Moto Z2 Play camera review: On the surface little has changed between the Moto Z Play and its 2017 successor, the Z2 Play. One of the most notable alterations has been a new, lower resolution primary camera, so do the numbers still add up?
In the transition from Z Play to Z2 Play Motorola trimmed a few things down in some areas or tightened them up in others. Along with a smaller battery, the company also cleaved a few megapixels from the Z2 Play’s primary snapper but don’t worry, as is often true when it comes to new smartphones, fewer pixels doesn’t necessarily mean a weaker principle camera.
The Moto Z2 Play’s main snapper sports a 12-megapixel sensor with dual autofocus pixels, a nice wide f/1.7 aperture, enlarged 1.4µm pixels, phase detection autofocus (PDAF), a laser autofocus array and a dual-tone LED flash – something it shares with the front camera and somewhat of a rarity with most phones now opting for screen-based flashes instead. The front-facer also packs in 5-megapixels, unchanged from its predecessor, with an f/2.2 aperture on top.
Moto Z2 Play Camera Review: UI
Motorola’s camera interface is second only to Google’s own Pixel UI in terms of simplicity and ease of use. The viewfinder is uncluttered with basic controls like flash and timer toggles always on-hand, simple zoom action by swiping up or down, and a mode switcher that grants access to manual shooting, slow-motion video capture and more.
Swipe right and you can dive a little deeper into the camera’s settings with options to silence the shutter, alter still or video resolution as well as capture method but that’s more or less the extent of the Z2 Play’s camera skill set.
You can also tweak exposure, even when you’re not shooting in Pro mode and toggle stabilisation when capturing up to Full HD video but beyond that, the camera software feels a little on the light side.
One talent unique to the Moto family, including the Z2 Play is the double-twist to quick-launch gesture, which proves surprisingly reliable if you need to whip the camera open in a hurry and being a member of the Moto Z posse means access to Moto Mods, including the Hasselblad True Zoom mod which gives you a separate 12-megapixel sensor twinned with a 10x optical zoom, xenon flash, physical controls and RAW image capture support.
Moto Z2 Play Camera Review: Picture quality
Assuming you stick with the Moto Z2 Play’s native camera you can still expect strong overall performance. It struggles with fine detail when you crop in but overall shots are nicely presented with pleasing colours and well-balanced contrast. There’s barely any shutter lag (approaching iPhone-esq latency), especially in well-lit situations and it’s also fast to adjust exposure and focus accordingly.
With HDR capture enabled by default even high-contrast scenes turn out well with the lightest and darkest areas of shots remaining visible., Flip HDR off and most of the time you’ll see next to no difference in photo quality, with perhaps a fractionally shorter capture time.
It’s also quick to focus when shifting to nearby subjects in macro scenarios and whilst shutter lag is significantly more noticeable, low light images still turn out relatively clean, clear and well-coloured. The dual-tone LED flash has a narrow spread but helps the camera render colour well in dingy situations too.
Move around to the phone’s selfie snapper and we can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the 5-megapixel resolution when similarly-priced rivals like the Honor 9 and Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) have made the jump to 8 and even 16-megapixels respectively.
The Z2 Play gives you some control over the beauty tools with both an automated and manual mode to tweak just how much real-time processing the phone performs on your face, whilst the option of HDR capture is a nice inclusion yet again. The front dual-flash captures skin tones pretty accurately and evenly, which is particularly reassuring considering low-light capture is again slow and usually doles out muddy, noisy images.
Moto Z2 Play Camera Review: Video quality
Despite Qualcomm marketing the Snapdragon 626 as a mid-range processor, it’s beefy enough to grant the Moto Z2 Play up to 4K video recording and rather nice it is too.
At full tilt the phone shoots well-exposed, colourful imagery, however, EIS is only available when shooting in up to 1080p at 30 frames per second. Both 60fps Full HD and 4K footage appears decidedly more shaky as a result.
Stick to more pedestrian frame rates and resolutions though and you can expect clean and clear video, with snappy autofocus and autoexposure at play. Like stills, fine detail is a little lacking and the sensor isn’t the biggest fan of tracking fast motion either, making the Z2 Play better at capturing some types of scenes over others.
Moto Z2 Play Camera Review: Verdict
Although it doesn’t offer quite as many creative shooting modes and features as some rivals, the Moto Z2 Play’s camera experience is clean, easy-to-use and has all of the most important functions that you’d look for in a smartphone. What’s more, it’s 12-megapixel primary sensor is a great all-round performer and aside from some issues with fine detail, photos and video really look the part, especially if their intended destination is a social media platform.
The front-facer could have benefitted from a bump in resolution, but so long as you’re not a selfie addict the £379 Moto Z2 Play makes for a well-priced and compelling photographic companion.
Read next: Motorola Moto Z2 Play Review