Motorola Moto X Style / Pure Edition camera review
Image Quality and Performance
Thanks to the power of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 808 chip and 3GB of RAM, the Moto X Style always feels responsive and quick in normal use. The camera starts and is ready for shooting in under two seconds, either by tapping the camera icon or using Motorola's special wrist gesture.
Sony's IMX230 camera sensor comes with on-chip phase detection AF to augment the usual contrast detect method and the Moto X Style tends to lock AF swiftly. It takes just under a second in bright light for the camera to focus. In lower light AF speed decreases but in my testing I've found that the Moto X always manages to lock down to very low light levels and hardly ever finds itself hunting.
In terms of battery life we found the Moto X Style to be pretty average. The 3,000 mAh battery usually takes you through the day but you'll definitely have to find a power outlet overnight. The battery comes with fast charging technology though. So if you do find yourself with low power, only a brief charge is required to get you moving again pretty quickly.
Daylight, Low ISO
The 21MP images of our test unit show good sharpness across the frame, with slight softness visible only in the extreme corners. Well balanced sharpening means that in bright light the Motorola captures detail that is among the very best of current high-end smartphone cameras. Exposure and white balance are generally good, with slightly saturated but natural colors and skin tones. Images taken in sunlight tend to have a slightly warm cast.
Default contrast is pretty strong which leads to punchy images but also a slightly tendency to clip highlights in high-contrast scenes. Luminance noise is just about noticeable in blue skies and some shadow areas but overall very better controlled than on many competitors and not intrusive. We found no moiré patterns or other artifacts in our images and although traces of color fringing are just visible on extreme high-contrast edges the effect is pretty much a non-issue.
Overall in bright light conditions the Motorola puts in a convincing performance, capturing better detail than most smartphone cameras and producing good color and exposure. The only drawback is a slight tendency to clip highlights. In high-contrast situations it's therefore advisable to either engage the HDR mode, use the focus target to expose for the highlights or dial in a touch of negative exposure compensation.
Low Light, High ISO
Thanks to a maximum ISO of 2000 and slowest shutter speed of 1/15 sec the Motorola Moto X Style is capable of capturing decent exposures down to pretty low light levels and maintains good tonality and color throughout the illumination range. Thanks to well-balanced noise reduction in lower light the camera maintains good detail as ISO increases. However, the lack of an optical image stabilization system means that when things get very dark, the Motorola has to resort to higher ISO values than some of its rivals that come with OIS in order to manage the risk of image blur through camera shake.
Loss of detail starts to become noticeable and and luminance noise begins creeping into the shadows and mid-tones by ISO 250. Chroma noise is well controlled up to very high ISOs though. At ISO 400 the camera is still capable of capturing fine textures but detail really starts suffering at ISO 800 and above. Good edge definition, exposure and color are maintained up to the highest ISO values, though, making images perfectly usable at screen size and smaller.
At the very highest sensitivities image quality at a pixel level is clearly suffering but one has to keep in mind that the Motorola's images are larger than most, so will still look decent at downsized typical online use. The camera also tends to deal well with challenging mixed light situations. Overall the Moto X Style does very well in low light but, in very dark static scenes, cannot quite keep up with the best stabilized models.
The Moto X Style comes with a dual-color LED flash. As we'd expect from most smartphones it's not powerful enough to freeze motion which means that at slow shutter speeds the risk of image blur through camera shake is the same as when shooting without flash. However, in flash mode the Motorola produces images that usually show good exposure and color.
The Motorola LED flash acts as a fill-in light in the sense that it uses high ISOs and slow shutter speeds in flash mode to not only illuminate the subject but also expose for the background. On the plus side that gets you a nicely balanced exposure with good detail in the background and not just an illuminated subject in front of a black background. On the downside you get the same risk of camera shake and effects of noise reduction as when shooting without flash. It's almost a matter of personal taste which approach you prefer. Some images show a hint of red-eye but overall it's kept very well under control.
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