Google Camera App: Lens Blur Mode

With their recent version of the standard Android camera app, Google put in a "lens blur" mode, which allows you to create a pretty convincing focusing trick. Usually, a smartphone camera operates much like a point and shoot device in that most of the time everything is in focus from pretty close to far away - allowing mostly goof-proof shots.

The lens blur effect allows you to produce an image with the subject (typically) in focus, while the background is out of focus - a pleasing effect for some subjects, and something you probably needed a dedicated camera (such as an SLR) to do in the past.

I first noticed this and happily fiddled with it on my Nexus 7 tablet. I then realized it was not on my Moto G phone, and figured it was just because it had an older version of Android. True enough, but the newer camera app is also available from the Google Play store, and it does work on my Moto G without any obvious issues. You will need version 4.4 "KitKat" or later to use the newer camera app.

In use, the lens blur is a little finicky; not difficult, just something you might only use for certain subjects, and then with a little practice. You typically want to use this on something close to the smartphone (less than 5 feet, say). The process is that you start the photo, and then you must move the camera up (usually a few inches), while still centering the subject.

It sounds odd, and it is kind of weird the first couple of times you try it. The app will acknowledge if you "did it right" or not. While it only takes a second or two, it's likely not something you would try with kids, pets, etc. as any substantial movement while taking the image would mess it up. Sleeping pets and/or sleeping kids should therefore be fine...

Below are a couple of images I took on my smartphone with and without the effect, and it can be quite dramatic and pleasing. The image on the left is the "straight" typical smartphone photo; the one on the right uses the lens blur effect. Click to enlarge the image to better compare the two.

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