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Moto Z camera review: impressive but not flagship-grade

|October 19, 2016 |Android Phones, Motorola, Reviews, Camera Phones, Camera Review

“With a lower megapixel count and a better sensor, the Z follows the footsteps of other flagships in the camera department”

Unlike most brands that play on specifications, Motorola hasn’t shied away from innovating when it comes to its flagships. The Moto X (review), introduced in 2013 (launched in India in 2014) offered a customisable design along with an always-on chip that enabled the voice-based Touchless control feature. The brand has come a long way since then, and its flagship offerings have now been launched under the Moto Z (first impressions) name that gives a peek of the future with semi-modular designs. While the brand has always won accolades for its design, software optimisations, performance, and innovative features, it usually has a hit-and-miss relationship with the camera capabilities. Can the change in the model naming change its luck with imaging as well? Well, that’s what we intend to find out with our Moto Z camera review.

Moto Z camera review - 91mobiles 02

While the previous-gen flagship from the brand offered a 21-meg sensor, it’s interesting that it has chosen a 13-megapixel camera for the Moto Z. In a way, the brand’s strategy is similar to what other companies have adopted for their high-end offerings such as the Galaxy S7 , i.e., a lower megapixel count paired with a larger sensor. The sensor on the Moto Z has an aperture of f/1.8, which accepts more light, and thus delivers better images in poorly-lit conditions. Talking about such situations, the phone can fire the dual-LED flash with Colour Correlated Temperature (CCT) to provide illumination. The phone also supports laser autofocus for locking the focus quickly on the subject, along with OIS to compensate for hand movements. At the front, the smartphone features a 5MP shooter.

Moto Z screenshot - 91mobiles (49) Moto Z screenshot - 91mobiles (50)

In terms of the camera app, gone are the days when you would find a frustratingly minimal interface on Moto devices, as the Moto Z’s app sports a lot of options up front. Kept in the landscape orientation, you get a large shutter button in the middle (you also have the option to capture the image by tapping anywhere on the screen) towards the right, along with the ability to use various modes or switch to the front camera. These modes include stills, video, panorama (can be captured in any direction), slow-mo, and a pro mode (gives you the option to manipulate ISO level, shutter speed, white balance, etc.). On the left side, it gives you buttons to enable flash, HDR or self-timer. You also get a focus ring that lets you change the focus along with letting you control the exposure. The app also lets you scan barcodes, QR codes, and even business cards, which is quite interesting. You can preview the images by swiping to the left, or access settings by swiping to the right.

Moto Z screenshot - 91mobiles (51)

The Moto Z also comes with the brand’s popular double-twist gesture to open the camera. Now, let’s find out if the cameras on the Moto Z hit bull's eye. Please note that all the images have been captured in the auto mode (unless specified otherwise) in the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Long shot

Moto Z camera performance - long shot

The Moto Z has done a good job in capturing the variety of subjects in one frame, thanks to its 13-meg rear camera. The colours have been reproduced quite well, be it the greenery of the foliage or whites and reds of buildings. The details are incredible as well, even when the image is zoomed in. However, the edges don’t remain as sharp when it’s viewed in the full resolution, especially the leaves of the trees. Plus, the sky looks a bit washed out, especially towards the right.

Close up

Moto Z camera quality - close up

The image embedded above captures the grill and the logo of a luxury car from premium car maker Jaguar. Both the grill and head of the feline offer a good amount of detail. The depth and embossing of the logo, as well as the colours have also been reproduced quite nicely. Let’s see if the details remain the same when we zoom in.

Close up (zoomed in)

Moto Z camera quality - close up (zoomed in)

Even when zoomed in, the picture is able to retain its details, since the edges of the logo as well as other details remain sharp.

HDR off

Moto Z camera samples - HDR offIt’s now time to see whether its HDR capabilities add life to the image or not. The image above is shot normally, with a variety of elements in the frame. Let’s see what the HDR mode does with it.

HDR on

Moto Z camera samples - HDR on

With the dynamic range turned on, the same scene looks more vibrant – the colours pop out really well, and overall the image looks pleasing to the eyes. However, the contrast could have been even better, especially if you see the sky, and we believe that the mode could have been more effective.

Front shot

Moto Z camera review - front shot

The front cameras are becoming as important as primary shooters, if not more, and the Lenovo-owned company knows this fact. It has utilised a 5MP selfie camera on the Moto Z with wide-angle capabilities. The camera comes with autofocus as well as a beautification mode, which we’ve mostly seen in Chinese handsets. There’s an LED flash as well to assist in shooting in dim settings. In terms of the picture quality, the front camera on the phablet is just about fine. The artificial tree looks decent, but when the image is viewed in its original resolution, then we can see it's quite blurry and the twig seems to be overexposed. However, the colours and texture have been captured well.

Low-light shot

Moto Z camera test - low-light shot

Shooting in low light has always remained a difficult task for most smartphones, and considering that, the Moto Z’s snapper has done quite well. It automatically enables the low-light mode, which is really useful. In this case, while the image is grainy, you can easily make out the object. The colours are also visible.

Low-light shot with flash

Moto Z camera test - low-light shot with flash

With the dual-tone LED flash however, the cartoon character can be seen in its full glory, thanks to the powerful illumination – maybe too powerful for our liking. That said, the image offers ample details, and colours are decent as well.

Night shot

Moto Z camera review - night shot

This shot was taken at India Gate at night. If you check out the details and colours captured by the 13-megapixel camera of the Moto Z, then the image is nothing short of impressive. There’s minimal amount of noise, and there’s no loss in terms of detailing as well.

If you look at the images embedded above, then it makes sense as to why Moto chose to go for a lower megapixel count with the Moto Z, in comparison to its predecessor. With the wider aperture and optically stabilised sensor, the smartphone can capture well-detailed images with vivid colours in most scenarios. It’s also quick to lock the focus, and captures images in a jiffy too. However, being a flagship, Moto’s offering is up against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S7 (review) and S7 edge (review), which have established a benchmark for smartphone photography. And, that’s where the Moto Z starts to falter, as it’s a notch below them.

As mentioned above, the Moto Z isn’t just about specs, as it brings the innovative concept of modularity, and we’ll be checking out this aspect and more in our upcoming review. 

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