My Galaxy Note10+ comes with Samsung’s Live Focus feature for the built-in camera. Utilizing two of the phone’s triple camera system to simulate a wide aperture effect, photos taken with Live Focus have a distinct look to a standard phone snap.
I use my phone to take day-to-day photos of my kids (said every parent ever) so Live Focus appeals to me. When shooting on my DSLR I almost always shoot wide-open, because I love creamy bokeh and background blur. But how does it hold up for family photos? Is it possible to get a satisfactory DSLR-like effect using Live Focus?
Samsung Live Focus: The bad
Let’s start with what I struggled with. I took my three-year-old out to play, switched to Live Focus on the built-in camera app, and started shooting.
First, with a moving subject, it’s very (very) difficult to get a focused shot. The camera tries to predict what you want in focus, latching onto a face if it finds one, or taking a center-weighted stab in the dark if not. Even when my son was motionless (well, sort of motionless, he is three, after all), the camera struggled. Tapping the subject helps, but not always.
Second, it has a lot of trouble with grabbing something to focus on in conditions with low color contrast. I tried shooting potted plants, but it took multiple reframing attempts to get the plant leaves to stand out in focus against the greenery of the garden behind.
It’s also hard to get the distance right. I thought Live Focus might work for a pseudo-macro effect, but the camera tells you to “Stay within 1-1.5 meters of subject” and can’t focus if it’s closer or further away than that. The latter makes it hard to counter the movement of little people with a bit of extra distance. Because you have to be quite close, any kid movement equals a blurred photo.
The camera itself and the motion blur leave the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) result looking soft and muddy. For all the photos I shot, I preferred a black and white edit with a boost to contrast, detail and clarity.
Samsung Live Focus: The good
The photos it works with are those where the subject is motionless, and in that situation, you do get a nice blurred background effect.
For a mini documentary sequence following my kiddo around as he played, I was happy with my results, once I edited them a little in my favorite companion, Lightroom for mobile.
Overall, Live Focus is fun but inconsistent
In my opinion, there’s no substitute for a DSLR for family photos. The dreaded shutter lag that comes with a camera phone feels even worse in Live Focus, as the camera tries to find its subject. How many times have you captured the half-second AFTER your baby does his adorable, fleeting smile?
It’s fun to play with: Just don’t expect the crisp, focused perfection of an f/1.8 lens you’d expect from your favorite DSLR.