Moto X Clear Pixel camera: how it works

by: Bogdan PetrovanAugust 1, 2013

MotoX_ATT_Angle_Cabernet-Purple 2

Motorola’s new and exciting Moto X  has just been officially unveiled, and now it’s time for everyone with even a remote interest in mobile technology to pore over the spec sheet and the feature list to see what makes the much-hyped Moto X so special.

In this post, we’re taking a look at what many users consider one of the most important components of a smartphone – the camera.

The Moto X comes with a so-called Clear Pixel camera, which appears to be the same shooter equipping Verizon’s Motorola-made new line of Droids.

According to Motorola, the Moto X should take great pictures and video even in low lighting conditions. Snapping shots in less than bright environments has always been problematic for most smartphone cameras, although many manufacturers promised solutions. So, how does the Clear Pixel camera work?

Clear Pixel refers to the special RGBC (red-green-blue-clear) filter of the Moto X’s camera sensor. Conventionally, cameras feature filters made of red, green, and blue specks of pigments, which absorb light differently, and thus allow the sensor to differentiate between colors and light intensity. The problem with this approach is that, when light is weak, not enough light passes through the RGB filter to reach the sensor, and thus blurry, noisy images are born.

With the RGBC technique, filters also feature a clear speck, which lets more light pass through compared to the pigments. More light reaches the sensor, which results in nicer images, even indoors or at dusk.

The size of the pixels of the 10MP Clear Pixel camera is 1.4 micron. For comparison, the Galaxy S4 has 1.1 micron pixels, while the HTC One’s Ultrapixels sensor features 2 micron sensors. In general, the larger the pixel size, the more light reaches the sensor, and the better the shot. But if you make the pixels too large, you can’t fit enough of them on the sensor, which results in decreased resolution. That’s what happened with the HTC One, which has a resolution of just 4MP.

We look forward to seeing the first sample photos taken with the production version of the Moto X, which should tell us if the Clear Pixel camera is as good as Motorola sells it to be.

Moving on to video, Motorola touted the 4XHD video recording mode, which is essentially a way to combine four adjacent pixels into one, for sharper videos with less noise and artifacts. Nokia does something slightly similar with the still shots on the lauded Nokia 1020, but the Finnish company combines seven pixels, and applies a few other techniques. The “drawback” of this technique is the decreased resolution of the final video, but even at 2.5MP (10MP divided by 4), the video should be perfectly fine for most full HD displays.

Users will get to activate the camera with a simple gesture using the Quick Capture feature. Another interesting feature of the Moto X camera is the ability to shoot Full HD video at 60 frames per second and to record slow motion video at 30 frames per second.


  • Murraypalooza

    It should be noted that Megapixels don’t really mean anything (4mp vs 10mp) if you’re not printing. For most “upload-to-Facebook-or-Twitter” daily usage, they’ll be perfect.

    • mumusen

      However MPs do count when you have to zoom in to see anything in the pictures… e. g:cut yourself from a group photo which was taken from some distance.. to use it as your profile pic etc. In such cases MPs do count.

    • mumusen

      However MPs do count when you have to zoom in to see anything in the pictures… e. g:cut yourself from a group photo which was taken from some distance.. to use it as your profile pic etc. In such cases MPs do count.

      • Murraypalooza

        Fair point :)

      • tahrey

        They’re also rather useful for reducing effective film grain and JPG artefacts. A 2mpx digicam is about as grainy all-told as a 110 cartridge film camera, and has rather obvious macroblocks in cases where the compression isn’t quite up to scratch… Plus it’s only just up to HD quality on aggregate (taller, but not as wide). 4mpx isn’t even equivalent to an Apple Cinemadisplay – you need to be in the 5mpx+ zone for that. For a 4k display, about 12mpx is necessary (at 4:3, or 10mpx for 16:9) to cover the whole screen at 1:1.

        Gotta think about the future proofing. A 2mpx photo blown up to 4k looks pretty rough. Not least because when that came out, it originally seemed “good” because you could fill a whole page of printer paper at about 150dpi, which was perfectly good for photo printing and really quite large compared to a typical print (it’s in the 10×8 to 12×9 inch range…). Hold up a sheet of printer paper by a 15″ computer monitor, and the paper wins on both size and resolution. 17″ is about equivalent and 19″ just edges it out on size (but only rez if you bought an expensive one). Hold it up next to a small full-HD TV and the cracks begin to show. Hold it up next to a medium sized quad-HD one, and print suddenly looks rather old-hat.

        (And even so, you’d need 8mpx to fill that page with a *truly* sharp image; getting a decent quality poster print itself demands something north of 8…)

  • Show us an example~

  • James Deng

    Actually ClearPixel is RCBC layout with the Green channel being derived by subtracting RG from the C

    • Clarence Alvarado

      Engadget’s article about Moto X’s Clear Pixel cam is actually an OmniVision RGBC

      • Its an old Kodak sensor.

        • foo

          Based on Kodak patents

          • I returned mine. I just didnt care for the screen or the horrible camera. Maybe next version!

      • tahrey

        So it’s not RCBC as shown here?

        That claims to give +3.5dB sensitivity improvement (or in other words, about 50%, which isn’t to be sniffed at), with equivalent sharpness and colour artefacting to Bayer. Which given what I know about imaging and in fact video transmission/recording/compression (which uses a similar “brightness + R/B difference” scheme), I can well believe.

        In comparison the RGBC setup only gives a comparitively minor 1dB SNR improvement (barely worth bothering with, whether you’re dealing with the visual or the audible domain), and has a tradeoff in slightly worse sharpness and colour definition. And is also rather pointless as you still need to do just as much additional signal processing to integrate the brightness signal with the colour filters, without really giving a *net* benefit…

  • Donotbebiased

    “shoot Full HD video at 60 frames per second and to record slow motion video at 30 frames per second. – See more at:” Please excuse me I’m wrong, but isn’t it the more frames you shoot per second the slower the video is (or appears)? ‘Cos isn’t 30fps the standard video taking speed, which isn’t slow motion?

    • Ang Deng Seng

      In short, 60 frames recorded per second and played back at the same speed, all 60 frames played in one second is better than video at 30 frames played in one second, provided that the sensors and other things are the same. It is not slow motion because you still see all the frames in one second (if you only recorded one second of video per say)

  • soundsgoodtome

    It does sound like a nice phone. Some people say its under spec, But really fast duel core is great, fast gpu, and great camera, and can you really tell screen resolution? I would get it if i needed a new phone this year.

    • Ranjith Thiru

      HD 720p display

      • Guest

        it’s built to premium specifications including battery life. I think what you are looking for is a shiny turd where this is a rolls royce.