The attempts to design a practical solution to upgrade a phone camera's options -- whether it's better photo quality or a zoom lens or both -- have been unsuccessfully ongoing since 2013 when Samsung tried to integrate a zoom lens on its Galaxy S4 ("the camera-shaped Zoom is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to use as a phone.") and Sony first rolled out its QX series of cumbersome lens-shaped zoom cameras that connect via Wi-Fi.
The more recent DxO One camera, which plugs into the Lightning connector of an iPhone or iPad, is probably the most successful option to date; it adds better photo quality with its 1-inch sensor, but no zoom, and is limited to iDevices. Now there's the Hasselblad True Zoom, an attachable camera with a big 10x zoom lens but a small 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor, which can work only with the Motorola Moto Z phones. That's because it takes advantage of the Moto Z's elegant Moto Mods add-on architecture.
For the most part, the True Zoom succeeds at delivering optical zoom into the hands of phone photographers and is a great first effort. And I can't stress enough how convenient a zoom lens is. But I can't help thinking that a larger sensor with half the zoom might have been a more attractive option.
Though some might consider $250 (that's the Verizon price) a lot for what's essentially a basic compact camera that snaps to the back of your phone, I think the price is pretty reasonable -- especially compared to the $500 (£400) DxO model. I don't have other pricing yet for the True Zoom, but that $250 converts to about £191 and AU$335. Through motorola.com it will cost $300 (that's about £228 and AU$400). It will be available starting September 15.
It's dead easy to add and remove: Moto Mods attach to the phone via magnets, and in this case the phone's stock camera app switches to a version designed for use with the camera mod. Snap it on and you're ready to go.
There's a physical power button to turn the camera on and off and a zoom switch to navigate the 25-250mm-equivalent range. It's a little too sensitive and stepped for my taste, making it hard to frame shots exactly. And pressing the shutter without shaking the camera is harder than using the on-screen shutter button. Still, the True Zoom delivers a very nice camera-like experience.
Extensions to the camera app add the ability to shoot raw+JPEG, as well as offering scene modes and and black-and-white shooting in Auto. It automatically downgrades the options for video and photos; for example, you can't shoot 4K video with the mod attached on the Moto Z Play Droid I tested it with, and that phone's internal camera is 16 megapixels. Though you can use third-party camera apps with the True Zoom, you can't shoot raw with them.
There's not a lot here that's Hasselblad. It's got the company's 75th anniversary commemorative orange shutter button with half-press focusing, a grip with the same nice physical feel as the one used by current Hasselblad cameras, and the big H. It will also ship with access to Hasselblad's raw software, Phocus, to edit the True Zoom images on a computer. Unfortunately, Phocus mobile is only available on the desktop and iOS, not . You can edit the standard DNG files with any editor, though. The phone does come with two years of free full-resolution storage in Google Photos.
One of the frustrating aspects of using the True Zoom is the camera app. It always reverts to the stock app default settings, even if you switch away from it for just a second -- something you do constantly on a phone. That means, for instance, it forgets you're in Professional (manual) mode or that you shoot raw. According to the company, that's a feature, not a bug; a feature that's bound to make you miss some shots unless you shoot only on the defaults. It's also too easy to accidentally hit the home, menu and back buttons while using the physical shutter button. Crazy-making.
The True Zoom has similar sensor specs to models like the Nexus 6P. But unlike most fixed-focal-length lens phone cameras, the True Zoom's photo quality will vary a lot over the zoom range. As with most zoom lenses, its maximum aperture narrows -- from f3.5 to f6.5, in the True Zoom's case -- as you zoom toward 250mm. That means you really can't zoom in when the light drops below twilight levels without photos getting really mushy.
If you're picky, I don't recommend using anything above ISO 800 if you can help it. Shooting raw doesn't help much with fixing noise or underexposed shots, which is typical for small sensors. The camera's colors, auto white balance and exposures are excellent, though like many cameras, the white balance doesn't handle mixed lighting -- such as a tungsten lamp and fill flash -- very well.
At its widest, there's serious distortion and vignetting on raw photos, and the distortion exists until about 30mm. In both cases, it gets automatically corrected for JPEGs. However, that means photos get cropped from what you see on the screen when shooting, because that's the only way to fix the problems.
Also, keep in mind that zoom lenses and optical stabilization generally eat a lot of power. This one is no exception, except now it's running down your phone's battery. The stabilization works pretty well, but it doesn't seem like the auto mode always makes appropriate shutter speed choices when you're zoomed all the way in.
The Xenon flash is certainly powerful enough to illuminate the scene as long as you're no further than about 6 feet, but it can also look very harsh.
The HD video isn't great, though it will probably look fine if you only play it back on your phone. Viewed at actual size it's rife with compression artifacts. And while the camera does 1080/30p on paper, the actual videos have somewhat bizarre, nonstandard frame rates like 28.34fps.
It's not the fastest camera to focus and shoot, but it's good enough for anything that's not moving fast or erratically. Like an evasive squirrel.
With a camera as good as most phone cameras and the benefit of a zoom, the Hasselblad True Zoom seems like a no-brainer buy for Moto Z owners who take a lot of snaps. And depending upon your needs, it might also be a strong enough reason to buy a Moto Z over another phone.
But I think a killer version with broader appeal would have a 1-inch sensor for better photos and a 5x zoom -- say, 30mm-150mm equivalent -- that covers the essentials. I'm also not crazy about some aspects of the software, but that's easily fixed if the company's properly motivated.
|DxO One||Hasselblad True Zoom|
|Sensor effective resolution||20.2MP BSI CMOS||12MP BSI CMOS|
|Sensor size||"1-inch (13.2 x 8.8 mm)"||"1/2.3-inch (6.3 x 4.7 mm)"|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 12800/ISO 51200 (exp)||ISO 100 - ISO 3200|
|Lens (35mm equivalent)||"32mm f1.8 1.0x"||"25-250mm f3.5-6.5 10x"|
|Closest focus||7.9 in./20cm||2 in./5 cm|
|Burst shooting||n/a (by end of November)||None|
|Autofocus||"n/a Contrast AF"||"1-area n/a"|
|Shutter speed||30 - 1/20,000 sec.||4 - 1,2000 sec.|
|Best video||"H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p; 720/120p "||MP4 1080/30p|
|Manual aperture and shutter in video||Yes||No|
|Optical zoom while recording||n/a||Yes|
|IS||Electronic, video only||Optical (photo); electronic (video)|
|Memory slots||1 x micro SD||n/a|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||"200 shots (750mAh)"||n/a|
|Size (WHD)||"1.9 x 2.7 x 1.0 in. 49 x 68 x 26 mm"||"6 x 2.9 x 0.4 in, 152 x 73 x 9 mm "|
|Body operating weight||"4 oz. 112 g"||"5.1 oz. 144 g"|
|Mfr. price||"$500 £400 (est.)"||$250|
|Release date (US)||September 2015||September 2016|