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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  • skiboysteve - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    wow awesome
  • jamdev12 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Thanks Brian. I was about to ask you guys to look into this, but you already beat me to the punch. I was on the fence and almost went and bought a LG G2 this weekend, but now that the camera has improved so much on the MotoX, I'm leaning more towards the MotoX. Thanks again.
  • BMNify - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Better wait for the Nexus 5.
  • jamdev12 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I would if it was coming to Verizon, but based on what happened with the GNex and how the Nexus 4 never made it to Verizon, I have very little hope that the Nexus 5 will even make it to Verizon and even worst is the fact that Google keeps on pushing their Cloud on me. I want to be able to save whatever I want on my phone, not rely on my connection to the internet in order for me to get what I need. Give me the storage option, don't just assume I'm going to get your phone just because you are Google. And more to that point, is that now many carriers charge for data, so the fact that I will have everything in the Cloud and that I will be eating huge amounts of data is a double whammy I will not live with. Period. So unless is on Verizon, and has at least 32GB of storage, I'm not touching it.
  • mtalinm - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Aren't nexus devices GSM only?
  • jamdev12 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    The Galaxy Nexus which was officially the Nexus 3 and then Google dropped support for it was a Nexus on the Verizon network. With Verizon, unless you are Apple, it is very difficult to get any updates through their system. I don't know if its the notion that Apple can sell more or that Google just doesn't have that much sway, but I still blame Google for dropping support for the most part on this device.
  • Impulses - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Not by tradition or policy... The Galaxy S was available on Sprint, thGalaxy Nexus was largely a Verizon experiment (fail)... So two out of four Nexus devices were GSM only (first and last), and the last one didn't support LTE so it was limited in other ways.

    OTOH the CDMA market outside of Verizon is small (by comparison) as it's pretty much Sprint and a few MNVO. Regardless, FCC docs do indeed suggest the next Nexus will fully support all AT&T, Tmo, and Sprint bands for 3G, voice, and LTE. (with SVLTE and being the only glaring sacrifice for Sprint)
  • Rock Hydra - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    I would also be wary of Verizon and un-branded devices that support Verizon lte. I was listening to a rant on twit about Verizon not opening a new line for a nexus 7 because it hadn't gone through some security and network compatibility stuff. It was said that the wait for authentication was about six to eight weeks
  • ryanmt - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    This was my major concern about the MotoX... it seemed like the camera wasn't acceptable compared to other options, like the HTC One.
  • Impulses - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Very interesting, shame they didn't come out the door with this kinda performance since most sites will never retest. I reeeeally like the compact size of the X, but a low priced Nexus 5 will probably woo me away to a larger phone (if it does indeed come to Sprint).

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