The Moto G5S Plus has dual 13-megapixel cameras at the back. The main advertised feature of the second camera is for creating a shallow depth of field effect by blurring the background, but Motorola also said the two cameras work together to create sharper images. We find this claim somewhat hard to believe, but more on that later.
The camera application on the G5S Plus is identical to recent Motorola phones except for the addition of the depth effect mode. Accessible from the mode menu, it creates a live preview of the effect on the viewfinder even before you take the shot. There is even a slider to let you adjust the amount of background blur before you take the picture.
The problem is the quality of the live preview is really poor compared to other phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus or even the Xiaomi Mi A1, which has roughly the same internals. Fortunately, the actual image that is saved has a much better quality, and it's just the live preview on the viewfinder that is lacking.
The depth editor also comes with another set of options for when you are done taking a picture with this mode. You can go to your image and adjust the intensity of the background blur after the fact. There are also some other effects that let you, for example, desaturate the part that is not in focus or replace it with another image, so your subject looks like it is elsewhere. These depend heavily on how well the image is captured and as we will see later, don't always work that well.
We had a lot of time to test out the camera since our first preview and can now give a definitive opinion about it, having tested it in much better light. We've also had a couple of updates to the camera, so that should improve things as well.
Regarding daylight image quality using the standard mode, the G5S Plus is largely adequate. The camera gets the colors and contrast right, so the images overall look pleasing.
Digging a bit deeper though makes you realize the images are soft and lacking in detail. The culprit seems to be noise reduction, which is rather heavy-handed here and ends up smudging the details. The problem is that the noise reduction is apparent in all images, even those taken in bright light where the ISO is low.
The camera also occasionally stumbled with white balance in our testing, with some shots having a strange green tint. Other times the focusing failed to lock on. The G5S Plus does not have the superior dual pixel focusing of the G5 Plus and is often slower and inaccurate while focusing. Then there is the dynamic range, which is unsurprisingly poor.
The dynamic range situation can be solved by the HDR mode, but it's rather hit or miss. Sometimes it works well by balancing the light in the shadows with the highlights. Sometimes it goes overboard with the shadows making the image look unnatural. Sometimes it makes a dark image even darker, even though there was no good reason to. It's best to leave it off instead of on Auto and experiment with it manually depending upon the situation.
In low light conditions, the G5S Plus was again a mixed bag. Indoors, under reasonably lit conditions the camera tended to slightly overexpose and wash out the image but at least the details were clear and the noise low. When it got darker, the shadows take on a pale blue tone due to the noise, which the camera can no longer hide. The images also turn into mush with no clearly defined edges around objects.
As a side note, we want to highlight Motorola's exceptionally poor exposure compensation dial that appears around the focus point when you tap on the screen. The touch target for this is laughably small and instead of turning the dial to adjust the exposure, nine out of ten times you end up dragging the entire focus point around the screen. We wish Motorola would just stick to industry standard of having a simple adjustment bar on the side that you can control without pulling out your stylus and magnifying glass.
Now coming to the pièce de résistance that is the depth mode, we found it to once again be flaky. In all honesty, that is the nature of the feature and it rarely works reliably on any phone but the G5S Plus just happens to be particularly bad at it. The camera struggles with complex objects, not knowing where to draw the line and tends to blur parts with impunity. Even with reasonably easy or well-defined objects it can't always detect the boundaries correctly.
When it works, which is rare, it looks alright. But in most cases it looks fake and not something you'd want to use with any amount of frequency. This also makes the aforementioned effects of desaturating or replacing background pointless as the images are rarely good enough for the effects to work reliably.
What makes the effect even more pointless is just how long it takes to process the image. While other phones can take a second or two, the G5S Plus takes a good six seconds after every one of these shots to process the final image. When you consider the fact that the end result is often disappointing, you are not particularly inclined to wait.
In fact the camera in general feels a bit slow. Shot to shot time could be lower and the phone also takes a few seconds to capture and process the HDR and Night mode images. Burst mode is also not particularly rapid.
Coming back to the point regarding the dual camera mode, we found Motorola's claims regarding the second monochrome sensor helping the primary RGB with still images hard to swallow. Images are often soft and noisy on the G5S Plus, the exact opposite of what a camera combining the output of two sensors be delivering. We even tried covering the second sensor for taking pictures and saw zero difference in image quality.
There is also no option to just take monochrome images from the secondary sensor. This leads us to believe the second sensor is nothing more than just a depth sensor for the blur effect and the claims of combining the output of both sensors are largely bogus.
Finally, the video recording quality is decent but nothing to write home about. Apart from 1080p30, the camera also lets you record in 1080p60 and 4K30, which sounds impressive until you realize the image stabilization and even the HDR mode only works in the 1080p30 mode. Image quality in 4K is decent but the poor dynamic range doesn't really help and the image is also shaky. We also tried taking stabilized 1080p30 videos but the camera kept glitching on us and would suddenly shift the video left even when the phone was held steady.
Overall, we still think the single camera on the G5 Plus is generally better, with better image quality and faster focusing. The secondary camera gimmick on the G5S Plus unfortunately comes with a quality and performance penalty.
In our admittedly limited time with the G5S Plus, we found it to be a really small increment over the already G5 Plus. However, this isn't a bad thing considering we do like the standard G5 Plus a lot.
The biggest talking point of the G5S Plus is the dual camera system on the back. While we think the image quality of regular still photos is good, the depth effect left a lot to be desired, both regarding actual quality of the images and the time it required to process them.
That aside, we greatly appreciate the improvement in design and build quality over the standard model. The display is also slightly larger, which makes us appreciate it even more.
We would have liked to see more improvements, such as in the processor and battery department. However, considering the small price increment over the G5 Plus, that would be too much to ask for.
In the end, the G5S Plus improves upon an already good smartphone, making it one of our top picks for a phone in this price range. We look forward to spending more time with the device for our full review.