ASUS first introduced this camera-centric smartphone back during CES 2015, but it wasn’t quite ready for launch at that time. The ASUS ZenFone Zoom is much more than a ZenFone 2 with a weird camera strapped to its back. For so many years we as consumers have been more than satisfied with the default focal length of their handsets. And for those times when we wanted to get closer to an object we had used digital zoom as a last-ditch option. But Did you know? that your camera isn’t really zooming, it’s just cropping the image shown in viewfinder and the end results often look really bad.
A smartphone with optical zoom, manual camera functions, and a host of extra features allows you to do what you can do with a real camera. DSLR users do not take their cameras with them everywhere they go, but with a smartphone with 10-element lens made by Hoya they don’t have to.
Fun Fact: Hoya is known for making glass filters that protect other lenses.
Talking about the camera specs, the smartphone comes with a 13-megapixel Panasonic sensor behind a variable f/2.7-4.8 aperture lens. ASUS has been working on the camera app for a while and the app is actually one of the better experiences you’ll find on a smartphone today. You should also take some time to learn the camera app because it allows us take more than just a quick picture. The Zenfone Zoom’s app features the best camera control available out of the box in a smartphone. You can control every aspect of the camera – ISO, white balance, exposure value and shutter speed all at your command.
The sole purpose of the ZenFone Zoom is to give everyone DSLR-like control over their smartphone pictures, coupled with an optical zoom and image stabilisation with an aim to capture the perfect shot possible. Proper optics and a real zoom lens feel like absolute game changers when it comes to smartphone photography. The best part of this device is the dedicated camcorder and shutter button. Long pressing it launches the camera app from anywhere and making it easy to get photo/video when you need it. The buttons feel great, it’s tactile, super clicky, and works just like you’d expect and does the job well. You hold it down halfway to focus and click to snap a photo.
Interestingly by default, the ZenFone Zoom’s rear camera is set to take 10-MP photos, this is because images are captured in 4160X2340 resolution and feature a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same as the Zoom’s screen/viewfinder. If you set the camera to shoot at 13 MP (4160×3120), the images are cropped to 4:3. Having 3x optical zoom means you can get more detail from your photos, without the degradation and pixelation of the digital zooms you normally get on smartphones. The Zoom also features a comprehensive manual mode that allows you to alter white balance, ISO, exposure, shutter speed and focus. But our favorite part about manual mode is that it also activates a histogram, so you can see a graphical arrangement of the light in your photo instead of relying only on what you see on the screen. There’s even an on-screen level, which helps ensure your landscapes and horizons are flat.
We used default camera setting for most of our shots and found that Zoom’s image processing is not strong enough to correct exposure or reduce/eliminate noise from the images. Some shots in bright daylight also looked dark and overly yellow. The pictures definitely lacked sharpness as we compared similar pictures captures with Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Nexus 6P. But when you zoom in, the ZenFone flexes its muscles. The picture captured from the Note 5 and 6P began to fall apart due to pixelation and a lack of detail when zoomed in. Also sometimes the device fails to adjust white balance as a result images sometimes looked different from what I saw in real life and what other phones managed to capture. But that’s just a rare case.
The Zoom’s front camera features a wide-aperture 5-MP camera that can handle selfie panoramas and take a pretty decent shot in auto mode. The front camera is just ordinary with Beauty mode enabled by default and this may make you look like an Alien.
Talking about video, there’s no 4K video mode on this camera, and you lose optical image stabilization (OIS) when trying to capture video above 720p. Also in medium lightning the camera tends to capture a lot of noise. So the ability to capture video is still noticeably lacking when compared to the other smartphone cameras out there.
Overall ZenFone Zoom doesn’t really live up to its promise. The device captures almost perfect photos in daylight conditions, although there are minor bugs adjusting the white balance which we hope can be fixed in future via OTA. Asus Zenfone Zoom acts as a hybrid between a point-and-shoot camera and a smartphone, and can easily replace either one of them. The only noticeable weak point of this device is video recording and low light photography. Unless a user is ready to shed INR 37999 he could simple buy a budget smartphone like Asus Zefone 2 Laser and a Digital SLR separately.