ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera review: impressive zooming capabilities, but not image quality

“The ZenFone Zoom comes with serious camera hardware, but can it deliver? Let’s find out”

After establishing the ZenFone series as a solid choice for the masses, it seems that the Taiwanese brand ASUS is now targeting niche segments. The ZenFone 2 (review | FAQs), for instance, was the brand’s flagship offering with loaded specs, the ZenFone Selfie (first impressions) was targeted at selfie lovers, the ZenFone 2 Laser (review) was an affordable smartphone with Laser autofocus, and the ZenFone Max (review) was a handset with a mammoth battery capacity.

ASUS ZenFone Zoom review 11

The ASUS ZenFone Zoom continues the brand’s philosophy of focussing on different niches, as it is aimed squarely at shutterbugs. However, the camera quality of a smartphone isn’t necessarily a niche anymore, as people largely use their handsets for taking photos. So, is the ZenFone Zoom the ultimate camera smartphone consumers are looking for? Its specs strongly suggest so – a 13MP sensor from Panasonic with a 10-elements Hoya lens that has a variable aperture between f/2.7 and f/4.8. Further, the camera gets 3x optical zoom capabilities, and also features image stabilisation. To assist in shooting low-light environments, the snapper gets a two-tone LED flash. It’s not just camera-centric hardware, the handset is also made like a camera, complete with a shutter button, video recording key, volume rocker that doubles up as zoom keys and even a lanyard cable.

ASUS ZenFone Zoom screenshot (26) ASUS ZenFone Zoom screenshot (28)

Before we give you a peek at its imaging prowess, let’s take a tour of the camera app on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom, which is crammed to the gills with options. The basic interface remains largely minimal though, with the usual set of options in the landscape mode. You can switch to video, preview images, toggle flash, etc. However, hit the modes button, and you’re presented with an array of mode such as manual, Super resolution, Depth of field, and Time lapse. The manual mode gives you deeper controls such as ISO, exposure and shutter speed. You can also adjust various parameters like the focussing mode, touch exposure, anti-flicker and more under the settings menu. The app is also intelligent enough to understand the ambient settings and suggest a low-light or HDR mode for the scene.

ASUS ZenFone Zoom screenshot (29) ASUS ZenFone Zoom screenshot (31)

Overall, the camera UI is superb in terms of the options on offer, but can the device deliver? We’ve taken a number of images in different situations with the ZenFone Zoom in auto mode to find out. Let’s begin.

Long shot

ASUS ZenFone Zoom front camera quality - long shot

The 13-megapixel sensor on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom does a good job of capturing Taj Mahal and its reflection, along with the other surroundings. However, colours seem to be a bit washed out. The details are decent, but they aren’t as sharp as what we’ve seen from other high-end smartphones.

Close up

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera test - close up

In comparison to the long shot, the ZenFone Zoom does a much better job with macro imagery. Not only have the flowers been captured in focus, the depth-of-field effect is realistic, and adds charm to the image. Colours also appear natural, but now it’s time to see whether it gives off the same impression when zoomed in.

Close up (zoomed in)

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera test - close up (zoomed in)

After zooming in, the image hasn’t lost its essence – the tiny flowers are clearly visible, and so is the insect, which wasn’t as easily visible in the previous case. The details aren’t lost as well, since the edges remain sharp too. However, the strength of the ZenFone Zoom lies in its optical zoom capabilities, which means that you can get closer to any subject (3x zoom), be it for landscape shots or close ups, so let’s see how the device fares.

Optical zoom

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera performance - optical zoom

Using the optical zoom on the ASUS ZenFone Zoom is quite easy, you simply need to pinch the interface or press the volume rocker. In this image for instance, the subject looks like it’s been captured in a macro mode, even though that’s not the case. The image looks lovely too with incredible sharpness and a nice bokeh effect.

HDR off

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera review - HDR off

The above shot has been taken to test out the HDR functionality of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom. While the colour reproduction and details are decent, parts of the image look overexposed. Let’s see if turning on HDR makes it better.

HDR on

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera review - HDR on

Unfortunately, the high dynamic range of the ASUS ZenFone Zoom fails to enhance the image. The exposure hasn’t been corrected, and colours also appear completely changed.

Front shot

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera review - front shot

The phone sports a 5MP camera at the front, which is able to capture decent images in adequate lighting. The brand’s mascot, called Zenny, can be seen in its fully glory, though the image appears grainy as soon as you start zooming in.

Low-light shot

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera samples - low light shot

Even in low-light, ZenFone Zoom’s 13-megapixel camera seems to have done a good job. We can easily see Zenny, along with its colours.

Low-light shot with flash

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera samples - low light shot with flash

With flash switched on, the same image looks brighter, but not necessarily better. There are certainly more details, but the illumination is too strong for our liking, and colours have been compromised too.

Night shot

ASUS ZenFone Zoom camera quality - night shot

Most devices struggle in dim environments, and the ASUS ZenFone Zoom doesn’t seem to be any different. You can only see the slide in frame, and after some effort, decipher a few colours like green and red. However, you can also enable the low-light mode, which lets in more light to capture the image, although it lowers the resolution to just 3MP.

In sum, the ASUS ZenFone Zoom comes across as a a solid effort and manages to impress us with its shooting prowess – at least in most scenarios. It’s zooming capabilities are commendable, as the brand has tried to ensure that the device doesn’t lose its ergonomic comfort for the same. The dedicated shutter button also adds to the convenience. However, priced at Rs 37,999, the phablet is competing against flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4, which are nothing short of impressive when it comes to image quality.

Of course, the Zoom might seem to be all about camera, but there’s more to it, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in our review. Keep an eye out for that.

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