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Solutions: Smartphone Lenses

Give your smartphone a boost with a small add-on wide or telephoto lens
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Olloclip 4-In-1

In an age of self-promotion, branding, Instagram, Twitter and more, the camera in your phone plays an increased role. Most photographers dismiss the smartphone as a novelty for the masses who are more interested in snapshots of a breakfast burrito or a drunken bacchanal at a local bar than in serious image-making, but the smartphone camera has an important part to play in your business. Your casual snapshots can and, for most pros, should be used as a business tool. You can keep your name and brand in circulation in social media, and many photographers also use the smartphone as a sort of photography sketchbook.

The many limitations of the smartphone camera are well known. Despite some publications touting the demise of DSLRs in the face of 40-plus-megapixel camera phones, readers of OP know that it takes a lot more than an impressive resolution specification to create a compelling photo. Among the significant deficiencies in today’s smartphones are the lenses. Despite the considerable advancements in smartphone lens design, the tiny built-in optics just can’t do everything that a DSLR lens can do, and their range is limited, particularly at the telephoto and the very wide ends.

Accessory lenses for smartphones aren’t a new idea, but as the photoshooting public has become more interested in creating more unique images, they have increased in popularity. For more sophisticated photographers, accessory lenses allow us to break free from the normal and mundane, and shoot with a smartphone with more of the diversity of a DSLR. We’re not suggesting that a smartphone and an accessory lens are a DSLR replacement. We are suggesting that you can get a lot more out of your smartphone with these add-on optics.

The accessory lens makers get it. They understand that they’re making tools for people who have more than a snapshooter’s interest in photography. We’re looking at three accessory lens makers and their approaches to these tools and how professional photographers might find them useful.

One of the first products to find its way into this market was the Olloclip. With an innovative design that allows a lens to quick-connect to your iPhone, the Olloclip doesn’t require any kind of a case or means of threading onto the phone. Held in place by a soft plastic mount that won’t scratch your phone, the latest Olloclip is a 4-in-1 system: fisheye, wide-angle and a pair of macro lenses. You can switch between fisheye and wide-angle by flipping the lens over on the phone, and you use the macro lenses by unscrewing the outer fisheye or wide-angle optic—hence, 4-in-1. It’s a simple system that lets you have a lot of enhanced creative control over your photography. Available for iPhones and iPods only, the Olloclip 4-IN-1 is compatible with iPhone 4/4s, 5/5s, and iPod touch 4th/5th generation. The fisheye gives an approximate 180º field of view. The wide-angle is about twice as wide as the iPhone’s built-in lens. The macros are 10X and 15X, and can focus as close as 18mm and 12mm from the subject, respectively.

iPro Trio Kit

Schneider has been making lenses for just about as long as photography has existed. Their iPro lenses can be used with iPhone 5/5s, iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy S4 devices. The lenses themselves attach to a case that also allows your mobile device to attach to a tripod. Using a twist-to-lock system, the lenses attach quickly and securely. The iPro Trio kit includes the case, lens cap, and 2X telephoto, superwide and macro lenses, as well as a handle that makes a dramatic improvement in your ability to grip and hold the device steadily.

Moment Lenses

A new player in the accessory lens business is Moment. The company is getting off the ground with a Kickstarter crowd-funding effort, with backing and involvement from some of the team that created Contour action cameras. Moment places an emphasis on the optical quality of their accessory lenses, which boast edge-to-edge sharpness, minimal distortion and a lack of chromatic aberration thanks to sophisticated, multi-element optical designs. They will be making a wide-angle lens with an approximate equivalent focal length of 18mm and a 2x telephoto lens. Moment lenses will attach to the mobile device via a case with a bayonet-mount system. The company says the case/lens systems will be compatible with a variety of iOS and Galaxy devices, including iPhone 4/4s, 5/5s, 5c, iPad 3rd/4th generation, iPad 2 and Galaxy S2, S3 and S4.