Motorola Droid: Camera Review


I had high expectations for the Motorola Droid Camera as – at least from a specs and software standpoint – it comes with a lot of features not found on other Android phones. With a 5MP camera, dual LED flash, image stabilization and 4X digital zoom I was excited to test it out. Top it with a new camera UI and a much longer list of settings and options for both pictures and videos and it looked like the Droid Cam could be a real winner.

While the Droid is perfectly capable of taking some great pictures, it won’t be replacing your dedicated digital camera anytime soon. Results fluctuated greatly and came out excellent sometimes and both washed out and blurry many others. Still… it will be a marked improvement for folks new to smartphones and still performs better than many competing devices. See the samples below and decide for yourself in the comments:

Click on any pictures below to view their full size as taken by the Droid.

The best pictures I was able to take were ones outside during day time. For example, check out this picture with my friend’s dog (Ollie) and how crystal clear it turns out:

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But other pictures taken within a few minutes proved average or poor:

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Action shots with the action setting did nearly nothing to help catch Ollie jumping for a treat:

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Most of the pictures seemed to have a grainy substance somewhere in the picture, usually in lower, shaded regions. Here is a pretty good picture in the grand scheme of things but look at the lower half of the pumpkin. And we added a little camera effect just to show you the fun you can have:

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The same thing happened when I took picture at the Baltimore Ravens game. Overall the picture is wonderful in my opinion, but if you look at specifc regions, for example under the railing or at people’s clothes nearby, you’ll see the focus is anything but perfect. The second picture is my dad… he’s the man.

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The best and only time you should really use digital zoom is when you wouldn’t be able to see enough AT ALL without using it. For example, if I wanted to capture a pic of a particular player or the team lining up. Here is a good USE and mediocre RESULT for digital zoom. Keep in mind, optical zoom doesn’t affect picture quality but digital zoom ALWAYS will – so this isn’t a downfall of the Droid just the bascis of digital zoom technology:

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The first night I had the Motorola Droid I sat at my computer in complete darkness at my desk and took a couple pictures of the room next to me. Without the flash I would have only seen complete darkness and while I WAS able to capture the setting completely, notice the “washed out” look. Maybe I’m asking for too much:

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I then dragged myself away from the Droid to grab some takeout food and took a picture of a local 24-hour diner called Sip N Bite:

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Time to test out that 4x digital zoom:

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When I got back I climbed up to my rooftop deck to snag a picture of downtown Baltimore. Without using flash it came out fairly well but trying to adjust the settings to account for nighttime scenery ended in pure disaster. While you could see details in the buildings much better, the “greenish” tint it applied to the clouds made it look like the city had just undergone some sort of alien gassing.

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In the morning on my way to get coffee, I took a quick pic of half-spring/half-fall leaves and tested out the 4x digital zoom again:

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Despite the cameras being decent half the time and insufficient the other half there is one way to ensure you ALWAYS come out with a flawless picture that is 100% perfect in every single possible way. Take it of your girlfriend and then let them ask you, “how do I look?” So yeah… this picture is 100% perfect in every single possible way:

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Taken at a Bat Mitzvah on Halloween. The camera function sometimes has a really annoying delay, causing the subjects to move early and pictures like this:

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And if you’re trying to get some of the action with strobe lights and other crazy stuff going on? Forget about it.

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So there you have it. The software. The results. And the overall opinion. I wish the camera was more reliable. It seems to have the ability to take a decent picture but is far from consistent… and when its all about capturing a special moment that may never happen again… I wouldn’t be confident relying on the Droid’s Cam. But for social settings or casual pictures the Droid will suffice.

More videos are coming…

A video of me using the Motorola Droid Google Navigation while taking video of the entire trip on the SAME DROID!

