Small, inexpensive digital cameras have pretty much killed the disposable film camera market, and the proliferation of smartphones with ever-increasing pixel counts and built-in photomanipulation apps are shaping up to be the final nail in the coffin. The biggest drawback, of course, is the phone's fixed lens — and there will be plenty of times when you'll either need to (a) get closer to your subject or (b) get further back to capture more. That's where add-on lenses, like these from camera-gizmo site PhotoJojo, come in.
We'll start with these wide angle (with macro attachment) and fisheye lenses. Mounting the lenses to your phone is simple and ingenious: take one of the included metal washers, peel off the paper backing from one side to expose its adhesive backing, then center it around the phone's lens and press down to seat it. A magnet built into the base of the lens then locks it to the ring. While the packaging advises that the adhesive may not work on the glass back of an iPhone 4 (as opposed to the plastic-cased iPhone 3G), our own brief tests showed the ring did in fact adhere to our iPhone 4, although we didn't test the stickiness over a long period of time. You can get the lenses individually (US$20.00 for the wide/macro set, US$25.00 for the fisheye), or grab both sets for US$40.00.
Next up, the telephoto lens. While miniscule compared to a DSLR lens, it's still large and heavy enough to make the previous magnetic-ring mounting method impractical. Instead, the lens screws into a backing plate which then snaps onto your iPhone (there are separate models for the 3G and 4). Because longer lenses require a steadier hand to take sharper pictures, the US$35.00 purchase price includes a nifty little tripod (which will also work with the wide/macro/fisheye lenses above).
Of course, no iPhone — and certainly no iPhone with affordable lenses like these — is going to give you exactly the same picture quality as even a halfway decent pocket camera, much less a US$4000.00 studio grade DSLR. But any photographer will tell you "the best camera in your collection is the one you have with you the moment you NEED a camera." Case in point:
The above photo was taken at an indoor pistol range with a Blackberry Curve — like most smartphones, not the fastest-reacting camera in the world. In fact, the picture was casually snapped just as a memento of the day's activities, and was the ONLY picture taken that day. It wasn't until later, when the subject and photographer reviewed the shot, that they realized they'd caught the exact moment the gun was fired. Check out the burst of orange at the front of the gun: yep, that's the muzzle blast as the bullet exited the barrel. Even with high-end camera equipment and years of technique, a moment like this is hard (if not impossible) to capture — and a piddly li'l Blackberry caught it purely by accident.
The point is, if you like taking pictures with your smartphone's camera, don't beat yourself up over the fact that it's not a Digital Rebel. Go out (with or without these outboard lenses), snap lots of pictures, have fun — and maybe, just maybe, you'll discover you snapped that once-in-a-lifetime shot.
Check out our hands-on review of all three lenses below: