touch me, baby

Touch and drag to focus and expose your images, and it really works

The camera on the Moto X is not going to win any awards. It won't turn you into Trey Ratcliff, it won't get you paid for your pictures by National Geographic, and it won't keep you warm in the evenings. But it opens fast, and with the new enhanced "touch to focus" mode that came with KtiKat it takes pictures a bit better than it did before.

Previously, something was broken with touch to focus. Things seemed to focus on the center of the viewfinder no matter where you tried to move it to, and a lot of pictures showed this by being blurry and grainy. Focus and exposure are two of the most important things we need out of a small sensor camera (the third being good white balance and color correction) and part of the reason why pictures from your phone always look like pictures from your phone.

Motorola wants the camera to be good. They used relatively good components, and are working on the software little by little. Hit the break to see what I mean.

touch to focus mode

Fire up the camera on your KitKat powered Moto X and slide out the settings menu by dragging your finger to the right. Smack dab in the center of the hemisphere, you see the finger. Tap on it. The first time you tap, you'll get a description of what it's going to do for you. 

Basically, it gives you a new reticule. You can drag it anywhere on the viewfinder screen and when you tap to take a picture, it focuses on what it sees inside the circle and exposes — sets the camera settings to get the best picture based on the light in front of the lens — based on what is inside the small rectangular brackets. 

touch to focus

This is a huge boost to the camera, and makes a mediocre shooter a bit less mediocre. See the samples below for a visual of what I mean.


This is a quick and dirty shot with the focus and exposure on the left side of the window, away from the bare light bulb. Everything to the right is blown out and likely can't be fixed, but the little Android figurines look reasonably good. Not "real camera" good, but good.


Here's the same scene, except the focus area was dragged over to the right of the image, where that bare bulb is. You get a lot more detail of an ugly bare light bulb, at the expense of casting the rest of the image in a dark shadow that you won't be able to fix with Snapseed or Google+. 

These tests are extreme, but I think they give a good idea of how things work now. Any picture you take with a bare, bright bulb in the frame is going to turn out poorly. And while this doesn't make the Moto X anyones' go-to camera, your quick and dirty shots will be better than they were before.


Reader comments

Moto X KitKat update brings enhanced 'touch to focus' mode to the camera


The new camera app itself is awesome, but many if my images are a little more green/yellow than before. I think they tweaked the white balance just a tad too much. Hope they fix this.

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They're made by Andrew Bell and sold in limited releases (more or less, depending on the series etc). He designed the first batch for a Google event but it's taken off since then and he invites all kinds of artists to do some of the designs now. Google "Dead Zebra Shop" (or blog) if you wanna find out more.

The less limited releases (or less sought out designs) aren't hard to get a hold of, Andrew sells his stuff at toy/collectible stores like My Plastic Heart (NYC based) in addition to his own store, and they're all usually pretty fairly priced ($6-12) unless you go to Ebay or something like that.

Andrew even goes as far as limiting the number of orders per person and whatnot so that everyone gets a chance to buy then during a new series or seasonal release (he does Christmas/Halloween designs etc). The stock green one or the blank white one (paint your own) are usually always available.

Some of them have neat little surprises... One can pop it's head (and another one comes with a smaller Andy inside), some glow in the dark, some smell (Cupcake ones came in vanilla and chocolate, the barista one smells like coffee), the Nexus one is holding a phone, etc etc.

Looks like the collector's bug bit Jerry just like me, heh, I'm not sure if I have nearly as many (certainly not trying to get them all!) but I'm certain I've got more than a dozen, might be closing in on two dozen. Rarely paid more than $12 for any of them. The main series ones are usually sold as random blind boxes but the toy shops will open them and sell specifics for a couple bucks more.

Only one I remember paying an eye gouging amount for was this year's Halloween special... That dual faced pumpkin design was just too cool and for some reason I hadn't gotten the email notifying me when it was about to go on sale (Andrew's newsletter is worth subscribing to), so I plunked down $25 on Ebay.

And now you know!

Oh yeah, there was a retail series sold at Barnes and Nobles and other places, I think Andrew bought some of the unsold stock back but those were still pretty easy/cheap to find online as well. The taxi design in that series is pretty cool.

So, Jerry, out of curiosity: does the KitKat update nudge the moto x ahead of the N5 in your opinion? :-)

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He already had the Moto X ahead of the Nexus 5 (for him) based on his review; however, I would add that it depends on what features you find useful? Bigger higher resolution screen (mostly noticed when reading text) and wireless charging important? Then perhaps the Nexus 5 is for you. Get significant benefit out of using touchless control, Motorola Assist, Motorola Connect or having a longer battery? Then Moto X is for you. Moto has shown us that the difference between update timelines for its phones and the Nexus brand, may no longer be a deciding factor. I couldn't decide, so I bought and use both.

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I wonder what will happen if Google changes their robot mascot to something else for Android. I bet all hell will break loose.


Andy Rubin would probably quit! I'd have to tear off the Android decal on my car's window... OTOH my Andrew Bell figures might be worth more than what I paid at that point. :p

Good, simple explanation of the change/upgrade. Thanks Jerry

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Good read, Jerry. What would make this article great would be a couple of "best-case" shots to see a real-life example of the differences we would expect to see on the Moto X with the Android 4.4 KitKat update v.s. the Moto X still on 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Just so those of us (or anyone interested) can see what to expect with the update. Still a good article, though. Thanks Jerry!

