Moto Z2 Play – barrel distortion

Update: In actual use, zooming in to eliminate the barrel distortion is not practical. I find that it’s helpful to keep the phone vertical when I take a picture, rather than tilt it. I noticed that my wife’s iphone 6S has similar distortion when I tilt the phone to take a picture, so it may have been unfair to ding the Z2 Play for this.

So far I like the phone. It’s light, thin, fast, has a nice screen, and I really can’t think of a single negative.

Update 2: I don’t use the camera much, but I tried it on vacation and still have significant barrel distortion on the 4 edges, even when the phone isn’t tilted. All I can say is the phone is good as long as you don’t care about the camera. If the camera is important to you, you are better off taking pictures from further back, and then cropping out the edges. If that’s not possible, keep your subject in the middle of the frame to avoid distortion.

Original review:

Just replaced my old Samsung Note 2 with a new Moto Z2 Play. The phone is terrific, and a big improvement over my old phone in almost ever regard. The screen is bright and sharp, the web and all the functions are speedy. Overall I am very happy with it so far.

But I wanted to discuss a weird “feature”. The camera has has a single lens. It’s wide-angle, which means it shows more of what you’re pointing your camera at. It has a wider angle than my old Samsung, and wider than my Ipad.

The problem with wide-angle lenses is they are prone to barrel distortion. Barrel distortion causes the outer edges of the image to distort (stretch and flatten). So, if you take a picture of someone blowing out a candle, surrounded by family, the birthday person is likely to look fine, but the family members around them may look like they have misshapen heads.

There are ways to use this effect to make a picture interesting. A classic one is a surfer on a wave – the surfer is undistorted, but the water around him curves. But for pictures of people, the effect is terrible.

I’ve found two ways to mitigate the effect while taking a picture. 1) Use landscape mode. That way you maximize the amount of undistorted area in the middle. 2) Use the digital zoom and move back to capture the entire image. By zooming, you cut out the distorted areas of the image. The camera is capable of shooting 12 megapixel images, so even if you crop half of that to get rid of distortion you still have a large 6 megapixel image left.

You can also correct distortion after the fact if you have photo editing software with a lens correction feature. I use Lightroom, which fixes it easily. I corrected portrait mode pictures with a distortion setting of -25. For landscape pictures I just cropped out the edges.

Otherwise the camera focuses fast and the colors are fine. The images are a little over-contrasted. The camera has some “professional” settings that let you manually adjust exposure, focus, ISO, shutter speed and white balance. None of the settings help with barrel distortion though.

This phone is not Moto’s flagship phone, but I don’t think the barrel distortion is related to cost savings. I think Moto just made the wrong choice when they decided to opt for a wide-angle lens.

Other than the distortion issue, which appears to be correctable, the rest of the phone is great. I am glad I have it and will keep it despite the camera.

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