I changed the setting to “low quality” at some point and when you’re recording video it never indicates its currently in “low quality” mode. Unfortunately, I took a BUNCH of video not knowing this and was pretty pissed – I actually had some great footage from the Ravens vs. Broncos game that was rendered much less cool. In any case, here is my friend and I hanging out with his dog and trying to get him to do tricks:

Realizing the error of my ways, I took a quick last second vid before wrapping up my review:

Rob Jackson
I'm an Android and Tech lover, but first and foremost I consider myself a creative thinker and entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for ideas of all sizes. I'm a sports lover who cheers for the Orange (College), Ravens (NFL), (Orioles), and Yankees (long story). I live in Baltimore and wear it on my sleeve, with an Under Armour logo. I also love traveling... where do you want to go?

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  1. First off, great job Rob. I’m really enjoying the multiple reviews focusing on specific subjects.

    On the camera, this is a huge disappointment. I hope most of these thing can be fixed via a future software update. Having kids, I was really looking forward to being able to use my phone as my day-to-day point and shoot camera.

  2. @Granite Agree on the reviews and the disappointment with the camera. I really expected to see consistently decent, if not stunning, shots. The quality here seems to be no better than my vx8350.

  3. A bit disappointing on the camera software, but I guess the best camera is the one you have with you.

    The video quality looks great, though.

  4. Show more pics of the ladies! j/k

    Thanks for the great review!

  5. First off nice pic of the ladies…got any more? ;-) J/K. Second that delay will make the camera worthless for me. I mainly would use it to try and snap quick pics of the kids and of course they aren’t going to hold the ridiculously cute whatever-it-is-they’re-doing for long.

  6. I have to say, the pictures don’t really look all that bad. I still have my old 3 megapixel camera from 6 years ago, so this phone will be a marked improvement.

  7. The only thing I really noticed or cared about was how cute that dog is!

  8. Boo Ravens, Go Bengals! Who Dey!
    Thanks for all of the reviews and work your doing.

  9. do anything think some camera apps or the standard software will be updated anytime soon?

  10. Haha, I’m 95% sure I went to grammar school with that blonde. Starts with a K I think, Small world.

    Pictures looks like junk. That said, I don’t think I’ve seen a phone camera that’s capable of shooting movement at night with any semblance of success . Shame on verizon/motorola for advertising “idont take night photos” since the droid doesn’t either.

    Little disappointing, but this isn’t make or break. The app memory limit however…

  11. I have been reading reviews on the Droid’s camera and the general concensus is that it sucks. However, based on some of the sample pictures seen here, I’ve come to the following conclusions…

    In the camera’s defense:

    1. Many consumers can’t help but be mislead by the stereotype that more megapixels equals better pictures. “surely if it has 5 megapixels, it takes pictures almost twice as good as the iPhone” (seems like easy logic right?) But at the end of the day, we’re still talking about miniscule optics, a very tiny light sensor, and one thats more cramped with pixels at that, making grainy pictures at almost an ambient light level. By comparison, an average DSLR sensor is about 4 times the size or more in both dimentions. The bigger the sensor, the better the pictures, period.

    2. Settings. Even the cheapest phones nowadays have decent picture taking abilities, its just that you have to know what to do to coax them out. When I first purchased my LG Dare with 3.2 Megapixel camera, the out-of-the-box settings sucked. The pictures looked just as you described above, however, after some adjustment to the ISO speed, metering mode, etc, I was able to take some great pictures. Of course it helps that I have some background in photography and kinda know what I’m doing, but better pictures can be had.

    3. Software. Surely tweaking the camera’s software will make functionality somewhat better. The long focus/load times should be expected because its just a tiny camera on a phone.

    4. Flash. You’re still going to have to hold your hand steady and tell your subjects not to move because although the LED flash may be bright and effective, they’re still LED and not Xenon. If you notice on cameras attached to LEDs, the LED (and “shutter”) stays open for a couple of seconds to “gather” all that light from the LEDs. If there was a Xenon flash on the phone, the capture would be instant because the amount of light is intense, therefore reducing any form of blur.

