Camera Operation

The Moto X’s main camera screen is cleaner than most. Touching anywhere on the screen takes a picture.

The Moto X’s camera app has a stripped-down feel that may appeal to less-sophisticated users but will leave experienced photographers wishing for more.

It opens with a reasonably convenient lock screen shortcut (a swipe along the bottom edge). The app can also be launched by snap-twisting the phone around the long axis twice, a feature Motorola calls Quick Capture. This works well once you get the hang of it, but the movement requires some oomph. It allows you to fire up the camera before you’ve even got the phone at eye level, and without finding any buttons. Under most circumstances we’d still prefer a dedicated shutter button that wakes up the camera on a long press, but the gesture really is handy.

Once the app is open, you’re faced with a minimalist main screen. Tapping anywhere takes a picture, which makes one-handed shooting easy.  Holding down your finger fires off a burst. 

Focus is strictly continuous: there’s no way to lock focus or exposure, which is frustrating if that’s how you’re used to shooting. That said, as continuous AF systems go, the Moto X’s is a good one. Once it’s settled, it doesn’t tend to drift or hunt unless the subject changes. 

By default, there’s no focus confirmation, and if you tap the screen the camera waits until it has locked focus to take a picture. This is the simplest way of doing things, but we generally prefer the option of being able to shoot whenever we want, as long as it’s clear whether AF has locked or not.

Swiping from the left pulls out a ring of basic options. You can change the HDR mode, flash mode, and select panoramic still or slow motion video shooting modes. Rotating the ring reveals less-used options: location tagging, shutter noise, and the app’s snap-to-wake feature.

Swiping from the left reveals an options ring with a few basic controls. It’s practical, but stumbles by requiring you to tap out of the menu even after making a selection.

You can also turn on a reticule that can then be moved around the screen to set the focus and exposure point. Most camera apps let you specify a focus point by just touching the screen, which is more convenient than turning the function on and off in the options menu. Also unusually, the reticule doesn’t just bias exposure towards the selected area: it’s effectively a spot-meter point. This makes it impractical to leave the reticule (which handily provides focus confirmation by turning green) active all the time.

A reticule for selecting the focus point that also functions as a spot meter can be toggled in the option menu.

The Moto X camera app clearly prioritizes simplicity over functionality. The upside is that the interface is uncluttered by the sometimes-ridiculous features and scene modes that plague some other camera apps. The downside is that some useful babies have been thrown out with the bathwater. There’s no manual ISO control, which means there’s no way to balance shutter speed against noise and blur considerations. There’s no manual white balance control, which is too bad because the Moto X sometimes flubs its automated choices. There’s no aspect ratio control, which we normally wouldn’t mention, but it could be useful here given the Moto X’s unusual sensor.

For total point-and-shoot simplicity, the Moto X’s native camera app gets the job done. But unlike the best camera apps, which offer more advanced functionality to more demanding users without befuddling novices, the Moto X achieves simplicity by limiting the possibility of being anything else.

For a quick tour of the Moto X camera app, watch the video below.