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Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod Review

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Unfortunately, this Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod attachment for the Lenovo Moto Z series of smartphones doesn't deliver the excellence I was hoping for.

What’s the most important feature in a smartphone? We’ve asked you that before, and usually one of the most popular answers is the camera. There hasn’t been very much innovation in terms of really good high-quality smartphone cameras ever since Nokia released the Lumia 1020 and Pureview 808 over 3 years ago, though that’s not for a lack of trying. We were kind of hoping for a nice camera attachment expansion pack for the Motorola Moto Z smartphones that were launched in July, but all we saw were battery expansions, speaker expansions, and a projector expansion. Today our hopes for a high quality camera expansion pack have been answered. Now we’ve got the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod!

If you haven’t heard of Hasselblad before, it’s probably because you can’t afford them. Hasselblad is known for making very high-end cameras and lenses in the $10,000-$50,000 range. These are generally designed for medium format digital sensors and medium format film. Medium format digital sensor sizes can have from 3 to 4 times the amount of surface area that a full-frame 35mm DSLR would have. That’s a lot more room for absorbing light and a lot more room for detail.  Sorry, but we’re getting sidetracked. The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod is nothing like an actual Hasselblad camera other than having the logo embossed into the hardware. Read on to find out how the Hasselblad True Zoom handles photography when attached to the Moto Z Play smartphone.

Specs

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The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod currently works with the Moto Z Play, but will have an update before release that will enable it to work with the Moto Z and Moto Z Force. The expansion pack alone has physical dimensions of 152.3 x 72.9 x 15.1 mm and it weighs 145g.

The MotoMod has its own BSI CMOS camera sensor built in with a resolution of 12 megapixels, a 1/2.3 inch sensor size, and 1.55um pixels. The 10x zoom lens extends between 4.5 mm and 45 mm focal lengths which is about equivalent to a 25-250mm zoom in 35mm film terms. There’s also optical image stabilization throughout the zoom range (unless you’re shooting video), and the aperture width ranges from f3.5 at the wide angle focal length to f6.5 at the telephoto end. In terms of Macro focus capabilities, at the 4.5mm focal length, you can focus at about 5cm away, while at the 45mm 10x zoom focal length, you’ll have to be at least 1.5 meters away to focus. ISO capabilities are equivalent to the 100-3200 range. The True Zoom MotoMod can also record video at 1080p HD at 30fps.

Hardware

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We’ll start with the most impressive aspect of the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod and that’s the 10x optical zoom lens.

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When you access the Moto Camera app on a Moto Z, the 10x telescoping lens extends from its housing.

Make sure your fingers aren’t there when it extends to avoid fingerprint grease on the lens. There’s also a power button next to the “W” on the top of the camera mod that will automatically launch the camera software, turn on the phone, and extend the lens. Pressing it again will close the camera app and collapse the lens. That’s a pretty great feature that gives you quick access to the camera. Of course, you can also twist and shake your wrist twice to launch the camera like you can on the regular Moto Z phones.

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The shutter, telescoping zoom, and lens cover are all mechanical. Be sure to keep everything clean to avoid malfunction inn all of these moving parts.

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As mentioned in the specs, the zoom lens’s focal range goes from 4.5mm to 45mm, which is like 25mm to 250mm in 35mm film cameras. It’s a really great range that should cover everything that a travel photographer might want. The f3.5-f6.5 aperture range is going to be a bit slow for the low-light situations, so this is going to be best for use outdoors with lots of light especially when you’re zoomed in at 10x.

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The 10x zoom lens also includes optical image stabilization which will help you with keeping images sharp at slow shutter speeds. You’ll need to use slow shutter speeds with the smaller apertures and when you zoom into 10x, the aperture is even smaller at f6.5. The Image stabilization is going to have to work harder at that focal length as well. So again, be sure you’ve got lots of light.

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To help get a lot of light into the frame, the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod includes a big Xenon flash. It’s a lot more powerful than the smaller Xenon flashes often included on high-end Nokia phones like the Lumia 1020, Pureview 808, N8, etc. You’ll see how well that works in the samples section of this review. Remember not to cover the flash with your fingers while you’re holding the device.

