In the Field: Moto Z Smartphone and Hasselblad Camera Mod

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I will be honest. There’s nothing revolutionary happening in the world of smartphones. Don’t get me wrong: Since 2007, phones have improved tremendously in quite literally every metric. But it’s rare to see wholly changed form factors or an entirely different design philosophy. One that may break through, however, is modular devices. It’s been tried before—the LG G5 gave it a go earlier this year, and Google went for full modularity with its Ara. But the G5 suffered from the internal nature of its modules and Ara appears to have been placed on the back burner. Motorola is the next to give it a shot, and with the Moto Z family, the manufacturer may be the first with a legitimate chance to redesign the way we think about phones. I was given a Moto Z to use for a few days, and here’s what I found.

Moto Z XT1650 64GB Smartphone

Physical

The Z’s physical appearance is striking. The front is your typical slab, but when devoid of Mods, the back is adorned with faint horizontal lines that give it a futuristic texture. The upper part of the back has a hump for the camera and flash, and the bottom has exposed gold pins for connecting your Mod accessories. The aluminum sides have a pleasant, rounded curve with nice, click-y volume and power buttons, but all this pales in comparison to the most surprising aspect of the Moto Z: how thin it is.

It’s really thin. In fact, not counting the camera hump, it’s 5.2mm thick, equivalent to a fifth of an inch or slightly less than three U.S. quarters stacked on top of each other. It’s so thin that it surprises you the first time you hold it in your hand, and it’s shockingly light, too. But unlike devices that chase thinness for thinness’s sake at the expense of internal hardware and user experience, the nature of the MotoMod experience means that any accessory you add will increase the size and weight of the device, so Motorola had every reason to go all-out to ensure that you start with as little as possible.

The front of the phone sports the fingerprint reader, and it’s excellent. It’s easy to set up and easy to operate, and works so quickly you barely know it’s there. One caveat: The Z’s reader looks far too much like a home button to not be one. It does fingerprints (and does them well), but does nothing else. I’d rather Moto get rid of the on-screen buttons and place capacitive buttons on either side of a reader/home button combo for some more screen real estate, but at this point I’m just being picky.

Ports and Connectors

At the bottom you’ll find a reversible USB Type-C port for charging the battery, which at 2600mAh represents one of the few concessions made in the pursuit of slenderness. Battery life felt surprisingly good given that spec, especially when not in use, and if you need more, there’s a MotoMod to add another 2200mAh. There’s also the option of the other phones in the Moto Z lineup, which both have about 900mAh more than this one.

Incipio offGRID Battery Cover for Motorola Moto Z Family

The other concession is the headphone jack. Apple may have made headlines in September when they released their 3.5mm-less iPhone, but Motorola announced the courageous omission way back in June, and quite frankly, I wish they’d left it in. Part of this is selfish: I spend most of my day sitting down, in front of a computer, with my phone plugged in to power and a pair of earbuds plugged into the headphone jack. Without the jack, I have to choose. The USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle is fine, but if OEMs really are looking at a USB-C future, I wish they’d ease us into it with two ports instead of one. If you’re not as married to the idea of wired headphones as I am (I hate having extra things to charge) and have hopped on the Bluetooth train, you likely won’t mind. It’d be cool if Motorola made a MotoMod with a headphone jack, though.

Display and Cameras

Moving upward, we find the AMOLED display, which at 5.5" with QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution, looks gorgeous, and is covered in Gorilla Glass 4 for durability. Above that is the front-facing 5MP camera, capable of taking 1080p video, with an f/2.2 aperture and 1.4 µm pixels for improved low-light performance, and a front-facing flash when that’s not enough. The rear camera is pretty hefty too, boasting 13 megapixels for 4K recording and f/1.8 aperture with laser autofocus and optical image stabilization. The camera is excellent for a phone of this size and price, with superb low-light performance and low noise, along with almost zero shutter lag.

