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Camera ready in two shakes: Motorola Moto X camera review

37

Video Mode

The Moto X’s video recording mode is no-nonsense.

The Moto X shoots 1080p 30fps video. There’s no separate video mode in the camera app. Just tapping the camera icon in the top right corner starts recording. This is fast and convenient, and makes sense since the still image preview is already 16:9. However, the camera app fumbles by providing more coverage in the preview than is actually captured in the video. You need to leave a bit of margin for this cropping, which is not ideal.

The video mode is even more bare-bones than the still-capture element of the camera app. There are no user-controllable parameters (if you have focus-point mode enabled for stills, it’s ignored for video). You can start and stop recording, zoom by sliding up or down on the screen, and tap to capture a 2MP still shot. That’s it.

The Moto X does support slow-motion recording, enabled from the slide-out options menu. It captures 720p at 60 frames per second and creates a video file with an embedded frame rate of 15 fps, for 1/4 speed playback. The sub-30 fps playback isn’t as smooth as we’d like, though you could speed it up in a video editor for 1/2 speed playback at 30 fps. In the Gallery app, you have the option of viewing slow motion videos at 1/4 speed or normal speed. Overall, it’s a fun feature, but not as polished as some of the more advanced slow-motion modes offered by the competition.

Video Sample 1: Good Light

In good light the Moto X shoots crisp, smooth video. Focus is confident, with drift and pumping rare. Exposure shifts are noticeably abrupt, which can be distracting. There seems to be some electronic stabilization in effect (that’s probably where the missing edges go), which helps hold the view steady but is no substitute for good OIS. 

The Moto X’s video output is subject to the same inconsistent color issues present we note in the still images, with an occasional magenta tint being the most objectionable. 

Video Sample 2: Low Light

In low light the Moto X’s videos lose some detail, though levels remain acceptable overall when not blurred by movement. The look of the video is marred by strong artifacts and visible chroma noise splotching. Focus is less confident than in good light, but doesn’t drift more than most of the competition.

As light levels decrease, the camera drops the frame rate to as low as 15 fps (this sample was recorded at 22 fps). This enables longer shutter speeds for capturing more light, but there’s a double penalty: movement in the scene blurs more, and the overall motion looks choppier. Also, while the files will play fine on a computer, some televisions refuse to play non-standard frame rate videos.

Video Sample 3: Slow Motion

Due to the Moto X capturing 720p 60fps and then creating a 15fps video file for 1/4 speed playback the slow motion video is not quite as smooth as we've seen on other devices. Nevertheless, it's still a fun feature to play and experiment with.

Comments

Total comments: 37
MariusPavel

For some reason I'm more inclined to try Sony's new camera system as they have interchangeable lenses.

As a professional photographer this pretty much brings in the edge between mobility and quality. I will try the motorola phone when I get a chance and come back with a review.

Respectfully, Marius @mariuspavel.ro

0 upvotes
Paul Kersey Photography

I have had a Moto X for several months since going with Republic Wireless. I bought the phone for the service and the camera usage is regular but not critical. It's image output is certainly sufficient for anything other than trying to actually capture images of great technical quality. Use it for Instagram, facebook, email or whatever, but don't expect a responsive, low noise, highly detailed image.
I just came across this review and after reading thought to myself; who actually buys a cell phone these days based on the best camera?? Probably a minority of people, but that's my thoughts.

0 upvotes
Rob Bernhard

Thought I would follow back on this review. I've now been using the Moto X for a month running Android 4.4.2 (which does provide updates to the camera.)

As this is my first smartphone I cannot say if the results are "good" or "bad" but it's certainly better than my previous phone, a Samsung Intensity. :)

I have found colors to occasionally be inconsistent with the default camera app but not very often. I actually prefer the lower saturation defaults as I can work on the images in post to my liking. HDR mode is pretty great. I leave it set to On 100% of the time.

The aspect ratio is rather strange. Works well for city, landscape, etc shots, but feels odd with portraits.

Overall I'm happy with the photos, especially within the context of them being grab shots or when I really can't carry another camera. As I'm in the newly-minted smartphone owners "group" I'm sure my opinion will evolve over time.

0 upvotes
aerorail

i gave up on moto after 10 years and went w/samsung. moto won't innovate. apple isn't much better. my note3 beats the heck out of all of what's out there.
oh yea...these are phones/computers not cameras

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
mmartel

I enjoyed the review and, as a Moto X owner, thought you were thorough, accurate and fair in your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses.

