for a stylized, professional photography look. “Focus mode leverages background segmentation and face detection technology,” an Instagram spokesperson told me when asked how it works without the need for dual cameras.
Focus can be found in the Instagram Stories format options alongside Boomerang and Superzoom in both the selfie and rear-facing cameras, and it rolls out globally today on iPhone 6s, 6s+, 7, 7+, 8, 8+ and X, as well as select Android devices. That’s compared to Apple’s portrait mode that only works on the iPhone 7+, 8+, and X, and Android portrait mode that exists on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Instagram’s launch could also suck attention away from “fake portrait mode” apps like Magic Portrait Mode, FabFocus, LightX and Point Blur that can also add blurry background “bokeh effects” to images.
This comparison provided to TechCrunch by reader Genady Okrain shows how Instagram Focus blurs the background, but can make the edges of the face look a bit hazy too. The iPhone portrait mode that takes advantage of newer models’ dual cameras does a little better job of keeping the whole face in focus, but it’s not available on older iPhones and can’t do video.
Focus gives people another reason to choose Instagram over Snapchat, and could make shooting inside the Instagram app more appealing. After eight years of sunsets and latte art, it’s the selfies and portraits that still feel fresh on Instagram. Making them look as good as possible could keep Instagram from growing stale as it rockets toward 1 billion users.