In my Moto X review, I characterized camera performance and quality as very bimodal. In some scenes it could take great photos, in others it seemed to struggle and either produce images that looked somewhat washed out with weird white balance or aggressive noise reduction. In low light scenes where I expected the clear pixel to make a dramatic improvement, photos were a bit splotchier than I had hoped also from noise reduction. On paper the Moto X should’ve been a solid performer – Motorola went for a relatively large 1/2.6" format sensor, with 1.4µm pixels, a unique RGBC color filter array with single clear pixel, and an F/2.4 optical system.

The good news is that Motorola is dramatically improving the Moto X camera experience with an upcoming OTA update that’s rolling out today to T-Mobile Moto X owners, and hopefully eventually to other operators after testing and approval is completed.

Imaging performance improves dramatically indoors and out with this update. The update changes the tuning of the camera by improving exposure in outdoor and backlit scenes, white balance and color accuracy across the board, and reducing noise in low light scenes. I got the chance to play around with a Moto X with this update loaded on and of course brought along a Moto X without the update to compare side by side in my dual-camera bracket.

Moto X Not Updated: ISO 3200, 1/15s

I have to say that the changes Motorola makes to the Moto X with this update are nothing short of the biggest I’ve ever seen come across in an OTA update. There’s a lot of performance that comes from properly tuning a system, and it’s obvious that the imaging team has retuned a lot of the imaging pipeline in the Moto X with this update, as a lot of things are fixed.

That white haziness that used to cloud so many outdoors photos is completely gone, instead replaced by tuning that yields more contrasty results without that same kind of haze. White balance also improves outdoors, sometimes images had a blueish cast to them, this is now a bit warmer when appropriate. Colors also seem to pop a lot better. Outdoors the Moto X really performs a lot better thanks to improvements to auto exposure which now no longer randomly overexposes some scenes. The noise reduction algorithm that was running has also been turned down dramatically, leaving a lot more high spatial frequency detail in images, which is visible in trees and bricks especially in my sample images. I definitely prefer camera tuning that passes more detail at the expense of also passing more chroma noise, it seems that Motorola has gone that way as well with this update.

In low light the Moto X shows much of what it does outdoors – fixed white balance even under challenging sodium light sources, dramatically less noise reduction which passes through a lot more detail. Images look less like oil paintings, in the sample photo of the test scene more detail on the book makes it through, including those narrow lines which previously blurred together. There’s more chroma noise but again I like this tradeoff.

Overall I’m hugely impressed with the improvements that Motorola made to the Moto X camera with this update. I've been carrying the Moto X as my daily for a while now and lacking imaging performance was my only major concern anymore, with this update, the Moto X moves up quite a bit in my mind. It’s great to see the Moto X move a lot closer to the imaging performance that I expected given the impressive specs and emphasis that clearly was put on that axis of performance.

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  • Rock Hydra - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    You are not kidding when you say it fits so good in your hands. I fumble a lot with phones. Usually they drop and get knicked up but this phone fits so well in my hand I haven't dropped this phone even once and I got it at launch. My last phone which had a flat front and back I dinged up within the first two weeks. Reply
  • desaf - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I wish this update came earlier. If the Moto X had the pricetag of a Nexus I would buy it without thinking Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Ditto Reply
  • fic2 - Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - link

    Ditto. Reply
  • code65536 - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I read the other day that Republic Wireless will offer the Moto X for 299 contract-free. Though not unlocked and tied to Sprint's network, that's still a very Nexus-like price. Reply
  • desaf - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    +1 it's a shame I don't live in the states. I live in Holland :-( Reply
  • mtalinm - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    wow, thank you for putting this through its paces whereas other sites are only reporting it exists.

    is it safe to assume this will be available for the Droid MAXX, if subject to a slight delay? the camera is the only thing holding me back from buying that device.

    thanks also for your hype-free liveblog of the Surface launch this morning. as a Pro owner, the Pro 2 looks like a great upgrade.
    Reply
  • MattCoz - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    It looks like in some cases they jacked up the contrast a bit too much. Before you could see a lot in dark areas and now it just comes up black. Still, overall it looks much better and I'm now pretty sure this is what I'm getting when my contract is up next month. My only issue now is if I wait for MotoMaker to come to T-Mobile or not. I need 32GB but don't like the white back on the developer edition. Ugh... Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    Is Moto Maker on AT&T available if you decide to use their annual phone update/financing program? Reply
  • MattCoz - Monday, September 23, 2013 - link

    I don't know, but that program is a ripoff. Reply

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