I did want to point out, though, that I think you might have been a little bit harsher on the overexposure issues with the Moto X than you were in your Nexus 5 review. For example, look at your caption on page 6 of your Nexus 5 review: "In good light, the Nexus 5 delivers pleasant, balanced images." But the right half of the image is basically overexposed building. You were also a bit more apologetic for the Nexus 5 blowing highlights in the fruit stand still life, saying "Blown highlights remain a constant of mobile photography" rather than "With the Nexus 5, you can expect some blown highlights in high contrast scenes."

For any who read this, and are curious, overall I'm satisfied with the Moto X camera (having come from a Nexus 4 as my last phone). It's got weaknesses but overall it's not too shabby.

0 upvotes
Richard Uchytil

The HDR mode really does a great job, I'm very happy with it. But I will also say most of the time I'm editing my photos using Snapseed on my phone. I really like shaking the phone to get the camera. I do wish I had more control in the app or maybe had an advanced mode - like a real camera where you have full auto and the various other modes. That'd be cool. But honestly, most of the photos I take with my phone are quick ones to post on FB or Instagram or places like that. If I REALLY want a good photo I'm using my camera (which is always with me). :) There certainly are better camera phones, and there are worse. I like this phone a lot, have never had any problems.

0 upvotes
Peiasdf

Good phone for $300 and less. This really is just a mid-range phone with lots of ad money and some unique Google features.

0 upvotes
theranman

Anybody know what version of kit kat was used in this review?
I received my phone a few days ago from motorola and it came with 4.4....no ".2" on the end.

Comment edited 39 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

We tested this with the At&T version of the device which currently has 4.2 running.

0 upvotes
TonyMhoffman

4.2.2? or 4.4.2

This photos don't look like 4.4.2 at all. They look like the old software. AT&T is still not on 4.4.2 yet which makes this whole review bunk... No offense, but this camera is ahead of most of the competition now since 4.4.2. You may want to revisit this review after the update.

1 upvote
TonyMhoffman

What version of kit kat were you using? 4.4.2 offered dramatic improvement to low light. I did some comparisons with my girlfriends S4 and the Moto X was the clear winner.

0 upvotes
SammyToronto

While you're reviewing oldish phones, is there any chance for an S4 Mini review? I've read reviews for it on other sites, but being that your reviews focus on camera performance, which is probably the main criterion I consider before buying a phone, they have more weight imo, especially since DXO haven't reviewed it either!

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

Funny, you mention that. I just got one in today and set it up. Planning to do a "Mini" comparison with the HTC One Mini and Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. If possible I'd also like to include the LG G2 Mini but it could take a while before I get that one it seems.

4 upvotes
SammyToronto

Well, that's great, and timely, news :) Looking forward to reading your findings in that comparison.

0 upvotes
iharley

I'm curious what version of KitKat was used when tested.

0 upvotes
peevee1

Who cares, the review is at least half a year too late anyway.

DPR should wake up to the speed of technological development today. If it is not within 1 month after release, it is too late. And no amount of inconsequential details (like their 3-page menu guides for cameras) can save them - by the time you release it, it is just no more than a historical research paper.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm

yes, unfortunately this review got delayed for various reasons which is not ideal. On the other hand the Moto X only got released in Europe a couple of weeks ago. So there are still large parts of the word where it's new. :)

2 upvotes
mmartel

Wow, cranky much? You know, no one is forcing you to read ancient reviews.

3 upvotes
peevee1

Wasn't a Galaxy or ten released in Europe too? ;)

0 upvotes
JohnEwing

Terrible promotion images - they look grubby.

0 upvotes
dagobah

The image makes the screen look broken.

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

do you mean the background image on the screen of the device?

1 upvote
Jogger

always-on microphone = direct line to NSA .. have fun

2 upvotes
lenseye

Motorola analog phones were great! That's about all that can be said about Motorola phones ...

0 upvotes
Howard

Don't buy Motorola phones, I've been burned before (Droid X). Their phones are just not good. I got the HTC One and it is night and day.

3 upvotes
Lars Rehm

It's fair to say though that the latest generation, Moto X and Moto G, have improved a lot and are a really good deal. They just don't seem to have very good cameras.

