A Travel Blogger’s review of the Moto Z Play and Camera Mod

As a traveller I like light and I like hassle-free. It’s one big reason I never got myself a DSLR camera like a lot of other travellers or bloggers – most of the shots you see on my blog and instagram are taken with my iphone because I feel that having a camera is fiddly and interferes with my travel style. I’m all about swooping in, getting that shot, and then spending the rest of my time actually admiring the scenery.

Portugal - Lagos Street Art Aryz
That’s what I look like on my travels taking photos of everything with just my phone! This is me testing out the Oppo N1 Mini phone on my trip to Portugal previously – I’m currently using an iphone 6s

 

So when Motorola launched their Moto Z Play phone with interchangable Moto Mods, I was suitably intrigued. What really caught my eye was the Hasselblad True Zoom mod (HTZ), which is basically a camera attachment from renowned Swedish camera maker Hasselblad that would apparently enhance your smartphone photography experience! Would this phone and attachments allow this amateur travel blogger to upgrade her photography skills? Read on for my review!

(pix: phone with htz)

Just to note that this isn’t going to be a very technical review – so if you want to know about specs and technical details, this isn’t the review for you. I’m looking at this from a more layman point of view on how suitable I think it would be for a rather amateur level photographer who travels. Also, I’m not really looking closely at the other aspects of the phone – I’m a longtime iphone user and the Android interface honestly boggles me.

 

HOW THE HASSELBLAD TRUE ZOOM MOD WORKS

MotoZ Play and Hasseblad True Zoom Mod Connectors
The pin bits at the bottom are where the mods and the phone transfer information without the need for any other plugins. There are magnets on the top and bottom parts of the mod

The Moto mods are all magnetic and easily clip on to the back of the Motorola Z or Motorola Z Play via strong magnets. It may seem a bit precarious to just rely on magnets without any physical catches, but I can tell you from using it that the magnets are really strong and once the mod is in place, it’s really hard to budge, even if you want to get it off you have to know how/where to push to loosen the magnetic hold, so there is no worry about any thing coming loose.

For the HTZ, it fits over the Moto Z Play’s camera and when connected, uses the HTZ camera instead – there’s a foam covered depression on the mod to accommodate that. Fitting on the mod also starts up the HTZ camera automatically, but otherwise there is an on/off button to toggle. You can switch on the mod from the lock screen by swiping as well.

What I noticed is the really loud whir of the lens as it pops in and out. Maybe I’m too used to my iphone camera being more incognito and quieter, but while you can switch off the sound of the shutter, you can’t do anything about the whirring sound. When you take videos, you can hear the whirring sound over recorded video quite distinctly when you zoom in and out!

 

LOOK AND FEEL

Moto Z Play and Hasseblad True Zoom Mod Front
From the front when t he HTZ is switched on – the lens moves in and out and that’s what causes the whirring. The bit on the right where my thumb is is the grip area

The HTZ is a really pretty looking mod, and clipping it on instantly transforms your phone into something quite fancy. I like that the right side of the mod has a textured and curved grip area which makes it easier to hold the phone as a camera compared to that of a normal smartphone. However, the HTZ weighs 145g (the phone is a slim 165g) – quite a significant weight – attaching it makes your phone quite a lot heavier which might be taxing on your wrist if you are taking a lot of photos.

The HTZ has a shutter button on top for capturing photos and half-pressing it lets you focus, and there is also a zoom toggle that lets you zoom in without having to touch the screen, both great features for photography on a smartphone. One thing pretty cool about the Moto Z Play is that if you hold the camera and twist your wrist twice, you’ll toggle the camera on, or change modes between the rear and the front camera. With the HTZ, there’s a bit of a lag when the camera switches on with the twisting action.

MotoZplay htz button
Nice camera like buttons and grip

One thing I really wish it had is a camera wrist strap. I am so paranoid about dropping my camera/phone when I’m taking photos, especially when in a crowded situation. Given the weight of the mod, I think Motorola needs to find a way to integrate a wrist strap into the corner of the HTZ. Most cameras have a neck and/or wrist strap, and the HTZ needs one if it wants to properly mimic the camera experience.

The HTZ comes with a custom sleek black camera case (which does have a wrist strap), and provides storage for the camera mod when it’s not in use. The case is just big enough to fit the phone with the HTZ attached to it, but it is a pretty snug fit and it’s quite difficult to fish the phone out quickly when you want to grab a shot. Again, perfect argument for the wrist strap on the HTZ itself which would let you keep the camera ready without having to put it back into the case when you need your hands free, and it would make it easier to extract the camera from the case too.

