iPhone Lenses for Fun & Profit

iPhone Lenses for Fun & Profit


According to the conventional wisdom and a recent article in the New York Times, the impressive picture-taking capabilities of the latest smartphones—Apple iPhones in particular—may lead to the rapid demise of digital point-and-shoot cameras as we know them, especially lower end models. If the ubiquitous iPhone 4 that provided 5MP still capture and 720p HD video capability served as a wake-up call to the imaging industry, the latest iPhone 4S that delivers 8MP still capture and 1080p Full HD video has really shaken things up. Indeed, analysts are wondering aloud whether we are in the midst of a paradigm shift as profound as the digital revolution itself.

Well, on the way to Armageddon, something fascinating has happened. Savvy cell phone shooters, even those who extol the omnipresence and convenience of their beloved iPhones, and believe the image quality they deliver is “good enough,” have discovered that these sleek little do-everything devices have some frustrating limitations when it comes to serious picture taking.

Optically, they are far less flexible than even the most compact point and shoot when it comes to providing ultra-wide-angle to telephoto coverage, their macro capability is often quite limited, and they’re so thin and light they’re not so hot for capturing smooth professional-looking video clips when shooting handheld. That’s one reason the Steadicam Smoothee, a miniature iPhone/smartphone-compatible version of the ingenious $60K Steadicam image stabilization rigs used by Hollywood cinematographers, has been a surprisingly brisk seller (at $179.95) since its inception about two years ago.

It’s also why there is now a plethora of lenses, lens adapters, filters, video rigs and software available for enhancing the iPhone shooting experience and dramatically extending its shooting range.

One pioneering company that offers an extensive array of optical iPhone accessories and lenses is photojojo.com, which boldly (and accurately) describes itself as an awesome resource for assorted iPhone and smartphone gadgets ranging from $15-$250. Googling “iPhone lenses” or “iPhone accessories” will call up a remarkably diverse array of other devices and their sources. To give you a clearer picture of this emerging product niche, herewith is a quick rundown of some of the amazing, amusing and unlikely widgets we found at Photojojo and on the Internet.

The iPhone SLR Lens Mount
This ingenious case-adapter combination lets users mount Canon EF or Nikon F-mount lenses (there’s a separate model for each system) to an iPhone 4/4S, giving them manual focus, depth-of-field control, etc. The basic idea is for consumers to use the telephoto, wide-angle, macro and fixed focal length SLR lenses they already own on their phone camera, vastly increasing its optical flexibility. Two loopholes on each end of the adapter case let users attach a camera strap so they can carry the whole rig around their necks like a regular DSLR. Smartphone shooters can even use an OWLE iPhone video rig (see item below) with the SLR mount since both use a 37mm thread, and the newly designed rings affix tightly to the backing of the latest iPhones. There’s a little cutout notch to keep the flash exposed for use. Downsides: It may not work perfectly on the iPhone3G/S due to the curve of the phone, and there may be some vignetting in telephoto and fisheye shots. $249 for Nikon or Canon versions. photojojo.com

The OWLE iPhone Handheld Video Rig
Designed to upgrade the Full HD 1080p video shooting experience with the iPhone 4S, the 4.75x6x1.75-inch OWLE includes a sliding rig, a boom, mic and a wide-angle lens, and it’s said to enhance handheld shooting stability and make the built-in mic more accessible and less likely to be blocked. Carved out of a block of solid aluminum, the OWLE fits the iPhone 4/4S or the 3G/S (there are two models) provides two grips, four tripod sockets, an accessory shoe, an adjustable high-quality VeriCorder mic, and 37mm 0.45x wide-angle/macro optics. And it accommodates third-party lenses (37mm) and filters (49mm). It “weighs over a full pound” and is claimed to keep the iPhone stable during controlled pans and to deliver improved sound and satisfying optical performance. $169 for iPhone 4/4S; $159 for iPhone 3G/S. photojojo.com

Schneider iPro Lens System for iPhone 4/4S
Specifically designed for the iPhone 4 and 4S, this kit consists of high-quality wide-angle and fisheye conversion lenses that mount securely to a specially designed iPhone case, plus a handle that mounts on the left or right side of the iPhone to provide added stability in handheld shooting. The handle itself safely stores the lenses and enables the iPhone to be attached to a tripod. The fisheye lens provides impressive ultra-wide 165º coverage, and the wide-angle lens increases the angle of the iPhone's built-in lens by 35%. $199. schneideroptics.com

Fisheye, Macro, Wide-Angle and Telephoto Phone Lenses
Using detachable magnetic mounts with adhesive rings to attach to the iPhone 4 and 4S, these glass adapter lenses are available in a 0.68x wide/macro that focuses down to 10-23mm from a subject, 2x telephoto and 180º fisheye (0.28x) focal lengths, and they will mount securely even on slick glass. The lenses range between 15.8 and 25mm in diameter and are 15mm in length, and they come with front and back caps to prevent scratching. Telephoto and wide/macro, $20 each; fisheye, $25. photojojo.com

Many similar items, such as the Digital King magnet mount conversion fisheye lens for the iPhone 4 ($40) will show up in a Google search by entering “iPhone optical accessories.”

Holga iPhone Lens
For the iPhonegrapher who wants to recreate all those creative stunts the Holga could pull off, there’s a nine-in-one lens set with colorful, playful effects for iPhone 4/4S pics. The Holga iPhone lens is a rotating disk equipped with nine different lenses. Just fit the case that it comes on over the back of the phone, and it’s like having nine toy cameras all in one: lenses for dreamy vignettes; vibrant red and green color lenses; multi-image lenses for Spidey-vision (double, triple and quadruple images); a macro lens for close-ups; and red, yellow and blue filters with clear centers for framing subjects. $30. photojojo

olloclip Three-Way iPhone Lens Adapter

This aluminum kit consists of two main parts. There’s an adapter that clips over the top corner of the iPhone, covering the camera, which has a fisheye lens adapter on one side and a macro lens adapter on the other; and the second part is a small extra wide-angle adapter that slips on top of the macro lens. The kit comes with caps for both ends of the lenses and a small carrying bag. The advantages of this concept over separate magnetically attached lenses are convenience and security, and the Olloclip is truly pocketable, comes in red or black, and has a street price of $69.95. olloclip.com

iPhone Camera Decal (Oh well—it looks like a lens.)
Proclaim to the world that your iPhone 4 or 4S is a real honest-to-gosh camera with this amusing decal that gives it the appearance of a svelte late-model Polaroid, complete with faux lens and viewfinder. With just the right amount of adhesive, it’s easy to apply and remove without leaving a residue, and it protects the iPhone without adding the bulkiness of a case. $6. photojojo.com