Moto Z3 Play Review: Have Mods, Will Travel

Moto Z3 Play: New Dual-Lens Camera And Performance

The Moto Z3 Play’s 12MP camera features many new enhancements, several of which are made possible thanks to the dual depth-sensing lens setup.

moto z3 play dual camera

Portrait mode is the most obvious application for this arrangement, and in our testing it seems to work every bit as convincingly as we’ve seen with flagship phones. Edges are sometimes imprecise, but with good lighting and contrast the phone can pick out even impatient subjects like our Saint Bernard, Freckles.

moto z3 play camera portrait freckles
Portrait Mode (Rear camera)

Portrait mode is also available for the front-facing camera. However, due to only having a single sensor this setup is less precise. The software can confuse high contrast objects, like the picture frame behind my head, as part of the subject. Still, it is generally convincing enough for a quick social media post.

moto z3 play camera front portrait
Portrait Mode (Front camera)

The rear dual camera has a cutout mode which can also isolate your subject but instead of blurring the background it removes it entirely. This feature is a little less-forgiving of imperfections along the edge, but with the right background substitution users could create convincing results. The Z3 Play can also apply augmented reality face filters in real time to both stills and video. Unlike the cutout mode, this can also be performed using the front-facing camera, but in either case the resolution is limited to 960x960 pixels.

moto z3 play camera cutout modemoto z3 play camera ar overlay
Cutout mode (Rear camera) AR Overlay (Front camera)

Stepping outside of depth sensing, the Moto Camera can also capture instant cinemagraphs now. A cinemagraph is an overall still photo with a selected area which displays motion. With the Moto Z3 Play, capturing a cinemagraph is a breeze although capturing a perfect loop can take some practice and patience. Moto’s app recommends holding the phone as still as possible, but a tripod is not strictly necessary. The sample below was captured handheld.
moto z3 play camera cinemagraph
Moto Z3 Play Cinemagraph Photo

First, select the option and frame the composition. Press and hold the shutter button for a few seconds to capture motion – it will display the number of frames taken as it goes. After capturing, the app shows a still frame which can be drawn over to paint in motion and when satisfied the entire image saves as a shareable gif.

It would be unfair to leave the quality comparisons to a spec sheet, however. The Z3 Play does take better photos and videos than previous generations. The following photo set was captured in the evening as the sun cast shadows along the riverbank, creating a scene with very high dynamic range.

moto z3 play camera hdr off 2moto z3 play camera hdr on

moto z3 play camera portrait offmoto z3 play camera portrait on
Portrait Mode Off Portrait Mode On

moto z3 play camera sun flaremoto z3 play camera high contrast hdr
Sun Flare Test High Contrast HDR

moto z3 play camera 180 panorama
180-Degree Stitched Panorama

moto z3 play camera freckles detail
Fine Details

moto z3 play camera indoor lighting
Indoor Artificial Light

The Z3 Play does a good job of retaining shadow detail even if it can’t always keep the sky from appearing blown out. Shooting directly into the sun reduces overall contrast but flares remain well controlled. Low light shooting is still a sore point without optical image stabilization, but overall photos have more accurate colors with greater vibrance and sharpness. The HDR setting is effective at expanding the Z3 Play's relatively poor dynamic range and accomplishes this with a natural look and minimal artifacting.

The video side of things sees the same capture options that have been with us since the original Z3 Play: the maximum recording quality is 4K at 30fps while 60fps is available at 1080p. The 1080p 30fps option offers an electronic stabilization mode to reduce shakes which is not available to either of the higher quality modes. We took the following samples at 4k/30fps, 1080p/60fps, 1080p/30fps with the latter shot both with and without electronic stabilization enabled. We also recorded a sample using the slow-motion setting which records at 720p and 120fps with 30fps playback for a 4x slowdown.

4K at 30fps

1080p at 60fps

1080p at 30fps Unstabilized

1080p at 30fps with Electronic Stabilization

The 4k/30fps sample captures great detail, but the lack of optical image stabilization makes it unsuitable for handheld use. 1080p/60fps shows softer details, but the high framerate at least makes handheld movements a bit less nauseating. Most users will want to shoot at 1080p/30fps and electronic stabilization enabled for the most pleasing run-and-gun shooting unless they have a tripod or gimble available to use. Slow-motion is workable, but the quality is noticeably degraded even at 720p which will limit its usage.

moto z3 play screenshot camera settings

This is a good performance for a midrange device. For the first time in the Moto Z Play lineup we feel like the camera can be used confidently even if images are not quite up to the Pixel/Galaxy/iPhone benchmark. The creative modes are well executed and do not come across as gimmicks. We fully intend to return to the Cinemagraph mode time and time again for a refreshing twist on a still image.

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