Bonnie Cha

Behind the Lenses of Two iPhone Camera Accessories

I can’t remember the last time I used my point-and-shoot camera. It sits alone and neglected in a drawer, while my iPhone has become my go-to camera for most things. But even smartphone cameras have limitations, like the inability to capture good extreme close-up shots, poor zoom functionality and restricted fields of view.

To fix such problems, some companies have come up with accessory lenses for smartphones. This past week, I tested two solutions for the iPhone from Olloclip and Photojojo.

Both expand the iPhone’s shooting capabilities with interchangeable lenses, but neither of these add-on accessories turns a smartphone camera’s digital zoom to real optical zoom.

For iPhone 4/4S owners, the Olloclip is the better option, because its wide-angle lens delivers a more accurate picture without any distortion, and the accessory has a more streamlined design. However, at $70, it’s more expensive than Photojojo’s $50 kit. Aside from a cheaper price tag, Photojojo’s lenses work with multiple smartphones, including Android devices, but you lose a bit in photo quality with the wide-angle and telephoto lens, and you have to deal with a more cumbersome set-up.

So how do these accessories perform? For the most part, they work wonderfully. My brother happened to be in town for a visit, so it gave me a perfect excuse to head to one of my favorite spots in San Francisco, the Ferry Building, to take some photos and test the lenses.

To me, the macro lenses were the real stars of the bunch. Shooting in macro mode allows you to take photos of an object at extremely close range, so you can capture more of the finer details. For example, I took these photos of the flower seen below, positioning the lens just centimeters away from the stamen, and the Olloclip and Photojojo lenses both were able to photograph such delicate elements as the grains of pollen. I didn’t even notice the insect was there until I reviewed the photos on my iPhone. Without the lenses, the same image was a complete blur.

The fish-eye lenses were great fun to use. I came across a Tim Burton-esque statue near downtown, and I used the fish-eye lenses to exaggerate its goofy smile and jagged teeth. I didn’t notice a huge difference in image quality between the Olloclip and Photojojo accessories in this case, but wide-angle shots were another story.

Both lenses were able to capture a larger scene than the iPhone’s regular camera can. To test them out, I shot a photo of the Bay Bridge. By itself, the iPhone captured about two sections of the bridge, but with the addition of the wide-angle lenses, the photos offered an expanded view of the bridge, adding about half a span on the right side.

The Olloclip’s image was pretty true to life, but there was some distortion with the Photojojo lens. As you can see below, the corners on the left side curve a bit, almost giving it a fish-eye effect. Also, Photojojo’s telephoto lens, which gives the iPhone twice the digital zooming power, helped enlarge certain objects, but lost focus on other parts of the scene.

The Olloclip offers three lenses built into one simple accessory. On one side, there’s a fish-eye lens that gives photos a fun 180-degree curved effect. On the other side is a wide-angle lens that expands the field of view.

Unscrewing the outer ring of the wide-angle lens reveals the final lens, and with it you can capture extreme detail, as it magnifies the iPhone’s camera lens by 10 times.

The Olloclip is easy to use. You just slip it onto the upper-left corner of the iPhone, and it positions the lens right over the camera. Any time you want to switch lenses, you simply flip the accessory around.

However, as I mentioned earlier, it only works with the iPhone 4/4S, and the Olloclip blocks the flash and the front-facing camera. Also, if you have a case on your phone, you will need to remove it. The creators of Olloclip said that because of the thousands of cases out there, it would be impossible to create a universal design that would work with them all.

On a naked iPhone, though, the Olloclip fits snugly, and I never felt like it was going to fall off while I was shooting photos at various angles. You will want to remove it when you’re done, since the lenses protrude a bit and make it difficult to slip into a pants pocket.

That said, the accessory itself is small enough to carry separately in your pocket, and the Olloclip comes with a carrying pouch and protective covers for the lenses.

Like Olloclip, Photojojo also offers fish-eye and wide-angle/macro lenses, as well as a telephoto lens. You can purchase the lenses separately, at prices ranging between $20 and $25, or you can buy the entire bundle for $50.

The set-up for using Photojojo’s lenses is much more unwieldy than with the Olloclip. It requires that you adhere a small magnet around the iPhone’s camera lens. Each lens comes with a pack of these magnets, some with a cutout for the iPhone 4/4S’s flash, and some without. The lenses then attach magnetically.

Since each lens is separate, I found that it was easy to lose track of them. Each one comes with a small lanyard for carrying purposes, but without a place to loop the lanyard on my iPhone, it was useless. As such, I kept digging around in my purse to find the lenses; I finally used my sunglasses case to keep them all in one place. You can get an iPhone Lens Wallet, a foldable carrying case that can hold all the lenses and other accessories, like a mini tripod, from Photojojo for $15, or bundled with the lenses for $79.

Photojojo claims that its lenses can work with most smartphones — that is, as long as the surface around the camera is mostly flat, and the diameter of your camera phone’s lens is no larger than one-third of an inch.

It worked fine with my iPhone 4, and even the HTC One X for AT&T, which has a slightly elevated lens. However, the company admits that because of the curved back of the iPhone 3G/3GS, the edge of the fish-eye and wide-angle lenses will show up in photos.

For iPhone users who really love taking photos with their handsets, the Olloclip and Photojojo lenses offer a great way to expand the camera’s capabilities. But the Olloclip’s no-fuss set-up and better wide-angle performance makes it the better camera accessory for iPhone 4/4S owners.

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