Internals

Even though the phone is super-thin, don’t think that Motorola skimped on specs. The Z is endowed with a quad-core Snapdragon 820 processor that handles any app thrown at it with aplomb. 4GB of RAM keep the whole thing humming along, and you’ll recognize other top-tier goodies like 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, and an Adreno 530 GPU. 64GB of internal storage can be augmented with a microSD card, which the Android OS can treat as part of the phone’s internal memory.

Software

On the software side, Motorola has again done the right thing, which in this case is basically—nothing. Android as an operating system is really, really good now, and the company wisely invested in hardware over designing a proprietary skin, a tradition that goes back to 2013’s Moto X, still one of my favorite phones of all time. Its software enhancements aren’t baked into the device but show up as apps, so OS updates should come pretty quickly depending on your carrier. The enhancements are pretty similar to other phones in the lineup: Moto Display, which pulses notifications when the screen is off by taking advantage of the AMOLED screen’s ability to turn individual pixels on at will, thereby saving battery. It recognizes when you start driving to turn on an in-car mode, responds to voice commands, and as mentioned above, opens the camera with a twist of the wrist. Pretty cool.

The Hasselblad Camera Mod

Like many photographers, I have an almost-daily debate on what camera gear I port from home. Do I lug my DSLR and lenses? Do I save size and weight with my mirrorless? Would a point-and-shoot be better for this outing? Or, should I just use my smartphone camera? The point-and-shoot camera industry has suffered with the advent of the ultra-portable smartphone camera. Both come with limitations. Most smartphone cameras are limited in image quality, manual control, and optical zoom and there has yet to be a point-and-shoot camera that lets you browse the Internet and make a phone call. Enter the Hasselblad True Zoom—simply a point-and-shoot camera that attaches to the back of the Moto Z as one of several Moto Mods.

Moto Z 64GB Smartphone Kit with Hasselblad True Zoom Camera

One of the largest limitations of the smartphone camera is its inability to perform optical zoom. Digital zoom on your phone is not really “zooming,” it is cropping. You are simply cropping into the frame and discarding the information outside of the crop. Optical zoom involves changing the focal length of the lens to change the camera’s angle of view optically. The Hasselblad True Zoom features a 10x optical zoom lens that gives you the 35mm equivalent angle of view of a 25-250mm zoom lens—a very versatile zoom range from mid wide-angle territory to a very good telephoto. It is also optically stabilized (electronically stabilized for video) and a xenon flash helps illuminate a scene much better than the smartphone’s flash/flashlight.

The maximum aperture of the lens is f/3.5 at the wide end and f/6.5 when zoomed out. This is middle of-the-road light gathering for a point-and-shoot camera. The True Zoom’s sensor is 1/2.3" (similar to many point-and-shoot cameras) and has 12MP resolution and the ability to capture raw files. ISO can be manually selected from ISO100 to ISO3200, and the sensor can shoot 1080p HD video as well.

But is it a Hasselblad?

It was a few short years ago that Hasselblad was re-branding point-and-shoot cameras, much to the dismay of many fans of the brand. Those days are over and it looked to those in the industry that Hasselblad was not only returning to its roots, but also becoming more innovative with the release of its new X1D mirrorless digital medium format camera.

Is the True Zoom a rebranding of something else? No, it appears to be another bold move from Hasselblad to innovate and gain a foothold in different areas of the photography market. And, with the vast majority of the world’s photographs being taken with smartphone cameras, this really isn't a bad market in which to try its hand.

Moto Z 64GB Smartphone Kit with Hasselblad True Zoom Camera

Many previous attempts at cameras that stick onto phones have been poorly designed and awkward. Some feature bold designs, but none really melded with the phone in a symbiotic fashion. The True Zoom changes that equation, thanks to the Moto Z’s integrated module-accepting design and some slick work by the Hasselblad design department.

