Motorola One Zoom Camera Review

168Image Quality scoreUBER-G SCOREScoring/ranking system nameIQImage-Quality based scoring systemCAMERAMobile PremiumCategory based on price2019-09Device launch dateMotorola One ZoomDevice brand and name

Key Camera Specifications

  • Rear Camera System (3 cameras + ToF sensor)
    • Ultrawide: ~13mm 16-MP f/2.2 ultrawide
    • Primary: ~23mm 48-MP f/1.7 wide (Primary) +OIS
    • Zoom: ~70mm 8-MP f/2.4 telephoto +OIS

The Motorola Zoom One (~$450 at the time of publishing) has a strong features line-up for its price point, with three cameras that provide hardware support for all common scenarios we’re testing for.

In a rapidly changing camera market, the technical specifications may be challenged by other competitors, but in September 2019 it was very decent when this phone was launched.

Note that this camera system’s software does not always use the native resolution of the camera, but proposes either 12MP or 8MP for all cameras. It is a bit unusual and is the likely explanation as for “why” some photos look downsampled or filtered for anti-aliasing.

Image Quality Analysis

Important: let’s clarify some terminology we’ll be using:

  • “image processing”: software work that improves the image data quality
  • “image filtering”: software work that changes the style (aesthetic) of the photo.
  • context photo: a great approximation of what we see
    • Including how dark the scene actually is
    • Only to provide the context of the shot.

A note about the Uber-G Camera IQ benchmark: our camera scoring system is based on four “Pillars” or sub-scores that provide much-needed nuance: day, night, zoom and ultrawide photography.

Daylight Photography

In daylight photography, the Motorola One Zoom performs quite well, taking photos with very good dynamic range and agreeable colors. In many ways, it is comparable to some of the best cameras on the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.

Context photo: what we’re looking at

The image filtering is, however, a little bit aggressive and the HDR processing is a bit too strong, which makes contrast go away in some areas. In the comparison slider below, you can see how the Motorola camera loses some of the contrast by brightening things up, giving it a slightly unnatural look.

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On the positive notes, the Motorola One Zoom doesn’t use as much sharpening filtering as the Galaxy Note 10, and that can be an advantage if you were to crop the image.

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Above, the One Zoom camera does a good job of preserving Texture and detail is comparable to some of the best 12 Megapixel cameras we’ve tested. Above, you can see that the detail is very comparable to the Note 10, and it would take a higher megapixel count to really see a difference.

Below, we can look at another crop that shows several things. First, a context picture that may seem slightly over-exposed, but shows a good approximation of the actual brightness of the scene, something that HDR tends to tone down, sometimes too much.

However, excessive HDR can also bring up more details, so shady areas tend to have slightly better HDR than the Galaxy Note 10 for example.

Context photo

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Above, a shot with the Mate 30 Pro shows how that phone captures photos that are more realistic and effectively reflect the mood of the scene, including colors details and brightness. The Moto One Zoom uses much more image filtering, which makes things slightly a bit fuzzier.

And below, the Note 10 pro exhibits some of the same color behaviors, but with a bit more details across the board. The tree to the left or the street signs are places where it’s easy to see differences. The Note 10 also exhibits strong sharpening “halo”(ringing) along the black wires if you dislike these.

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Daylight photography conclusion

The Motorola One Zoom performs very well in daylight photography and can effectively compete with some of the best camera phones on the market, except the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Mate 30 Pro perhaps, but against an iPhone 11 Pro or a Galaxy S10 series, it holds its own.

Daylight score
Samsung Galaxy S9184
Motorola One Zoom186
iPhone 11 Pro189
Xiaomi Mi Note 10190
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra225

Night Photography

In low-light photography, the Motorola One Zoom’s camera performance is lower than both iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy Note 10, and would be more akin to what an LG G8 ThinQ camera, or a Huawei P30 camera would do. That’s still a very good level of performance (especially for the price), but not quite at the top of what could be done in 2019.

Context photo: what our eyes are seeing

The scene above is interesting because it has texture (bricks and wood panels), HDR (windows and streetlight) but also shaded areas where we can see what the sensors pick up. The context photo shows a very good approximation of the perceived image as seen by the human eye.

Below, all smartphones will tend to “brighten” things up, so keep in mind that brighter does not always mean better in the context of night photography.

Below, both photos look good, but the Galaxy Note 10 can pickup subtle colors like the warm tones in the windows all the way to the right, where the Motorola One Zoom captures an almost monochromatic tone. Although the exposure at the center is quite good in both photos, the upper-right square Window is noticeably better exposed on the Galaxy Note.

