In my Moto X review, I characterized camera performance and quality as very bimodal. In some scenes it could take great photos, in others it seemed to struggle and either produce images that looked somewhat washed out with weird white balance or aggressive noise reduction. In low light scenes where I expected the clear pixel to make a dramatic improvement, photos were a bit splotchier than I had hoped also from noise reduction. On paper the Moto X should’ve been a solid performer – Motorola went for a relatively large 1/2.6" format sensor, with 1.4µm pixels, a unique RGBC color filter array with single clear pixel, and an F/2.4 optical system.

The good news is that Motorola is dramatically improving the Moto X camera experience with an upcoming OTA update that’s rolling out today to T-Mobile Moto X owners, and hopefully eventually to other operators after testing and approval is completed.

Imaging performance improves dramatically indoors and out with this update. The update changes the tuning of the camera by improving exposure in outdoor and backlit scenes, white balance and color accuracy across the board, and reducing noise in low light scenes. I got the chance to play around with a Moto X with this update loaded on and of course brought along a Moto X without the update to compare side by side in my dual-camera bracket.

Moto X Not Updated: ISO 3200, 1/15s

I have to say that the changes Motorola makes to the Moto X with this update are nothing short of the biggest I’ve ever seen come across in an OTA update. There’s a lot of performance that comes from properly tuning a system, and it’s obvious that the imaging team has retuned a lot of the imaging pipeline in the Moto X with this update, as a lot of things are fixed.

That white haziness that used to cloud so many outdoors photos is completely gone, instead replaced by tuning that yields more contrasty results without that same kind of haze. White balance also improves outdoors, sometimes images had a blueish cast to them, this is now a bit warmer when appropriate. Colors also seem to pop a lot better. Outdoors the Moto X really performs a lot better thanks to improvements to auto exposure which now no longer randomly overexposes some scenes. The noise reduction algorithm that was running has also been turned down dramatically, leaving a lot more high spatial frequency detail in images, which is visible in trees and bricks especially in my sample images. I definitely prefer camera tuning that passes more detail at the expense of also passing more chroma noise, it seems that Motorola has gone that way as well with this update.

In low light the Moto X shows much of what it does outdoors – fixed white balance even under challenging sodium light sources, dramatically less noise reduction which passes through a lot more detail. Images look less like oil paintings, in the sample photo of the test scene more detail on the book makes it through, including those narrow lines which previously blurred together. There’s more chroma noise but again I like this tradeoff.

Overall I’m hugely impressed with the improvements that Motorola made to the Moto X camera with this update. I've been carrying the Moto X as my daily for a while now and lacking imaging performance was my only major concern anymore, with this update, the Moto X moves up quite a bit in my mind. It’s great to see the Moto X move a lot closer to the imaging performance that I expected given the impressive specs and emphasis that clearly was put on that axis of performance.

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  • Impulses - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    I agree, I was juscurious whether it'd make it to Sprint One Up program which actually has some merit. Reply
  • SimLash - Thursday, September 26, 2013 - link

    I'm waiting for Moto Maker but I'm wondering why T-Mobile isn't doing its payment plan with the X Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    It is good news that the camera no longer has to be a feature that pushes away buyers who are on the fence.

    The big issue, however, is that they need to make MotoMaker available on all carriers. A smarter move would have been to release the phone at $100 for white and black models, then they could have gotten away with charging $200 for customized versions. I think they would have sold many more handsets (customized and not customized) with that strategy.

    As it stands, most people considering this phone outside of AT&T will be waiting for MotoMaker. By the time it becomes available, there is a serious danger of losing the spotlight to all of the new phones that will be released between now and the holidays.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Then people would've been outraged at the cost and few would bother with using Maker... I'd pay $50 extra for the privilege, maybe, certainly not $100. The exclusivity sucks either way, wonder how much AT&T paid for it and whether it was rally worth it for Moto. Had the camera worked right on day one and the device/Maker/DEs not home thru this whole staggered launch it would've been a huge hit IMO. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I agree that $100 would be a lot, so no argument there, but at least it would give Motorola something to point to when trying to justify the $200 price (i.e. the cost of customization and your phone being built/customized in the USA for US buyers). As it stands, $200 seems too high, and if you are not on AT&T it feels like you are missing out on half the fun of getting this phone. Reply
  • kwamayze - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    How does it compare to other flagship phones now? I was wishing you update the previous article Reply
  • mcsmith1981 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Yes, I'd like to know how it compares to the 5S camera, as I am considering switching to Android for this phone, but the camera is one of the key considerations for me. Reply
  • Brian Klug - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I definitely plan to do the comparisons again and see how it stacks up, I just didn't have enough time to do everything for that.

    -Brian
    Reply
  • swamy035 - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Curious to know about the speed - launch speed, between snaps, image view (if it counts here)? - just from the time you spent with I5s and updated x ? Reply
  • somedude1 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Does this update address only the camera?
    Any release notes? ...mostly curious if it addresses the noise-cancellation problems...
    Thanks.
    Reply

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