Imagine a point-and-shoot camera that can make and receive phone calls and surf the Internet. That is the most basic summary of the Hasselblad True Zoom and Moto Z combination. The True Zoom isn’t going to be contending for the title of “World’s Best Point-and-Shoot,” but it is a definite step-up in optical versatility over the default smartphone camera, due to its zoom. The flash is a benefit, as well. And, it still fit into my pockets when attached to the Moto Z.

A few things to note: The minimum focus distance when zoomed in to the telephoto focal lengths is much greater than you will likely want, so only plan on zooming in to more distant objects; not to get a pseudo-macro view of something closer. And, if you alter the camera’s settings using the manual mode menu, you’ll have to re-do those settings if you change out of the True Zoom’s app or get a phone call. If you are a zoom addict and you don’t want to carry more than your phone with you, the Hasselblad True Zoom mod might be a good fit for you.

Insta-share Projector

I’ll admit it, I was skeptical about this mod. I didn’t imagine that a tiny projector that attaches to the back of a phone would be worth much. But in the right circumstances, the Insta-share shines bright. Setup, like with all MotoMods, is dead easy: You just place it on the back of your Moto Z and let the built-in magnets snap the two together. There’s no lining up, or pairing, or removing batteries, or powering down the phone. The mod is instantly recognized, and from there it’s up to you to turn it on with a button on its side.

Moto Z 64GB Smartphone Kit with Insta-Share DLP Projector

Let me get this out of the way first: At 50 lumens and 480p resolution, the Insta-share projector will not replace your home theater projector, or TV, or computer monitor. But it’s great for kicking back at the end of a long day, climbing into bed, and watching YouTube videos projected on the ceiling or wall. In a very dark room, you may find yourself surprised because the size of the image and ease of use make up for low resolution.

There are some other smart features, as well: While the projector has its own USB Type-C port for charging its internal battery, it also charges when you plug the phone in, with its own battery indicator and everything. It’s got an easy-to-use focus wheel, and a folding stand that lets you point the image out, up, or on an angle. Short-pressing the power button brings up an options menu, where you can adjust brightness and keystone (or set them both to automatic, which works surprisingly well). Most thoughtful of all is the option to only show notifications on the phone’s screen.

Even throwing just 50 lumens takes quite a bit of power and produces quite a bit of heat, so the Mod is cooled with a tiny fan that’s only audible during quieter moments. Battery life isn’t much of an issue either, with the projector lasting about two hours before running out of juice. In fact, my only gripe was with the grippy rubberized strips on the stand, which began to detach after a short amount of time in my pocket. Better to keep the projector in its handy carry bag than as a permanent fixture on your phone.

Hasselblad True Zoom Sample Photos

Sample images from the Hasselblad True Zoom. Images courtesy of ©Todd Vorenkamp

Do you use your smartphone for taking photographs? What do you think of this Hasselblad mode—does it interest you? Share questions and comments in the Comments section, below.

15 Comments

Hello! I just bought the z3 play and i found it amazing. I just think the photos it takes are quite awful. I mean my pictures look grainy and blurry. Do you think the camera mod Will help me take better photos? I dont care about the zoom, i just want good quality photos because mine are truly terrible. 

Hi Ruth - 

I think the Hasselblad camera mod will vastly improve the photos:

Take smartphone photography to the next level with this Hasselblad True Zoom Camera for Motorola Z family smartphones. A part of their Moto Mods system, this camera mounts easily to the back of the phone using strong magnets and features an electronic connection for data transmission and power. The True Zoom Camera dramatically improves your photographic capabilities by utilizing a 12MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor with a sensitivity range of up to ISO 3200 along with a Hasselblad 10x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 25-250mm and an f/3.5-6.5 aperture. This camera also features optical image stabilization to help reduce the impact of shutter shake and offers Full HD 1080p video at 30 fps with electronic stabilization. Additionally, the camera features a physical shutter release and zoom lever for tactile control as well as a built-in Xenon flash to illuminate dark scenes.