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems from the post that Jerry's suggesting the biggest change was actually the touch-to-focus setting fix. This is a pseudo manual thing, if you shoot in full auto and don't use that capability then there's probably not much of a difference (the camera will either use center weighted focus or do whatever it usually does).

The previous camera update probably made more of a difference in general and they did a before/after set back then IIRC (if not, Anandtech definitely did).

It's worth learning to use touch to focus or expose though... It's pretty simple, quick and can greatly improve photos. Other OEM often enable this by default, heck, even many high end cameras these days allow you to tap the display to focus and/or expose to where you've tapped since it's so much easier than full manual focus with a lens ring.

On my Panasonic camera(s) I can even control them from my phone and still tap to focus on the phone preview to remotely/wirelessly pull focus on the camera, you can get some pretty nifty effects like that while filming family events without even holding a camera. :D

Jerry knows more than a fair bit about photography, I think he should consider writing some articles about the basics of smartphone photography and offer some tips to getting better photos without much work!

My 2013 Nexus 7 still is on outdated. I am the concept of having a Nexus device and having timely updates is a scam.

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My 2013 Nexus 7 still is on outdated software. I think the concept of having a Nexus device and having timely updates is a scam.

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The 4.4 update file has been out. Just do a manual update. Side load already !

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OMG, what a rough life. Having to wait a few weeks before the update is pushed to your device. Such a first world crisis.

Timely updates? Google and Motorola are pushing the updates over a matter of weeks. Samsung, HTC and everyone else that defaults to months (if ever). Google and Motorola aren't doing bad by any reasonable stretch.

If having to wait a couple of weeks to get the update on your device is causing that much heartache, just sideload the update and be done with it.

If only there was an android focused site around that told you step by step instructions on how to side load!

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You'd swear Kit Kat is this phone altering update a-la-ICS the way people are whining about not having it NAO!1...

I think the Moto G launched with that camera.

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I've never seen so much animosity over a phone update, lol.

Somebody needs some alone time with their happy sock, lmao.

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Middle finger too Google for not giving me my OTA and don't comment and say "well sideload or ADB". No i don't care, i'm not gonna try.

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Dude, why do you even have a Nexus then? LOL
If you want Carrier, pushed out updates buy a different device.

"Fuck Google, Fuck KitKat".

Hey, Fuck you for being a dumb-ass about a PHONE.

This is the part where you say you're putting your Nexus 4 on Craigslist and getting an iPhone 5S, right?

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Hey. I just fucked some Kit Kats and got some on my balls. I need you to lick it off because when I try, I keep falling of the couch...

I think some of you people need to be banned from the site for life for using such awful language.

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I just hope the podcast stays clean. Its one of my favorite podcasts to listen to in the mornings with my kids in the car. My kids love it when Phil says "um m m m m m m" and "what about the Nexus 5 makes you say WOW". Great stuff :). Thanks AC for the great podcast.

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the podcast will stay clean. I promise, and I'm the one you would have to worry about the most when ti comes to sailor-speak.

As for the comments, Well, they reflect the commenter. I hate to stifle free speech, and usually only do so in very specific instances (hate speech isn't tolerated across the MoNa network, for example.)

I just have one big question, comparing with the nexus 5, with this update, which camera is better? That's the one thing holding my update from my N4

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The N5 has OIS which is something that I came to adore in the brief time I spent using a Lumia 920. They have said that the problems with the N5 camera are software based, which means we will probably see a fix for it sooner or later.

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Why this is in the moto x camera thread is beyond me, but so you have both a 2012 and 2013 Nexus 7?

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So, you have the update, now. What did all of that complaining do for you? Nothing, that's what.

And, I'm sure, when the next version of Android is out, you'll start the process all over again, lol.

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Phone gets here Monday (or maybe today if I'm really lucky). So done with the distorting phone on the HTC One.

Schweet, the Play updated camera for 4.2.2 is already pretty decent after turning on HDR and enabling touch to focus. Not that many phone cameras are friendly to low lightning, my LG Optimus LTE was actually one of the better ones for low light but too bad LG turned that into a lemmon with the ICS OTA update that was unfixable.

This without a doubt is the most vulgar thread ever.

I know that MOST of the time AC doesnt want to censor, but maybe some selective editing would be in order.

One comment (about the KK & genitalia) sticks out to me, maybe some were already edited... AC's comment sections would benefit greatly from a 'report' button.

Agreed, that one was over the top. I thought I was pushing it with the "happy sock" comment, but wow.

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Yeah, Windows Phone Central is actually pretty good about editing out vulgar comments and the like.

I know the editors here stress openness and freedom of expression (which I can appreciate), but some comments are so full of fail, it's beyond hilarity.

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The happy sock comment was clean with a side of innuendo. The kit Kat is not.

I can go full sailor with the best of them, but I try to keep it down a bit in something like this. Innuendo go a long way. Even dropping a bomb here and there isn't bad...

You should not edit idiotic comments though. Just because they are dumb doesn't mean that they are wrong to everyone.

My S-Pen went through hell to deliver this important message to you

I've always been partial to Moto phones. Their radios and build quality are second to none, but their cameras are, or were, the worst. This seems to be changing so I may end up with the X soon.

Just got my X on Thur and did the update to 4.4. I don't think the camera is awful. Good enough for spur of the moment pics. Not quite as good as my former 4S, but so what. My Canon p&s blows away any camera phone anyhoo.

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Moto has definitely improved their camera hardware and software. The camera on my Droid Razr was awful. But you're right, any pictures that you feel are important are better taken on a real camera.

Magenta? That's a pink android, look at the top and it's red, also there's a red android behind it (looks candy apple red).