The Google Pixel 2 has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market, and one of the niftiest features is its support for portrait-style photos that blur the background.
While that’s not an unusual feature for top-tier smartphones, most other phones that have a portrait mode use dual cameras to achieve it. Google’s Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL do it with a single camera thanks and software algorithms that detect the foreground and background to determine which items should be in focus and which should be blurred.
Since it’s a software feature that only requires a single camera lens, the Pixel 2 is also one of the only phones that can shoot in portrait mode using the front camera as well as the rear camera.
Now a developer has figured out a way that you can use the Pixel 2’s portrait mode on older Nexus and Pixel phones.
Update: And some non-Google phones as well.
Camera NX V7.3 is a modified version of the Google Camera app that brings most features that had been exclusively available on the Pixel 2 to older devices including:
- Nexus 5X
- Nexus 6P
- Google Pixel (1st gen)
- Google Pixel XL (2nd gen)
While the key new feature in the latest version of Camera NX is access to portrait mode, there’s also an optional add-on that brings another Pixel 2 exclusive feature: AR Core and AR Sticker modifications that bring support for Google’s Augmented Reality Stickers to older devices.
It’s likely that Google will roll out AR Sticker support for non-Pixel 2 phones at some point in the future. It’s less clear if the company plans to make its portrait mode algorithm available for other phones (although the phones most likely to get official support are probably older Pixel and Nexus models).
I should point out that while portrait mode is a pretty impressive camera trick, it’s not quite full-proof. If you zoom in closely on most photos shot with the Pixel 2’s portrait mode, you’ll probably find small patches where the foreground is blurred or the background is in focus. And the effects aren’t quite as seamless as those shot on a DSLR or some dual-camera phones. But they still do a pretty good job of highlighting the object you’re trying to focus on.
Since older Pixel devices also have different hardware than the Pixel 2, Camera NX cannot leverage any of the camera or Pixel Visual Core features available in Google’s latest phones. That could affect performance, and might help explain why some users have noted that Camera NX portraits come out best when shooting people rather than other sorts of objects.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to process portrait mode photos on older phones. While my old Nexus 5X had a remarkably good camera for a relatively inexpensive phone, it had a relatively slow processor by modern standards, and took much longer to process HDR photos than my new Pixel 2 smartphone. It’s likely that the same lag will affect portrait mode processing.