Advancing your image quality beyond what is normally found in a smartphone, the True Zoom Camera offers DNG raw shooting along with a Pro mode that offers control over focus, white balance, aperture, ISO, and exposure. It also offers a few color effects and red eye reduction in addition to the standard capture modes. And, thanks to smartphone integration users will be able to edit images, transfer them over Wi-Fi or cellular connections, and record geolocation data with ease.

I opted for this as I needed a new phone that would actually last a day or more. The other reason is my old well used camera actually died. So far I really like the results, still working out all the options and manual settings. 

Why is it moto z camera always say reset when i use it..what is the problema about it i need your comment..

The camera mod is the absolute best I've read about. It certainly makes me want to ditch my point and shoot for casual shoots.

There is definitely a convenience factor at play here! Thanks for reading, Carlos!

Does the camera mod have its own internal battery and approx how many shots is it good for?  Are there physical buttons for the zoom function on the camera mod or can you assign the phone's volume buttons for this?

Hi Paolo,

Good questions!

The camera mod is powered by the phone. It does not have its own batteries. How many shots it is good for depends on how much available memory is on your phone. The zoom is controlled by the bezel surrounding the shutter release button. I am not sure if you can assign other buttons to the task, but the bezel is the most convenient place to zoom the lens, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading!

The Canon PowerShot ELPH 170 IS Digital Camera is a 12X Optical Zoom 20MP camera and was recently being sold for $119.00.

As a travel photographer/blogger I would LOVE to get my hands on one of these! My biggest challenge when I'm out and about is capturing and quickly sharing 'in the moment' shots. 

Hello! great piece, how much does the whole kit phone and camera cost and can I put a tmobile card in it for the phone? 

Thanks...

Hi Rosa!  Please see below to our product link for pricing information.  The phone is only compatible with some of T-Mobile's network frequencies.  It may or may not work with T-Mobile.

https://bhpho.to/2fmOvOV

Looks like a Samsung K Zoom that can come apart to give just a slim phone when needed. Not bad idea, you still then tho have the debate whether to bring the bulky part with you or not etc.
With the K Zoom weighing 200g, offering 10xoptical zoom, 20mp, xenon flash, OIS and judging from the sample pics is on par photo quality wise, I'm thinking this hasselblad/motoz thing is just too late to the party. This was cameraphone tech 2yrs ago...
I still hold onto my K Zoom (not that I use it much), just because the cameraphone market has completely frozen for 2yrs now... nothing has been released that is significantly better, at least not at the K Zoom price point.

Anonymous wrote:

Looks like a Samsung K Zoom that can come apart to give just a slim phone when needed. Not bad idea, you still then tho have the debate whether to bring the bulky part with you or not etc.
With the K Zoom weighing 200g, offering 10xoptical zoom, 20mp, xenon flash, OIS and judging from the sample pics is on par photo quality wise, I'm thinking this hasselblad/motoz thing is just too late to the party. This was cameraphone tech 2yrs ago...
I still hold onto my K Zoom (not that I use it much), just because the cameraphone market has completely frozen for 2yrs now... nothing has been released that is significantly better, at least not at the K Zoom price point.

[Itquote=Anonymous]

Anonymous wrote:

Looks like a Samsung K Zoom that can come apart to give just a slim phone when needed. Not bad idea, you still then tho have the debate whether to bring the bulky part with you or not etc.
With the K Zoom weighing 200g, offering 10xoptical zoom, 20mp, xenon flash, OIS and judging from the sample pics is on par photo quality wise, I'm thinking this hasselblad/motoz thing is just too late to the party. This was cameraphone tech 2yrs ago...
I still hold onto my K Zoom (not that I use it much), just because the cameraphone market has completely frozen for 2yrs now... nothing has been released that is significantly better, at least not at the K Zoom price point.

[/quote]

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