As good as smartphone cameras have become, they still can’t compete with most traditional standalone cameras. There’s just no substitute for a larger sensor, and of course, true optical zoom.
But now Motorola is addressing some of its phones’ photography deficits with its Hasselblad-branded Moto Mod. If you’ve got a version of the Moto Z smartphone (and that includes the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play), you can slap this puppy on the back and get a more camera-like experience. The True Zoom Moto Mod offers a bit of a camera grip, a real shutter button, and true 10x optical zoom. But it also costs $249, similar to a lot of dedicated point-and-shoot cameras.
Replacing your phone’s camera
We’ve seen plenty of snap-on lenses for phones. This isn’t one of those. This is a snap-on camera, complete with its own sensor: a 1/2.3-inch, 12-megapixel, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor with 1.55 micron pixels. In lay terms, it’s about what you’d expect to find in a low-cost point-and-shoot, but leagues short of the latest compact mirrorless cameras, let alone DSLRs.
The lens (not removable) has an aperture of f/3.5 at its widest, and f/6.5 when zoomed in all the way. Again, this is typical of low-end point-and-shoot cameras. And it zooms from 4.5mm to 45mm, which, with a sensor this size, is the equivalent of a 25-250mm zoom on a 35mm camera. You’ll also find a xenon flash that’s much brighter than what you get on a phone.
Taking it for a spin
Using the True Zoom is easy enough. Just snap it on the back of your Moto Z, and it’s ready to go (only the Moto Z Play is currently supported, but a software update will add support for the other Moto Z phones very soon). Once connected, you’ll use the mod every time you invoke the rear camera. It physically covers the whole back of the phone, including the built-in camera, so what choice do you have?
The True Zoom’s main purpose—providing real optical zoom—works as advertised. It can be a little tough to hold the camera steady when zoomed in, and the lack of a tripod mount doesn’t help. But there’s optical image stabilization, at least.
A photo shot from the same spot, zoomed out then zoomed in. (What, you don’t have a purple disco ball in your drought-striken backyard?)
But the story isn’t as good indoors. In low indoor light, I got slightly better results from the built-in camera on the Moto Z Play, and much better results from the Galaxy Note 7. The True Zoom’s photos were a bit dull in low light, and quite grainy. Here’s a crop to illustrate the difference.
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