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Below, a comparison with an iPhone 11 Pro shows similar characteristics, although the iPhone’s color capture is duller, but the better exposure is evident.

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Context, a cropped view of what we’re looking at

Below, the iPhone 11 Pro may have better exposure, but the noise level isn’t great. There are pro and cons in Apple’s strategy: the pro is that iPhone 11 Pro tends to preserve Texture better because it uses very little noise image filtering. Things like tree leaves are the most obvious items often destroyed by noise-reduction.

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Below, the Galaxy Note 10 has a cleaner image and better color hues. As usual, the Note 10’s sharpening is a bit exaggerated, but overall, it does have a better photo quality than the Moto One Zoom.

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Soft lighting low-light photos (~0.4 LUX)

When there are no highlights, most dynamic range issues go away and we can look at a more “raw” version of the light-gathering capability of the camera. Our colored bottle scene is shot at 0.4 LUX which is quite low, but where your eyes can still perceive shape and colors.

It is, however, challenging for cameras as various strategies to gather details like high-ISO may jeopardize the colors. White balance is also a significant issue when light is very dim.

Cropped Motorola One Zoom shot. We’ll crop even more in the green rectangle

Above, the level of Noise if quite visible, and it is explained by the fact that Motorola’s tuning uses high-ISO (~7184) and relatively high shutter speed (1/10s) to shoot this scene.

We expected the Motorola One Zoom to perform better in these conditions, and it seems to be a case where high-ISO was chosen over multiframe noise-reduction and light-accumulation.

For example, the Galaxy S8 shoots a better photo in this kind of situations, that’s how advanced it was even in 2017, but it does use a slow 1/4s shutter speed, so the lower-noise has a small price in user experience.

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Night photography conclusion

The Motorola One Zoom has good low-light photography, and although it could do better with HDR and colors, it has good noise reduction and takes agreeable night photos. The HDR issues would be the most noticeable difference with mobile cameras that are ranked higher, but upon cropping things like Noise and Details would make a noticeable difference depending on the crop size.

Night score
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra242
Galaxy Note 10194
Motorola One Zoom178
iPhone Xs178
Google Pixel 3176

Ultrawide Photography

Having an Ultra-Wide (UW) camera module is helping the Motorola One Zoom quite a bit since we consider Ultrawide photography as a fundamental capability. In broad daylight, the One Zoom does quite well, and thanks to its new hardware it does better than a UW camera like the LG V40 or the ZTE Axon 10 Pro, and competes with the LG G8 ThingQ or the Huawei P30.

Context photo: what we’re looking at (wide, NOT ultrawide)

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Above, the LG V40 captures a sharp photo, but with the reference picture, you can clearly see that LG over-applies HDR and loses a lot of the scene’s original contrast and mood: the photo looks flatter. Without a reference, you would never know.

The Motorola One Zoom does a very good job of preserving the original mood and colors of the scene, even if it’s not perfect (it never is). A cropped view will show you how the Details are captured by different cameras as well:

Context photo, cropped (NOT ultrawide)

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Above, the cropped photo is pretty much a textbook example of how “brightening things” associated with aggressive noise-filtering can simply destroy a lot of data. We have an article that talks about how image filtering can destroy photo data.

The details on the tree and the wooden fence is visibly higher on the Motorola One Zoom vs the LG V40 (which was at one point the best Ultrawide mobile camera in the world).  At the same time, the “extra HDR” on the LG phone does bring up more details in the bushes, but we need to have priorities here.

Below, the Galaxy Note 10 does a great job of capturing details, especially if you take into consideration that it has a MUCH WIDER lens, so the area of the photo we’re looking at is significantly smaller than on the Motorola One Zoom.

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Below, the Mate 30 Pro isn’t as wide as the Moto One Zoom, so it has a small advantage there, but still: the difference in detail and even in HDR quality is undeniable. With a simple tweak of the levels, one could make it look extremely close to the context photo.

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Low-light ultrawide

At night, the Ultrawide photo capabilities of the Motorola One Zoom can’t be compared with the leading UW cameras. In our tests, we found it to be close to a camera like the Huawei P30 UW camera, although with notable differences. The level of detail is comparable, but the One Zoom is less noisy, which puts it a little bit ahead in Night UW photography.

Context photo: what we are looking at

Below, a comparison with the Galaxy Note 10 shows that not only the Note 10 is “wider”, but the overall photo is sharper and with more contrast, even though the color saturation is somewhat exaggerated.