    5. Its still just a camera on a phone. You can’t expect it to replace your DSLR or even your dedicated point-and-shoot, simply because its attached to the newest, hottest smartphone with a fast processor, boasting 5 megapixels. Can it be tweaked via software and settings? yes. Can it take better pictures than originally thought? I’m confident, without a doubt. Can it aid you in augmented reality apps and various other forms of productivity? Yes, and thats what a smartphone should still be all about.

  12. Thanks for the great reviews. As far as the camera goes, I think that people are expecting miracles regarding phone cameras. I actually think the pictures are pretty good. I’ve seen pictures taken with expensive camera equipment that don’t look so good. Great picture taking is a learned skill but most people think that the camera is going to do it all for them.

  13. This reminds me of a phone I bought 4 years ago (how far things have advanced…). The Motorola V710. Phone had great reception and came with a (wait for it) 1.3 Megapixel camera. Just insane resolution at the time for camera phone. So I get it home and every single picture I took looked like someone threw a handful of sand over the shot. I remember the effect because that is exactly how another website described the crappy photo quality. Completely unusable. Useless. And I swore never to buy Motorola again. They really need to step up to the plate for cameras on these things. It is the most used function on my HTC magic.

  14. To be fair to the night shot and “greenish” tint in the clouds, that can happen to the best of cameras without careful white balance settings and is more of a casualty of camera technology vs. human eyeballs. (Eyeballs are more forgiving.)

    As far as quality, it absolutely blows away the 1.3 megapixels/lens on my i760. (Why does nobody seem to talk about the lens? f-stop, focal length, anything?) I honestly wouldn’t expect the Droid to replace my Sony point-and-shoot or my Nikon DSLR, but it’ll be a big step up for me. Especially in the video. If I can shoot a quick video of my new son and then hopefully upload it straight to youtube, it’ll keep the grandparents happier, too.

  15. I really thought you did a great job covering all the features. I’m really looking forward to picking my phone on release day, assuming it doesnt sell out. Being that I dont have a smartphone at the moment, i’m also looking forward to the ability to GeoTag photos, and to be able to post them to a variety of places, espically Facebook. Thanks for the awesome review!

  16. I have the Samsung Omnia which is a 5mp camera. You can see some of the photos taken with it here http://www.flickr.com/photos/artzpot before I got this phone I read a lot of reviews on how the camera sucked blah blah blah but honestly looking at these photos they are just as good as my omnia. The omnia does take a while to boot up the camera. There is a lag in the time that you hit the shutter to focus and the then push all the way down to take the photo. It does take a delay to actually take the photo.

    It looks like there will be a few things on this one that I’ll need to get used to but honestly the photos look about the same. I always have my phone with me so I use it to take those shots that I normally won’t get. My omnia is set on normal mode not high and 640 pixels so it’s not even set to the highest quality because that’s not what I care to use it for. When I want to go take photos I bring my Canon D40 or my point and shoot camera but for when I want to capture I use my phone.

    I was worried about this phone because of so many people say how bad the camera was but after seeing the photos compared to my omnia it really isn’t too bad.

  17. Finally a review of the camera that actually posts samples! A+ on the review if you ask me. Too many other reviews just say things about the camera but don’t actually post samples.

    A bit disappointed that the camera isn’t amazing but it isn’t like I’ll really care that much. (my current digital camera is a old 5 megapixel olympus I barely ever take places so haveing a halfway decent camera on me will be better than not having a decent camera on me)

  18. Is this the same camera hardware as the Motozine zn5? That’s been getting good reviews. It has the new Kodak sensor pattern that improves noise characteristics for high ISO photos. I was hoping the Droid would match this or better (I’m on Verizon and don’t want to switch to T-Mobile just to get a decent cameraphone).

  19. One more thumbs up for the Droid camera. This review puts all my concerns to rest. Motion blur in low light is not a surprise. Incorrect autofocus on background objects can happen (the pic of the guy at the Ravens game, notice the people in the background are tack sharp). Trying to get the tiny sensor to pick up city lights from far away, good luck.