 

THE CAMERA

Moto Z Play Camera (no mod)

The Moto Z Play has a 16MP rear camera (5MP with wide angle on the front camera and front facing flash) which is pretty decent on its own. See full specs here, but some highlights:

  • Shoot in auto mode – this is the easiest option where you can toggle HDR, Flash and Timer. You can control the brightness by pressing on the screen to lock your focus and dragging your finger along the circle.
  • Shoot in manual mode – you have the option to control Aperture, Shutter Speed, White Balance, Focal Point, ISO via an onscreen menu which is quite easy to use. You just drag your finger along the curve to select the modes you need. If you’re familiar with the settings, you can set your mode quite easily
Moto Z Play Camera Manual
Manual mode pulls up this menu where you can either change the specs individually or all at once

With the Hasselblad True Zoom Mod

With the HTZ mod attached – see specs here –  the features above are still available, but you also have the option to:

  • Shoot in Colour (jpeg), Black and White (jpeg) or Colour (Raw + jpeg)
  • Automatic scene modes – Sports, Night Portrait, Backlight Portrait, Night Landscape, Landscape
  • Optical zoom (10x), Digital zoom (4x)
Moto Z Play Hasselblad Mod Camera Options
Press the H for Hasselblad modes which lets you decide how to shoot. The thing is that it doesn’t remember your last option? So every time you go out of the camera mode and come back in, you need to remember to toggle your settings again!

Note that the HTZ doesn’t work on its own – it has to be connected to the phone unit to work and turn on/off. It would be really cool if you could still use the mod on its own without being attached to the phone, especially given the price you are paying for it (more on that below in the Price section) which feels a little like buying your own point and shoot camera. Being able to extend storage space for photography perhaps via a micro SD card in the mod would also be quite useful.

The Zoom function is pretty cool, but the zoom toggle doesn’t really allow for fine or gradual zooming, so trying to adjust the zoom is a bit of a pain as you toggle in and out to try and find the right zoom length.

 

PHOTOS

I brought the Moto Z Play and the HTZ along with me on my recent trip to Bangkok and used it to shoot photos and videos alongside my usual cameras. Here’s a selection of the pictures with the HTZ mod – I only resized the pictures for the internet, but left them unedited otherwise.

Bangkok htz floating market top
The Floating Market from above
Bangkok htz King Bridge
I’ve read reviews that the night mode is not great, but this picture actually came out quite decently
Bangkok htz market fruit
At Or Tor Kor market
Bangkok htz amphawa mary
In bright daylight
Bangkok htz temple
A cloudy day, a backlit shot of a golden temple roof
bangkok htz amphaw weaving
Indoors with an old lady weaver
bangkok htz alms zoomout
Alms giving by the river on an early morning
bangkok htz alms zoomin
I managed to zoom in quite a lot, think the quality is definitely better than if I’d zoomed in with my iphone!
bangkok htz nychos zoomout
Another challenging shot trying to get a shot of this particular Nychos artwork from the expressway
bangkok htz nychos zoomin
The Zoom definitely helped!
bangkok htz amphawa rose
The focusing is pretty good – the macro mode of the HTZ lets you get some really fine detail up close that you just can’t with the iphone and the Moto Z Play phone camera

 

 

PRICE

The price of the Moto Z Play phone price starts from S$699. For reference, the latest iPhone 7 prices start from S$1,048.

The Hasselblad Mod is a separate purchase at a hefty S$459. Currently there are no bundles available.

 

CONCLUSION

As a camera phone, I think the Moto Z play’s camera is quite good. I’m too used to iphone functionality but if your primary concern is taking good photos and you like Android, the Moto Z Play is worth considering. The manual mode is definitely a plus for those who usually shoot manual mode on cameras, and let’s you take nice shots of scenes that might ordinarily be hard to capture with just a normal camera phone. Another plus point is the super long battery life, always a bonus for a traveller who might not have access to a power outlet during a busy day out.

For the Hasselblad mod however, I think that unless you’re really big on shooting raw, using the zoom functions and taking macro shots, I’d consider waiting for them to improve the mod in future iterations or drop the price, because right now it just seems too pricey. I think the mods are a really good idea – I think if the idea of mods catches on, we could be in for a very interesting wave of smartphone options in future, but the HTZ definitely needs to be refined further.

If you are planning to get the Moto Z Play, I did casually test out two of the other mods as well that I thought travellers might find useful as well. Price-wise they are both cheaper and may be worth considering over the Hasselblad Mod:

  • Incipio offGRID Power Pack mod (aka the powerbank mod – S$139) to give your phone extra juice. The Moto Z Play already touts extended battery life, but the Power Pack will make sure you won’t be scrambling to recharge if you use your phone a lot on the go, whether for photography or other things that tend to drain your battery quickly like maps and video capture
  • JBL Soundboost Speaker mod (aka the speaker mod – S$139) lets you attached a rather swanky speaker to the phone for enhanced sound and even has a built-in kickstand so you can prop your phone up – I imagine this would make you quite popular in hostels for providing the party tunes!

Thanks to Motorola for loaning me the phone and the mods for review. All opinions here are my own and based on my own experience.

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