The Zenfone 10 introduces a few changes to the camera system, and we're not quite so sure how to feel about them. For starters, the rear setup is the same in principle - a wide main camera and an ultrawide unit, but no dedicated zoom module - and that's more or less what you can expect in this size. But why, oh, why, did Asus choose an ultrawide module without AF this year, when the Zenfone 9's unit had that capability?
This new ultrawide camera employs an OmniVision OV13B sensor - a 13MP imager with a 1/3.06" optical format, 1.12µm pixels, and a conventional Bayer filter array. OmniVision's specsheet says the sensor itself does have PDAF capability, but that's apparently not being used in the Zenfone 10's implementation. What was so wrong with the Zenfone 9's ultrawide?
Also gone is the AF on the selfie camera, a new 32MP one replacing the 12MP unit from the previous generation. The sensor here is an RGBW design, or what OmniVision calls RGBC - that's Red, Green, Blue, and Clear pixels, for improved light gathering capability. It's also, in a way, a 4-cell type of sensor (Quad Bayer in Sony speak), and it bins the information from 4 adjacent pixels and outputs 8MP resulting images.
What remains the same, at least partly, is the primary camera. We say partly, because Asus says it's moved to version 2.0 of its 6-axis gimbal stabilizer, though the underlying imaging hardware should be unchanged. That means you get the 1/1.56" Sony IMX 766 sensor - a Quad Bayer design with 50 million 1.0µm pixels. It uses the 2x2 OCL method for its phase detection autofocusing, which makes it sensitive to changes in detail in both principal directions as opposed to the usual left/right only capability of generic dual pixel autofocusing - so you should be able to get faster and more accurate autofocus in more shooting conditions. The lens in front of that sensor has a 24mm equivalent focal length and an f/1.9 aperture.
The camera app sees next to no changes for this generation. Basic operation remains largely the same as before and the same as on any other camera app. Also present is the contextual options pane you can pull out by tapping on the little arrow at the far end of the viewfinder or by swiping down in the viewfinder itself. In basic Photo mode, that's where you'll find the flash modes, aspect ratio and HDR settings, while in Video you have the resolution, frame rate and stabilization modes.
The full-res mode for the main camera is found under the 'Camera resolution' menu item in the app settings, where you also get the same aspect options as in the slide-out pane in the viewfinder - we'd like to see the 50MP mode move to that more accessible spot as well.
There's a nice Pro mode too, with manual control over exposure parameters, white balance and focusing. A live histogram is available and focus peaking shows up when you try to focus manually. A neat and somewhat unique auto bracketing feature can do three shots with different exposures 0.5 to 2EV apart.
Daylight photos from the Zenfone 10's primary camera are solid. Some notable changes can be observed compared to the Zenfone 9, particularly in the way the new phone treats skies - the more neutral rendition of the 9 is replaced by a more saturated cyan-leaning presentation on the 10. Greenery is also more saturated and somehow brighter on the 10, giving its outdoor shots more color and pop. We're no entirely fans of how the 10 treats reds in outdoor shots - it leans heavily into a fuchsia type of shift.
Overall though, the 10's colors look more approachable, more universally likeable, though the 9's take is closer to reality, we reckon. These differences don't really manifest themselves in indoor scenes, meaning that it's the Zenfone 10's scene recognition smarts that are tweaking outdoor shots to make them more appealing.
Dynamic range is very good, and we got well exposed shots with good development of the tonal extremes, even in harsh mid-day summer sun. Outdoor photos do look brighter on the Zenfone 10, even for similar exposure values, but the new phone does also tend to expose a 1/3EV brighter when shooting outside.
The 10 also draws random textures with finer detail and a different take on sharpening, making for a more organic rendition to foliage and the like. We are seeing a bit more grain in the new phone's shots, but we'd say it's a well judged tradeoff between detail and noise.
The 50MP mode on the Zenfone 10 doesn't really bring any detail benefits - photos taken in it actually look pretty soft on a pixel level. These don't have the color enhancements applied, however, so you may like to shoot in 50MP outdoors and downscale yourself for a more restrained look of skies and greenery. You will be sacrificing dynamic range, however - there's no HDR in 50MP mode.