    I now feel confident I can do things with this camera that my Curve 8900 3mp cannot. I love my Curve camera, by the way.

  20. @Darek…

    Did you go to St. Mary’s St. Michael’s?

    And Rob, I agree the dog is ballin’ and the girls are uber hotties haha

  21. I don’t have a strong opinion about cameras — but I so glad to see a mention of the Sip ‘N Bite — what a great place that is, a true Baltimore institution — and the food is quite good!!

  22. Is it possible that in the future a software update to Android 2.0 may improve camera quality?

    I hear that its more software related than hardware related problems.

  23. @Anthony.. haha yea.

  24. @ Darek…then I’m pretty sure you might have been our maitre d

  25. Yes I was! I couldn’t remember your name, but I thought it could be you. Hopefully I did a good job… lol

    I’m actually at another facility in the area now as a banquet manager.

  26. wow. small world! it was great, you did an excellent job. Phandroid Rob himself was also in attendance.

  27. Disappointing but not surprising. It’s a shame though. Most buyers are still subject to the more MP=better pictures myth, so phone and camera makers continue to cram as many MP into their sensors as they can. A 2-3 MP sensor is all the resolution you need for snapshots or desktop backgrounds. A 2MP sensor at the same size as this 5MP sensor would have lower pixel density, which means a camera that can take higher ISO’s (less grain), which in turn allows for faster shutter speeds (less blur) and altogether better pictures.

  28. Wait, so people expect a camera phone to capture a sharp image of a jumping dog in a low light scene? Most compact cameras can’t even do that. I don’t know…like your review mentions, I’m new to smartphones, and along with the largely negative reviews I’m seeing of the Droid’s cameraphone, I’m seeing sample pics that don’t look bad at all to me.

  29. Seems better than the G1 still. haha

  30. I just have one question – what kind of dog is Ollie? thanks!! :)

  31. Ollie is an Australian Shepherd. Best dogs ever :D

  32. thanks so much!!!

  33. to all of you who are saying “it’s a phone, it’s not supposed to take these amazing photos” and so on…

    have you seen the photos that an iphone can take? they’re great. a lot of that has to do with the software, but the resulting outcome is just great for a phone.

    i think people were expecting the camera to be just as good, if not better than the iphone’s.

    i guess the only thing droid user’s can hope for is an update that allows the full potential of the camera’s capabilities. let’s hope they get it.

  34. Thanks for the camera review. I thought the night video of Baltimore was pretty interesting. Seems like the Nav software works fine. I’ll have to check out the camera for myself tomorrow.

    Pittsburgh, Pa

  35. Anybody knows who the manufacturer of CMOS sensor is? Based on the pics I would say Omnivision… but who knows..

    Btw, the Motozine Zn5 has a DIS (http://www.disimage.com/) camera which is one of the better ones out there…

  36. Hmm… y’know, now that I have a Droid, I’ve been taking some pictures… and every one of them I’ve taken have been good so far. Heck, my mother got one too… she took a picture of a helicopter and you can SEE the blades of the helicopter as if they weren’t even moving.

    I’d say the camera on the Droid is beyond sufficient… it actually makes me wonder why the pictures came out so bad for Rob.

  37. Everything I shoot is grainy!! I’ve tried all settings and lighting situations. My Motorla Razor V3x (2 Mega Pixel) took much better shots.
    I have a kid, so like others, this is a big dissapointment.
    Other than the camera, the phone rocks!

  38. If not mistaken, I’ve seen from the Motorola support forum. Up to you to put this comment in this page.

    Taking pictures in camera, there is a procedure for it. You need press the camera switch half-way for a while so that the camera will focus. After focus complete you need to press the camera switch fully to take the picture.

    The focus indicator as problems in not showing green rectangle sometimes. Except this issue, there is no focus problem.

  39. I hope the verizon Quick Start Guide for DROID is mentioning, how to press the camera button in DROID. May be at your review time, you don’t know about this procedure.

    If camera button is pressed correctly, then focus problem will not come.

