I bought some camera lenses for my phone, they're surprisingly fun

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 18, 2012

This year is already shaping up to be the year of attachments and accessories: battery packs, gaming controllers and a slew of other add-ons that extend the capabilities of you smartphone.

Some – myself included – entered 2012 hoping and believing it would be a year of revolutionary upgrades to smartphones. But if what we saw at CES is any indication for the rest of the year, the remainder of the year will be full of evolutionary changes and more accessories and peripherals than we can shake a stick at.

One of the more popular uses for a cell phone as of late is as a primary camera. From the time smartphone manufacturers really started focusing a little more attention to image sensors, people have started leaving their dedicated shooters at home, and have been expecting more and more out of the built-in camera on their phone. Naturally, people want the most they can possibly get out of a single device, and while you're not going to get SLR quality out of a cell phone, current cameras (in most phones) should suffice for the average consumer. For those that simply need or want more out of their phone, however, third-party accessory manufacturers have started creating easily interchangeable lenses for smartphones. (You may recall my article about them from a couple weeks ago.)

Long story short, I got some hands-on time with a couple different cell phone lenses at CES, which inevitably led me to cave and buy my own. Last week, I took to Photojojo and bought four (five, really) different lenses.

As many of you may already know (if you follow me on Twitter), I like to take pictures with my phones. In fact, not a day goes by where I don't take at least 30 or more pictures with my iPhone. Why? I don't know. But I like to take things to the limit and see what is possible. I guess that's kind of my job.

Before playing with them on the show floor in Vegas, I really didn't expect much out of such cheap, small lenses. Even with a few minutes with the olloclip, I still wasn't satisfied; thus, I had to buy some of my own and put them to the test. Late yesterday evening, my package of four different lenses – wide angle/macro, fish eye, telephoto 2x and telephoto 8x – landed on my doorstep. Immediately, I brought them inside and started snapping random shots of literally ... everything.

Let me begin by stating that I am far from a photographer (I'm just a man equipped with too many cameras and an unhealthy addiction to taking random photos) and these lenses are not going to magically turn your phone into an SLR. Nothing will, not even a $20 lens. Big surprise, I know. They're far from mind-blowing and are only as good as your phone's camera is to begin with. Plus, with such limited function (no manual focus adjustment, etc.), they're quite limited in what you can do with them. For instance, the macro lens has a tiny focal point. With a macro shot, you will have a small circular area in the very center of the picture and the edges will suffer from terrible blurring.

If you're looking to buy these with any intent of seriously taking super high quality photos, you might want to reconsider. These are mostly for fun. That said, I've had a blast snapping shots and terrifying my dog. Although the lenses themselves are fairly basic, they add a ton of functionality to your camera and help you get tons of pictures that wouldn't be possible otherwise. And best of all, they'll work with nearly any phone.

The picture at the top of this page was taken with the fish eye lens on an iPhone 4S. And as you can see in that picture, after attaching the adhesive metal ring that comes with the lenses, the fish eye lens works just fine with the Nexus. The two pictures above were also taken with an iPhone 4S, but with a wide angle lens. Both shots are from the same distance from the fire place, roughly six feet. The shot on the left was taken with no lens, and the picture on the right is a wide angle shot. Much like the macro lens (the macro lens is accessed by screwing the top half of the wide angle lens off), which tends to blur the outer edges of a shot, the wide angle loses focus away from the center, too. Still, for a phone paired with cheap lenses, it's still pretty cool and the results are quite nice.

This past week at CES, I found myself using the digital zoom a lot on my iPhone. I hate digital zoom, with a passion. So I also decided to give some telephoto lenses a go. They're about what I expected – extremely hard to get a decent shot with. The 2x telephoto lens came with the other magnetic lenses and is extremely basic; it serves its purpose. The 8x lens was a separate lens altogether and came with its own tripod, mount and case, to which it screws into. It has a manual adjustment for focusing, but is terribly difficult to stabilize. When using the tripod, though, you can get some decent up-close shots from a good distance.

If you're looking to get a little extra fun out of your basic smartphone camera, I definitely recommend looking into some of the different lenses that are available. Don't expect a lot, but they're certainly fun to mess around with. And being magnetic (or clip-on in the case of olloclip), they're quick and simple to apply and remove. I've thoroughly enjoyed mine thus far and plan on using them a lot in the future, for all kinds things like spamming my Twitter followers with random pictures. (They definitely won't be used for taking pictures of food ... I think.)

Have any of you purchased any camera lenses for your smartphone? Which ones did you buy? How did you like them? Were they worth it?

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