Smartphone cameras have quickly taken over as the primary point-and-shoot for many people, and while they offer up a quick way to take a shot, their use is still fairly limited. If you're looking to get more out of your smartphone's camera, then these add-on lenses may be just what the doctor ordered.
What Are They?
They're small lenses that bring three commonly used mods to your smartphone camera: wide angle/macro, fisheye, and telephoto. They're very simple to use, but I'll warn you upfront - they do require a bit of modification to your phone in order to work. What sort of mod, you ask?
That sort. It's a simple self-adhering metal ring that goes around your phone's camera. Once the ring is mounted on your phone, the lenses attach to it magnetically. At first glance, the metal ring is a bit of an eyesore, but after a bit of time you get used to looking at it. If you decide that you just can't stand it, however, it pulls off clean. Unfortunately, once you remove it, it loses most of its adhesive, so it's simply not practical to put it back on. Each lens comes with two rings, though, so you're not completely out of luck if you change your mind.
Price: $50 for the set, or you can buy them individually for $20-$25 a piece. A larger kit is also offered for $80, but it includes a couple of iPhone-only accessories.
Where to buy: Why, Photojojo, of course!
The Bottom Line: If you're looking for a new way to spice up pictures with your phone's camera, these lenses are a quick and easy way to do it. You're not going to get DSLR quality shots out of them, but they're sure fun to use for the aspiring mobile photographer.
Okay, enough chatter. Let's get to the good stuff.
Wide Angle/Macro Lens
Of the three, this one is probably the coolest. It's actually two different lenses combined into one; the full lens is wide angle, but if you unscrew the top half, the bottom becomes an incredibly nice macro lens.
Left: Wide Angle; Right: Macro
Given its dual-use nature, this one is probably my favorite of the bunch - that doesn't mean its perfect though. Take a look at the images below, and then I'll discuss what I like/dislike about this particular lens.
While the images look pretty good, the outside edges are distorted, which bugs me. It's not a deal breaker by any means, because you can actually use this distortion to play up the focal point -- take the pine cone for example. Everything around it is slightly out of focus, so the eye is immediately drawn to the center of the image.
On landscapes, it does a pretty decent job. It does enable you you to capture more of the scenery than the stock camera, and it does that quite well.
I love macro shots. In fact, this is the second time I've reviewed an add-on macro lens, and this one is just as good as the first. I don't really have anything to add, so I'll let the images do the talking.
If you would've asked me a month ago what I thought about fisheye, I would probably replied with something like "gag." After spending some time getting familiar with this fisheye lens, though, I've gained a new appreciation for what it takes to get a good fisheye shot.
As you can see, this lens warps the shot and cuts out the corners. While the black corners bother me (mostly because it's nearly impossible to get the lens perfectly centered, so the corners lack symmetry), it's still tolerable.
This one is a simple 2x zoom. Since it's a separate lens and not a digital zoom, it doesn't degrade the quality of the photo whatsoever.
Left: Stock; Right: Telephoto
As you can see, the telephoto lens suffers from the same problem that the fisheye lens has: black borders. It's a little less excusable with this lens, though - with the fisheye lens, clear definition is created; with the telephoto lens, however, it's a blurred line that just looks bad. The Photojojo website actually somewhat addresses this issue:
Since these lenses are actually adapters you'll see part of the lens (or vignetting) around your photos. Nothing a bit of cropping can't fix! Plus, we think it looks kinda cool and secret agent-y.
So, basically, either crop it out or deal with it. That's a bit frustrating, but is it a deal breaker? I don't really think so.
Honestly, if you can handle the metal ring and just love taking pictures with your phone (or like pushing the limits of what a phone's camera is capable of), then this kit is right up your alley. If you're just a casual smartphone photographer, these lenses are perfect for you too.
There is one caveat, however: they don't work well with certain cases. Some cases don't leave a large enough opening around the camera, preventing the lens from attaching to the phone.
So, all things considered, are they worth fifty bucks? Heck yeah they're worth fifty bucks. They're fun to use, and, despite their shortcomings, will make your photos vastly better than the stock camera alone.
On a related note, if you're interested in Android photography, then I recommend checking out the Android photographers' group on Google+, as well as Photojojo's mobile photography (phoneography) Tumblr.
Ready to pick 'em up? Check it.