  40. I know this is just a camera, but after seeing the stunning pictures the iphone can take, I had my hopes up. So far it’s the only disappointing thing about this phone, but a pretty big one. Hope it can be fixed via software upgrades.

  41. There is a software issue with the camera that is documented in a tech memeo. The fixed is scheduled with the software release scheduled around 12/11. It will be interesting to see the results.

  42. Hey, first of all, thanks for a really great review. I think some of your pictures are great! When you’re looking a the quality of a picture, it’s pretty important to think about the uses of the picture. Many of those can be framed in am 8″ by 12″ frame and look good in your house. That’s good enough for me. And even better, you can upload the pics to your favorite spots!

  43. No one expects a camera to take great shots on a phone? But we all want the same quality we had on our other 5 4 3 2 year old phones. To think that a droid phone should take BAD shots not even equal to the 2.3 mega pixels is a blatant misleading of the consumer. The reps denied a focus problem then the secret date fix that they said wasnt there. Too bad so many people who lets face it might be getting a smart phone for the first time will be not only disapointed but let down when on Chrismas day their camera phone cant take pictures their old lg env phone did. Shame on Motorolla for rushing this lagging mess of a phone with some gimmicky apps that just slow down your ability to make a phone call .

  44. The cam on the Droid stinks.

  45. that dog needs a bath

  46. When frame that changes color shows that if your composition is focused. If it’s red, your camera is unable to detect a focus for the picture. If it’s green, your camera can find a focus and it will significantly lower the chance of your picture taken being grainy – out of focus.

  47. Nice review…plain and simple. I am looking at the DROID and iPhone. Haven’t decided yet. Btw, I live in California but grew up in Baltimore (Pimlico area). GO RAVENS!

  48. i send oix to facebook and they never get any bigger than a thumbnail…any suggestions?

  49. What will you say if i compare droid with iphone..?

  50. I’m confused; my Motorola Droid (=Milestone) never shows “green edges”, but always red ones. However, the picture appears to be as sharp as it can.
    The picture quality is not too good, the optics seem not to match the 5 MP sensor: I guess a black/white line grid would only show some 600 lines (horizontally) instead of the 1300 possible with the sensor. Thus, a 2 MP picture will probably catch all detail provided by the lenses. This should anyways be good enough for a 9×13 cm foto print, but not much more.
    I have found no way to change any ISO settings; so I cannot tweak very much!

  51. I think the camera is great for as far as a phone goes…..but remember you bought the phone for the phone not the camera….of course it will not take as good as a picture as a legit camera…..im 17 and can figure that out

  52. I compared to camera of iphone 3GS with this droid phone.
    The iphone camera function has no lag, focus faster, able to take a dog jumping in the air, and video has clear sound and vision.

  53. Kums and one or two other people have suggested there are some techniques that will lead to better quality pictures on the Droid. Does anyone have links to step-by-step instructions?

  54. More Mpixels = more noise, that grainy stuff you see when there isn’t enough light for the very tiny crammed in pixels to work right. Since makers sell on pixels, not image quality, expect even poorer performance in the 8 MP versions. If it was 2 MP, the results would be much. much better, because the low light sensitivity would be far greater. Since you only share images on your computer in smallish files, it would never bother you – but the marketeers have won and convinced everyone that high pixel count is good. It isn’t, especially in a very small chip.

  55. Since I got this all I ever seem to get is washed out extremely grainy pics. When I had an lg ally which only had a 3.2 mp camera it had crisper sharper and all around clearer and better pics. I can honestly say i’m hating this camera!!!!!

  56. I have had a droid phone for about 3 months now. It died after I had it a few weeks it just broke. I sent it in to be repaired and when I got it back it was fixed, but now the camera is completely blurred. Sometimes if I mess with the camera for 30 minutes it will start taking good pictures. It really sucks having invested in this phone. I dont have time to send it in for repair again so what I do is just use the flash for a flash – light. If somebody knows how I can fix my camera software without erasing my apps I would really appreciate it!

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