5 upvotes
BC9935

Yeah, you have no idea what you're talking about. I've been using a Moto X for the last 6 months and remains the best overall smartphone I've laid my hands on. I have immediate family member with the HTC One, iPhone 5s, etc. The Moto x speaker is better the the One's despite "Beats", yeah not a popular opinion but I've done the head to head. Moto X is notably smoother and snappier in all tasks than the One, much better reception on then same carrier, better battery life. Frankly, the X is hands down superior to the One in every measurable respect, and with the update to 4.4.2 I would extend that to the camera as well. Did I mention my family member has been through 3 One's in that 6 months while my X operates and looks exactly lime it did the day I got it. Sorry, Motorola has one of the best all around smartphones ever made in the X, HTC still sucks.

1 upvote
misolo

Here's something I find puzzling (and slightly irritating): When I consider buying a lens, by far the most important spec is the focal length (and the equivalent focal length with same field of view in 135-format). Why is it so impossibly difficult to find this information for phone cameras? It's as "key" as "key specifications" get. In this case you do find an approximate number if you read the entire review, but in many cases not even that.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
3 upvotes
Lars Rehm

equivalent focal length is pretty much never provided in the spec sheet. Once we got a device in our hand we try to figure it out but often not even the manufacturer representatives know the exact number when asked.

On the other hand it's safe to say that the vast majority of phones these days have an equivalent focal length of somewhere around 28-30mm, so no matter what you get it's always gonna be a wide-angle lens. Given they're pretty much all the same you should probably not put too much weight on it in your buying decision :)

3 upvotes
Menneisyys

"On the other hand it's safe to say that the vast majority of phones these days have an equivalent focal length of somewhere around 28-30mm, so no matter what you get it's always gonna be a wide-angle lens. "

Yup, in stills mode, all contemporary high-end smartphones are between 27 and 30mm, with the exception of the iPhone 5c, which, as with the iPhone 5, has a 33mm lens.

In video mode, however, the differences are much more pronounced because of the lack of oversampling in most (but not all - see Nokia 808 / 1020) smartphones and/or trying to implement image stabilization electronically (except for the Nokia 1020 / 92x, LG G2 and HTC One). On ALL iPhones, the Samsung GS4, the Note 3 etc. the video FoV is far lower because of this - between 36 and 42mm. That is, if one needs WA in video mode as well, he/she shouldn't get any iPhones. The solutions to fix this either involve IQ-degrading external lens adapters or my full sensor oversampler, which only works on the iPhone 5s.

2 upvotes
Lars Rehm

very true, digital IS will narrow your field of view, same happens on some HDR modes. What's this full-sensor oversampler you are mentioning?

1 upvote
Menneisyys

"What's this full-sensor oversampler you are mentioning?"

The jailbreak-only one at http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1538193 . See the uppermost update.

Note:

- it also works on almost all other camera-equipped iDevices but, as their camera hardware is way slower than that of the 5s, they aren't capable of shooting at anything over 20 fps in oversampled mode.

- only the 5s is capable of 30p full resolution oversampled shooting, but only in good light. In bad light, the framerate drops.

Note that I have developed another open source video recording tweak, "Video Bitrate Configurer" (see http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1710387 ), which allows for quick video mode switching (between stock modes) and configuring. It doesn't allow for enabling full sensor oversampling

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

Cool, thanks, will check it out...just need to nick somebody's 5s first :)

0 upvotes
Menneisyys

It (the oversampler) runs on earlier / cheaper models (incl. iPad 3+'s / iPod touch 5's) too - but at a reduced framerate. Therefore, it's only recommended for shooting semi-static stuff like conferences, preferably from a tripod.

The video bitrate setter tweak runs on everything.

0 upvotes
Rob Bernhard

Here is, perhaps, a silly question:
Are there 3rd party camera apps that (at the time of exposure) help alleviate any of the cons identified in this review? Apps that help give you better control over exposure or focus?

1 upvote
Lars Rehm

Peter, who wrote this review says the following: 3rd part apps can offer extra control, but as usual, it's a little hit and miss. FV-5, for example, allows you to control exposure comp, white balance, and focus mode. It also offers semi-functional ISO control, but that part isn't very reliable. The downside with 3rd party apps is that you don't access to device-specific functions like the HDR mode."

3 upvotes
Rob Bernhard

Lars & Peter: Thanks for the follow up and info, I appreciate it.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 37
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