Over the last year, interest in mobile photography has really picked up. Thanks to the popular image sharing service Instagram (and the several others of the like), now it's all about snagging the best picture you can, whenever you can and sharing it with your Internet friends. Now that we can share every living moment with the world (as if they care), software is no longer a limitation, it's the hardware holding us back. Sure, any high-end smartphone of 2011 should be able to take a clear enough picture for sharing to the Internet. I mean, we're not trying to take gallery-worthy shots, are we?
But we're not worried about what's sustainable or what works anymore. The arms race that current OEMs are in has turned us into spec-mongers who only settle for the best of the best.
Before, we were happy with just a 5- or 8-megapixel camera and we didn't really give thought to much else. Megapixels only hold so much weight, but when Nokia showed us just what a 12-megapixel shooter with Carl Zeiss optics was capable of and Apple revealed how just a little extra attention to the lens of a cell phone could make a huge difference, we all got those glazed eyes and started foaming at the mouth. I did, at least.
Since then, manufacturers have started to give rear shooters a little more thought and care. Microsoft has vowed to make your next Windows Phone the best camera you've ever owned and several Android OEMs have stepped up to the plate with "advanced lens" cameras. But all of that has been smoke and mirrors so far. We want real cameras. We want SLRs in our pockets, built into our phones.
While that isn't exactly going to happen, with all of this recent attention, a handful of people have come forth with a brilliant idea: interchangeable lenses for phones. I've seen them hundreds of times all over the Web, dating back as far as 2009 (I'm sure there were probably some even earlier). Here recently, though, they're been sprouting up left and right.
The most recent of which is the GIZMON iCA iPhone case (pictured above) which camouflages your iPhone 4 or 4S as a vintage camera. The unique part, however, is that it also a place that either a fisheye or macro lens can be snapped into place over the iPhone's optics. The GIZMON iCA is a tad on the expensive side, though. The case itself will set buyers back $65, the additional strap costs $30 and each of the two lenses cost $45. Doing the math, if you bought one case (they come in either white, black or brown), a strap and both lenses, it would cost you $185. Yikes.
Luckily, there are cheaper options. Much cheaper. The Easy Macro Cell Lens Band, for instance, only costs $15. Instead of being an entire case that seemingly makes your phone a tad bulky, this option is merely a rubber band with a macro lens built-in, making it universal and easily removable. Effectively, it works as a magnifying glass for your camera lens and allows you to focus much closer than you normally would. Don't ready your credit card for this one, though, as they're out of stock until February.
The same site that sells the Easy Macro Cell Lens Band, Photojojo, also has a few other add-on lens options for your cell phone's camera. One is the Dot iPhone Panorama Lens. Using a special array of "magic" mirrors, this snap-on fixture allows you to take 360 degree panoramic videos and stills. Like the first, this one isn't cheap either – you'll have to slap down $79.00 to call one of these bad boys your own. And lastly, there are stick-on Jelly Camera Phone Filters and individual fisheye, macro, wide angle and telephoto lenses that physically stick to your phone. In the three-pack of Jelly Filters, two (starburst and kaleidoscope) seem almost useless. The wide angle lens seems okay, though. This set of three only costs $15. For the individual lenses, the fisheye costs $25, wide and macro come together for $20 and telephoto costs $20. To attach these, you must adhere a magnetic ring to your phone, which holds the lenses sturdily in place.
Oh, and for those of you who really want to go all out, there's a full SLR lens mount for your iPhone, just in case you happen to be carrying around a big, heavy lens and want to attach it to your pocket-sized phone. You can purchase either a Canon or Nikon mount for $249 each, if that's what you're looking for. This seems a bit over the top, but I guess you could say that about all of these options. Different strokes, I guess ...
Personally, I've considered buying swappable lenses for my phone since I laid eyes on the very first set. I'm always taking pictures, especially close-ups. If there's one thing mobile cameras are pretty bad at, it's macro shots and depth of field. These removable lenses could easily offer those things, I'm just not willing to buy a bulky case to attach some $45 lens to my camera and be disappointed. I would buy the Easy Macro Band, but they're out of stock until February, and I'm kind of concerned about its durability.
It's a very neat concept, and I know I will eventually cave and try one or the other. But I'm really trying to hold out for something really neat. Maybe I'll see something like this at CES and get to try it out myself. Fingers crossed.
Tell me, ladies and gents. Do you care about taking pictures with your phone enough to buy physical, interchangeable lenses? How much would you pay for a little lens like one of these? Have you? How do you like it?