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The hardware camera controls for the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod are on the top right. There’s a spring loaded toggle switch that controls zooming the lens between a wide angle (W) and telephoto zoom (T). The bronze button in the middle is, of course, the shutter, and it has a half-press actuation for initiating auto-focus. Once the focus is locked, press it all the way to take a picture. The shutter button and zoom switch on our review unit actually feels quite loose as if it could fall apart at any moment. Both also seem very exposed right there on the corner of the device. Combine that with the looseness of the buttons and an accidental drop could probably snap the whole thing off. We’ve been told the production versions of the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod will have a tighter button configuration here however, so it might be just this one.

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Speaking of trying to keep things steaady, take a look at the bottom of the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod. There’s no tripod mount!! Considering how much of a struggle it is for the image stabilization to keep things steady while zoomed in to a 10x focal length, you would think that it would be a no-brainer to attach this thing to a tripod. It’s certainly thick enough for a tripod mount, and there’s a big hump on the right side which would be a decent spot for one. It’s not the perfect spot though. The perfect spot would be right in line with the lens’s focal plane. But alas, there’s no tripod mount at all. The bottom and sides aren’t even flat, so you can’t set it on a table. It will just fall over on its face if you try to do that.

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On the upper left you’ll see an LED focus assist lamp that will help with focusing in very low light conditions. On the bottom, you’ll see two microphones for recording audio.

Here you can see the many pins for connection the Hasselblad MotoMod to the Moto Z along with a nice message from Hasselblad.

Here you can see the many pins for connection the Hasselblad MotoMod to the Moto Z along with a nice message from Hasselblad.

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There’s a soft foam cut-out where the Moto Z’s camera hump fits into the Hasselblad MotoMod. The phone’s camera is unusable when connected to the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod.

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The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod combined with a Moto Z is extremely thick and heavy. Here you can see how it compares to a Nokia Lumia 1020 with its own bulky camera grip attachment.

The camera grip is actually very uncomfortable. It's too small for a camera of this weight, and there's nowhere on the back to put your thumb. Well, nowhere that isn't a touch screen that has buttons which quit the camera app rather.

The camera grip is actually very uncomfortable. It’s too small for a camera of this weight, and there’s nowhere on the back to put your thumb. Well, nowhere that isn’t a touch screen that has buttons which quit the camera app. Carrying this whole set up in your pocket is awfully bulky too. It’s almost a full inch thick when the lens is collapsed.

The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod comes with a nice case and wrist strap too. It can be very difficult to get it out of the case though, since it's a pretty tight fit.

The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod comes with a nice case and wrist strap too. It can be very difficult to get it out of the case though, since it’s a pretty tight fit.

Software

The Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod has its own internal firmware that is updatable via the connected phone. During the review process, it’s actually been updated numerous times. On the phone side, the MotoMod uses the Moto Camera software that’s already part of the Moto Z smartphones.

The professional mode is my preferred interface. It looks exactly like the Nokia Lumia Camera software except a few of the icons are unrecognizable. The shutter button slide to show controls interface isn't here either. Also note that there is no aperture control here and the on-screen shutter button disappears when the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod is connected.

The professional mode is my preferred interface. It looks exactly like the Nokia Lumia Camera software except a few of the icons are unrecognizable. For example, the focus icon looks like a light metering icon and the shutter speed icon looks like a timer release icon. The shutter button slide to show controls interface isn’t here either. Also note that there is no aperture control here. You can’t control the zoom level in software either. You’ll have to use the hardware toggle button for that.

The Moto Camera software doesn't remember any of my preferences between sessions. Every time I turn on the camera, I have to set the file format back to RAW DNG mode again, and change the camera mode from auto to professional. It's extremely annoying.

The Moto Camera software doesn’t remember any of my preferences between sessions. Every time I turn on the camera, I have to set the file format back to RAW + JPG mode again, and change the camera mode from auto to professional. It’s extremely annoying. Motorola says it defaults to JPG-only format so that users won’t fill up the storage by forgetting that RAW format is on. That’s unacceptable to me since I always want to shoot RAW and having to change it every time I take a picture is really awful. The worst is when I forget to change it and all I get is a JPG file with no RAW. Who cares about filling up the storage if I have a 128Gb Micro-SD card installed anyway?

Sometimes, the camera software just doesn't work, though hopefully this will improve as we've seen numerous updates during the 5 day review period.

