Hasselblad True Zoom review: A curiosity with almost noting to recommend it

For $250 you should just buy a vastly superior point-and-shoot camera.

We’ve seen plenty of products that snap a lens over top of your existing smartphone lens, but nothing quite like this. The Hasselblad True Zoom is a Moto Mod that works with Moto Z phones, and completely replaces your phone camera with a point-and-shoot that gives you 10X optical zoom. It certainly doesn’t come anywhere near approximating the quality of Hasselblad’s famous medium-format cameras. Frankly, Hasselblad should be ashamed to have their name on this.

It’s a curiosity, a technical “huh, that’s kinda neat” exercise that delivers lower quality and less value than a comparably-priced point and shoot camera.

Hasselblad in name only

Hasselblad is famous for its high quality medium format cameras. When NASA took cameras into space on Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, they were (somewhat modified) Hasselblads. This Moto Mod will not deliver quality deserving of the name.

Snap it onto your Moto Z and it completely replaces the built-in camera (currently only the Moto Z Play is supported, with a software update coming soon for the Moto Z and Z Force). The camera app works the same, but the HDR toggle is gone, and in its place you get a few shooting modes. You can shoot JPG, black and white JPG, or JPG + RAW.

hasselblad modes

You lose HDR shooting, but gain a few shooting modes. It's not a good tradeoff.

A thin grip makes it a little easier to hold your phone horizontally for shots, and a tiny, flimsy zoom switch quickly pulls the lens from 4.5mm to 45mm (equivalent to 25mm to 250mm on a 35mm camera). There’s a reasonably bright xenon flash, toggled using the on-screen button. And of course, the shutter. That’s it, that’s all the physical controls you get.

hasselblad zoom 04 Jason Cross

You want physical controls? You get a shutter, power button, and flimsy zoom switch. That's it.

The True Zoom features it’s own sensor, a 12 megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS that doesn’t particularly impress me. Sure it’s got 1.55 micron pixels, but these specs don't supercede the best smartphones. The size and resolution is matched by the Nexus 6P. While most good phones have an lens with an aperture in the f/1.8 to f/2.0 range, the True Zoom features a fixed aperture that is f/3.5 when zoomed out, f/6.5 when zoomed in. That narrower aperture means worse low-light shots.

hasselblad zoom 03 Jason Cross

The grip is better than nothing, but too shallow to be really useful.

So you’ve got a sensor equivalent to what you’d find in a good smartphone, a much smaller aperture, and a couple of extra physical controls. All photos are sent to the camera over the Moto Mod interface, to be processed by the phone. The interface really isn’t fast enough for burst photography, and there’s a significant lag after taking each shot.

hasselblad zoom 02 Jason Cross

The shutter is small and zoom switch flimsy, and those are really the only controls you get.

You can’t even record great video. You’re limited to 1080p at 30fps. No slow motion, no 4K. Optical image stabilization is limited to still shots; with video you get electronic stabilization.

10X optical zoom and not much else

The whole point of this Mod is to give you a true optical zoom. That’s something smartphones can’t do. Those thin bodies prohibit moving lenses, so you’re stuck with crummy digital zoom.

hasselblad zoom 01

Yep, that's 10X optical zoom all right. It's really the only thing the Hasselblad True Zoom does quite well.

As far as that goes, the True Zoom works. You can get clear shots from a long way away, and quickly zoom in and out. And that’s about it. It doesn’t take better photos than any of the Moto Z phones it works with, let alone industry leaders like Samsung or Apple’s latest.

moto z play vs true zoom Jason Cross

Indoors, photos with the True Zoom are dimmer, duller, and noisier than those shot with the Moto Z Play.

Photos in low light are a bit dull and visibly grainy. In bright light it fares better, but it’s still somehow slightly soft and still shows noise. In other words, you’re better off not snapping this onto your phone, even if you have it with you, unless you need to zoom in. That’s a fairly scathing intictment: the snap-on replacement camera is worse than the built-in one.

moto z play vs true zoom 02 Jason Cross

Would you pay $250 more to get the photo on the right? Me either.

Buyer beware

A Moto Mod that you slap onto the back of your phone and instantly replace the built-in camera with something way better? What a great idea!

It's too bad the Hasselblad True Zoom isn't actually better. For $250 you get true 10X optical zoom, along with lower-quality photos, worse video, no HDR, and to few physical controls. The True Zoom doesn't even have it's own built-in battery, so it drains your Moto Z's battery quite a bit.

For the same price you can get a dedicated point-and-shoot like the Canon PowerShot SX610 ($245 on Amazon) that will give you more zoom, more detail, better image quality, and more physical controls. There's little excuse for this Moto Mod to cost what it does, considering that the phone does most of the heavy lifting. I'm not sure I would pay $50 for this Moto Mod, let alone 5 times that price. It's a great idea, but the execution and value proposition are miles from where they should be.

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