Hasselblad has released a camera attachment or mod for the Motorola Z-series phones. Called the TrueZoom Camera for Z Smartphones, this camera allows a 10x optical zooming capability. The camera attaches itself to the Motorola Z smartphone with the use of powerful magnets. When attached, it looks like a compact digital camera rather than a camera mated with a smartphone. It is priced at $299.
Cell phone cameras have been in existence since Philippe Kahn was still in Starfish Software, back in 1997. The following year he sold Starfish Software and started Light Surf Technologies which focused on cell phone cameras. In twenty years of development, cell phones have been trying hard to provide the best quality images with the available form factor.
The Limits of Size
In the meantime, from 1997 to the present, cell phones have shrunk in size and then have gathered momentum in getting larger. Admittedly, cell phones have grown larger because of the screen size and resolution. However, during the almost 20 years of development, the camera sensor has stabilized in size to about 1/1.8 inches to 1/2.3 inches on the average. Besides the sensor size, another limiting factor is the depth of the cell phone, which has gotten thinner every year.
Thinner cameras would have to pack in lenses to allow for the whole sensor to be lit up by the light emanating from the image. Or the lenses would be much simpler and just capture everything in focus in a very wide captured image. There have been additional technologies which have been tried with cell phone cameras. These have all added additional hardware, or even dual lens, dual autofocus mechanisms, optical stabilization systems and others. To a certain extent, these have worked, but few have made use of optical zoom systems.
The best possible way to think of this is much like having a lens on a DSLR camera. The lens is attached to the DSLR, and it can have its electronics, which is simply the case with the Hasselblad TrueZoom. When you start thinking of it as a lens to your cell phone, the $299 price tag sounds reasonable, even if there are compromises to image quality.
The Hasselblad Brand
Motorola’s partnership with Hasselblad on this device can make heads turn. It’s more than doubles the size of the smartphone. However, it still does not take as good a picture as a dedicated point-and-shoot camera. Its price makes it the cheapest Hasselblad around. Even then, if you wanted to take great pictures for $299, there are entry-level DSLRs at that price point.
It is a great talking point, and the Hasselblad TrueZoom camera makes a point for mods and attachments to make good pictures. As a proof of concept, this marriage works. It shows that the only way to get optical zoom onto a camera phone is to make it bigger. Once you have decided to make the camera bigger, then it is obvious that there are a lot of other camera-related things you can add as well. When using the Hasselblad TrueZoom Camera, it feels like a point-and-shoot with its dedicated yellow shutter button and flashes.
Hasselblad put a lot of effort into the camera.
With the Hasselblad TrueZoom, you can shoot in DNG raw format. The RAW format can be like a negative film. It contains all the details captured by the sensor. It is the best image that could be saved from what was captured. In contrast, even the best a JPEG image would have compression artifacts due to the compression of the picture. Also, RAW files are several factors larger than JPEG files. In most cameras, it can be anywhere from 3 to 10 times larger than the JPEG files from the camera.
The 10x zoom is effectively equivalent to a 25-250mm lens on a full-frame camera. It can shoot at ISO 100 to ISO 3200. For those who are concerned about graininess, the image starts to lose sharpness at ISO 800. Not to worry, this is also the threshold for most DSLR cameras.
The TrueZoom camera has a shutter speed from 1/4 to 1/2000 sec. It can also record in MP4 1080p at 30 fps. The Hasselblad TrueZoom also has optical image stabilization for still images and electronic image stabilization for videos.
As a whole, the Hasselblad TrueZoom Camera delivers as it promised. It allows for a 10x zoom, from a 35mm full-frame equivalent of a 25mm lens, zooming to 250mm. The aperture is from f/3.5 at its widest to 6.5 at full zoom. Helping it along is the optical image stabilization. This is very much welcome for the expected camera shake from the combination with the Motorola Z-series phones.
Even with the zoom, the images are comparable to those taken with the DxO cell phone camera, as well as with the Google Pixel, Samsung S7 and the Apple iPhone 7. Of course, these other cameras don’t have an optical zooming capability. The larger lens does a great job. Mated with a 12MP sensor, it made the most use of the available light, especially considering that the sensor is a standard 1/2.3 inch in size.
The Hasselblad TrueZoom Camera is not enough of a reason to buy a Motorola Z. However, if you already have a Motorola Z smartphone and you like taking pictures, then the Hasselblad makes a compelling case. It solves a lot of problems of cell phone photography. It may not be as good in low light as some other cell phones with a fixed lens. However, the zoom is a great addition, as well as a great selling point. The Hasselblad name doesn’t hurt as well. It does make a camera person wonder whether it was worth it for Hasselblad to undertake this venture.