Sometimes, the camera software just doesn’t work, though hopefully this will improve as we’ve seen numerous updates during the 5 day review period. This error usually appears when you see something really cool that you want to take a picture of right away. Removing and replacing the MotoMod doesn’t fix it either, you have to shut down the Moto Z phone completely and then reboot it (which takes quite a while).

Photography

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Obviously, the reason of being for the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod is photography. So let’s take a look at what it can do.

One of the first things I noticed in shooting with the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod was a major mistake in the fitting of the aperture over the CMOS sensor at the 4.5mm focal length. The edges of the aperture cover up the corners of the sensor!

One of the first things I noticed in shooting with the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod was a major mistake in the lens design fitting over the CMOS sensor at the 4.5mm focal length. The edges of the aperture (or some other part of the lens) cover up the corners of the sensor! This is such a rare and obvious mistake, it’s so strange to see it in a camera with such a prestigious brand name as Hasselblad. Maybe I could shrug it off as a cheap mistake from some company that doesn’t have much experience with high-end camera equipment like Apple or LG or HTC or Motorola, but this thing has the Hasselblad branding plastered all over it. Hasselblad really designed these optics? Usually you can expect some darkening of the corners with wide angle lenses, but there’s literally no image data there in this case. There’s a significant amount of distortion in the image, too. I’ll have to create my own lens distortion correction profile when I get the chance, but that’s going to be difficult since the thing doesn’t have a tripod mount.

Motorola’s solution to this problem was to process the image in software. You’ll notice that some distortion correction is applied to the JPG images and at the widest 4.5mm focal length, the images are cropped and up-sampled in order to mostly get rid of the unexposed black corners. Zooming in to a 6.4mm or higher focal length also fixes the problem when shooting and Hasselblad’s Phocus software will have presets to help fix this problem in the RAW files as well. (Hasselblad’s Phocus software was not available at the time of writing this review.)

Hasselblad_CameraTest

The 1/2.3″ sensor size of the Hasselblad True Zoom is fairly small. It’s the same as the Samsung Galaxy Camera as well as a lot of other smartphones and cheap compact point & shoot cameras. The Nokia N8 from 2010 has a larger 1/1.83″ 12Mp sensor and the Lumia 1020 has a large 2/3″ 41Mp sensor. The Lumia 950 is pretty close with a 1/2.4″ sensor size, but a higher 20Mp pixel count. Generally, a bigger physical size for the image sensor would be better for reduced noise.

So there’s a lot of differences in the above 100% crop camera comparison. The lens focal lengths are a bit different as well. In the Hasselblad True Zoom’s RAW DNG file, you can see some very fine noise, but the details are nice and sharp. The JPG version of the same image from the Hasselblad True Zoom has some noise reduction filtering applied (in addition to the cropping and lens distortion fixes) as well as some artificial sharpening. This causes some unrealistic artifacts to appear. The Moto Z Play’s own 16Mp camera has the same post-processing issues, but it doesn’t get cropped and there’s a bit more detail. The (6 year old) Nokia N8’s 12Mp JPG image looks a lot better than the processed & filtered JPG from the Hasselblad True Zoom, and it even looks a bit smoother than the Hasselblad’s RAW image.

The zooming lens means I can switch to a nice portrait focal length very easily.

The zooming lens means I can switch to a nice portrait focal length very easily. Although, the zooming toggle trigger is not nearly as smooth and accurate as a zoom ring on my professional-grade DSLR lenses. It can be difficult to get to the focal length I want.

The big Xenon flash means I can brighten subjects that are completely backlit.

The big Xenon flash means I can brighten subjects that are completely back-lit, and it does this very nicely.

Long exposures in low light at ISO 3200 show tons of noise though.

Long exposures in low light at ISO 3200 show tons of noise though. You’ll see lots of random yellow and purple spots when you shoot at this ISO.

When it comes to Macro photography, the Hasselblad True Zoom works best at its widest angle. The minimum focusing distance increases a lot when you try to zoom.

When it comes to Macro photography, the Hasselblad True Zoom works best at its widest angle. The minimum focusing distance increases a lot when you try to zoom. That can be pretty frustrating as you’ll have to physically move in order to get the focus to work while zoomed in, or you’ll have to zoom out to get the focus to lock. That makes it tough to get the framing the way you want it.

