For many of us, the cell phone has replaced the point and shoot as an “everyday” camera. We have it in our pocket every day, we carry it everywhere, and the quality of the images has finally reached a level that is at the very least “snapshot” acceptable for most everyone. There are drawbacks to many phone cameras and lack of manual controls, basic lenses (no zoom, limited FOV, no macro, etc), and sub-par ergonomics probably top the list. While none of those will truly be solved until phone manufacturers want them to be, for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s users, the lens issue now can be addressed with the wonderful Olloclip.
The Olloclip is a device that gives you three different lens options for your iPhone, wide-angle, fisheye, and macro. While there have been other accessory lenses for the iPhone, most of them have been separate pieces and attached via magnet stickers or other annoying and unreliable designs. I have owned a couple and found them to be almost unusable. The beauty of the Olloclip is that it is a single piece that slips over the corner of your phone in a second and removes just as easily. It has a lens on both sides, one side is the fisheye lens and on the other is the wide-angle lens. The Macro lens is part of the wide-angle lens and is accessed by unscrewing the front part of it off.
With the Olloclip, the fisheye lens gives a 180 degree field of view. Now, as those who are familiar with fisheye lenses know that there are two types. A circular fisheye gives you a circular image in the middle of the frame with the rest of the frame unexposed and black and a full frame fisheye gives you an image that fills the frame with no black borders. A circular fisheye will have a 180 degree field of view in both the horizontal and vertical directions. A full frame fisheye will have a 180 degree field of view in only the corner-to-corner diagonal direction. There is a Photo.net forum thread with some good example images here.
The Olloclip’s fisheye image is somewhere in between they two types. It does not fill the frame completely, is wider than a typical DSLR full frame fisheye, and exhibits “black corners” at the end of the image circle. But it also doesn’t show a full circle or the extreme field of view and distortion of a circular fisheye.
The iPhone 4’s lens is near to a 28mm field of view (in 35mm film terms) and the iPhone 4s’s lens is closer to a 35mm field of view. Olloclip claims that the wide-angle lens “Expands native viewing angle by 2x”. To me, that means that you have a 14mm field of view with the iPhone 4 and approximately an18mm field of view with the iPhone 4s. Rough comparison testing shows that these numbers are “close enough for government work”, as they say.
The macro lens has a 1/2 inch minimum focal distance that provides “10x macro shots”. Now, I have no idea how “10x macro” translates to the reproduction ratios that serious macro photographers are concerned with. I will say that it’s easy to photograph very small things. In theory, the iPhone’s autofocus should allow you to have a bit of a range of focal distances. But in practice, the range is pretty small.
The Olloclip is dead easy to use, You simple slip it over the corner of your iPhone where your camera lens is located. The fisheye lens is on one side and the wide-angle/macro lens is on the other. To switch, you simply pull the Olloclip off, turn it around, and stick it back on. Ta da, now you have a new field of view. As mentioned, the macro lens is accessed by unscrewing the front of the wide angle lens. Both lenses (wide and fisheye) come with plastic caps and the whole thing fits in a handy little microfiber draw string bag. One thing to note is that while the caps stay on well during actual use, they have a tendency to come off after a day of riding around in my pocket. They don’t fall out of the bag, but they also don’t stay on all the time.
I usually stick the Olloclip in the bag and the bag in my front jeans pocket. It’s so light and fairly compact that I don’t even notice it most of the time. Now, I don’t wear the trendy kid stick figure jeans, so I’ve got a little pocket space. But I think most average male pants wearers would feel the same. My wife informs me that she wouldn’t ever have room for it in her jeans pocket. But allows as how she would carry it in her purse no problem. If you are a female who doesn’t carry a purse or a man who wears skinny tight jeans, I guess you’re on your own as for carrying advice. But I’m sure you can figure it out.
Drawbacks? A very few. Unscrewing the macro lens is a little fiddly. Mostly because it’s small and you have to find a place to store it safely while you are using the macro lens. Also, while the lens sits snugly on the camera when in use, it isn’t meant to be left on there while you swing the camera around to stick it in your pocket again. The Olloclip is just held onto the phone by gravity (if it’s upright) and friction (if it is not upright). So don’t think you have a GoPro helmet cam when you get the fisheye on your iPhone. You’ll be short one Olloclip before you hit the first jump. Also, if you haven’t already guessed, the Olloclip doesn’t work if you have any sort of a case on your phone. I don’t use a case, so this doesn’t apply to me. But if you do, you should keep that fact in mind. The depth of field with the macro lens is pretty small. Now, that’s more a fault of the law of optics than the Olloclip. But given that you don’t have a chance to stop the iPhone camera down to increase depth of field, it’s something to be aware of. I like the spider shot above, but I would have liked it more if the spider’s eyes had been in focus. Between him moving and my hand shaking, I missed focus just a little bit.
Overall, very simple to use with a few minor drawbacks that may or may not apply to you.
It’s important to note that these are real optical lenses rather than software tricks, and that is a good thing. However, that having been said, it’s also important to remember that anything you put in between your lens and your subject is going to degrade image quality some amount. Now, the question is, how much do you care? Are you trying to make gallery-quality images with your phone? After all, some people are doing amazing work with their iPhones. But for most of us, the phone camera gets use because it’s the camera that we have with us virtually 100% of the time. So perhaps some purple fringing or noticeable softness in the corners of an image isn’t going to be as big of a deal.
Now, don’t let the previous paragraph trick you into thinking that the Olloclip lenses are low quality. Quite the contrary, they are probably the best accessory lenses of their type that I have used. The the macro lens is the best of the three as far as overall quality. This is not surprising because it uses the fewest pieces of glass that could distort or affect the image. The wide-angle comes in second place, with some softness and slight loss of contrast evident. And the fisheye shows the greatest amount of degradation/contrast-loss, understandable given the extreme angle of view of the fisheye lens. Bottom line, if you are looking for image perfection from an add-on lens, you are going to be disappointed no matter what product you buy. I happily use all three lenses and enjoy the results from each.
The Olloclip is a great product. It is easily the best photography related gadgets I have tried for my iPhone. Yes, the Glif tripod adapter is great, but I simply find more opportunities to use the Olloclip. The wide-angle lens is the one I use the most by far. It allows me to take photos in crowded or cramped locations and to have a more reasonable field of view for videos. The fisheye lens is fun, but I find that I end up using it more for goofball extreme perspective shots rather than more serious images. Despite my love of the wide-angle lens, the macro lens might be the true hidden gem of the Olloclip. Its high magnification and close focus allow you to make images of really tiny things. The spider in the image above was no wider than a pencil eraser.
In an age where most of us find a $5 iPhone app to be an expensive accessory, the Olloclip’s $69 price is going to seem high to some people. It is two to three times the price of “3 lens” sets of lower quality and worse design. But I would encourage anyone who uses their iPhone 4/4S for photography to look past the price and trust me that the Olloclip’s design, quality, and ease of use are well worth the initial investment.
This video is a little cheesy, but it will help you figure out how the Olloclip is used if you are a bit confused.