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Motorola camera shootout: How much do you need to spend?

Motorola makes devices spanning a wide price range, from budget phones, to midrange phones, to high-end phones. With so many recent releases, we thought it’d be interesting to compare the cameras on Motorola’s 2018 smartphones to see exactly how much better the camera quality is as you go up in price.

We looked at the Moto E5 Play, Moto E5 Plus, Moto G6, Moto G6 Play, Moto Z3 Play, and Moto Z3. In these Motorola camera samples, we’ll be focusing on four common scenarios: Food, self-portrait, landscape, and low light.

Food

The first image is a very simple photo of two coffee cups, but its bright sunny background can pose a challenge for any smartphone. Unsurprisingly, the Moto Z3 and Z3 Play handled this situation the best. Color reproduction was nearly identical, but the Z3 had severely overblown highlights. This was surprising, considering the Z3 should have the better Motorola camera. It could have also been an error on our part, as the Z3’s image is slightly out of focus.

The E5 Play was dead last, producing the least amount of detail, very overexposed highlights, and poor color reproduction. The E5 Plus produced significantly better results, despite only being one tier up in Motorola’s product line – just look at the E5 Plus image against the Z3 to see what we mean. It doesn’t have quite the same sharpness as the G6 or Z3 lines, but the overall image had similar color reproduction and dynamic range.

Self-Portraits

Selfies are a great way to showcase how these smartphone cameras handle detail and skin tones. In this particular example, the highlights from the sun also helped test dynamic range. The E5 Play again produced the worst image. The colors are very muted and highlights are overblown compared to the other samples. You can see this easily on the white wall, the edge of David’s face and the window in the background.

Move up to the E5 Plus and again there’s a dramatic change in image quality. The image is sharper, colors have more contrast, and dynamic range is better. Highlights are still slightly too bright, but much more in control than the E5 Play. The Moto G6 and G6 Play improve on the dynamic range with great control of the highlights but color reproduction is quite different. The G6’s image has warmer skin tones while the G6 Play’s colors look more similar to the E5 Plus.

The Z3 and Z3 Play produced the best images, just as they should, but didn’t have completely identical results. The Z3 has much warmer skin tones, while the Z3 Play has more natural colors. Otherwise, both Motorola camera results at the high end are fairly similar and both are pleasant to look at overall.

Landscape

In this particular example, we’re focusing mostly on how well each Motorola camera captured the finer details and how accurate colors appear. The E5 Play performed much better outdoors, but still trailed behind the rest of Motorola’s smartphones. The photo looks good overall, as long as you don’t zoom in. The image is not actually very sharp. There is a lot of missing detail in the text on the neon sign and the texture of the building itself. The color of the blue sky also looks very unnatural and overexposed.

The E5 Plus brought in more detail in all areas of the photo. The sky is also a more natural shade and there are no overexposed highlights. Dynamic range, however, is lacking as the shadows appear overly dark. The G6 improved on the E6 Plus’ image but had a very unattractive emphasis on the color green. The G6 is also much warmer than its Play counterpart.

We still weren’t very surprised that the Z3 and Z3 Play produced the best results but they aren’t significantly better than Motorola’s midrange offerings. The Z3 Play has the same green tint as the G6, while the Z3 looks more like the image from the G6 Play with similar color reproduction and warmth.

Low light

Lowlight performance is always a good indicator of how good a smartphone camera is, and it’s usually very easy to spot the differences. Again, the E5 Play was the worst offender here. The image is extremely dark, there is a lot of noise, and it’s hard to see any sort of detail in the subject.

The E5 Plus is a slight improvement, producing a sharper image and better colors, but it still isn’t a great image. The Moto G6 really steps it up with much better exposure on the subject but the highlights are more blown out in the background. The G6 Play falls more in line with the E5 Play and E5 Plus, as its image was dark and grainy, and it was hard to see detail. The Z3 and Z3 Play were the sharpest, with the best balance of color, brightness, and the least noise. Overall, none of the Motorola cameras were very impressive in low light scenarios, proving that no matter what you spend, the current Moto range will struggle in the dark.

Motorola camera comparison: Conclusion

While you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to smartphone cameras, the law of diminishing returns still applies here. There is a drastic jump in quality from the E5 Play to the E5 Plus, but the gap from the E5 Plus to the high-end Moto Z3 isn’t quite as significant. There are still plenty of differences, they’re just subtler.

We were surprised how well the E5 Plus kept up with Motorola’s flagships. In most situations, it produced very similar results to the Z3 Play and Z3. Big differences were only really noticeable in low light. It just shows how you don’t have to pay a lot of money to get a decent smartphone camera, so if you’re strapped for cash and down for a new Moto phone, we’d recommend checking out the Moto E5 Play first. However, if you want a Motorola camera that performs well in all scenarios, higher-end flagships are still the best way to go.

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