Zooming in all the way is great for finding photos that would normally be out of reach.

Zooming in all the way is great for finding photos that would normally be out of reach. Zooming to the 10x focal length enables heavy amounts of image stabilization movement because every little movement is much more noticeable. This makes trying to frame your subject more difficult since it’s always moving around within the viewfinder.

Samples

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Video recording

I recommend avoiding using the video recording feature of the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod especially if you plan on zooming. Optical image stabilization doesn’t work while recording video. There’s no tripod mount for you to stabilize video recording with either. And probably worst of all is the loud noise that’s recorded while you’re zooming.  Focus lock gets lost during zoom as well. Keeping zoomed out works well, but if you’re going to do that, you might as well use the regular Moto Z’s internal camera.

Battery

There is no secondary extended battery built into the Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod. It runs on the Moto Z’s phone battery completely. With all of those motors for optical image stabilization, extending/contracting lenses, and the giant Xenon flash, you’re going to see a drop in battery life of your phone. So since the battery life is completely dependent on which Moto Z Droid phone you’ve got along with how much zooming and flash firing you do, it’s not easy to give you an estimation here. All of the Moto Z models have varying battery capacity too. We used the Hasselblad True Zoom with the new Moto Z Play which has the most battery life out of the current Moto Z models, and it worked quite well. If you only do a few photos per day, it will easily last more than 2 days. If you’re doing constant photo shoots, obviously it will last a lot less.

Pros

  • + 10x zoom lens
  • + Powerful Xenon flash
  • + RAW capture
  • + Relatively large pixels in the CMOS sensor
  • + Removable for when you want a thinner phone
  • + Gorgeous photos in the right conditions

Cons

  • – No tripod mount
  • – Major vignetting & clipping in the corners at the wide angles
  • – Significant lens distortion
  • – No extended battery
  • – No aperture control
  • – Software doesn’t save RAW + JPG or Pro camera UI settings between sessions.
  • – Very large and heavy
  • – Not ergonomic to hold with one hand
  • – Only 12 Mp resolution

Availability

The Hasselblad True Zoom will be available in the U.S. for pre-order starting September 8 and available beginning September 15 at Verizon.com and Verizon stores for $249.99 and on Motorola.com for $299. For a limited time, when you buy a Moto Mod, Verizon is offering 50% off another Mod. Discount applies to equal or lower-priced Mod.

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Conclusion

On the homepage of the Hasselblad website, you’ll see that, “For seventy five years now, Hasselblad has been devoted to a very simple task: to produce the finest camera equipment known to man. And for over seventy years, we have succeeded in doing just that.” While I’ve never been able to afford or use a real Hasselblad camera, I’ve read about how amazingly high quality they can be. Unfortunately, this Hasselblad True Zoom MotoMod attachment for the Lenovo Moto Z series of smartphones doesn’t deliver the excellence I was hoping for. If it was a cheap accessory made by some start-up that I’ve never heard of, then I can understand the lens not fitting properly over the sensor, and the excessive distortion, and the loose buttons, and the unimpressive small 12 megapixel sensor, but this has Hasselblad branding plastered all over it as if it should be a mind-blowing advanced camera that “completely transforms mobile photography” (as quoted from the press materials). Even something as simple and obvious as a tripod mount is missing. This is supposed to be a Hasselblad, not a $60 point & shoot junker.

On the other hand, having a 10X optical zoom lens and a powerful Xenon flash attached to a smartphone is pretty awesome. We’ve seen something like that before in the Samsung Galaxy Camera and Samsung Galaxy Zoom, but those devices are always big and bulky. With the Hasselblad True Zoom, the Moto Z only feels like a giant brick of a phone when you need that extra expansion pack. It’s totally feasible to keep a thin, lightweight Moto Z in your pocket for most of the day and then snap on the Hasselblad True Zoom whenever you feel the need to take some telephoto pictures or light up the night with the xenon flash. The advantage to having the MotoMod attachment as opposed to a separate cheap 10x zoom compact camera would be the fact that it’s super easy to instantly share the photos you take with the Hasselblad True Zoom and a Moto Z.

Special thanks to Dawn Mecca for modeling and George Isaacs for the behind-the-scenes photo.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!