The 2x zoom mode dials the sharpening up to 11 introducing heavy fringing alongside contrasting edges - a bit more than we're used to. That does result in higher perceived sharpness, compared to the Zenfone 9's 2x shots, and we'd say the 10's 2x images are very usable.
The difference in color presentation in outdoor shots continues on the Zenfone 10's ultrawide, which also treats you to lusher greens and deeper blues than the 9 does. The new camera's shots aren't quite as sharp as what the old one delivers, though sharpness is still very good - apparently the old one was just that sharp. Dynamic range doesn't leave us wanting either.
What does immediately strike us a downgrade is the lack of autofocus, which makes shooting nearby subjects impractical - take the Vespa shot as a prime example.
For more distant subjects, and even indoor at close range, that's not an issue, but the lack of AF robs the Zenfone 10's UW of a large chunk of the usefulness that the 9's unit had.
The Zenfone 10 does have an auto Night mode capability and will notify you in the the Photo mode viewfinder when it engages, also letting you disable it right there. The notification icon/toggle appears when the scene's dark enough for the auto to kick in, even if you've disabled it previously, so there's no need to go to settings for it.
In our experience, Photo mode results come out identical with those captured in the dedicated Night mode, when the auto Night mode engages. Conversely, when the auto doesn't engage, the photos are the same as if you disable the auto altogether. The scene-to-scene consistency with which the auto will engage varies between cameras.
In the first three scenes below, Auto equals Night mode, while in the next three Night mode didn't kick in automatically, making the dedicated Night mode shot stand out.
In general, having the Night mode processing (whether the auto got you there, or you engaged it manually) will result in superior images, with no major tradeoffs. We're talking better shadow and lower midtone development, restored highlight detail, and beter color saturation. There's also less visible noise.
The one minor complaint you could think of, is the increased sharpening that could make make some fine random detail appear slightly too overprocessed. That's still a fairly common trait of Night modes and the Zenfone isn't remotely the worst offender in this respect.
With all that in mind, we'd say that we'd appreciate a bit more of a trigger-happy approach for the Zenfone 10's auto Night mode action. Or, as it stands, we'd just recommend shooting low-light scenes in the standalone Night mode.
Side-by-side with the Zenfone 9, things generally looked notably better on the Zenfone 10 with no Night mode action - brighter exposures, superior sharpness. Still, that's a bit of useless comparison, since we already stated that we'd rather shoot in the dedicated Night mode on the 10, than risk getting a Night mode-less shot.
Going for the standalone Night mode levels things up to a great extent, though we'd still give the nod to the new model, particularly in very dark scenes. There's also the fact that, while itself not entirely dependable, the Zenfone 10 was more eager to engage Night mode on its own than the 9.
Main camera, 2x zoom
At 2x zoom, the auto Night mode was even more reluctant to kick in on the Zenfone 10. Then there's the matter that there's no 2x toggle in the actual Night mode, forcing you to pinch (or tap and slide) to zoom in, making shooting at 2x somewhat of a nuisance at night.
We persevered and it was worth it - Night mode shots at 2x (the second column below) generally have better dynamic range and much improved shadow development and sharpness in the darker areas.
The ultrawide is apparently no good on its own in the dark - the Zenfone 10 struggles to get any sort of usable exposure with its ultrawide and gets you pitch black shadows and just some specs of detail around light sources.
It's great news then that the auto Night mode tends to kick in pretty much every time and saves the day (the night?). It delivers vastly improved exposures and dramatically widens dynamic range, while also restoring color saturation. A relatively minor issue is the orange color cast we got with certain types of lighting.
Complicating comparisons to the Zenfone 9 is the fact that it wasn't quite as eager to do auto Night mode on the ultrawide, so we'll put up side-by-side shots in the dedicated Night modes. The 10's ultrawide does have slightly wider dynamic range, but then the one on the 9 is doing a better job with white balance. With detail levels being generally similar, there's no clear winner here.
Once you're done with the real world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Asus Zenfone 10 stacks up against the competition.
While the Zenfone 9 would shoot portraits at something like a 35mm equivalent focal length (let's call it 1.5x zoom), the Zenfone 10 offers you two options - the main camera's native field of view (1x), as well as a zoomed in 2x mode.
The phone does a good job of picking out subject from background, particularly at 1x, where it even managed to not mess up the scene with the wooden wall panelling, which trips up a lot handsets.
