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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  • Droidguy29 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    You can manually turn HDR off or on or turn it to auto-HDR. The camera currently seems to kick HDR in more frequently in the auto mode. I don't mind loss of shadow detail to overcome the ridiculous haze. Also feel that the camera is really sensitive to lens grime or smudges. You have to OCD about cleaning the lens for a clear photo. Hope this addresses this issue too. I've got a Droid Mini on Verizon so I hope this update will eventually make it over. The whole Droid lineup has the same camera and processor hardware/software as the Moto X. Reply
  • pixelslave - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    It will be very interesting to compare phones camera when the final image are all at the same dimension. For example, the HTC One appears to do a lot better than the Moto X (pre-updated), but while the HTC One's sensor pixel size is a lot bigger, Moto X has a lot more pixels to begin with. It will be interesting to compare Moto X's output when the photo it captured is down-sampled to the same size as the HTC One, as this effectively "enlarge" Moto X sensor's pixel size virtually. Reply
  • siberstorm - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Software tuning can only do so much. The potential of the hardware just isn't there. I was expecting more from the clearpixel breakthrough. At least, I thought it was suppose to be a breakthrough. The camera would've probably benefited more from OIS or a lower aperture lens than the clearpixel layer. At least it is on par with the rest and not substantially worse like before. Reply
  • cditty - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I still love my Lumia 928 for the camera. I still put my SIM in it when I am going to be taking pictures. I love my Moto X and the Android ecosystem, but the more I use my Lumia, the more I am thinking of selling the X.

    I will be honest, I like the Lumia a lot better, since I have been using 8.1 as a full time OS on my Ultrabook.

    It's a shame Google doesn't get how important the camera is. Outside of HTC, there is really no stellar low to mid light Android camera.
    Reply
  • gandergray - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Brian: Thank you for the valuable information. You should link this article in your original review. Reply
  • sany - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Hope Google does the same kind of tune up for it's Nexus 4. We come to realise the in built camera software is mediocre, when we try to use third party camera softwares like Camera FV lite or Camera 360 ultimate - what these produce are far better (whilst using the same lens and hardware) to what the former can do.
    Therefore, as the article says the software tuning is very important and hope (if not other OEMs for their flagships) atleast Google follows steps to do this for their most popular Nexus 4 as this is one big lagging area for this device as most of us know.
    Reply
  • sasthach - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the update, Brian! The only thing that I would have liked to have seen is for the low light pictures to have the same ISO for a truer apples to apples comparison.

    Like a few others have mentioned, the camera was the biggest turnoff for me up until now. This update may have just put me over the edge though!
    Reply
  • boris81 - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    http://www.droid-life.com/2013/09/23/moto-x-camera...

    The samples from the link above show unacceptable level of purple fringing in the MotoX shots.
    This problem is generally associated with lens quality so we might see it go away in newer camera modules. But it has drawn to my attention that the new Clear Pixel sensor also collects a lot of ultraviolet light.

    Purple fringing is also present in shots with the old software. The new processing engine seems to make it more visible, not add more of it. The new software aims to underexpose landscape scenes. Looking at the EXIF data from the old and updated shots I'm surprised to see that the ISO, f-stop and shutter speed are more or less the same. That indicates that the new image look may be the result of digital processing, not improvements in the metering and capture system.

    The Clear Pixel color matrix calls for extra calculations on the green channel to determine the correct tonal balance. It seems the new software is able to accomplish that really well in dark lit environment but it looks to me that it's somewhat off when the highlights are clipped. The high ISO performance of the Clear Pixel sensor looks great but it's probably somewhat prudent to pursue better sensor dynamic range as we race towards better low-light performance.
    Reply
  • Samwise - Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - link

    Anandtech, please review the Droid MAXX. Reply
  • hemesh - Monday, May 12, 2014 - link

    how to update the moto x camera?? Reply

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