Instagram’s new feature gives you portrait mode without a dual camera

Smartphone cameras are getting smarter. While there was once a time when achieving a decent portrait mode meant using two camera sensors, Google changed all that with machine learning in the Google Pixel 2. Now, Instagram is jumping on that bandwagon. According to a report from TechCrunch it has launched a new portrait mode that works on a huge range of phones, and can be applied not only to photos, but also to videos.

The new feature is called Focus, and like other portrait modes it basically blurs out the background of the image, placing an emphasis on the person or object in the foreground, somewhat imitating the effect you can achieve with a wider aperture.

Focus can be found in the Instagram app next to other features like Boomerang and Superzoom. It can be used on both the front-facing and rear-facing camera, and is currently rolling out to the iPhone 6S or later, along with select Android phones. Like some third-party apps, the feature basically uses machine learning and facial recognition to tell where to blur the background. Of course, because it’s software-based, the feature can sometimes look a little strange — but it’s better than some other software-based portrait mode apps, like Magic Portrait Mode or FabFocus.

The feature also gives users a reason to go with Instagram over Snapchat, and could entice users to shoot through the Instagram app instead of the Snapchat app. It’s likely we’ll see more software-based portrait modes like this in apps such as Snapchat as time goes on, but for now Instagram seems to be the winner.

Focus isn’t the only new feature to come to Instagram. As noted in the TechCrunch story, the company is also rolling out Mentions stickers that allow users to more easily tag friends in a Story. The feature has been in the works for a while now, but it only just started rolling out to all iOS users. Instagram is also testing its answer to Snapchat’s Snapcodes. The feature is called Nametags, and basically lets users create a custom tag using emoji, to be shared with people who could scan the code and add you as a friend.

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