Halide shows the iPhone SE uses machine learning to shoot portrait photos

Halide Iphone Se
Halide Iphone Se (Image credit: Halide)

What you need to know

  • Halide has gone in-depth on the new iPhone SE camera.
  • The company details how Portrait Mode is possible with machine learning.
  • It also compares photos between the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 Pro.

Halide, the company behind the popular camera app for iPhone, has gone in-depth in its tests with the new iPhone SE and how its camera stacks up against the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.

In a blog post posted to Medium, the company has gone deep into how the new iPhone SE accomplishes its Portrait Mode photographs with software.

"This iPhone goes where no iPhone has gone before with "Single Image Monocular Depth Estimation." In English, this is the first iPhone that can generate a portrait effect using nothing but a single, 2D image."

Halide Portrait Mode Iphone Se

Halide Portrait Mode Iphone Se (Image credit: Halide)

While some may point out that the iPhone XR can also shoot in Portrait Mode with a single camera, Halide notes that the XR's sensor had focus pixels that enabled this feature through hardware. The iPhone SE, in comparison, is generating a portrait photo entirely through machine learning.

"While the iPhone XR has a single camera, it still obtained depth information through hardware. It tapped into the sensor's focus pixels, which you can think of as tiny pairs of 'eyes' designed to help with focus. The XR uses the very slight differences seen out of each eye to generate a very rough depth map ... The new iPhone SE can't use focus pixels, because its older sensor doesn't have enough coverage. Instead, it generates depth entirely through machine learning."

Currently, Apple is saying that its Portrait Mode on the iPhone SE only works with people. Halide chalks this up to Apple's strategy to "under-promise and over-deliver."

"As long as the subject in the foreground in sharp and in focus, most people will never know you're playing fast and loose with the background blur. So back to the question, "Why does Apple limit this to people?" Apple tends to under-promise and over-deliver. There's nothing stopping them from letting you take depth photos of everything, but they'd rather set the expectation, "Portrait Mode is only for people," than disappoint users with a depth effect that stumbles from time to time."

The exciting thing about this is that, as Apple's machine learning improves, Portrait Mode could become available for more and more subjects for a single camera. If you want to see all of the comparisons between Portrait Mode on the iPhone SE and the iPhone 11 Pro, check out Halide's blog post.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.