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Above, even a reduced version of the Huawei P30 Ultrawide photo shows a blockier Noise pattern, but the photo appears sharper, partially due to a sharpening image-filter. Let’s take a closer look for more details:

Context photo, cropped but NOT ultrawide

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Above: the Noise level of the Huawei P30 becomes much more obvious, but at the same time, it has colors that are closer to the reference than the Motorola One Zoom.

If we take it up a notch, the LG G8 can also capture better color hues, and is both less Noisy and Sharper than the Huawei P30. The tree has much more details, and some of the stair steps appear.

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Below, for the ultimate image quality in low-light Ultrawide photography, we can look at the Mate 30 Pro. The comparison speaks for itself.

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Motorola’s camera team has done a very good job at extracting performance out of what is seemingly not particularly impressive camera hardware.

The f/2.2 aperture is a bit of a handicap in night ultrawide photography and is the likely culprit of the lower image quality at night. That said, we estimate that the sensor size is a bit larger than the Huawei P30 UW.

Motorola’s general UW camera tuning is good and when there’s plenty of light, the One Zoom performs very decently.

If Motorola had used the native 16MP resolution of the sensor, instead of downsampling to 12MP, it might have done a bit better with Detail and Texture, possibly at the price of slightly higher Noise, but it didn’t seem to be a problem so far.

Ultrawide score
Huawei Mate 30 Pro172
Samsung Galaxy Note 10140
Xiaomi Mi Note 10130
iPhone 11 Pro117
Motorola One Zoom111

Zoom Photography

To illustrate Zoom photography test, we can look at how it is to zoom from the scene below. The context photo is shot with a 1X zoom, but we will then use a 10X zoom (8X maximum for the Pixel 2) to capture as many details as possible from the city skyline.

Context photo (1X zoom): we’re going to zoom in that green rectangle

Motorola One Zoom at 10X zooming

Because we’re looking at this on the web, and possibly on mobile devices, we can crop things even further to make differences easier to spot. Also as a reference, we’ll throw in the Google Pixel 2, a phone that has no dedicated zoom lens.

Even though the Google Pixel 3 has proved that you can squeeze additional details using algorithm, our Pixel 3 review also showed that software won’t turn your 24mm lens into a 52mm lens. The difference is staggering, and that alone should convince you that better hardware does make a big difference.

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Below, our tests also show that the Motorola One Zoom 70mm camera captures slightly better details than the Galaxy Note’s 52mm lens.

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If you look at the specs superficially, the difference should be much greater than this. However, the 8 Megapixel resolution and the smaller sensor of the Zoom One telephoto camera might explain why the 12 Megapixel and larger sensor (our estimation) of the Note 10 zoom camera end up with only a slight advantage for Motorola.

Below, the Mate 30 Pro 80mm telephoto camera has a similar sensor configuration to the Motorola One Zoom. However, the slightly increased focal length captures more details, and the better exposure of the Mate 30 Pro in this scene probably saves some details from being washed out as well.

The Mate 30 Pro deformations that can be seen on the straight lines are due to Huawei’s sharpening filter which we discussed in the Mate 30 Pro camera review.

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Zoom photography conclusion

The Motorola One Zoom does indeed have very decent zoom capabilities. However, in its market (~$450) even better telephoto prowess can be found in cameras like the Honor 20 Pro telephoto camera, or the excellent Xiaomi Mi Note 10 / CC9 camera.

Zoom score
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra155
Xiaomi Mi Note 10135
Motorola One Zoom99
Google Pixel 362
Apple iPhone 1158

Conclusion and Camera IQ Score

168Image Quality scoreUBER-G SCOREScoring/ranking system nameIQImage-Quality based scoring systemCAMERAMobile PremiumCategory based on price2019-09Device launch dateMotorola One ZoomDevice brand and name

Uber-G Camera IQSub-scores
Day186
Night178
Zoom99
Ultrawide111

With an overall Camera IQ score of 168, the Motorola One Zoom finds itself in a heated battle with phones under $500 such as the Galaxy S10e or Huawei P30.

Overall, the Motorola One Zoom camera is doing a good job of expanding capabilities across all aspects of mobile photography, but it needs to improve in specific areas to increase its competitiveness.

The hot contender in that price range is the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 camera, which we found to be the best mobile camera under $500 (at the time of publishing) with a Camera IQ score of 182.

Camera IQ score
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra220
Huawei Mate 30 Pro195
Xiaomi Mi Note 10181
Motorola Zoom One168
Huawei Mate 20 Pro167
Apple iPhone Xs155

You can check more mobile camera scores in our Best Camera Phones page, and keep an eye on it as we update it with new phones on a regular basis.

Filed in Cellphones >Photo-Video >Reviews. Read more about Mobile Camera Reviews and Motorola.