Subject detection wasn't quite as great when shooting at 2x, but we'd still call it good enough. Detail is also not quite as sharp as in the native FoV, of course, though perhaps not everyone looks at portrait shots at 1:1 and the improved perspective is more important.
Selfies on the Zenfone 10 come out at 8MP, which is a downgrade from the Zenfone 9's 12MP images, though we do consider 8MP to be a perfectly okay resolution for the purpose. Detail in the Zenfone 10's selfies is very good and dynamic range is great. Colors are pleasing in outdoor scenes, but the phone did struggle with the auto white balance indoors, producing cold images and marring what could have been a great overall result.
The Zenfone 9 is actually at least a little bit better with its indoor white balance, though the 10 fares better with colors out in the sun. The 9 does have the upper hand when it comes to detail, but it's also grittier in its rendition of it.
What is a principal advantage of the older model, however, is its autofocusing capability, which lets you capture close-up selfies, for when you want to make silly faces or something.
The one possible redeeming quality of the new selfie camera (and, we imagine, at least partially the reason why Asus went with it) is that the RGBC sensor could have better low-light performance, even though it's a slightly smaller size. This does indeed appear to be the case, with the Zenfone 10's selfies coming out sharper and with better definition in dim conditions than what the Zenfone 9 captures. Even so, we're not sure that offsets the new module's lack of AF and limited video recording options.
The Zenfone 10 can record video at up to 8K24 with its main camera and it can also do 4K30 and 4K60 with that module. The ultrawide is capped at 4K30 - the new module has brought about that limitation too, while the Zenfone 9 could do 4K60 with its ultrawide.
Another downgrade is the selfie video capability, which maxes out at 1080p30 (or 720p60) - the Zenfone 9 was good for 4K30 and 1080p60.
Switching to a more positive tone, 4K capture from the Zenfone 10's primary camera is actually very good. The 60fps footage (75-92Mbps bit rate) is ever so slightly sharper than 30fps (59-62Mbps) but both modes resolve great detail. We're getting good dynamic range and plenty of contrast, even though a slight boost of the shadows wouldn't hurt. White balance is on point and the overall color rendition is really pleasing.
It's not entirely so on the ultrawide - it delivers over-the-top levels of saturation, though it's not entirely objectionable in its presentation. That is to say, if given the option, we'd certainly tone it down, but we can live with it as is. The picture is similarly contrasty but shadows don't look quite as deep as on the main cam, so bonus points for the ultrawide. A few more of those are awarded for amount and quality of detail in 4K clips - that's one of better showings from an ultrawide, even more so considering the relatively unassuming piece of kit that it is.
Circling back to the main camera for some zoom action, clips looks pretty good from afar and not terrible when viewed at 1:1, though their upscaled nature is hard to hide.
In low light, the Zenfone 10's primary camera does a solid job too. Its footage does tend to be on the noisy side, but it's also sharp and detailed, which is a trade-off we can appreciate. Shadows are well developed and highlights are decently contained for the circumsctances.
That high praise does not extend to the ultrawide camera, sadly. It can't expose brightly enough at night and returns deep, dark shadows and an overall soft picture.
Regular 'Adaptive' mode stabilization on the main camera of the Zenfone 10 is properly spectacular in both 4K30 and 4K60. Walking shake is ironed out proficiently, pans are smooth and if you're just pointing the camera in one direction, it looks like it's on a tripod.
It's a bit more of the same on the ultrawide, even without the gimbal action.
We don't doubt that the Zenfone 10 can stabilize footage when running, and depending on surroundings you can get solid videos even without resorting to the HyperSteady mode (which will force you to use 1080p resolution). In our overgrown park path, the phone did put up a great fight against all the fine detail in the foliage that it had to 'stabilize' though some of the heavy stomping of this reviewer did end up in the final footage.
The ultrawide struggled a bit more this time, with noticeable shake from the moments the feet hit the ground - so that gimbal is helping the main camera a lot.
The HyperSteady mode doesn't necessarily help in these circumstances, so the sacrifice in resolution and overall quality doesn't seem warranted. Perhaps in a more open environment it would make a bigger difference.
Here's a glimpse of how the Asus Zenfone 10 compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.