Zenfone 3 Zoom review: 3 questions every camera phone enthusiasts must ask


ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom
ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom

We first held the Zenfone 3 Zoom in January, and back then we were already impressed by the build quality (so light!) and the battery life (so long!) – two aspects where we saw much improvement over its predecessor.

If you will recall, the Zenfone Zoom was thanks to the 10-element Hoya variable zoom lens. It also suffered from major, major, major (did I say major?) battery drainage thanks to the beastly but not-so-efficient Intel Atom processor.

Speaking of performance, it is a solid mid-ranger thanks the battle-tested Snapdragon 625 SoC released over a year ago.

For most consumers, however, these aspects are merely secondary. The big question is image quality. Zenfone 3 Zoom is the first and only dual-camera phone from ASUS, so expectations are high as Mount Apo.

Good thing we are not most consumers. Or maybe we are, we just like to think that we are more discerning.

BUY: Zenfone 3 Zoom (Php 23,995) on Lazada

We sought to answer three important questions:

  1. How good are the photos taken on a Zenfone 3 Zoom?
  2. Can the Zenfone 3 Zoom smartphone replace a DSLR?
  3. What is the meaning of life?

The answers are:

  1. Above average
  2. No, sorry
  3. 42

End of review. Thanks for reading!

You’re still here?

Okay then, here’s the long version.

Question 1: How good are the photos taken on a Zenfone 3 Zoom?

Optically, the photos taken with the Zenfone 3 Zoom are above average …

… as long as you view them on your phone.

What do we mean by this?

Shots taken with the Zenfone 3 Zoom are optimized for smartphone viewing thanks to SuperPixel, a combination of image processing techniques to “enhance” what would otherwise be an unimpressive shot.

While this may look good on a phone’s small screen, it has a rather unfortunate drawback of looking unnatural on a computer monitor or on a television screen.

There does not appear to be a way to disable SuperPixel. In addition, the RAW image format is not supported (why ASUS why???) making a true like-for-like comparison with other smartphone cameras impossible.

Zenfone 3 Zoom vs iPhone 7 Plus

The second camera with the fixed “zoom” lens automatically makes close up shots optically sharper and to an extent, much better, than any other brand at 2.3x zoom – including the iPhone 7 Plus.

Speak of which, it is my very subjective opinion that the images produced by the Zenfone 3 Zoom are comparable to those taken with an iPhone 7 Plus with a few caveats:

  • ISO must be set to 50
  • HDR must be off
  • All image enhancement settings must be on neutral

At times the photos were a little more saturated and slightly sharper due to SuperPixel, but this does not automatically mean better photos. They may look good on Instagram or Facebook, but I personally prefer photos that capture more closely what I see with the naked eye.

What about software DoF (aka bokeh)?

The Zenfone 3 Zoom is also the first smartphone from ASUS to come with depth-of-field (DoF) effects. You know that feature called “portrait mode” that the iPhone 7 Plus is so proud of.

ASUS already did this before so it’s nothing new. We’ve seen this on the Zenfone 4, Zenfone 5, and Zenfone 6 – phones released back in 2014.

The results were not as impressive nor were they as consistent as the iPhone 7 Plus. It is a huge let down considering the fact that ASUS had 3 years to improve, and the necessary hardware to pull off something similar or even better.

It is interesting to note that the DoF effect only works in 1x zoom but not in 2.3x zoom.

This leads us to suspect that the Zoom 3 DoF filter relies purely on software post-processing, unlike the iPhone 7 Plus’ portrait mode which uses computational photography and machine learning to create the bokeh effect.

Question 2: Can the Zenfone 3 Zoom smartphone replace a DSLR?

We used the Zenfone 3 Zoom as our daily driver for about a month. Aside from personal shots, we also used it for product shots, lifestyle shots, and events.

The photos are sharp in most situations, even in poorly lit scenes. We ended up using the zoom lens fairly often – around 30-40 percent of the time.

The problem with low light shots is that you often need to bring up the ISO to 800 or more, which should normally result in a lot of noise, but PixelMaster applies its own post processing which eliminates noise but also removes a lot of detail.

To counter this, we lock the ISO to 50 and use slow shutter speed to compensate. This works for

It really comes in handy when eliminating shadows in for flat lay food shots, and taking photos of people from a distance. The 2.3x zoom allows you to focus on the subject.

Keep in mind that you do need to Shooting at 2.3x zoom, you do need to bump ISO up, lower the shutter speed, or both.

With HDR off, all image settings in neutral, and all software enhancements off, the resulting photos are comparable to those taken with an iPhone 7 Plus.

Question 3: What is the meaning of life?

Nobody really knows the answer to this question, but we do know this: as human beings, we owe it to ourselves to live life to its fullest. Thanks to technology, we can now capture every moment of our lives with a smartphone.

This makes a good camera phone a worthwhile investment, and the Zenfone 3 Zoom has two – one for wide-angle, and another for close-up macros.

Our desire to replicate bokeh effects seen in DSLR cameras are pushing the boundaries of mobile photography. Computational photography is only beginning, thanks to smartphones with multi-lens, multi-sensor cameras.

This excites us, and we look forward to the future of Zoom series.

ASUS Zenfone 3 Zoom (ZE553KL) tech specs & price (Philippines)

  • Build: 154.3 x 77 x 8 mm all aluminum
  • SIM: Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
  • Display: 5.5-inches 1920 x 1080 pixels AMOLED (Gorilla Glass 5)
  • OS: Android 6.0.1 w/ ASUS ZenUI 3.0
  • Chipset: Qualcomm MSM8953 Snapdragon 625
  • CPU: Octa-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A53
  • GPU: Adreno 506
  • Expansion: MicroSD (uses 2nd SIM slot)
  • Memory: 4GB RAM, 32/64/128GB ROM
  • Camera (primary): Dual 12 MP, (25mm, f/1.7, OIS & 59mm, f/2.8), 1/2.55″ sensor size @ 25mm, 1.4 µm pixel size
  • Camera (selfie): 13 MP, f/2.0, 1/3″ sensor size, 1.12 µm pixel size
  • Features: fingerprint sensor
  • Battery: 5000 mAh non-removable Li-Ion
  • Price: Php 23,995 (get it on Lazada)

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