At IFA in Berlin, Lenovo has revealed its latest Moto Mod detachable smartphone accessory module: The Hasselblad True Zoom. It's a camera module with a 10x zoom lens, physical shutter button, zoom lever and a Xenon flash. Like previous Moto Mods it attaches directly to a compatible phone – currently the Moto Z, Moto Z Force and also brand new Moto Z Play will work – magnetically and via a series of contacts on the back of the device. It offers the following specifications:

  • 12MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor with 1.55 um pixel size
  • 25-250mm equivalent 10x zoom lens
  • 12MP
  • F3.5-6.5 aperture
  • ISO 100 to 3200
  • 1080p video 
  • 2 built-in microphones 
  • Physical two-stage shutter button and zoom lever
  • Xenon flash
  • 145g
  • Available globally in September for $299/€299

We have had the chance to test a pre-production unit, attached to a Lenovo Moto Z Force, as well as with the new Z Play, for a few days. Read on to find out how we got on.

Operations and ergonomics

The docking process is extremely simple and quick. The Hasselblad True Zoom is literally 'sucked' in place on the back on the smartphone by magnetic force and usable instantly, without the need to restart the device. The process is much quicker and easier than, for example, attaching the LG G5 camera grip, which requires removal of the battery and a restart. It's also easier than pairing the Sony QX or Kodak Wi-Fi camera modules. 

Both smartphone and camera module come with electronic connection pins. Once the two devices get close the camera clips into place by magnetic force.

The module body is made from a solid-feeling plastic material and the rubberized grip makes it comfortable to hold. In terms of overall dimensions, weight and ergonomics the Moto Z Force with the attached True Zoom module feels not too dissimilar to the Samsung Galaxy Camera models, but gives you the option to remove the module when it's not needed. The physical shutter button supports half-pressing for locking exposure and AF and, like the zoom rocker, works just like on a compact camera. There is no noticeable lag, and overall operation is very responsive.  

With its rubberized grip the True Zoom feels comfortable and secure to hold. With an attached smartphone the combo feels similar to the Samsung Galaxy Camera series.

By default the True Zoom works with the standard Moto camera app, which makes things nice and easy for the user, as no adaption to a new user interface is required. More advanced users will appreciate the full manual control over shooting parameters in Manual Mode and the ability to save Raw files with the JPEG images. The final version of the app will come with a range of True Zoom-specific Hasselblad image modes, but those had not been implemented yet on our pre-production test device.

In the settings you select DNG Raw format. The final version of the True Zoom will come with a range of Hasselblad image modes.

You can also use the True Zoom module for capturing images straight from Instagram and similar apps but it appears that at this point manual control and Raw capture are not available in third-party camera apps that focus on photographic control, such as Manual camera or Camera FV-5.

Image Output

The 10x optical zoom is one of the True Zoom’s most obvious advantages over a smartphone camera and covers pretty much all focal lengths needed on a typical vacation or trip. The optical image stabilization works very efficiently and keeps things steady at longer focal lengths. On our pre-production unit sharpness does vary a bit across the zoom range though – at some settings there is noticeable softness around the edges. 

Wide angle, 25mm equivalent, ISO 100, 1/2000 sec

Tele, 250mm equivalent, ISO 100, 1/320 sec

In good light the True Zoom produces good exposure and consumer-friendly vibrant colors but in terms of pixel-level detail it does not offer any noticeable advantage over most built-in smartphone cameras. Images show the same smearing of finer low-contrast detail, highlight clipping and luminance noise levels at base ISO that you would expect from a smartphone camera. 

 ISO 100, 1/800 sec
 ISO 100, 1/500 sec

In lower light the True Zoom images are again on a similar level to built-in smartphone cameras. Image detail starts suffering as you go up the ISO scale and both luminance and chroma noise are becoming more noticeable. Partly this is caused by the comparatively slower apertures of the lens, especially at the longer end of the zoom range. Thanks to the efficient OIS camera shake is hardly an issue, even at longer focal lengths, but in Auto mode slow shutter speeds in low light can lead to motion blur on moving subjects. Thankfully shutter speeds can be manually increased, as long as you're happy to shoot at higher ISOs.

ISO 560, 1/30 sec
ISO 2500, 1/100 sec, manual exposure mode

The Xenon flash is another big advantage of the True Zoom module. It’s much more powerful than the LED flashes of smartphone cameras and allows for the illumination of subjects farther away from the lens, such as groups of people, and even some of the background. In our testing, exposure was good and we did not see any red-eye effect. In flash mode the camera also keeps the ISO low which makes for decent detail. 

 ISO 200, 1/30 sec, flash

The True Zoom also shoots 1080p video at 30 frames per second. Image quality is again on smartphone level but the module's big bonus is the zoom which, thanks to the very efficient OIS, allows for getting closer to your subject, even when recording handheld. The low light video below shot with the zoom set to approximately 150mm equivalent.

Studio test scene comparison

Below you can see how the Hasselblad True Zoom performs capturing our standard studio test scene, next to the Moto Z Play's built-in camera for comparison. 

Conclusion

The Hasselblad True Zoom is the best smartphone camera add-on I have used so far. Attaching it to the phone is super-easy and quick. When it's not needed, it is swiftly removed and stored away. It feels nice in the hand and the controls work well. The zoom range is very useful and offers a big advantage over the fixed wide-angle lenses in smartphone cameras. The Xenon flash is much more powerful than a smartphone LED and helps keep the ISO down.

Those looking for premium-compact or even DSLR-like image quality will be disappointed, though. Looking at the True Zoom's sensor specification, it is no surprise that pixel-level detail and dynamic range are on very similar levels to built-in smartphone cameras. In terms of image quality, the optical zoom, robust image stabilization and Xenon flash are the module's real advantages.

Currently, the most obvious disadvantage is the fact that you can only use the Hasselblad True Zoom with a compatible smartphone. That said, the Lenovo Moto Z models are attractive devices in their own right and make a nice package with the module. I enjoyed using the True Zoom on a recent short vacation and, as a photographer, I really hope the module will be an economic success for Lenovo and its subdivision Motorola. This would mean that we'd be likely to see more models in this series. A 'Pro' version with shorter zoom range but larger sensor, and maybe a physical control dial, sounds like music to our ears.